Midge Ure is finally on tour after seeing his live dates rescheduled twice due to the pandemic.
But when it came to returning to the stage, his biggest fear was that his voice would not return after more than two years of live performances.
The former Ultravox striker will turn 70 this year and had just recovered from his second bout with Covid when he spoke to the Cambridge Independent, but fans will be relieved to know that after a bit of careful training, the singer’s worst fears have come to nothing.
“I worried about my voice after lockdown,” says Midge.
“I was on tour when it all happened in 2020 and I realized that because of this enforced lockdown, which meant I couldn’t do what I always did – sing live in front of big crowds – I hadn’t sung properly for some time.
“I’ve been singing around the house and doing some little acoustic demos online from my studio. But that’s very different from going out and standing on stage and belting it out for two hours every night. And when I got back into the band again, my voice was awful. It was awful. It sounds It’s like if you sat in a chair for two years and then you tried to walk, it would land on your face. I just thought I’d go and sing and of course nothing came out. It was awful. And it took a while for it to slowly come back up. That was scary.”
“I was used to going out on stage and then recording the highest note you could hit. But I suddenly realized that wasn’t going to happen. It’s like anything, you have to work at it. You can’t go and run a marathon without a workout. So I had to start doing a song and then maybe Two songs and then the next day I sing three songs, just to make it flow. Once you psychologically get past the point of thinking she’s going to crack, or I’m going to get hoarse, you just go ahead and do it. So everything’s back to normal now, thank God.”
After the overwhelming response to his Midge Ure & Band Electronica “The 1980 Tour,” which ended at the start of the pandemic, he’s back on the road this year with the “Voice & Visions” tour, celebrating 40 years since the release of Ultravox’s Rage In Eden and Quartet albums.
At the start of 1981, Ultravox were laying claim to being one of the defining acts of the 1980s after the worldwide success of their Vienna hit. Returning to the studio that same year, they recorded their second album with Midge as frontman, Rage in Eden, which reached the top five in the UK album charts. A third quartet album with Midge came in quick succession in 1982 with production from legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Continuing the band’s impressive chart hit, it became their third number-one album, featuring four top 20 singles, including the anthem.
The Voice & Visions tour visits 31 cities across the UK and promises to transport fans into a decade of electronics, experimentation, synthesis and great songwriting, showcasing album highlights alongside standouts from Midge’s back catalog.
“The Rage In Eden album belonged to Vienna,” he says. And we were under tremendous pressure from the agents, the management and the record companies to write the second part of Vienna. And depending on what region we were in, record company executives always had a great idea for titles. They said Berlin would be a great title, if we were in Germany or in Tokyo it would have been great if we were in Japan.
But we thought, no, we’re not doing any of this. So we set off into the German countryside to the studio of Conny Plank, a very popular German electronic producer. We had no songs prepared and proceeded to write everything in the studio. It took three months and resulted in exactly what we wanted.
Then the next album, the quartet album, we decided to do an antithesis to that and go with Sir George Martin, who had worked with the Beatles—someone who was basically old school, told us being stupid, just said this is too long, you need to work this out, And he had us wander around the piano to work on the harmony. It was old school stuff, but it’s cool because the Ultravox were pretty stoic, tough-headed individuals who didn’t want to listen to anyone, let alone each other. So the idea of having someone tell you what to do wasn’t A loathsome idea. But when George Martin suggested something, I listened—the guy had a history of more pinky nails than he ever had. So yeah, it was cool.”
The band was a little amazed by George’s stellar presence and celebrity stories. “There was a lot of tugging and tying and bending because, you know, it’s musical property,” Midge says.
“You’ve described him many times as a cross between your father and your favorite school teacher. He was just this sweet, knowledgeable, intelligent musical guy with the best stories in the world. He was like a storyteller. After sitting in the studio for weeks and weeks and weeks on end, he never stopped asking Stories about the Beatles.
He told us how one time John Lennon wanted to be hung upside down in the studio by his feet, then twirled between microphones to make a certain sound of his voice. We were thinking what were those guys up to? Well, we know what those guys were up to sometimes. But it was great to hear those stories from George.”
Looking back on the Rage in Eden and Quartet albums, all of the songs still reverberate Midge and were left off the live show. But others feel refreshed.
