Live Interview: Midge Ure (@ 9:30 Club, 7/19/22)

Midge UreMidge Ure (Photo courtesy Chuff Media)

The 9:30 Club encapsulated its upcoming night of highly intellectual dance music perfectly:

“Ah, sophisti-pop: the most elegant genre from music’s most elegant decade, the ’80s. Fusing together all the best parts — both musically and aesthetically — of new wave, soul, and jazz, Howard Jones and Midge Ure (both with Ultravox and as a solo performer) came to define the sound alongside Rough Trade royalty like The Style Council, The Human League, and Scritti Politti.

“Be warned, you may experience the following side effects at a Howard Jones & Midge Ure show: 1) feeling good, 2) dancing great, and 3) looking even better!”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. But I do get to add some dimension to the adroit concert preview by interviewing the one and only Midge Ure himself. Parklife’s Mickey McCarter chatted about his old friend Howard Jones, the resurgent and powerful Kate Bush, and his own experiences in going viral prior to his appearance at 9:30 Club on Tuesday, July 19.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Mickey McCarter: Thanks for talking to us today, Midge. How’s the tour going?

Midge Ure: It’s going incredibly well. It’s getting better each time. My worry about the tour was the format. I’m doing it as just a keyboard player and myself, and a band in a box. I spent the last few months programming the drums and bass and stuff, and it’s working really well. It’s actually great fun! I’m using one of Howard’s keyboard players, a young guy, Dan [Burton], who’s done a fantastic job, and I’m playing keys and I’m playing electric guitar as well. And it just sounds fabulous. It’s really good.

MM: That’s great considering the last few times you’ve been to the United States it’s been a solo acoustic affair. So hearing that synth sound again is pretty exciting.

MU: Also, I’ve been able to strap on my electric guitar, because as you quite rightly pointed out, it’s been acoustic stuff. I can’t really do anything on an acoustic guitar. You strum a few chords and that’s about it! But it’s been great being able to strap on my electric guitar and have a bit of fun playing a few solos. It’s funny. It’s one of the things that when people have seen you in the past, and they’ve only seen you do the acoustic things, they’re kind of amazed that you can actually play a bit of guitar. It’s been excellent.

MM: How’s it been being on the road with Howard Jones again? You guys are old friends and you’ve played together before. It must be a treat to be here in the States with him this time?

MU: It is. Howard approached me about a year ago with the idea of doing this. The tour’s the thing. He wanted to make the best tour that he could possibly make, and he kind of coerced me. He said, “Come on, come on, come on. It would be great fun.” It’s very different from the tour that we did back in the ’90s where I had my own self-contained band; I had my own bus. We were like ships that passed in the afternoon. We’d see each other backstage, but the moment we came off stage, we would be back in the bus and heading off to the next venue. This time we’re in the same bus. It’s like a family reunion.

I’ve known Howard and his wife, Jan, for a long time. And it’s been an absolute joy. We’re all in the bunk area together. We’re all having breakfast together there. We’re all sitting up at night, having a chat about old times together. It’s been really good. I couldn’t think of a better way of doing things. There have been no tantrums, no fall-outs. It might happen, but I very much doubt it as we’re very chilled, easygoing people.

MM: The show comes to DC on July 19 at the 9:30 Club, which is very exciting because you guys belong at the 9:30 Club, our most iconic venue, in my opinion. Can we expect you guys to share the stage together for a song? Is that in the cards?

MU: Yes. Without giving too much away, Howard suggested we try and do something. He does a little section in the middle of his show where he brings it down and does a quasi-acoustic section. He plays a couple of new songs and the like, and it’s really good. It’s a lovely change to the full electronic setup. During that section, we shared the stage and, dare I say, it was a moment.

It was really quite something. We’ve never shared the mic; we’ve never done anything together. On the last tour together back in the ’90s, the nearest we got to doing anything was Howard had a video out that had mummies dressed and people dressed, so I came on dressed as a mummy, but that wasn’t really a duet. It wasn’t really performing together. But this is really a moment! You’ll have to wait and see.

Watch the official music video for “Everlasting Love” by Howard Jones on YouTube:

MM: You guys should record together at some point, right? That seems like a no-brainer.

MU: I tend to think these things work best when they’re not planned, when you’re not sitting down contriving something. If it happens naturally, brilliant, that’s probably the best way of doing any collaboration. Most collaborations are usually put together by management companies or record labels. And more often than not, the artists don’t actually meet — it’s done for their own reasons; it’s done to make record sales happen. Every collaboration I’ve ever done has been absolutely organic. It’s just happened. And if something’s going to happen, that’s how it should happen.

MM: Let me take a minute to ask you about one collaboration from your past, because like many people in the world right now, I’ve been listening to more than my share of Kate Bush. And I, of course, was reminded that you and Kate have that wonderful duet from your second album — a song called “Sister and Brother.” And I wanted to ask you a few things, like one, if you might share the story about how that particular collaboration came about? And two, how do you feel about her blowing up right now with Stranger Things and “Running Up That Hill” dominating the world charts?

