Interview: Midge Ure (@ Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, 6/5/18)

Midge Ure (Photo courtesy Erika Tooker)

On June 8, Midge Ure will release Orchestrated, his latest album, in the United States. Orchestrated features orchestral versions of his well-known solo hits as well as favorite selections from Ultravox, including “If I Was,” “Fragile,” “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” “Vienna,” and “Reap the Wild Wind.”

Midge will perform some of those songs with his touring band at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club in a show with Paul Young on Tuesday, June 5. Several days ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Midge about the show and his future projects.

Mickey McCarter: We’re about to see you on tour! Could tell us a little bit about what to expect when we see you here in the DC area on June 5?

Midge Ure: The big difference this time around: I’m doing a double-header with Paul Young. I’ve known Paul for a long time, and I spoke to him last year about the possibility of him doing some dates in America. I suggested we share a band, which makes perfect sense. I’m using a bass player that I used the last time I was around, but with a couple of other musicians, who I haven’t met yet. All ex-Berklee music students, and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going be an evening packed full of hits and wonderful things.

MM: Will you and Paul do a song together?

MU: We’ve broached the subject by email and text, but we haven’t actually sat down face-to-face and figured out if we’re going to do something, what we’re going to do. We haven’t even discussed whose going on first yet!

I’m sure we will end up being on stage together at the end of the evening. It would be stupid not to; it’d be crazy.

MM: Right! What a missed opportunity that would be, in my opinion.

MU: Yeah! I used to be the musical director for Prince Charles’ Prince’s Trust concerts. We would play the Royal Albert Hall, which holds thousands of people. And one of the great things about those shows was that they would sell out even before any of the artists were announced. People knew that you would see a combination of people on stage that you would probably never see again.

The joy of going out on tour with Paul is that, after this tour, we might not tour again together ever. Not for any other reason than the fact that we’re busy in our individual projects. So, yes, it would be great. It would be stupid not to be on stage together doing something.

Watch Midge Ure sing “Seven Seas of Rhye” with Queen in 2010 via YouTube:

MM: You and I, in a previous conversation, discussed the idea that, if you’re going to tour jointly with somebody, having a sympathetic act, somebody who has sort of the same sound, perhaps, is a good way to do it, and people are going to want to come and see that combination. Paul Young seems a perfect example, pairing you with him, and touring the States, seems like a no brainer.

MU: I’m sure we talked about the possibility of an ideal line up would have been Ultravox and Tears for Fears and Echo and the Bunnymen, that kind of genre. Paul’s great. Although the music is slightly different, we’re from the same era where we hit MTV at the same time, so it seems to make a good, interesting package. Of course, the key to this stuff, for me, is going out there with people that you actually enjoy being with, and Paul’s a lovely guy. At this time in life, you do not want somebody who’s a pain in the backside driving you crazy. You want someone you know you’re going get along with.

MM: There’s also a certain maturity…, I guess that’s the word I’m looking for…, to the song writing and the presentation. You gents are very similar in that way.

MU: There’s definitely a compatibility, absolutely. It’s not like the package tours where they throw artists together who have no connection whatsoever other than the fact that they were all around in the same period. You think, why am I watching these really diverse acts at once? Whereas, if you took a little bit of thought and put together, as we said before, compatible artists then you would have a better show. You would want to go and see two and a half hours’ worth of music that you like.

MM: And speaking of music that I like, I bought your new Orchestrated album, and what a great album. What a great idea.

MU: Thank you very much. That means a lot.

MM: I wanted to ask you about your personal favorite from that, and maybe how it all came together?

MU: Well, the personal favorite’s difficult. It’s a bit like asking me which one of my daughters I don’t like. It’s very tricky. Perhaps “Hymn,” the opening track, just for the sheer power of it to the end. It’s just ridiculously cinematic and emotional. But, on the other hand, there are good things like “Lament” or “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes.” It’s a very odd thing going back, and re-looking at music you wrote such a long time ago. My big worry about doing it was that I was going to ruin people’s memories of the originals. I didn’t want to affect the original versions at all.

I wanted to take the songs and reimagine what those songs could have been if we hadn’t done them the original way. Something like “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” on the Orchestrated album, is a beautiful, poignant, sad, heart-wrenching ballad. It’s very emotional. It’s very atmospheric. It’s got a really fragile sound, and it really suits the lyrics. In a way, I wonder why we didn’t do it that way in the first place. But, that’s just the passage of time. That’s just 35 years older, looking back over your life, and seeing the song in a very different light.

MM: So, you didn’t want to ruin people’s perfect memories of the original versions, but isn’t that why people perform live? You do a different version live, perhaps? Something that’s slightly different, or you extend the song in a live performance in a different way, and people really love that experience, right?

MU: Of course they do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want to hear it over and over and over again on an album. When I go to see an artist and they play a slightly different version of their song, I’m filling in the gaps in my head. I’m still hearing the arrangement from the original recording. David Bowie used to do it a lot. He would go on tour, and he’d do rock versions of Ziggy Stardust or whatever. I would still hear the counter-melody in the second verse, and in my head, it wasn’t there.

And that’s fine. The human brain fills in the bits that you want to fill in. But for me, I was very, very weary that someone would sit and think, “Oh my God, you have ruined this song. You have absolutely devastated my memories, and who I was with and what I was wearing and who I knew back then and all my aspirations. You have completely ruined my life!” I spent a long time with Ty Unwin, the guy who arranged the album, making sure that we did something that was very sympathetic in that respect.

