"Wir hatten alle die Hosen voll"
Interview von Kai Butterweck
Midge Ure über Ego-Kriege, den ARP-Odyssey-Synthesizer und das neue Album.
Ultravox machen ein neues Album? Braucht das noch jemand? Eine weitere Altherren-Truppe, die auf den letzten Metern nochmals abkassieren will? Der allgemeine Tenor, als sich vor einigen Monaten die Neuigkeit über ein Comeback-Album der Synthie-Ikonen längst vergangener Tage wie ein Lauffeuer verbreitete, war eher kritischer Natur. Doch auf "Brilliant", dem ersten Studioalbum seit 28 (!) Jahren, treten die Briten nochmal gehörig aufs Gaspedal und zeigen der jüngeren Elektro-Pop-Generation "how the big boys do it".
Legenden vom Kaliber eines Midge Ure bitten natürlich nicht Backstage zum Gespräch, sondern schlüpfen in ihren schicksten Anzug und quartieren sich stilgerecht in einem 5-Sterne-Bunker ein. Und so treffen wir im Berliner Concorde-Hotel auf einen redseligen Sänger, der nach Außen hin auf den ersten Blick eher an den Eigentümer des Etablissements erinnert, als an einen Pop-Heroen, der einen der erfolgreichsten Songs der Musikgeschichte geschrieben hat ("Do They Know It's Christmas Time") und Co-Initiator des legendären Live Aid-Spektakels war.
Hallo Midge, du bist der erste Musiker, der mir im Anzug gegenübersitzt. Sieht schick aus.
Midge: Oh, Danke. Freut mich, dass er dir gefällt. Hier und da zwicken die Dinger zwar, aber ich trage gerne Anzüge. In meinem Alter kann man sich auch öfter mal in Schale werfen, finde ich.
Du hattest auch zu Hochzeiten von Ultravox Mitte der 80er stets ein recht erhabenes Erscheinungsbild. Erinnerst du dich noch an die Zeiten?
Midge: Ja, natürlich. Mein zackiger Schnauzer war doch der Hit, oder?
Damals auf jeden Fall. Zumindest beim Synthie-Pop-Gefolge.
Midge: Solch strukturelle Sparten wie seinerzeit gibt es ja heute gar nicht mehr. Genres sind überholt, und ich finde das auch toll. Jeder lässt sich von jedem inspirieren. Das ist gut und erweitert den kreativen Horizont.
Inwieweit habt ihr denn während des Entstehungsprozesses eures Comeback-Albums über den Tellerrand geschaut?
Midge: Da soll sich jeder selbst ein Bild von machen, wer oder was für das Album eventuell als Inspirationsquelle gedient haben könnte. Ich bin schon gespannt, wie die Leute reagieren werden.
Du hast dich in den letzten Jahren stets gegen ein neues Ultravox-Album ausgesprochen. Wie kam es zu dem Sinneswandel?
Midge: Wir haben uns vor zwei Jahren das erste Mal seit vielen Jahren wieder getroffen, weil ein Promoter uns daran erinnerte, dass wir dreißig Jahre zuvor einen Song Namens "Vienna" geschrieben hatten. Er legte uns nahe, aufgrund dieses Umstandes auf Tour zu gehen; was für mich im ersten Moment völlig absurd klang. Letztlich haben wir es dann doch gemacht und hatten rückblickend eine unvergessliche Zeit. Es gab aber zu keinem Zeitpunkt Pläne hinsichtlich neuer musikalischer Aktivitäten. Ich meine, sechs Wochen am Stück zu proben und dann einen Monat lang die alten Zeiten wieder aufleben zu lassen ist eines; sich nach 28 Jahren aber wieder hinzusetzen, um gemeinsam neue Songs zu schreiben und ein Album aufzunehmen, ist etwas komplett anderes.
Das wussten wir; also beschäftigten wir uns gar nicht erst mit derartigen Dingen, sondern genossen einfach nur den Moment. Als wir dann während der zweiten Phase der Tour in Deutschland spielten, kam Universal auf uns zu und fragte, ob wir nicht Lust hätten, ein neues Album aufzunehmen. Wir verneinten, weil wir wussten, wie qualvoll und anstrengend es für uns immer war, Alben aufzunehmen. All das ganze Equipment, endlose Studioaufenthalte und all die damit verbundenen Strapazen: Das wollten wir uns nicht noch einmal zumuten, zumal es auch logistisch unmöglich schien, da wir drei mittlerweile auf verschiedenen Kontinenten zu Hause sind. Universal ließ aber nicht locker, und so hatten sie uns irgendwann weich gekocht (lacht). Ich meine, Musiker sind wie Frauen. Wir ändern ständig unsere Meinung. Also überlegten wir uns, wie wir es am besten angehen sollten und landeten schließlich mit vier Laptops in meinem Haus in Kanada, wo wir völlig ungestört arbeiten konnten.
"Wir waren nie von einem Label abhängig"
Das Album erscheint aber nicht bei Universal, sondern bei der EMI. Warum der Wechsel?
Midge: Universal hatte letztlich klare Vorstellungen in punkto Sound und Vermarktung; Vorstellungen, die leider wenig mit dem gemein hatten, was wir als Band wollten. Zum Glück waren wir aber auch schon in der Vergangenheit niemals abhängig von Zuarbeiten seitens irgendeiner Plattenfirma. Wir wussten genau, was wir wollten, und verfügen auch über das Know How, um ein Album in Eigenregie fertig zu stellen. Das taten wir dann auch. Als wir fertig waren, nahmen wir dann Kontakt zur EMI auf, die glücklicherweise von unseren Vorstellungen begeistert waren.