MU: Second part first: It’s long overdue. Kate Bush! The term genius is battered about our industry way too much, way too often. And it’s usually not qualified. But in Kate’s case, she’s a genius. She’s broken the rules. She’s broken the molds. She’s consistently gone out and tried things — a bit like David Bowie did. And sometimes they fail, but without trying new things, nothing changes.

So, it’s long overdue that Kate gets this recognition, certainly over here in America, that she really deserved, especially for someone who couldn’t really tour. To see that happen in an industry that seems so focused on the periphery — how you look, your age, the clothes you wear, what kind of hair you have, are you wearing the right trainers — and to have your music discovered because it happens to be in a TV program, by an audience who have no idea who or what Kate Bush is, no idea what age she is, no idea what genre of music it is. They hear a song and it resonates with them. That’s fantastic.

Our collaboration, as I said before, was purely organic. We worked together. I think we were on the same label. I was in the Rich Kids on EMI, and Kate had just been signed to EMI, so we crossed paths a few times on doing TV shows. But then we worked together doing the first ever Prince’s Trust Rock Gala. Pete Townshend was in charge of the band, and George Martin was the musical director. I was brought into play guitar in the band and we ended up doing… oh, what was the song now? “The Wedding List.” We played “The Wedding List” live, which is a really complicated song. Kate’s stuff was so complicated.

We just became friends at that point. And I asked her at one of the events at Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s place, They were hosting a party for all the artists that had given the time for the charity, and I just said, “Look, I’m doing this track. It would be great and I’m thinking it should be a duet.” And she said, “Send it over.” I sent over the big multi-track tapes, not expecting to hear anything back for months because she was in the middle of her own album, and a couple of days later I got a phone call saying, “Would you like to pop over and hear what I’ve done?” And she’d obviously spent many, many hours multi-tracking her vocals and doing all this fantastic Kate stuff. And I stood there at the studio with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat because it was just spectacular. It was just wonderful, so purely organic, and it’s just the way these things should work. And it’s a pity that not many people really got a chance to hear that track because she did a wonderful job on it.

Stream “Sister and Brother” by Midge Ure and Kate Bush on YouTube:

MM: You had your own bit of viral resurgence. I was trying to recall the story, your cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” was used in a Japanese video game?

MU: I think by millions it’s the most streamed thing that I’ve ever done! Considering I recorded it back in 1982, it’s a bit of a Kate story all over again. It was the man who creates the games and directs these things, a man called Hideo Kojima, who was behind it. He is very famous in the world of video games.

When Ultravox got back together again about 12 years ago, we had a message saying that there’s this guy from Japan with his entourage, and he’s a massive Ultravox fan and would love to come and say hi. We thought, well, okay, that’s fine, that’s not a problem. He had come all the way from Japan to specifically see the show. Through his interpreter, he said he’s a massive fan. When he was a kid, he used to sit and do drawings and invent worlds in his head long before he was a game designer, and he would do so listening to Ultravox music. Again through his interpreter he said, “We have a game called Metal Gear Solid,” which even I had heard of.

I was told, “We’re doing the final installment of Metal Gear Solid. And Hideo has written the entire script based on your version of David Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World.'” Now, you hear things like that quite often, and you it’s like water off a duck’s back. They usually don’t come to fruition. Of course, two years later, a game popped into the office, and there it was. The entire opening sequence of this final installment of a five-game series was based on “The Man Who Sold The World.” It tapped into an entirely different audience. Again like Kate, the listeners had no idea who I was, how old I was, whether I had hair or not. It didn’t really matter. They heard a piece of music that enhanced their moments, their lives, and it just resonated. It’s amazing.

MM: I say this all the time and I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but the time when you and Kate were putting those songs out, well, it was such a creative and fruitful time, and it’s no surprise to me that in today’s disparate media landscape, people were able to pick up on these things, and they become popular again, or more popular than they ever were to begin with. It just seems natural to me.

MU: Music is there forever. It defies logic that people have ceased to go and buy a piece of music, a piece of music that can change your life, that stays with you from basically cradle to grave. You get married to it, you can conceive your children to it. It’s your special song. It’s something that you will listen to for the rest of your life. And that stuff’s up there. Once it’s there, certainly now it’s up in the ether. It’s all accessible. It’s just using the right route to getting to an audience. With things like Netflix and your Stranger Things and whatever, people are using those pieces of music as part of the soundtrack to enhance their visuals, because the tracks we’re talking about are very atmospheric tracks.

The whole electronic thing from the late ’70s was a lot of what was very textual and ambient, and it was almost film music turned into song. “Fade to Grey” and “Vienna,” all of those things which are constantly been used on syncs now. It’s something to do with the fact that the producers and directors of the television and movie industry were probably young kids when they maybe heard a song, maybe at college or whatever, and they heard “Vienna” for the first time. Well, they’re now directors, and they’re placing their favorite pieces of music into their work, which is like the ultimate pat on the back. It’s wonderful that someone thinks that way about your music and they’re touched by it enough to go and take a chance and put an unknown piece of music, 40 years old, into a modern context.

