Midge Ure: Live Aid, Vienna and Ultravox...and then came lockdown
The carefree, pre-Covid days of October 2019 now almost seem like a distant memory from another, more innocent age. It was also the last time pop/rock icon, electronic music pioneer and co-organiser of Live Aid, Midge Ure, performed in Cambridge, on October 10 to be precise – his 66th birthday.
He – and indeed many others – are hoping that we’ll have returned to something resembling normality by the time March 5, 2022 rolls around, for this is the date of his next scheduled appearance at the Cambridge Corn Exchange.
Called the Voice & Visions tour, the 26-date UK-wide jaunt is set to follow 2019’s highly successful 1980 tour, where Midge and his Band Electronica expertly ran through Ultravox’s classic 1980 album, Vienna, in its entirety – and this writer was lucky enough to be there.
The Voice & Visions tour will be marking 40 years since the release of Ultravox’s Rage in Eden and Quartet albums, which came out in 1981 and 1982, respectively. Highlights from those albums will be performed on the night and Midge assures me that he’ll also be doing the song Vienna – “I think we’d be hung, drawn and quartered if we didn’t!” he laughs.
At the start of 1981, Ultravox were staking their claim to being one of the defining acts of the 1980s, following the global success of Vienna, a classic synth-led tune which made the top 10 in a number of different countries.
Rage in Eden made the top five in the UK album charts and Quartet, the band’s third LP with Midge, was produced by legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Continuing the band’s impressive chart run, it became their third top 10 album and featured four top 20 singles including the anthem, Hymn.
Midge is hopeful that the gig will go ahead, despite him having to postpone various other shows, including a May 2021 concert at the London Palladium. “I think we’re trying to be sensible about it,” he tells me from his home just outside Bath.
“Obviously since last March anything that was booked in has evaporated. We tried to book a couple of small shows, hoping that things would get better – you have to keep trying – and of course we tripped up every time.
“The Covid rules have changed so everything we’ve tried to do, albeit small, has not happened. So we’re being realistic about it. We’re looking at 2022 so we’ve still got 13 months to hopefully return to some form of normality. We’re keeping our fingers, and everything else, very much crossed that the performance will happen.”
Midge, a former member of bands such as Rich Kids, Visage – he co-wrote Fade to Grey, no less – and Thin Lizzy, has remained active during lockdown with his Backstage Lockdown Club, a subscription-based service that provides access to live performance and Q&A events.
“I was in Australia and New Zealand when all this kicked off,” he recalls, “when we started hearing about this virus, and the big worry of course was getting back from Australia. Had my entire family been with me, we might have just lived it out in Australia, but everyone was all over the planet so I had to get back home and make sure that the family were all okay.
“Then a couple of months into it, I realised that this potential six-month period that this was going to supposedly take to get back to normal might be a lot longer than six months. So I turned my little studio into a broadcast studio – I put in high-definition cameras and little audiovisual mixers and set up a little thing called the Backstage Lockdown Club.”
Midge continues: “People from all over the world can log in and see me do a couple of performances a month. . . It’s not new, loads of people have been doing it, lots of artists have been performing from the lockdown situation, but similar
to a webcam.
“I’ve kind of invested and figured out how to do it with high-quality cameras, creating an atmosphere a bit more like a live performance – and it’s been a God-send. Not just for an audience but for me. It’s given me something to latch onto – it’s kept my sanity, I think.”
Guests, via Zoom, on the Backstage Lockdown Club have included fellow-80s stars Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones. “I’ve just contacted all my friends, I do a little interview with my friends,” explains Midge, who famously organised the Live Aid concerts in 1985 with Bob Geldof, “and slot it into this hour-and-a-half broadcast that I do every couple of weeks.
“It’s been great because when artists are talking to artists, the barrier goes down. They’re not talking to journalists, they’re not going to be stitched up, they’re not afraid of saying the wrong thing. . . So it’s just like a bunch of friends all sitting having a 20-minute chat.”
Midge says that audiences are loving the interviews because the conversations are “real” and unedited. Does he have any other friends lined up to appear? “I’ve just spoken to Toyah [Wilcox] and her husband, Robert Fripp, and they’re just hysterical,” he says.
“You get inside not only people’s houses, but their heads, and you get this all the time, when you’re speaking to an artist and they have a façade and sometimes you just get beyond the façade to get to their personality.
“Well all of my friends, they don’t have a façade when they’re talking to me – they’re just talking to me like my friends, and it’s been great. So far nobody’s turned me down, which is good!”
It does seem that since the beginning of the first lockdown, barriers have come down, in a sense, as we’ve increasingly been able to see into the homes of the rich and famous.
“It’s weird because I suppose if you look at the last 20 years, artists have become much more accessible,” suggests Midge, who reveals that his most streamed track on Spotify is actually his cover of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World because it was featured on the last installment of the Metal Gear Solid video game.
“Prior to that, admirers, fans, whatever you want to call them might have written a letter to them which more often than not, the artist never got because they’d sent the letter to the record label or the agent or the venue they were playing at.
“But now with the internet and Twitter and all the different social media platforms, people feel as though they’re even more connected to you. They can talk to you and you can answer them straight away, which is something that they never experienced 20-odd years ago.
“So I suppose the natural step on from that is they can see you chatting in a box; they can switch on at a certain time on a Saturday night and you are taking questions from them – and that’s a big connection, we’re just not in the same room, but we’re talking to each other via this platform.”
Although he’s enjoyed doing what he’s doing, Midge does miss touring. “This is the longest period I’ve ever been static since I was 18,” he reveals. “I was allowed to go and perform long before I was allowed anywhere near a recording studio, so touring is my first thing – and the camaraderie that touring gives you.
“The idea that every night’s another place, it’s another time, it’s another job. . . you come off stage and you have a shower and you jump on the tour bus, wake up in a different town and go for a walk.
I kind of miss that; I look at my calendar and a year ago yesterday I was in Salt Lake City and this year I don’t think I’ve been outside Bath!”
Midge Ure is scheduled to appear at Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at 7.30pm.
Tickets: £28.50-£37.50 from cornex.co.uk