He explains, “I honestly don’t go back and listen to what I’ve done in the past, only if I have to when I need to do some research or re-learn because I’ve forgotten most of the songs.
And sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise when you find a little nugget that makes you think, Oh my God! I remember almost doing this song but I don’t remember it being particularly good. And you find something and then when you translate it into live work, it blossoms into something you get totally caught up in for the first time. Once 40 years ago.
But equally, the downside is that you find things where you’re thinking, ‘I don’t even know who wrote this, I have no idea what I was thinking when we were writing the lyrics or what we were trying to achieve’ or whatever, and that’s not his. Related to you because we are not the same people we were 35 or 40 years ago.
“You move on, and hopefully you move forward and expand your range and change your life. And some of it was very frustrating. So I picked songs that really resonate with me from both albums for this tour, and of course they have to go live. A lot of what you can do in the studio is creative and it works.” well in a studio environment. Sometimes it just doesn’t cut it when you take it out and try to put it on live.”
During the pandemic, Midge has missed performing so much that he’s started his own club to close the scenes online hosted from his garden studio. There he played live sets and Q&A sessions with fans as well as getting his celebrity friends to come in for interviews.
Midge says: “When the lockdown started, we all thought it was going to be over in six weeks – and we were all proven wrong. I’ve seen a lot of artists doing things online, but no matter how good the artists were, the quality of what they were doing was amazing.
“Usually they would sing live on the laptop and use the laptop camera to broadcast it and I think there has to be a better way to do it. If people are going to befriend from Australia or Japan you have to show them something of quality.
So I scoured my tech world, found the best cameras and found tracking systems that make the cameras move and bought a visual mixer that would cut between different cameras and different angles, and do guitar close-ups. And I invested heavily in this. The result looked really good.
“It looked like I had half a dozen people in the studio turning on the cameras for me, but I was just in my little studio at the bottom of the park, and people loved it. It wasn’t just the artists who missed the live performance. The audience missed going out to the movies or theater or going to parties.
“Some people need that – it’s like oxygen to them. They need to see the performance live and online performances won’t replace gigs that take place face-to-face in the same room as other people. But it was a good alternative and I still do sessions because it helps keep me going.” People share.
Midge has so much enjoyed getting to know the fans so well during these intimate sessions, which are often followed by reading their questions and he wishes that technology had been around earlier so he could talk to his heroes.
He says: “Rather than just sending fan spam or something like we used to have back in the day, which a lot of times never got to you, people can actually write to you and you can reply and that’s great. If you wrote to David Bowie and he replied , I would have been happy. It would have been as if I had just won the lottery.
“So I think that’s a beautiful thing. It breaks the whole idea of musicians standing on a pedestal and looking down on the poor fans from a great height. It doesn’t really happen. But that’s what people might have in their heads — that musicians are unreachable and untouchable.” Of course, social media changed all of that. So I think that’s a great thing.”
The closure also satisfied Midge’s love of instruments, which he now directs to the live tour. He is trying to create the perfect sound for the fans coming to the shows.
“Toys, games, games—boys love things that light up and make noise. We’re simple creatures,” he suggests.
“I’m still waiting for new technology to make it sound better on stage. So I’ve been working with this brand new technology to make the guitar sound better. We do something called silent stage where there’s no noise on stage at all. The drums are electronic, synthesizers obviously don’t make noise.” , even the guitar is silenr.But the only thing that fails when doing this is the guitar side.
“I wanted something that would give me the best guitar sound I could get and then what comes out of the big sound system outside is like hifi. So I’m constantly changing it up. I find working with technology inspiring in itself, but the world inspires me for the content of the songs. Love , hate, jealousy, envy, you know, all those things are great topics.”
He looks forward to a day seeing Cambridge before his show, and has some pretty amazing habits when he visits cities on tour.
“We arrive early in the morning on the tour bus and you always find yourself walking around looking at second-hand shops and estate agents’ windows. Don’t ask me why! It’s one of the things you do when you travel – you look at property prices. Cambridge is one of those cities that would be Wonderful to live in, like Oxford, Bath or Edinburgh.”
The Midge Ure, Voice and Visions tour will be at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on May 26th. For tickets from £28.50 to £37.50, visit cambridgelive.org.uk.
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