Scottish singer, songwriter and producer Midge Ure … he of Ultravox, Visage, Band Aid, Live Aid, Thin Lizzy and The Rich Kids fame is returning to Australia for his 3rd trip in four years. His 2013 visit was with full band, in 2015 he toured solo and this time he’ll be performing classic songs like ‘Vienna’, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ and ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ in trio mode on the Something From Everything tour. Greg Phillips caught up with the longtime friend of Australian Musician to chat about the upcoming dates.
Each time you tour here, it’s in a different format. This time you’re coming with the India Electric Co, a duo consisting of Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe. How did you come across those guys?
They opened up for me quite a few times when I was doing my one man acoustic shows in Europe. We tend to give the opening spot to up and coming artists because it is stupidly difficult for them to get gigs otherwise. People usually send us in CDs or just word of mouth and we give them a crack. Every time the Electric Company did it … I didn’t know who was doing which night … but every time they did it, I found myself sticking my head out trying to find out who was making all this noise. They were just fantastic. They jump from instrument to instrument, accordion to keyboard to mandolin, guitar, violin. I approached them about a year and a half, two years ago about coming and doing the Breathe album with me in its entirety. We had such a good time doing that and they really grew doing it too, so we decided to carry on and do this Something From Everything tour.
You’ve always had a celtic influence in a lot of your music. Do these guys bring that element to the fore?
Well they do but it’s not just a celtic thing. You know my music, there are a lot of melodies and counter melodies going on and of course I can’t do those things when I am standing on stage on my own. When you hear some of the older stuff, even the Ultravox stuff played in this format, you start to hear the songs properly. Hearing the counter melodies played on the violin or mandolin, the songs become more poignant. We’ve just started doing Dancing With Tears In My Eyes and when you hear that slowed down and played on piano and mandolin, all of a sudden it becomes a different song, much more poignant and sad in a way. It enhances the music because there’s a bit of space and also because of this lovely instrumentation, so it’s working a treat.
Have any other songs surprised you the way they have come up with these guys in this format?
Yes, a couple. Obviously I am sticking the hits in as much as I can but because we are trying to do at least this one song from every album thing … which changes from night to night by the way … there’s a song called Live Forever from one of my albums. It’s not something I have really played before and I didn’t think it would make the transition to this but it has become a bit of a highlight. We’ve really cranked it up and the violin playing has this mad, gypsy-esque power and that seems to stand out nicely. So too does Ultravox’s Lament, which again was a poignant little tune. I’m also doing the title track of The Gift, which is a very strange little song but this format seems to eat up the atmospheric lushness that Ultravox had but without all of the synthesisers.
Cole and Stacey use a range of fretted instruments but there are no drums on stage this time, are you playing a more percussive role with your guitar as a result?
Yeah, I thump this thing. I am the drums. .. but I tend to speed up and slow down, which is any musicians natural inclination. I have to keep this rhythmic thing going because of the percussiveness of the guitar. I’m the only thing holding down the rhythm a lot of the times while the guys are playing melodies. Sometimes Cole will be strumming away on mandolin which helps with the rhythmic side of things.
Does that make life easier for you just concentrating on the rhythm parts while singing?
You know what … the grass is always greener! Hammering away on an acoustic guitar, not only does it kill your fingers and chew up all your fingernails, you kinda think … wouldn’t it be nice to stick on an electric guitar and make some noise. Electric guitar seems to be like a 10th of the effort of acoustic guitar. Because I am doing this rhythmic thing, it’s a good one arm workout I am getting.
Have you changed the gauge of your strings because of that?
I have. Because I am hammering this thing, I’ve had to crank up the size. I think they are 13’s or something. I’ve just come back from America where I was touring with a couple of different musicians doing an electric thing, playing electric guitar. It’s like playing with elastic bands, so having done that and going straight back onto acoustic, I’ve just done 5 shows in a row and my fingertips feel like someone has sawn the ends off. It doesn’t take long for you to lose all of that nice thick skin and become impervious to the heavy gauge strings. I am only just starting to build up some resistance now.
Are you still using your Taylor guitars?
I’ve still got the pair of Taylors, they are glorious. The electronics in them are fragile though. Taylor have been amazing and every time something goes astray, they just rip out the insides and put it the latest version of the electronics. They are the most acoustic sounding electric plug-in acoustics I have come across, and the necks are nice and thin and just sit in my hands perfectly.
It’s a couple of years on from the release of your last solo album Fragile. How have those songs been working for you on stage and have they changed at all with time?
Well they change because of the format of course. We do a few bits and pieces from that album and again, I think because of the format we tend to go for the more poignant songs. We’re doing Star Crossed from that album. It’s another one I hadn’t attempted to do in any other way. It brings out the poignancy of what the song is all about. It’s almost like the audience are hearing the songs for the first time, even though they know the stuff.
You toured America earlier this year. How did you find the atmosphere over there compared to previous tours?
