May 29, 2018 Interview – Midge Ure Talks Inspiration, New Music, + More
When opening up to the world artistic expression, you should always be true to yourself. Easier said than done, it requires a certain amount of risk to explore outside the walls inside a house of comfort and creativity. Fortunately, Midge Ure has never been one to call one place home for very long, at least musically that is. A formidable guitarist and vocalist, Ure is also an exceptional songwriter and producer.
Ranging from Rock-n-Roll to Synthpop, plus everything in between, Ure’s accomplishments are all over the spectrum, sometimes making it impossible for the average listener to figure out who and what he is. From his time in Visage and Ultravox to producing the charitable supergroup Band Aid, to co-organizing Live Aid, there is not much he has not done. Truthfully one of the more underrated musical minds of the last 30 years, still pushing boundaries, Ure strives for more! Recently we caught up with the ever busy musician to talk his latest album, Orchestrated, plans for new music, touring with Paul Young, plus more.
CrypticRock.com – Since we spoke last in 2016, you have continued to tour consistently and record in the studio. Time can move by so quick sometimes. That in mind, what has the last 2 years been like for you?
Midge Ure – There is an adage that time gets shorter as you get older. It does fly by, as you pointed out since we last spoke, I have toured a lot, I have been all around the world. I have also managed to spend 18 months putting this Orchestrated album together, which is no mean feat. That takes a awful lot of man hours to do that. I look back over my calendar on my computer, and I have no idea how I did it! I still managed to see my wife as well. (Laughs) I don’t know how you do it, I think they call it time management. I think if you are keen and enthused by something, you make it work.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. You had mentioned you are always keeping busy and challenging yourself, otherwise you are just painting by numbers. Is keeping yourself engaged and challenged an inspiration to move forward?
Midge Ure – Absolutely. There is something about having had past success which is both a bonus and a curse. The bonus is you have been commercially successful, the curse is people still want to hear those old songs. I totally understand that, when I go to see artists, I don’t want to hear all the new album. I want to hear bits of it, but I also want to hear things that are recognizable to me. My challenge there is to make those songs interesting, not only to the audience, but to me. That keeps them alive, otherwise they become very dull, grey, and dead. That’s no good to anybody. I have always thought audiences know a lot more than artists suspect they do. They can tell when an artist isn’t giving 100% – they can see it in their eyes, movements, body language. In order to give that 100%, you have to change it up a bit.
This was a major change. It’s dreadful talking about a negative when you start talking about a record, but my big fear about doing this Orchestrated album is that I would ruin some of the original songs for people – you are altering them, changing the arrangements. I wanted to look at the songs I was working on and figure out a way to make them sound different, but equally interesting. That way they didn’t collide and clash with people’s very precious memories of what those songs brought them. I hope that’s what we’ve done.
CrypticRock.com – Many would say you have. The Orchestrated record, which came in 2017 in other parts of the world, but here in the USA on June 8th, does offer something new. This is really a wonderful collection of classic tunes reimagined with symphonic elements. What inspired this project?
Midge Ure – I think the fact that over the last few years I have been invited to tour with orchestras here in Europe. I have done Rock Meets Classic, which is a big symphony orchestra touring with a Rock band, and various vocals. You will find photographs on the internet of it. The first time I did it, I was on stage with Alice Cooper, how bizarre is that!
When I perform my songs with an orchestra, it just feels right. If you look back at what Ultravox was trying to do with electronics, we made quite a sweeping pallet of colors and sounds when I joined the band back in 1979. It was in its own way electronic symphonic, it wasn’t trying to emulate an orchestra, but it had the power, volume, and dynamics of an orchestra. It kind of lends itself to the orchestration that we have done.
Again, the idea wasn’t just to re-record the old songs and throw an orchestra on top – you can do that quite quickly and cheaply. I spent 18 months getting the orchestration absolutely right, so I won’t upset people and so I would achieve the goal, which was to take those songs and enhance them in a different way. For example, “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” which was a straightforward synth guitar rocker back in the day, on this album, it is turned inside out and it becomes a kind of a very slow, poignant ballad.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and as you said, the songs do lend themselves to this sound. These songs certainly work with such instrumentation because your solo material, Visage, and Ultravox work has always had a very epic sound – partially due to the instrumentation and partial due to your voice. Were there times you wanted to scrap something and restart it during the recording and arrangement process because it wasn’t working?