Lass uns noch einmal zurück schwenken. Erzähl uns ein bisschen von der Zeit in deinem Haus in Kanada. Wie war die Stimmung?
Midge: Es war fantastisch und für alle eine wirklich tolle Erfahrung. Wir waren komplett abgeschottet von der Außenwelt, und wir waren ja nicht nur zum Aufnehmen da. Wir haben dort gelebt, wir haben zusammen gekocht, uns Geschichten erzählt und uns prächtig amüsiert. Irgendwann habe ich die Jungs darüber aufgeklärt, dass wir hier keine Demos aufnehmen würden, sondern das komplette Album fertigstellen werden. Das war schon verrückt, aber alle haben mitgezogen und das Beste aus sich herausgeholt. Heutzutage brauchst du nicht mehr viel, um professionell arbeiten zu können. Ich könnte ohne Probleme ein komplettes Album auf meinem Laptop produzieren.
Wir hatten also diese vier Stationen und wann immer einer eine Idee hatte, wurde diese abgespeichert und an die anderen versendet. Chris stand manchmal in der Küche und schnippelte Gemüse, während auf seinem Laptop eine Melodie von Warren eintrudelte. Dann legte er das Messer beiseite, beschäftigte sich mit Warrens Vorschlag und ging danach wieder in die Küche. Es war alles sehr entspannt. Ich hatte meine Station beispielsweise im Schlafzimmer, wo ich auch die Vocals aufgenommen habe, wann immer mir danach war.
Wir haben uns keinen Druck gemacht, denn wir wollten, dass das Endergebnis all unsere Erwartungen übersteigt. Wenn du allerdings unter Zeitdruck arbeiten musst und permanent jemand von außen seinen Senf dazugibt, dann entsteht selten Großes. Letzten Endes war es für das Album nur gut, als wir uns mittendrin von Universal verabschiedeten, denn so wussten wir, dass wir völlig befreit arbeiten konnten. Und selbst wenn am Ende Müll dabei herausgekommen wäre, hätten wir es einfach entsorgen können und niemand hätte je etwas davon mitbekommen.
"Das hätte auch ein Fiasko werden können"
Du warst in den letzten Jahren primär als Solokünstler unterwegs. War es schwer für dich, wieder Teil eines Kollektivs zu werden?
Midge: Ich hatte wirklich Angst davor. Ich war verunsichert und hatte keine Ahnung, was auf mich zukommen würde. Ich meine, Billy und ich, wir sind damals oft aneinander gerasselt und fochten wahre Ego-Kriege aus. Ich war mir nicht sicher, ob das nicht wieder passieren könnte. Zum Glück verändert man sich im Alter. Man wird entspannter, reflektierter und auch sensibler im Umgang mit anderen Menschen. Letztlich war alle Angst umsonst. Vor allem auch, weil kein Druck da war. Wenn eine Idee nicht gleich zündete, guckte keiner auf die Uhr. Stattdessen legten wir die Sachen beiseite, diskutierten und beschäftigten uns halt mit anderen Dingen.
All das hätte aber auch in einem Fiasko enden können. Ich glaube, wir hatten alle die Hosen voll. Aber es funktionierte. Bei der Tour zwei Jahre zuvor war es noch extremer, denn Billy hatte ich kurz vor den ersten Proben seit 1985 nicht mehr gesehen. Es gab keinerlei Kontakt zwischen uns. Ich hatte zwar über die Jahre immer wieder versucht, ihn anzurufen oder ihm über Bekannte etwas auszurichten. Aber ich bekam nie eine Rückmeldung. Dieser Augenblick, als ich ihm dann wieder begegnete, war ein Wechselbad der Gefühle für mich. Das erste was wir taten war: Wir umarmten uns. Und plötzlich war alles weg. All die Angst, all der vergangene Groll waren wie weggeblasen. Es fühlte sich einfach gut und richtig an. Bei den Aufnahmen war es dann genauso.
Ich hatte schon die Möglichkeit in einige Songs vom neuen Album reinzuhören. Dabei fiel mir auf, dass ihr im Gegensatz zu vielen anderen 80er-Pop-Bands, die in den letzten Jahren wieder mit neuem Material aufwarteten, unheimlich viele Old School-Elemente in die Gegenwart gerettet habt. War es euch wichtig, euch nicht komplett neu zu erfinden?
Midge: Ja, absolut. Es gibt nun mal diesen ultimativen Ultravox-Sound. Alles was jeder einzelne von uns in den vergangenen Jahren produziert hat, weist Nuancen dieses Sounds auf. Aber nichts klingt wirklich nach Ultravox; weder meine Solo-Sachen, noch die der anderen. Es ist dieser Vibe und diese Magie, die entsteht, wenn sich der komplette Kreis schließt und wirklich kein Element mehr fehlt. Dieses Zusammenspiel machte uns früher aus. Das ist unser Sound. Und den wollten wir auch in das neue Album einbeziehen.
Habt ihr auf altes Equipment zurückgegriffen?
Midge: Das einzige Instrument, was wirklich aus dem Keller geholt wurde, war Billys ARP-Odyssey-Synthesizer. Dieses Ding, und vor allem, die Art und Weise wie es von Billy eingesetzt wird, ist die Quelle unseres Sounds. Ich kenne keinen, der die Keys so bedient wie Billy. Er ist der Jimi Hendrix unter den Synthie-Fetischisten (lacht). Dazu kommen natürlich neue Sachen, ganz klar. Seit unserem letzten Album hat sich gerade im Bereich Synthesizer und anderer elektronischer Instrumente dermaßen viel verändert, dass es fahrlässig wäre, sich diesen Möglichkeiten zu verschließen. Ich glaube, wir haben auf dem Album einen guten Mix zwischen damals und heute gefunden.
