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Midge Ure is on the road again and heading to Cardiff Tramshed

Following the overwhelming response to 2019’s ‘The 1980 Tour’, Midge Ure & Band Electronica are delighted to finally return with the ‘Voice & Visions’ tour, celebrating 40 years since the release of Ultravox’s Rage In Edenand Quartet albums.

You’re finally getting back out on the road with the tour after the pandemic cancelled it not once, but twice. It must be a huge relief to know it’s definitely happening this time?

It was a strange time for all of us. I felt bad as the tour was postponed twice, which was a double whammy, like being kicked when you’re down, but I felt worse for the audience and for the crew. I could survive and still keep myself occupied by being creative in the studio, but the crew in particular were on their uppers, as their entire world had just ground to a halt.

Everyone’s diaries had been suddenly cleared the first time, which was hard enough, but then things were happening again and everyone was looking forward to getting back out there again, then all of a sudden it was all gone again. It was horrendous and got to the point we were thinking maybe it won’t ever come back. The idea that performing music could become unattainable was something nobody had ever considered as a possibility as it had never happened in our lifetimes.

Once it did though, we just jumped straight back into it, only for me to discover that my voice was completely gone, as I hadn’t used it for about two years! I had to start all over again and build it back up again. The whole experience really gave me even more of an appreciation of what I already have and what I never thought I wouldn’t have. The day you stop doing what you do, should be the day you choose and not something that’s forced on you.

Ultravox had become actual pop stars almost overnight after Vienna was released. How much freedom did that give you to follow up with Rage Of Eden?

I think popdom had been thrust upon us with Vienna, as the song itself was never designed to ever be played on the radio, as you can tell I think! Once you’re in that position though, it’s very weird, especially in those days, as you’re riding the crest of a wave, so to a certain extent, it didn’t really matter how obscure or dark the songs you were writing were, as they always got a spin on the radio and reached a large audience.

So it was great to have the success that Vienna gave us as it enabled us to go do Rage Of Eden, though we did it in completely the opposite way from Vienna, as instead of going in the studio with the songs already written and taking three weeks to record and mix them, we went over to Conny Plank’s studio in Germany for three months! We created the entire thing there, which we wouldn’t have been able to do without the success of Vienna. That changed everything for us.

Were you under any pressure to come back with a commercial hit record or was that not even in your thinking?

Chrysalis Records trusted us, so they would just let us go off and see what we could do, whether that was albums or videos. We’d just turn up after three months or whatever it was with it all done and dusted, none of which they had ever seen or heard even a hint of previously. So it was great to be allowed that kind of artistic freedom.

The next album was Quartet, produced by George Martin no less, which was another huge leap in your sound and ideas, What was your thinking on moving in that direction after Rage In Eden?

We were so dogmatic about what we wanted to do and how we did it, which is why for the next one, as much as we loved working with Conny, we decided this time we should work with someone who was going to tell us what to do, to intervene in the arrangements and who we’ll listen to! I think there’s few people who fitted that description more than George Martin, because if he had something to say, you better be prepared to listen, as he always knew exactly what he was talking about.

Both Rage In Eden and Quartet come over like the sound of a band challenging themselves and not settling for doing the same thing they did the last time. Was that important for you to always keep evolving?

Ultravox were a difficult band, for ourselves, not necessarily anyone else, but we weren’t stoic about what we would or should be doing. We weren’t trying to write hit records, we just wanted to make interesting pieces of music. So for us at that time to loosen our self-imposed reins and let someone else into our inner sanctum as it were, was quite huge.

Weirdly, I prefer Rage In Eden to Quartet though, as much as I loved working with George, what came out of it sounded much more polished, which didn’t feel quite right to me. It wasn’t wrong, but it has lost some of that raw, spiky edge that we had on both Vienna and Rage In Eden. It’s still a record I’m really proud of though.

Both Conny and George were brilliant in their own right. George was very old school in his production, so he’d have Geoff Emerick the engineer sitting next to him, who also did Sgt Pepper, with another engineer next to him. He would make a suggestion to Geoff, who would pass it down to the next guy. It was a world away from being in a barn in the middle of a German forest with Conny plugging cables into little boxes that he’d built himself!

As much as you were a huge star yourself at the time, was there ever any moments working with George where you found yourself feeling a little overawed?

All the time. There was a moment in particular I always remember, where I was doing my multi-track vocals thing at the start of Hymn. I’m in the studio on my own with the headphones on and George spoke through to me from the control room to tell me it didn’t sound right. I apologised and asked how he wanted me to do it, but he said it wasn’t me, it was the mike. So he turned to Geoff and said ‘Do we have John’s mike here?’ So off they went and came back with this wooden box containing a very rare and expensive Neumann valve microphone, which would have been something in itself, but it was John Lennon’s microphone!

So we set it up and I did my vocals literally shaking, as I was singing into John Lennon’s microphone. It was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments, like here’s me, a boy from Cambuslang, working with George Martin and using John Lennon’s equipment. It’s the stuff you’d dreamed of when you were a kid.

This tour is a retrospective one, but you’re still working on new music and have no plans to settle into the heritage act circuit, would that be right?

Making new music is so important, as far as I’m concerned. It’s just something I do, no different from breathing or blinking. I don’t want to ever be considered a heritage act, though there’s an element of that you can’t avoid just by getting older. Saying that, the idea when you’re doing tours like this one where you’re concentrating on heritage albums is like fishing, as you’re trying to remind people that they exist, like you’re saying ‘I didn’t just do Vienna, by the way!’. It’s a way of garnering an audience back into the fold, I think. Remind them of the old music, then you can give them new music as well. I can’t imagine just settling for playing the back catalogue forever, as much as I love doing it. As long as I’m able and willing, I’ll be writing and releasing new music, there’s no doubt about that.

8 May 2023

Cardiff Tramshed

Clare Rd, Cardiff CF11 6QP


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