Stream David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” by Midge Ure on YouTube:

MM: I quite love your photo book — Midge Ure… In a Picture Frame… I couldn’t have envisioned how majestic, how interesting, it would be, and how intimate it would be. And I’m wondering if you have any thoughts and if you’ve been pleased with the reaction to it?

MU: I’ve been very pleased with the reaction to it. I don’t revere anything that I do, and I was very abusive to those photographs, to the extent that some of them had to be scanned from 10 x 8 prints because the negatives were scratched and they got wet and they were stored in an outbuilding. I didn’t really plan on doing anything with them. And of course, when you find the photographs, and I’m sure I’ve said to you before that it’s not just a little bit of history of yours or Ultravox’s or Visage’s because they all feature in there. It’s a moment in time that’s gone. There are some shots in there, there’s a shot of Ultravox in America somewhere back in the early ’80s, and we’re wearing Walkmans, and well, it kind of dates the photograph, but it puts the photograph in a diary.

The cars are from 1982, the Walkman’s from 1982, the clothes we were wearing were already what we call dead men’s clothes. We used to buy our stuff in thrift shops. Those photographs really capture the ambience and the feel, like all photographs, of that particular moment in time. And that was what I found fascinating. I think an audience found the backstage stuff fascinating because Ultravox were always seen as four poor-faced scientists, rather than musicians, with no sense of humor. And of course, you can see in the photographs we’re a band like any other band. We got bored, you do stupid things. You’re sitting backstage, you take photographs of yourself. We invented the selfie by taking photographs in the mirror or setting up cameras on timers. When you piece it all together, it’s quite a nice thing to have rather than me just ruining all the negatives and the 10 by 8 prints that I already had. They’re there for posterity’s sake now.

MM: You can’t buy that book on tour, right? It needs to be ordered from your website.

MU: Oh, God, no. We’re all on the one bus here, and we wouldn’t like the idea of carrying a bunch of books that probably weigh more than the equipment that we have. It’s quite a hefty book. It’s quite a beast of a thing.

MM: I also want to ask about your pending albums. You are working on three different albums right now: another orchestrated album, an instrumental album, and a straightforward song album. Any updates on any of those?

MU: I’ve just finished the instrumental album. I still have to come up with a title for it, but I have actually named the tracks now, which is a really difficult thing to do. It’s a very fine line between coming up with an interesting title for an instrumental piece, because it’s obviously been sparked by an image or an idea or a thought, without it sounding dreadfully pretentious. It’s a really difficult thing to get, to pitch it properly without making it sound like I’m trying to be some Icelandic composer.

It’s instrumental music. I’ve always made instrumental music. I’ve finished that now. I’m being very slow as I usually am about finishing the regular album, which is the follow-up to Fragile, and extremely slow about doing the orchestrated album simply because I know nothing about orchestrations. I have to work with someone who does, and I’m working with Ty Unwin, who arranged and produced the original orchestrated album which I’m very, very pleased with. It’s a labor of love. It’s very expensive to do. It’s very time consuming to do, but they’re all on their way. It has to be good. You have to be satisfied with it before you let it out into the big wide world.

I’ve put everything on ice for two months. And I’m making little video blogs of the tour and just keeping people up to date. I’ve said, “Look, I’m filling the gaps with some of those right now.” Although I thought it would be easy enough to do the backstage lockdown broadcasts from here, I have the technology to do it, I don’t have the time to do it. When you’re out here doing stuff on your own, I don’t have any crew members with me, I don’t have a manager, I don’t have a tour manager here. I’m just piggybacking on everything that Howard’s got, which is great. They’ve all been incredibly accommodating and looking after me like I’m some kind of kid who’s never toured before, but to try and find the time, the internet, the room, the space, I can’t really do it from hotel rooms, because when I sing, I sing very loudly. I don’t want to go getting kicked out of hotels when we’re in them, and I can’t do it on the bus because I think of 11 other people very irate at me for keeping them awake when I need to do a broadcast.

MM: We can see the video blogs on your Patreon, the Midge Ure Patreon?

MU: I’ll be posting. I’ve got one ready to go. There will be two or three of them, I hope.

MM: Midge, thanks so much for your time. As always, it was wonderful to chat with you, and it’s wonderful that you’re coming to DC again. I feel like we’re spoiled because you have been coming back pretty regularly, and it’s going to be amazing to see you at 9:30 Club.

MU: It’s going to be fun. I have to say it’s been an absolute joy. It’s a real joy being up there, just playing live and playing properly.

***

Midge Ure appears with Howard Jones at 9:30 Club on Tuesday, July 19.

Buy your tickets online now!

Howard Jones
w/ Midge Ure
9:30 Club
Tuesday, July 19
Doors @ 7pm
$38 GA/ $163 Meet + Greet
All ages

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