Wir wollten kein Album, das klingt, als würde man sich in eine Zeitmaschine setzen und im Jahre 1986 wieder aussteigen. Das wäre langweilig gewesen, weil es wahrscheinlich auch alle erwartet hätten. Wir wollten der Ultravox-DNA eine zeitgemäße Frische geben. Es sollte ein zeitloses Album werden, dessen Stücke auch ohne Probleme im Radio neben Songs von Muse oder The Killers bestehen können. Vielleicht gibt es keinen Song der besser ist als "Vienna" oder "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes", aber als Gesamtpaket würde ich "Brilliant" als das stärkste Ultravox-Album bisher bezeichnen.
Das ist ein Satz, den ein Musikjournalist fast jedes Mal zu hören bekommt, wenn es um ein neues Album geht.
Midge: Das glaube ich dir gerne, aber ich meine das weniger als Kaufanreiz. Es wird sicherlich auch Leute geben, denen das Album nicht gefallen wird. Mir ging es bei dem Satz vielmehr um unser Gefühl. Natürlich ist kommerzieller Erfolg wichtig, denn er erlaubt es einem weiterzumachen. Aber wenn ich die Wahl hätte, ein Album aufzunehmen, was in meinen Augen furchtbar klingt, sich aber verkaufen würde wie warme Semmeln, und einem Album, in dem mein Herzblut drinsteckt, aber keiner weiß, ob es den Weg in die Charts finden wird: Ich würde mich immer für die Herzblut-Variante entscheiden.
Es gab in der Vergangenheit ähnliche Szenarien bei Bands wie Duran Duran, Yazoo, Spandau Balletoder OMD. Ich muss dir ehrlich sagen, dass mich keines dieser Comeback-Alben nachhaltig beeindruckt hat. Uns ging es darum, eben nicht nahtlos an einen Punkt anzuschließen, der vor vielen, vielen Jahren letztlich dazu geführt hat, dass sich die Band aufgelöst hat. Unser letztes Album "U-Vox" war Müll. Warren war nicht mehr dabei, und irgendwie waren wir nicht mehr dieselben. Es gibt einige gute Songs, aber als Paket ist es nicht der Rede wert, weil uns die Magie als Kollektiv schon längst verlassen hatte. Wir wollten es einfach nur nicht wahr haben. Dieses Gefühl und diesen Esprit wieder zurückzugewinnen hatte oberste Priorität. Das kannst du aber nicht erzwingen. Wir hatten das Glück, dass diese Magie durch unsere bloße Zusammenkunft wieder entfacht wurde. Der Rest kam dann von selbst.
Schotten, die nicht mit Brillanz geizen
ULTRAVOX sind zurück nach 28 Jahren
Nach 28 Jahren melden sie sich erstmals mit einem neuen Album in Originalbesetzung zurück.Promiflash traf Frontmann Midge Ure (58) zum Interview und wollte wissen, wie die Reunion überhaupt zustande kam und warum sie sich gerade jetzt zu diesem Schritt entschieden haben.
„Wir sind vor zwei Jahren zusammengekommen, um zu touren, weil es 30 Jahre her war, seit wir 'Vienna' geschrieben hatten. Das war ein großer Wendepunkt im Leben von allen von uns, es hat alles für uns geändert. Wir dachten gar nicht, dass wir an einer Tour interessiert wären, aber ein Musik-Promoter sagte uns: 'Wenn ihr jemals daran denkt, wieder zu touren, dann ist jetzt der Zeitpunkt'.So sind wir also wieder zusammengekommen, haben die Tour gemacht und hatten eine tolle Zeit. Es gab keine Pläne, etwas Neues zu machen oder wieder Songs zu schreiben, weil das etwas ganz anderes ist. Es ist leicht die alten Sachen aufleben zu lassen, aber etwas Neues zu schreiben ist harte Arbeit“, erklärte Midge Ure das Comeback.
Doch wie entstand überhaupt die Idee zu diesem großen Schritt? Promiflashhakte einmal genauer nach: „Wir wurden von einer deutschen Plattenfirma angesprochen, die vorgeschlagen hatten, eine neue Platte mit uns zu machen und damit war die Idee geboren, etwas Neues zu machen. Letztendlich landeten wir alle in meinem Haus in Kanada, lebten da, nahmen Songs auf und kochten füreinander. Es hat Spaß gemacht und funktionierte super. Es stellte sich allerdings heraus, dass die Plattenfirma gänzlich andere Aufnahmen haben wollte, als die, die wir machen wollten und so sind wir getrennte Wege gegangen. Wir haben das Album dennoch fertiggestellt und schließlich zu EMI gegeben. Und hier sind wir nun“.
Songs wie „Dancing With Tears In My Eyes“, „The Voice“, „Vienna“ und „Hymn“ gehören zu den 80er-Jahren wie Dauerwelle und Schulterpolster – und genau wie Letztere sind auch Ultravox wieder da! Die Band um Frontmann Midge Ure (58), der auch solo mit dem Song „Breathe“ einen Mega-Hit landete, feiert dieser Tage ihr großes Comeback. Ihr erstes Studioalbum seit 28 Jahren, das den simplen Titel „Brilliant“ trägt, steht in den Startlöchern und ist ab dem 25. Mai im Handel erhältlich.
