Partying like it's 1980, with Midge Ure

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 9:41 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 7:25 pm

When you’ve had a life of chart hits and hit a pensionable age there might be some temptation to rest on your laurels, and indeed royalties. Not so for Midge Ure.

“I seem to tour so much these days, at a time when you’d think you’d be putting your slippers on,” he agrees. However, the Glasgow-born musician is still very much in demand, especially in summer.

“These 1980s things seem to have taken off, every weekend it’s doing a festival or two.”

But with Ure still producing new material, this means weekdays are his own. “I can get into the studio and do something new, not just the old stuff.” Indeed, the working week is like stepping back in time, as he rubs shoulder pads with old acquaintances.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“It’s quite a bizarre time,” Ure says of the revival circuit, “all these old faces you used to see walking down the hallways of Top of the Pops.”

And having recently played the Scottish leg of the Rewind festival, his next ‘home’ - Party at the Palace in Linlithgow - will see the former Ultravox frontman encounter some relative striplings like The Charlatans, and KT Tunstall, who it turns out is a personal favourite. “I watched that fantastic and fascinating TV show on families, and she’s a serious talent, a great songwriter.

"We've texted each other over the years but don’t think we’ve actually met so it'll be good to see her live."

1990s act Republica are another favourite on the bill. “I’ve seen them a few times – a great band, loads of energy.”

And fellow Scots Deacon Blue and Wet Wet Wet make for something of a dream festival lineup for fdans of a certain age.

But all quite far removed from his own past, which he’ll trawl for a retrospective album, tying in with his next record (and tour) – ‘Vienna and Visage’.

“If you landed from the Planet Zog, and hadn’t a clue what a 'Midge Ure' was, this is the album,” he says of the release, due out later in the year and tying in with a tour which will take him around the globe into 2020.

However, the track listing won’t go quite to the start of his 45-year career.

“Slik I had nothing to do with,” he says of the manufactured teen band which gave him his first number one. “Someone had their hand up my backside at the time,” he laughs. “I was a glove puppet, especially ‘Forever and Ever’ - I didn’t write or produce it and wasn’t even allowed to play on it, so I didn’t feel it was mine.”

That independent spirit may be what drew him to the attention of flamboyant Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

“I’d never seen his likes on the streets in Glasgow,” Ure recalls. “He stopped me because of how I looked - he’d not heard me play.” Ure turned down this unusual approach to forming a band - which of course worked out, with McLaren’s charges spearheading the punk revolution.

“He chose the right people, you can look back and couldn’t change any element of it.”

Ure, however, briefly formed a punk band, PVC2, with his Slik bandmates, playing their own instruments on a self-penned tune which, perhaps, wasn’t high enough fidelity for the new double vinyl and CD issue planned. “It was recorded live on a wee Revox recorder - we put the mics up and recorded it again and again, till we got one that sounded reasonable,” he recalls.

Instead, the album will kick off with a Rich Kids tune - a band which included former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, plus Ure’s long-term collaborator Rusty Egan. The duo then helped Steve Strange form electronic supergroup Visage, before Ure replaced John Foxx in the reborn Ultravox, his songwriting bringing hits such as ‘Vienna’ to what was a cult act beforehand.

But the singer, who also played guitar with Thin Lizzy, doesn’t miss those days of being beholden to a record label - when not playing and compiling his back catalogue he prefers to work at home, pressure-free.

“Nowadays you have a laptop and a guitar and a microphone and software and you’re there, you don’t have a label banging on your door saying ‘We need a new album’ every 18 months like they used to, because it was a bit of a factory in a way... they kind of forced your hand to come up with the goods - you leave too big a gap between hits and you disappear.”

And hits are something that Ure had become quite the expert in - including what would become the biggest seller of all time, ‘Do They Know It's Christmas?’, which spawned the Band Aid Trust, “a six month project that turned into 24 years.”

“‘Vienna’ was never written as a hit, it was written as a piece of music. But the Band Aid song was written to be a hit - that’s a whole different thing.”

Ure’s catalogue is extensive, and growing by the day, making it impossible to pinpoint any particular favourites.

“I could make a fantastic best of ones that didn’t get anywhere, they’re interesting songs but they’re too long, or they’re not right for the current trend in music, but doesn’t mean that they’re bad songs or bad music.”

“As a writer you’re competing with what you’ve done already, competing with yourself…”

I ask him if he ever worries that he’s peaked?

His reply is immediate. “Every day!”

Midge Ure plays Party at the Palace in Linlithgow on Saturday 10th August. More at midgeure.co.uk / partyatthepalace.co.uk