Midge Ure has so much history behind his phenomenal career in music, working with bands such as Ultravox, Visage, and Thin Lizzy – as well as his own distinguished solo artistry. He’s also known for being the co-author of Do They Know It’s Christmas?, a song written for Band Aid with Bob Geldof of The Boomtown Rats. After reading Midge’s blog about how interviewers have only been asking about “alcohol, Bob, (and) Band Aid 30th anniversary plans,” I decided to surprise Midge and ask questions mostly about his stunning new solo album entitled Fragile. So from backstage at The Greek Theatre on the Retro Futura tour, we sat down right before the show was to commence, and spoke with Midge Ure about his captivating new album, working with Moby and Stephen Emmer, one single question about the past, and other lively topics of intrigue. Read on…
How has the Retro Futura tour been going so far, what are some of the highlights?
You know what, the tour’s been fantastic. It’s great because it’s a bit of a no-brainer. A lot of these package tours, you think OK – the artists may be around the same period but musically they’re a million miles apart. This one it’s not. We all came up through the whole electro-pop thing in the late 70s and early 80s. It’s much more compatible. Also, I’ve toured with Howard (Jones) before. We’ve done many shows together, but Tom (Bailey of Thompson Twins) I’ve never met. How weird is that? I met Alannah (Currie) a loads of times in London, she used to hang out in the clubs that we used to hang out at, the clubs we were making Visage music to play at. Alannah used to go there because she was a bit of a party animal. But Tom being the quiet one, I’ve never met him. It’s great, fantastic. The highlight so far for me is the recognition factor that I’m getting with these songs. I have this self-invented, in the back of my head that Ultravox didn’t make that much of a dent in America. The response I’ve been getting, playing these tunes is just phenomenal. I’m beaming. I’m loving it. I’m having a great time doing this.
Is there any story or concept behind the title, Fragile?
Yeah. I see an album, a new album as a collection of ideas between the last album and the current album. That’s a long period for this record. There’s no real excuse for taking 10, 11 years to make an album. It’s stupid. But my reasoning behind it, was a series of events happened to me. You get the right or wrong events happening in a line and it just shows no matter how strong you think you are as a character, you can be fragile. So I got myself in trouble with some drink, I’m Scottish. You’re supposed to. I had to sort that out, and then coming out the other side of that, it all happened around when my father died. It was a horrible period. Coming out the other side of that, I started to think, can I still write songs? Can I still create interesting music without that? Then when I started writing music, I went through this massive phase of self-doubt, thinking, do I really want to make music anymore? Do I want to be a part of this industry? It’s changed so much in the last 10 years. My savior, I suppose, was doing the Ultravox album. We got together with Ultravox a few years ago and made a new album called Brilliant. That gave me everything I thought I couldn’t do. I thought, I’m back with my friends again. I’m making music that I think is interesting. I can do this. It gave me the strength and ability to get on with finishing the Fragile album. So, Fragile sums up exactly what we think we are in reality, and what we all actually are. We all think we can carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and God, I’ve been doing that for a long time. As I said, it doesn’t take a lot to bring you to your knees and show you just how fragile you are.
What is the inspiration on the opening track “I Survived”?
That was it, really. It was the first song that I attempted to write on my own after stopping drinking. It’s quite simple, looking around me, sitting writing names and ideas, things on a piece of paper thinking I’m not sure this is ever going to connect or make any sense. I’m not sure what I’m saying makes any sense, but the idea is that when you do – when the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place and you start to see the big picture, you realize that you can, and you have, and it’s easy. So the survival part is there. I’ve been through some great lows and some serious lows, but I’m still here. I’m still doing it and I’m still absolutely loving it. That’s the key to it all. There are many out there, and I’m sure you know who I’m talking about, who get together again and they don’t talk to each other. They travel in separate cars, they have different managers. They don’t see each other except for the two hours they’re on stage each night. They’re not doing it for the love of it. I’m still doing it for the love of it. I’m doing this quite happily in the middle of the lineup, quite happy to be here. Coming back in January to do some acoustic shows.
Great to hear!
I will be totally on my own, no tour manager, no nothing. An absolute troubadour. I’ll turn up and I’ll plug my guitar in and I’ll do my thing and I think that is all part of creating music. That to me is just as important to do as playing The Greek.
What was it like working with Moby on the song “Dark Dark Night”?
I’ll tell you tonight, he’s coming to the show and I’ve never met him.
Really! That’s exciting!
We’ve collaborated and created a baby together, but we’ve never actually met. [laughs] I suppose it’s a modern collaboration. He got in touch with me a few years ago, a mutual respect thing. Asking if I’d be interested in trying to write something together. The modern way of writing, he already had a piece of music and emailed it to me and I took it and adapted it, changed it and put some melody on the top and some vocals and emailed it back to him. By the time I was finished doing what I was doing, it felt so integrated into the Fragile album, because it was in the middle of me working on all the material. It evolved into a major part of the album, I wasn’t willing to let it go. So I emailed him and said, are you OK if I keep this? He said, absolutely! Great! So we’re going to meet tonight for the first time.