Anlässlich dieser fulminanten Reunion ist Midge Ure derzeit auf Promo-Tour.Promiflash traf den Musiker in Berlin und sprach mit ihm über seine Rückkehr ins Studio und auf die Bühne und wollte natürlich wissen, wie die neuen Songs bislang ankommen und was sie auszeichnet. „Die bisherige Resonanz ist fantastisch. Ich denke, die Leute hatten Angst, dass wir etwas herausbringen, das hastig zusammengeschustert wurde. Etwas Liebloses, nicht sehr Gutes, um schnelles Geld zu machen. Aber wir haben zwei Jahre lang daran gearbeitet, daher sind auch die Reaktionen phänomenal“, erklärte Midge im Interview und fügte hinzu: „Wenn du auch nur einen Ultravox-Song kennst, wirst du auch jetzt in der Lage sein, zu erkennen, dass das Ultravox ist. Die Art von Stimmen, die Melodien, das Atmosphärische. Aber wir haben auch versucht, etwas zu produzieren, das zeitgemäß, frisch und neu klingt. Was wir nicht gemacht haben, ist ein Aufguss der alten Sachen. Und was du hören kannst, ist der Fakt, dass vier von uns zusammengekommen sind, um diese Songs zu machen. Wenn wir zusammen sind, ist das nun mal der Sound, der dabei herauskommt und du wirst es gleich als Ultravox identifizieren können.“
Doch wo bekommt man nach so vielen Jahren des Song-Schreibens eigentlich noch die Inspiration für neue Sachen her? „Es sind wahrscheinlich die gleichen Dinge, die jeden Schreiber inspirieren. Es sind die Sachen, die in deinem Leben vor sich gehen, was du siehst, was du liest, was du hörst. Ich habe einfach darüber geschrieben, was mich bewegt.Alles von den Fragen, wie ‚brilliant’ und klug wir meinen zu sein bis hin zu globalen Problemen. Du schaust dir die Banken an und das, was sie den Menschen im U.K. angetan haben. Aber auch persönliche Sachen über die Narben, die du dein Leben lang mit dir herumträgst. Sachen, die du mit zehn Jahren getan hast, Sachen, die dir deine Lehrer damals gesagt haben – all diese Dinge. Von daher ist diese Platte auch so etwas wie mein Tagebuch“.
ULTRAVOX TALK ABOUT NEW ALBUM 'BRILLIANT' & UNVEIL BEHIND-THE-SCENES STUDIO VIDEO - WATCH NOW
As previously announced, the classic line-up of electro pioneers Ultravox – Midge Ure, Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann – are releasing their first album of new material in almost three decades on May 28th via EMI. Entitled ‘Brilliant’, which is also the lead single, it precedes a 27-date UK and European tour, with full details to be announced soon.
Speaking about the album, frontman Midge Ure comments: "'Brilliant’ is a bitter sweet comment on pop culture. “You, the brilliant thing you are, outshine the brightest star, so distant and too far”. It’s about the other side of fame and success, a song about the bright young things that ignore the consequences of fame with the ensuing burn out rate… In a way it should read ‘Brilliant’ with a question mark.”
‘Brilliant’ is not only a reminder of how great this reborn band are, but an exciting and vital addition to a catalogue of music which today sounds more current and influential than ever.
“You only have to look back to the ‘80s and Ultravox were an oddity even then” remembers Midge. “When everyone else was doing poppy stuff on synthesizers, we did ‘Vienna’. We didn’t fit into any music camp, we straddled them. At times we were an out-and-out rock band if you came to see us live, but we were making that noise with synthesizers as well as guitars. I mean ‘Vienna’ still sounds unique thirty years on and if you make things that sound unique it becomes timeless.”
Emerging from the new wave and electro scenes of the late 70’s, Ultravox fashioned a form of electronic rock music that delivered massive hits through the 1980’s such as ‘Hymn’, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’, ‘The Voice’, ‘Reap The Wild Wind’, ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, ‘We Came To Dance’ and of course ‘Vienna’. With four top ten studio albums and a triple platinum greatest hits collection under their belts, the classic line-up played their last concert together in 1985 at Live Aid.
Then in 2009 the four members reunited for the sold-out Return To Eden tour and from that grew the seeds for this new album. Recorded in Canada, Los Angeles and the UK, ‘Brilliant’ sees Ultravox expanding their classic sonic template and reminding us of their strength as songwriters.
“We’ve got a very, very weird and strange outlook on music and this album has Ultravox’s DNA running right through it,” says Midge. “And that DNA has a lot to do with Billy’s classical music upbringing, the way he structures chords and melodies, the way certain notes touch and provoke emotions and my pop sensibilities and melodies. Once you throw those things together it’s instantly Ultravox.
“I think there’s a direct link between what we did thirty years ago and ‘Brilliant’ because it is us. If we’d tried to sit there and emulate what we did thirty years ago it wouldn’t have worked but luckily for us, if we sit down and do something together it sounds like Ultravox, we don’t try and make it sound like that, it’s just what comes out.”
From the opening, swelling barrage of ‘Live Again’ with its instantly identifiable piano motifs through the epic rock of ‘Flow’ to first single and title track ‘Brilliant’, there is no mistaking the sound of Ultravox; the huge choruses, the impassioned vocals, the driving rhythms and pulsing electronics.
‘Rise’ is a modern computer-pop classic while the likes of ‘Remembering’, ‘This One’ and ‘The Change’ evoke the cinematic atmospheres Ultravox do so well. Coupled with the widescreen drama of ‘Let It Lie’, the chiming exoticism of ‘Satellite’, the sinister tension of ‘Hello’ and the chilling heartbreak of ‘Fall’, Ultravox have crafted an album that may well be ranked as their finest work to date.