What I noticed was the divide between the lovers and the haters of the Trump administration. It’s quite severe. It’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to potential civil war. There doesn’t seem to be a grey area, it’s either you loathe them or you love them. I was in Texas on the day of the inauguration, which I was petrified about but luckily I was in Austin, which is a very multicultural, creative city. Austin is a bit like Berlin before the wall came down. It was really interesting to watch, it’s riveting to follow what was going on. Just the vitriol of some of the people, who have obviously voted against the standard system. They don’t believe politicians and they have voted for anything but and that’s what they’ve got … anything but a politician!
You produced a documentary called Fragile Troubadour, in which you toured America totally on your own. What were the main things you learned from that exercise?
Ha ha, to never do it again! The main thing, the intention of doing it was to show people that there is a career to be carved out if you are willing to work for it. I thought about this long and hard when I was sitting at The Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts, talking to the students and they were asking about the multi-album deals and world tours and all of this stuff that doesn’t exist anymore and that’s how I come up with the idea of the Fragile Troubadour. I wanted to say something positive about the music industry and I couldn’t think of anything. If you’re young and about to embark on this weird journey, I am not even sure where you take your first step. Since then I have thought about it long and hard and the conclusion I have come to, having spoken to musicians is that maybe now you don’t just concentrate on being the best guitarist or the best drummer or keyboard player. Maybe now your skills have to be so wide and broad that you have to be a good enough guitarist or drummer or bass player but you have to be really good at social media or being your own engineer and learn how to operate Pro Tools or Logic. Those skills are equally as important because you have to wear dozens of hats. You can’t expect that because you are a good singer that you are going to do well. No, you have to be a good singer, a good writer, good at social media, a good promoter, you have understand all the recording stuff, all things we never had to do back in the day because there were people to do that for you. I am lucky that I learned it all because I saw this coming 30 years ago. That’s why I built a studio when I had money. I learned extra skills, knowing some guy in a suit was going to come along and say we don’t want you anymore. I was left with the skills to be able to continue to create music and now it has become apparent that all of that is a basic skill set now, it’s not an extra. It’s a necessity. There are bands out there who are carving a career by doing it all by themselves and that’s what the Fragile Troubadour was all about.
There’s an interesting Mark King (Level 42) statement that you mention at the end of Part 1 of the doco. He’d said to you that maybe you’re part of the last generation of artists to make a living out of music …
Yes, which was devastating to hear a fellow musician from the same era say that before and it resonated strongly with me. Maybe that statement should be altered now though. Maybe we are the last generation who just had everything handed to them on a plate. The last generation who had a map with the steps on how to get there. There used to be a series of things you had to do. You played as often as you could to learn your basic skills. If you were lucky enough to be spotted, you were signed. You wrote your own songs. There was a logical sequence you could follow but not now. So maybe that statement should be, we are the last of that particular generation who did it that way. But since then, I am starting to think there is a different route, although the route is not clear but if you have all the skills you can crave your own route.
Have you been recording and writing new material?
I’ve started doing some stuff. I’ve tried to do some recording when I am not touring but I seem to have been touring since I saw you last. In amongst that I have been working on an album of orchestrated music, cinematic versions of older stuff, some of the old Ultravox and solo stuff. I’m about eighty percent of the way through that now. I have been working with a young arranger who does scores for the BBC and stuff. He was the guy who just got it. I went to see quite a few other arrangers but they were as interested in doing this as the guy behind the counter at McDonalds giving you a burger. They had no passion for it whatsoever and then I met this guy named Tye and he just got it. He cut his teeth on the synthesiser by listening to Ultravox. He knew everything that I’d ever done. So he got his teeth into it and turned these tunes into mega things, beautiful orchestrations and I have been working on it for a year now. So that will come out at some point this year.
Will there be a visual aspect to that project?
There will be but I better start saving. To play around with orchestras is such an expensive toy. BMG my old label have signed this and they are ecstatic about it and want me to do a couple of shows, so they are looking at that. But there are ways of doing it without carting an orchestra around with you. You know, you bring an arranger and violinist and you use local orchestras, so it is something that will take quite a lot of mapping out. If you’re going to do it you have to set it up months in advance and make sure the orchestra is available. Live Nation is all over it and want to do something. As you know the music itself just suits that huge sound. So there’s talk of it.
The documentary Fragile Troubadour can be seen on Vimeo
Midge Ure Australian dates:
Perth Regal Theatre
Weds March 8th
Adelaide The Gov
Thursday March 9th
Melbourne Thornbury Theatre
Friday March 10th
Sydney The Basement
Sat March 11th
Brisbane The Triffid
Sunday March 12th
There will also be an EXCLUSIVE VIP PACKAGE available ONLY through the shop on www.MidgeUre.com
This package (which does NOT include your ticket to the gig so please buy that as normal) will include:
– priority admission to venue before general admission
– VIP laminate
– watch the soundcheck
– exclusive signed print
– 2 items of your own signed by Midge and India Electric
– meet and greet with the opportunity for a photo of you with Midge
– exclusive live track available for download