Overall, how do you think Fragile compares to the previous solo albums?
I think any artist will tell you that the latest album is the best thing they’ve ever done. It’s because it’s the newest, the freshest, it’s the one you feel most connected to. Saying that, I think I’m proud of the previous albums. Some of them were a bit too serious, some of them were struggling trying to find out who I was, as opposed to who I was as part of the band. That’s a different thing. As part of a band, everything is “we” and “us” and we think and we collectively – it’s a unit. But when you step outside of that, it takes a while to figure out what “I” think and what I feel and what I want to see. I’m still proud of the previous records but this album I think is grown up. Because I didn’t have a major label breathing down my neck trying to turn me into something that I’m not, which is what they do. I did exactly what I thought was interesting, hence the two instrumental tracks on the record. I’ve always loved instrumental music, I love making instrumental music. So I did exactly what I wanted and strangely people have taken to it, people get it. It’s real and it’s honest, it’s not contrived. I haven’t tried to make something that’s commercial, I’ve tried to make something that tells a story, something that’s a linear album. You put it on in the beginning and you play it right through to the end and it takes you on a little journey. The way albums used to. It’s not a collection of three-minute hit songs. It’s one person’s thoughts and feelings and emotions all put into one piece of music. I’m very proud of it.
Would we have to wait another 20 years for new original material?
[laughs] I’m not sure I’ve got 20 years left. Definitely not. I’ve got the bit between my teeth now. I’m thoroughly enjoying this resurgence, this new energized me. I think once you take that mental block out of the way of thinking “maybe I can’t do this” or “maybe I don’t want to do this anymore.” Once you eliminated that and knock that wall down, there’s nothing but sunshine in front of me. I can see that I want to carry on doing this. I still absolutely adore the idea that I can wake up in the morning, go to the studio and make something. I can stand up on stage and sing a song. It’s the best job in the world. It’s great. Why would I want to give that up? Why would I want to not do that?
I promised I’d ask about this. How did you become involved with the International Blue album?
Have you heard that? A bit like the Moby thing. I was approached by a Dutch musician, Stephen Emmer, who’s a magnificent musician. A great, really musical person. I get approached a lot on the internet about doing collaborations on projects. I’m very weary of them, because a lot of them are not very good. But the moment my friend Glenn Gregory from the band Heaven 17 called me and said, have you listened to this stuff? I said, no. He said listen to it, it’s good. It’s really good. I listened to Stephen’s earlier album that he did with Tony Visconti. I chatted to him on Skype and he said he had a track - I think it’d be great for you, he sent the track, I said just send me the basic backing track I don’t want any melody. I’ll write something on top and I wrote melody and lyrics and recorded on tour in a hotel room in Germany on my laptop, a little mic and headphones. I emailed the vocal track to Stephan, who put it into his multitrack thing and then he emailed the entire thing to Tony Visconti in New York. So it’s a very global album. Tony mixed it within two days, the entire album and then emailed me the master back. Within two days of me singing this, writing this thing. I’m listening to this glorious mix of this fantastic album, which has got all the essence of all the stuff we grew up with. All the singers, the 60s crooners. The Webb Brothers, The Walker Brothers, all of that stuff. Great vocals on fabulously constructed songs. Bacharach and David things, we were brought up listening to that, so the idea of making something that was a nod in that direction, an influence into what kind of influence we had, all the way through to David Bowie, that type of crooning and singing. It was a big influence to us.
Two more questions and then we’re done. If you would indulge me on one questions from the past – and it has nothing to do with Christmas songs…
Has David Bowie heard or commented on your cover of “The Man Who Sold The World?”
I’m not sure. He’s not commented to me, I’m sure he gets to hear a lot of the covers that happen. Publishers usually send material to the artist, or writer. I can tell you one thing, I know David and have met him many times. Two years ago, it was the 40th anniversary of the Ziggy Stardust album. I hosted a program for BBC Radio 4. They did a documentary on the effect the Ziggy Stardust album had on all musicians. Of course, we had to clear it with David Bowie. But everybody, because it was the 40th anniversary was trying to make a program but only one that David gave his acknowledgement to and was OK with was mine. So, maybe because he had heard that track? I don’t know.
Do you have any messages to your fans who are reading this?
Yeah, I’m absolutely stunned that my stuff has been getting over here. Through no fault of my own, I lost connections with promoters and agents in America. So, I’ve been very lax about trying to get back. I’m still desperately trying to get Ultravox back. I’d like Ultravox to come tour America one last time. Maybe more than once, but I’d love to get the band back. I’m working very hard at doing that, so anyone out there who has seen the band in the past, keep your fingers crossed and anyone who has not seen the band in the past, come and see them. They’re a powerhouse of a band. A very powerful group, Ultravox. I’m very pleased to be here and I”m going to keep coming back. I’m not going to disappear.
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Jack Lue)
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