“There are so many equally strong emotions to write about as well as love,” Midge says of the inspirations behind the album, “which I hope we have used to good effect. My favourite song on the album is the final one, ‘Contact’. It reflects how technology has taken over our lives and how we only communicate through that technology. That’s modern contact.”
Interview with ULTRAVOX 2009
It’s the first time this line up of Ultravox have played together since Live Aid, and the first time you’ve been together publicly since your split in 1986. How has this reunion come about?
Midge Ure: “I think it started from the fact that it was 30 years this year since we wrote ‘Vienna’, which made it a celebratory thing. If we were going to do anything on a musical level ever again, then this would be the year to do it and that’s what got us all talking and contemplating the idea.”
Chris Cross: “I think even up until about six months ago none of us thought it would ever happen though!”
Had you even talked to each other in that time apart?
MU: “To varying degrees. Not really. I’d not spoken to Warren in 23 years. He’s lived in Los Angeles for most of that time. I’d been in touch with Chris a few times, and Billy and I had spoken but never about this. It was always just about generalities or technical things to do with the past about contractual nonsense, but not in any positive musical sense. It was never planned, never even thought of. Of course, people ask you all the time whether you would ”‘ but everyone just sort of avoided the issue.”
How did you get back in touch?
MU: “It came from our old manager Chris. He sent us an email all at the same time and said, what are the chances? If there was a negative somewhere down the line then it wouldn’t have gone any further, so it was a protective way of doing it without actually having to pick up the phone and ask what people thought. We already knew EMI were going to re-master and repackage all the old material anyway so we had been trying to keep a close eye on all of that. Then they had asked me to go do some radio promo when ‘Vienna’ came out and on one of those radio programmes, they asked me if I fancied doing something live, so I phoned Billy up and asked him to come play on the piano and that was it. As soon as we did that, the websites just crashed and people went crazy that we were in the same room not only talking but playing. That made us realise it wasn’t the horror we thought it was going to be! It was easy.”
Was everyone keen from the start?
MU: “I think everyone’s initial reaction was, well, I don’t want to say I want to do it in case other people don’t!”
CC: “I hadn’t thought about doing it and then suddenly when it came up, I thought well I suppose we could!”
MU: “Once you get positive feedback from someone, you think ok, well, I’m not being crazy, I’m not the one thinking it could be possible and everyone’s going to laugh at me. Once we all realised that, then all of a sudden we were over the mental hurdle of doing it and it was just the emotional hurdle and the musical hurdle, which we’ve all come through quite easily.”
CC: “It would have always been an option to pretend we hadn’t got the email!”
How did you start talking?
CC: “There were a lot of emails and Skype, because obviously Warren was in LA.”
Billy Currie: “Then Midge and Chris came round to my place quite soon after we’d been speaking. Chris phoned me and made that suggestion and my immediate thought was ‘yikes! I’m not sure about this.’ Then I realised, why not? Let’s move things on. So Midge and Chris came to my house and we had a good chat. There had been talk of the tour at that point but we hadn’t actually decided to do it.”
Warren Cann: “Then I came over at the beginning of March to meet everyone and start rehearsing.”
Was it difficult between you initially?
MU: “Only before we met. As with any relationship, when you’ve been apart for a long time, it’s difficult. If you imagine going back to your first boyfriend or girlfriend after 23 years, you would worry what you were going to say to each other, let alone whether you’d get on. But we had this common bond so we just walked in and started talking like the 23 years apart never happened. I think the nervousness was there before we walked through the door, but as soon as walked in, it was gone. It only existed in our heads.
CC: “It’s so bizarre. It does feel like yesterday in some respects. Yet there’s a whole 20 years to catch up on.”
MU: “The only difference is that this time, Chris pointed out that we’ll save a fortune on hairspray! I think we’ve all mellowed and I think anyone would say that. We’re probably more tolerant of each other. Naivety’s a wonderful thing. It gets you an awful lot of stuff and when you’re young and naïve, you feel as if you can achieve everything that you dream of. But further on, the naivety disappears and it makes you more tolerant of other people.”
You must have plenty to reminisce about. What do you remember most about the very early days in 1979 when Midge joined the band?
MU: “My outstanding memory was that we were completely skint, I’d just joined the band and we walked into a rehearsal room with incredibly basic equipment. We plugged in and we played a couple of old Ultravox songs, because we hadn’t written anything new by then, and the sound we made was magnificent. It was just like nothing else I’d heard before. It was huge and powerful and dramatic. And that hasn’t gone away. At all. In fact, I was wondering whether we would still be able to make that noise this time around, and we can. It’s weird because I’ve played these songs before in various forms over the years and it’s never ever sounded like Ultravox. That invisible element, whatever it is, isn’t there. It’s become very apparent that Ultravox are these four people.”
BC: “We started playing live straight away. I remember immediately feeling energised by just being these four people. I know three of us were in the previous line up but it was suddenly like an injection of life and we started writing right away and went out and performed those tracks straight away. We were just keen to get on with it.”
CK: “It was also a bit to do with the spirit of the times. There was a load of other stuff going on around us and it seemed like a rollercoaster where it just took off.”
BC: “I felt that the timing was definitely right. We were in there moving along with the fast moving time.”
WC: “I remember how focused we were. We were quite manic about it. We were completely into what we were doing. There were no lines of demarcation. Midge would suggest a drum part, I’d suggest a keyboard part and so on. That fluidity between the four of us was the first thing I remember about what a magnificent noise we were making.”
MU: “In a very short space of time when the four of us were together as a working unit, we wrote the entire ‘Vienna’ album in a couple of months. It was an incredibly vibrant, exciting period.”