Midge Ure – I have to say I haven’t done this on my own, the producer, Ty Unwin, has been a major part of being able to pull this off. When you talk about it, there were a half of dozen tunes that jump straight into your head – “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” “Vienna,” and “Reap the Wild Wind,” no. “Reap the Wild Wind” I would have thought was an obvious candidate for this, and we struggled trying to make that work. I don’t know why, maybe because we thought it was such an obvious one. We wanted it to be spectacular, and it just wasn’t. We ended up walking away from it various times throughout that 18 months. When we finally came back to it, I think possibly because we spent 18 months getting all the other ones right, we kind of knew where we did wrong with it. We went back, reworked it, and we got it right in the end. It’s funny how sometimes the obvious ones, the ones you think would be easy to pull off, become the most difficult.
CrypticRock.com – That is fascinating how that works out sometimes. Amidst all this, you snuck in a new track, “Ordinary Man.” You released Fragile back in 2014, and it was a tremendous collection of songs. That in mind, can we expect some new Midge Ure music in the near future?
Midge Ure – Absolutely. I shot myself in the foot, I already started working on new material after the release of Fragile. I was in the studio and I have some things I am still working on, then the idea for this cropped up, it was just an idea at that time. When I found time, and started exploring this idea, it kind of overtook the new album. Maybe that’s laziness on my part because it felt a little easier, because I wasn’t doing everything myself. It just felt pursuing the idea of the Orchestrated record, at that moment in time, was easier, felt better, or felt right.
Now that’s done, I am back in the studio working on new material to get that finished. I am very aware of the ridiculous gap there was between Fragile and the previous solo album, 10-12 years. That is ludicrous! I certainly do not want to recreate that. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to hear the new music as well. Orchestrated is really going to take fans by surprise and they will most certainly appreciate what it has to offer.
Midge Ure – I hope so. In a way it’s funny, because it was never meant to be a kind of greatest hits. If you just landed on Earth, and you had no idea what a Midge Ure was, this would give you a reasonable indication. The thing I really like about this, you talked about “Ordinary Man,” I wanted something that eliminated the time span on some of those tunes.
I wanted someone coming to this blind, listening to it, and not being able to tell which song is the new song, and which one is 35 years old. They should all sound current, they shouldn’t be dated. The style of the songs aren’t dated, the approach to the songs aren’t dated. I like the idea that something brand new can sit next to something like “Vienna,” which was written in 1979.
CrypticRock.com – Yes! Plus you put “Ordinary Man” right smack in the middle of the record. You could pull a fast one on someone if they didn’t know any better.
Midge Ure – (Laughs) Weirdly, I have to tell you, the track “Breathe” came out here in the UK as a single. It was all over the radio here and everyone thought it was a new song, but it was a song I wrote 25 years ago. It was really successful everywhere in Europe, except the UK, so they all thought it was brand new. That suits me fine, I kind of like the quirkiness of that.
CrypticRock.com – That is the testament to the musics greatness. Talking about time management, you are still going strong this year! You are back in USA for some more acoustic performances before you co-headlining a run in June with Paul Young. Are you excited to team up with Paul on tour, and can we expect some surprises during these performances?
Midge Ure – I don’t know what the surprise is yet, I am sure there will be suprises. We haven’t actually discussed it yet. I have known Paul for a long time, obviously he sang on the Band Aid record and I produced the record. It made perfect sense, some kind of logical sense, as we are both from the same era, if we were touring America, we should team up and do it together. We will share musicians, travel, and we will hang out, because we get along incredibly well together. Musically, we will be doing two different sets, but I am absolutely sure there will be some crossovers involved in there somewhere.
As I said, we haven’t actually discussed that. It will be kind of something we will throw together in the back of the bus or whatever. I am really looking forward to it, Paul is such a lovely guy and an easy guy to get along with. It’s going to be good.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great bill. The beauty of your touring through the years is you have played more intimate venues and some bigger ones. On this tour, you will play some bigger venues, which is great to see.
Midge Ure – There is a logical plan behind this as well, if we are both playing smaller venues, it doesn’t make sense if we are both out doing it independently. If we team up, for the hardcore fans who want to come see me, and for the hardcore fans who want to come see Paul, there is no great hardship, depending on who your favorite is, sitting through the other one’s set. It costs the same amount of money to see it, so you may as well have a pretty good opening act. We haven’t decided who is going on first yet either.
CrypticRock.com – It is a win-win. In the past we have spoken about your very diverse musical background. Sometimes we can get locked in a box when creating, but you never seemed to allow that to happen. What kept you moving forward as a musician and not repeating yourself?
Midge Ure – I think it’s probably a variety of things. My first taste of success way back in the early years was a band I became successful with here in the UK without having written a song or produced a record. It was like a Bay City Rollers type band, we were actually a very good band, but this is how we ended up getting a record deal. It was number one through the UK, number one through all of Europe, and we became instantly famous.