Watch Midge Ure perform an acoustic version of “Vienna” for The Late Late Show, courtesy RTÉ, Ireland’s National Public Service Media, on YouTube:

MM: You succeeded. I hate to put you on the spot, but have you ever had that happen to you? Where you were just like, “oh my God, this experience was so terrible?” Whether it was for you personally or somebody you witnessed.

MU: Not necessarily with the public, with an audience. There was a moment back in 1980, when some bright guy at the record label thought it would be brilliant to do an orchestrated version of “Vienna” with Ultravox. We went into the studio with the London Symphony Orchestra. It was exceedingly expensive to put together.

The guy came up with the orchestrations, and the orchestra played rubbish. They just couldn’t be bothered. At the end of the double session, an entire day with this 70-piece orchestra, I took a razor blade to the master tape, and I cut the two-inch tape so that no one would ever hear it! These things can sound great in your head, and then backfire in practicality. It was pretty extreme, but I was absolutely determined this thing was never going to surface. It was dreadful.

MM: That’s pretty serious! Well, I’m always curious as to what you’re working on next. What will you do after this tour?

MU: Prior to coming up with the idea for Orchestrated, I had already started working on new material for a solo record to follow up Fragile. I had already started working on it, and then I got sidetracked doing Orchestrated. I didn’t realize when I started that it was going to take 18 months before we completed Orchestrated. Now, that’s out, and we’re six months down the line since it was released in Europe, and I’ve now got to start thinking seriously about getting back in the studio and coming up with something new. I am extremely aware of how long a gap there was between Fragile and the previous solo album. I do not want to replicate that — it’s a 10- or 12-year gap. So, I have my work cut out for me, especially following up Fragile, which was received incredibly well. I’ve set the bar high, and I have to compete with myself.

MM: Fragile, I have to say, was indeed an excellent album. I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more over the time that it’s been out.

MU: Well, that’s very kind of you to say. That’s a nice thing to hear.

MM: I quite liked it when I first got it, you know, but now I feel like I truly give it its due after having it for a while. I’ve listened to it recently, in anticipation of seeing you live again, and wow, what a great album.

MU: Thank you very much, thank you.

Watch Midge Ure discuss the song “Fragile” in his studio earlier this year on YouTube:

MM: As far as future recording goes, I’m inspired to ask you about the potential of collaborations. Might you record a collaboration of some sort in the near future? If so, then is there anybody out there you’d like to collaborate with?

MU: There are lots of artists out there that I respect and admire, and that’s the key to any collaboration. There has to be a reciprocal admiration. I’ve done collaborations in the past with Kate Bush, for example. She’s got to admire you as much as you admire her; otherwise, it just doesn’t work. Otherwise, it’s a record company pushing it for exercise. It becomes about generating income as opposed to making music. [Midge and Kate recorded “Sister and Brother,” a duet on his 1988 solo album, Answers to Nothing.]

Having said that, I love Sigur Rós from Iceland. They’re incredibly interesting, and that could be an interesting collaboration in the studio. It would be a fascinating experiment in songwriting and textures, and atmosphere of the art — kind of the new Pink Floyd in a way. But there are plenty of people out there that could be good, but in order for that to happen, luck has to intervene. You have to be in the right place at the right time, or you have to have the right approach.

On Fragile, I was approached by Moby to do some writing. We ended up doing “Dark, Dark Night” on that album. But, strangely, we’ve still never met. We’ve never spoken on the phone. It was a very odd collaboration, but one that worked because we had this mutual admiration. It worked quite easily. So, I’m not adverse at all to doing any form of collaboration.

MM: And speaking of the future, I saw that the Live Aid archival material is going to be presented and that it’s going to go, potentially, on tour. Are you involved with that? I read the news that the archives were moved to the National Library of Ireland.

MU: That’s right. Everything Band Aid has done, we’ve done for free. And it’s quite a responsibility for whoever’s storing that archival material because we don’t pay for anything. So, we came to the conclusion that the best thing we could possibly do with this is to have a museum look after it, and curate it, whether or not it finally does go out on tour, because that seems to be the new thing.

There seems to be exhibitions popping up in music — a David Bowie exhibition and the Pink Floyd one. Whether Live Aid itself would be enough of a draw for museums to host on a monthly basis, I don’t know, but it’s definitely something we have spoken about. It’s really for the archivist to decide what they want to do with it. As I said, we are doing them a favor, and they are doing us a huge favor by looking after this stuff. We know it’s in safe hands, and we know it won’t get ruined, and we know it won’t get damaged in floods. So, it’s there for history’s sake.

MM: If it does go on tour, do you think you’ll be involved in some way?

MU: I don’t see why I wouldn’t be if it were necessary. If it was deemed necessary for either Bob [Geldof] or I to come along and do a talk or open up an exhibition, I don’t see how that would be a problem. But I think the material would probably speak for itself. If it was going tour, why wouldn’t it stop off at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a couple of months and move off around to various museums around the world. It was a global, social, and musical event. Why, it’d be great if people are interested in seeing it.

MM: Beyond the music, Live Aid was one of the fulcrums where you can see what was going on at the time in culture and everything. I think it’s an excellent idea, myself.

MU: It also would be a blooming educational tool. Imagine schools taking people now to go and see what it’s all about. They’ll hear all of that stuff on the radio for the rest of their lives. It would be good to fill in the gaps, and just tell them why it all happened. It would be a fantastic thing.


Midge Ure and Paul Young tour together with a show at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club on Tuesday, June 5. Buy your tickets online.

Midge Ure and Paul Young
Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club
Tuesday, June 5
Doors @ 6pm
All ages

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