What were you like as a band as you started to become successful?
MU: “We would make things very difficult for ourselves. The great thing was we weren’t desperate about it. We were quite happy just making the music and playing live. We spent a lot of time getting the album right and we knew that a deal would come. We weren’t going to jump through hoops for any label that wanted to sign us. We wanted to do things our way because we knew what we were trying to achieve. And you could see it reflected in the graphics, the artwork, the videos ”‘ I mean, we made ground breaking videos before people even knew what videos were. So if we didn’t have a label who gave us the space we needed to do all that, it wasn’t going to work.”
How did you feel about the New Romantic period of the time?
WC: “There were a lot of people who wanted something more than punk. Just as the punk thing formed as a reaction to other stuff, so to ”‘ for lack of a better phrase ”‘ the New Romantic period formed as a reaction to punk. People were tired of it. We wanted something else.”
BC: “We had to be careful with that though. You could embrace it and go a little bit nuts because for the first time from my point of view, everyone was interested in keyboards whereas the previous year, playing keyboards was a bit of an uncool thing to do in the middle of the punk period. I thought it was great that the New Romantic period embraced music from the heart, but it was extreme so you had to be careful.”
WC: “We continued doing what we wanted to do but this time, we were in the position where the majority were actually on the same page as us. Before, we got slagged off for using keyboards and a synthesiser when everything was guitars and a million miles an hour and two chords if that. Then we got slagged off because we didn’t use all synthesisers but we had guitars as well!”
MU: “We didn’t fit in aesthetically, we didn’t fit in musically. It’s interesting because we were part of the forming of the mould because we used electronics, but we also used violins and piano and acoustic drums. The problem was, at the time, because Billy and I had done the Visage project, we were tagged with the New Romantics brush. They tried to tie Ultravox in with that then and it didn’t fit visually. You look back at the old photographs - there weren’t any frilly shirts or anything like that!”
And unlike a lot of pop bands of the time, you created music with a filmic quality.
MU: “Yes. We created atmosphere and we would pride ourselves on the fact that if you went to your local equivalent of Hammersmith Apollo and saw a dozen bands a year, when you came to see us, it would completely transform. The stage set, the lighting, the atmospherics. Everything we did was an extension of the music. The music came first and everything else would follow on. We were holding the reigns all the way through. We designed the stage sets, we directed the videos, we worked on the art work. All of that was important to us but it was a secondary thing. Most bands would make the record and then not give a toss about the video ”‘ they didn’t really even know what a video was back then ”‘ and they certainly didn’t care about the artwork. The record company would just stick it in a bag with a photograph of the band on the front. We found that dull and it’s not because we were arty, we were just interested in photography and architecture and all those things. All that stuff comes out in the music so it was cinematic and grand, and a lot of people got it wrong thinking we were being pompous, but it wasn’t pomposity, it was just what it was.”
CK: “In those days, it just wasn’t done to have that control. You really were servants to the label. It’s different now.”
Was your commercial success a shock?
WC: “We weren’t surprised. We knew it was a great record. We knew that there would be a certain amount of people who agreed with us but what did surprise us was how many people. So it was a matter of degree.”
CK: “It’s one of the great things about being in a band. You do the music and then anything can happen. Or not.”
MU: “We make something we think fits and is a good record but the reality is that that could have disappeared completely. ‘Vienna’ wasn’t a radio record at all. People say now, of course that wasn’t going to be a huge hit, but that wasn’t obvious at all. It was a great piece of music but a commercial record? No.”
WC: “We just knew we could put this out and look at ourselves in the mirror and say we were proud, whereas if we’d compromised or done a three minute, twenty second ”‘ which was suggested ”‘ we couldn’t.”
MU: “We made things difficult because we believed in it. We’d give the record company the record, the artwork and the new video and say there’s the campaign, that’s what the advertising should look like.”
WC: “We used to hear four words from them a lot which was ”‘ you want to what?!!!”
Was it difficult to follow the ‘Vienna’ album?
WC: “It was really difficult, but we used the success to give us the opportunity. We knew it was a great position to be in ”‘ to have a hit record behind us giving us a bit of clout, so we decided to really stick our necks out and do something we always wanted to do, which was to not be well prepared before we went in the studio, but use the studio fully as an instrument to make ‘Rage In Eden’.
MU: “It was three months in a farmyard in the German countryside!”
BC: “On the ‘Vienna’ album, we played the songs live before so we had a chance to get a feel for them and work things out and you transfer that energy by almost playing it live in the studio. But with ‘Rage In Eden’, we were writing in the studio. It was an interesting experience.”
How do you look back on that album now?
BC: “I’m proud of it.”
MU: “It achieved everything we wanted it to. It has a feel and an atmosphere that we wanted and it couldn’t have happened any other way.”
WC: “In studios, you’re always aware of the clock ticking and the fact that time is money, tick tick tick. So you don’t have a lot of time to experiment or waste on ideas because you always have to move on. But that was a big part of it ”‘ to put ourselves in a position where whatever we wanted to experiment on, we could go as far down that avenue as we wanted to go.”
MU: “We were fortunate that we had generated a lot of income from ‘Vienna’. We’d earned the money and we were spending our money on what we wanted to do. We decided to invest in it.”
Were you enjoying your success beyond the studio?
MU: “Oh God, what’s not to enjoy? Young, free and single, doing everything a young man should with a hugely successful record. Touring the world for nine months at a time! It was fabulous. Every place we’d go to, the album was already successful, so we were turning up to sold out crowds. It’s the best feeling in the world. People knew our stuff and had bought the ticket and were there for a reason and that was great.”