It felt like it was wrong, it just felt like I hadn’t earned it. I got no respect for it, and quite rightly so, because it wasn’t mine. I felt like a puppet. I think that gives you the drive to move forward and do something better. Since I could remember, I wanted to be in the studio and do what I wanted to do. I wanted to be in control in a studio, I wanted to produce the music myself. I wanted to be left alone to do that, I didn’t want interference. It’s not megalomania, it’s just how I work best. I am not really good at being told what to do. I have spent my entire career avoiding what people tell me to do.
Back in the ’90s, when my record label at the time had no idea what to do with me, they were pressuring me to do DJ Dance mixes, which was what was currently successful. I point-blanky said, “No, I have no interest in it.” I don’t want someone taking my music and turning it inside out. As someone once said, “Having a DJ remix your music is like taking a dog for a walk and coming back with a cat,” it is completely two different things. I just said no, and when you do that, you have to expect to lose some popularity. I don’t mind doing that, I don’t mind not being as successful as I have had in the past, as long as I get into the studio to make what I think is interesting. That means you have to move forward each time from what you have done in the past.
I don’t want to write a song as good as, I want to write a song better than, more interesting than. Sometimes it’s successful, sometimes it’s not. Even the wonderful David Bowie couldn’t achieve that, sometimes he went too far ahead that none of us could understand it – it looked like he had gone backwards. That’s just the way it works. If you keep striving, you will never be disappointed with what you have come up with, because you haven’t stood still or gone backwards.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it keeps things fresh for yourself. It keeps you true to yourself. If you are not true to yourself as an artist, what is the point?
Midge Ure – I am asked a lot, “what would you like written on your gravestone or how would you like people to remember you?” My answer is, I have 4 daughters, I will never know, but I would love to know 30 years after I’m gone that my daughters could look back at any of my work and say, “that’s the best he could have done at that moment in time.”
That is all you can ask for. That you actually did the most interesting, probably went most difficult routine that you choose, and you did it at that moment in time, opposed to doing something just for commercial success. No matter how much money you have in the bank, or how successful or famous you are, you can’t sleep at night if you know you sold out a long time ago. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Agreed completely. It’s funny you have said, people ask, “What’s a Midge Ure?” If you were going to tell someone who did not know who you were, how would you explain who you are? With your great body of work, there is so much to talk about. Also, a lot of people are not aware, but you are a tremendous guitarist as well.
Midge Ure – Thank you, thank you very much! It’s an odd human thing that people box you up, categorize you, like a book in the library. You are Crime Thriller, so that is the department you go in. I don’t see that, I just see them all as books and they should be able to go where they like. That is what I am. I’m not the synthesizer guy. I’m not the Band Aid guy. I’m not the guitarist. I’m not the songwriter. I’m all of those things, and I have always been. I have never fit in any one particular category. I would like to think, and maybe it’s my egotistical mind, but I would like to think whatever category that is, that I do it reasonable well. Maybe that is one of my downfalls, that people can’t pinpoint me and go, “that’s the shelf that you should be on, that’s your shelf.”
As I said before, I have been on stage with Alice Cooper, I have also been on stage playing guitar with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and I can hold my own. Maybe I am just too diverse for people to pinpoint and go, “Right, now I know what you are.” It’s kind of difficult and I understand why it’s difficult for people. I think just being just one thing and being known for one thing, it’s kind of limiting, I find that a bit dull.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and that is very true. No matter mass popularity or not, what you have done through the years has worked.
Midge Ure – Recently I had a flurry of activity of people who only just discovered what I do. There is a The Assassination of Gianni Versace TV series, and the entire opening of a particular episode of the program, they used “Vienna” as the soundtrack! They played 4 minutes of “Vienna” with no dialogue. Kids are finding this stuff saying, “What the hell is this!” They all think it’s new and it’s just incredible.
It’s kind of funny looking back and watching these things happen. All of a sudden, bits of music is being used in very successful TV series and movies. People are discovering music, not through the radio, like they normally would, but because someone has chosen to use it in a different medium. I find that quite interesting.
CrypticRock.com – It really is. It is great to see music preserved in that fashion.
Midge Ure – Yes, absolutely. Recently, a David Bowie song I recorded back in the early ’80s, “The Man Who Sold The World,” was used in a video game, Metal Gear Solid V. A wealth of people who had never heard of me, or knew anything about me, fell in love with this song that appears in this game. They have gone backwards, gone online to find out what this is, and found an entire body of work that they didn’t know that existed. That is a great way for people to discover you.