You worked with George Martin on your next album, ‘Quartet’. What was that like?
MU: “It took a long time to do. We spent quite a bit of time in Air Studios in London and it was great, it was a very different experience again.”
BC: “It was much more organised. He came up a few times to see how we were doing writing the material and when we went in, it was more set. We did it in a set amount of time - I think only four weeks in Air Studios, then we went over to Montserrat to finish it off.”
WC: “As a professional endeavour, it was done at probably the highest level we’d ever worked at. I wasn’t disappointed with the album but I was very disappointed with a certain element that criticised us for using George Martin. They completely misunderstood. They saw it as being safe and conservative and thought we’d sold out by going dull and commercial and we just scratched our heads at that. This man recorded ‘Sgt. Pepper’ ”‘ he was the most groundbreaking producer ever.”
That was quickly followed by ‘Lament’.
MU: “We grabbed the reigns again for ‘Lament’. At that point, we had our own studios. We’d invested in equipment so I had a studio, Billy had one and we ended up spending a lot of time doing it. It was an interesting process, being so in control of the scenario to the extent that you actually owned the studio. Our own space, our own time and we didn’t feel obliged to rush it and get it out there. There was a lot of development going on in a short space of time ”‘ three years really from ‘Vienna’ to ‘Lament’. The band moved on huge amounts. Our songwriting got better, we were looking at different areas and atmospheres. It wasn’t until after the ‘Lament’ album, that we started to lose the focus.
It was fairly intense. We loved what we were doing so we’d write, record, tour and as soon as the tour finished, we’d go back in the studio and we did that over and over. So there was a constant stream of output until after ‘Lament’.”
Live Aid followed. How did that affect the band, considering Midge’s key role as organiser?
MU: “Looking back on it, I can see how Band Aid and Live Aid made a serious dent in the band. It took me away from it. And again, with any relationship, if one of you disappears for a while and comes back, you’ve changed. Everyone changes and it didn’t feel as right when I came back. We’d lost the focus. Ideas were coming from all over the place and we weren’t a concise unit any more. I couldn’t see it at the time but I can look back now and see that the whole Band Aid/Live Aid scenario really affected us badly - not our actual performance as we were one of the only bands in tune on the day - but we were splintered and pulled apart by circumstance. When we got back together again, we weren’t the same people.”
BC: “It was little bit going pear shaped in the middle of 1984. I felt personally disconnected because we were very successful and we seemed to really be establishing ourselves in Europe and yet we were aware that cracks were showing. It did put pressure on us, as Midge said. Something else was going on and you feel a little bit out of things.”
MU: “It took its toll without a doubt and I can look back now and blame that for the major cracks that appeared because we couldn’t quite recover.”
How do you remember the day of Live Aid itself?
WC: “Townsend walked past me and said ‘nice set’, and I thought that was great.”
MU: “People forget that even though you’re in a band, you’re still a fan of other people. So when you’re backstage at somewhere like Live Aid and there’s people like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury around, you’re like a kid in a toy shop.”
CK: “You never think, ooh, I’m in a band too!”
MU: “But if that element ever disappears, you’ve had it. You’ve died and you just don’t know it yet. So the excitement on the day was huge but the funny thing was everyone had 18 minutes on stage and there was a traffic light system so when the lights on the side of the stage went amber, you had two minutes and you wouldn’t see it go red because they’d pull the plug. That was the big threat. It was the only way they could keep it to time. So our 18 minutes flew by. It just evaporated but it was great. The whole thing was fantastic.”
CK: “I remember walking on and it was really sunny and everything came together so well and then you remember millions of people are watching it on TV too.”
MU: “I remember during ‘Vienna’ ”‘ pre Queen going on ”‘ everyone did the whole clapping in the air thing and it was just a sea of hands clapping the ‘Vienna’ drum beat.”
BC: “I’d forgotten about that! Bloody hell. They did, didn’t they? It was amazing. It was such a massive crowd and it was just a fantastic day.”
Then came the final album, ‘UVox’, and the split. What happened?
CK: “It just unfolded really. Fell apart. It was like everyone lost interest.”
MU: “It was splintered before we even made the album. And the album sounded splintered too. It had everything on there from us doing a track with an orchestra to us doing a track with The Chieftains on the same record. I think if I remember rightly, for the first time we took a 6 month break and we all started doing different things. I was working on a solo record and in the middle of doing that, the Band Aid thing happened so the six months turned into a lot longer and it just frittered away. Suddenly, we weren’t together in the way we had been for the four or five years previously, and as Billy said, it’s easy to feel left out. It just felt weird, even when we got back together again. It just wasn’t the same.”
CK: “It literally just fizzled out.”
MU: “There was an element to which I think we all thought that if you cease to enjoy what you’re doing then you shouldn’t do it any more and I think we just ceased to enjoy it. Whatever made it work, wasn’t there for whatever reason and so we had to say, that’s it. It’s time to move on. We didn’t do any final tour, we didn’t do any farewell, we’re breaking up or any of that stuff, we just kind of walked away from it. And it’s been hanging in mid air for 20 odd years waiting for a moment like this.”
BC: “It seemed strange at the time to do that to the fans but if you’re falling apart, the last thing you want to do is do a farewell tour. That would have been absolutely dismal.”
Did you feel a lot of relief when it was all over?
MU: “There was a sadness because it was a major part of our lives. It had been an incredibly successful intense period and there was a regret that it had not been fulfilled. It wasn’t scratching that itch inside and doing what it used to, but there’s also a form of relief. You think, to hell with it, now I can do something else. It was naïve in a way. We all walked away from something that was incredibly successful and incredibly powerful because it didn’t feel right and I think that just shows the fact that everything we did was passion driven and because we loved doing it. You would not sit down and think ‘I’m going to direct the next video’ or write the story board, because that stuff is mind- numbingly dull. You only do it because you’re passionate about it and because you want to do it and everything we ever did through that period was like that, up until the end when it just felt like a bit of a sad release.”
How did you feel about the fan’s reactions to you re-forming after all this time?
CK: “We couldn’t believe it.”
MU: “You tend to think that what you’ve done serves a purpose for a moment in time and that’s it. We didn’t sit down and think we’re going to write some material that we knew would span a 30 year period or more. We would have been petrified about that. At the time, you just do it and you think it’s interesting for that moment in time and that’s it. But at this stage to find that some of the stuff we recorded is still in the top 100 records of all time… it’s ludicrous. It’s the same with the tour. To find that the response we had from the websites and the fans has been so positive at a time when it’s difficult out there to go and buy tickets, it really is great.”
How have you felt playing the songs again?
BC: “It’s just nice to play the songs again out of the context of the hyped up feelings of the time they were released. Back then, you were right in the thick of it and it really is quite refreshing to be out of it and just do the music for what it is.”
MU: “The interesting thing about this as well is we’re not trying to sell a new record. Every time you went on tour in the past you had a new album and you wanted to play the new album and this time we haven’t so we’re looking at an entire body of work and we can pick our favourite tracks, which is great. You’re not going out there to try and educate, you’re just saying, this is what we do, this is what we’ve done, these are the ones we like and enjoy playing. So in a way it’s very powerful. In a way, it’s a whole new experience for us.”
What can we expect in the show itself?
MU: “Well the music’s very evocative so it lends itself to haunting, atmospheric images on screens so we’re trying to come up with those but trying do it in a slightly different way. Everyone’s got screens and lights. We’ve always gone out of our way to try and make it seem slightly different and if that means less is more, that seems to work. So a lot of the songs themselves are very moody and very haunting and it will reflect that. So sometimes the band will almost disappear into the set and we won’t be highlighted. We’re there creating the music and the visuals on stage will take over, while at other times, it’s the antithesis of that. So we’re trying to get something more flexible.”
Are you looking forward to hanging out together on tour?
MU: “I think that’s where we’ll catch up. There’s really not been an awful lot of down time yet when we’ve been rehearsing to slob out and catch up but when you’re travelling up and down the country, that’ll be the time that we can sit down and chat. We’ll just be able to sit down and catch up as friends.”
Have you had a chance now after all these years to reflect on what you did together as a band?
MU: “I think it probably takes a few years to think it through and realise what’s happened, especially when you start to see that what you’ve created as a unit affects people. I think the great thing that I’ve discovered is that when the internet appeared, I got a chance to read stuff from fans. When people sent fan letters back then, you never saw them. They’d go to your agent or the record company. But now we get emails from people. There’s a guy from Lebanon who’s now a doctor in Paris but his way of getting through the war in Lebanon as a kid was to put his headphones on his walkman and play Ultravox. That’s how intense it is. Or you find out about people who’ve buried parents or buried kids or there’s been a bit of conception going on - these hugely moving, massive moments in people’s lives and they tell us that the soundtrack to those moments was something that we did. That’s just weird. That’s just too powerful. So when you start to realise all that, that’s when the regret kicks in.”
You’ve also had an impact on bands who followed you.
MU: “That’s lovely.”
CK: “It’s fantastic.”
MU: “When you read interviews with other artists and they cite you as an influence, it’s great. The great thing is the core of what you’ve done is still there even when you’re not. The music is around forever. It’s in the ether and it will always be there to influence people, so it’s fantastic when people will stand up and cite you. That’s fabulous.”
And what are your hopes for Ultravox now? Could we see some new material yet?
MU: “I think the main thing right now is this. We’re looking at this as the year to do whatever it is we’re going to do. Anything beyond that is too far down the line for us at the moment. But considering that six months ago, this wasn’t even possible, it shows you that we’re just a bunch of old tarts! We can be swayed one way or the other! Seriously, though, six months ago this was never going to happen so we can’t even comment on what we’re thinking of doing in six months time. We’re just enjoying being back together, making music and seeing what happens.”
Audio SET-MOVEMENTS Interview with ULTRAVOX 1984
Interview with the band with instrumental backing and ends with a short piece called the 'Rivets' Soundrack which was commissioned for a Levi's advert.
ULTRAVOX - IN THEIR OWN WORDS
When they were thinking of signing us, Chrysalis gave us two days in the studio to do demos but we refused to do demos and came out with a finished master of „Sleepwalk“. And that clinched the deal. After that we cut the album in two weeks and mixed it in ten days. We wanted it out as quickly as possible to stabilize our public image. As far as most people were concerned, we were a dead band – no one knew what the fuck was going on.
ULTRAVOX is all important. We get involved in other projects but ULTRAVOX is always the mainstay. The difference between ULTRAVOX and other groups is that while other bands actually take three months off we have our own projects. I like working with other bands, I like keeping a high level of interest rather than lazing on a beach in the Bahamas. There´s no time for that. You´ve got a short time in your life to do what you want to do, and I´m going to make the most of it. But ULTRAVOX is still the mainstay of all the things we do.
I don´t know anyone else who works as hard as we do. The band exists for that reason. It´s why we are what we are. It´s not like work. And that´s the kick for me. I don´t like the idea of having to work but I can do this all hours of the day and night. It´s the days off that are hard work.
Solo projects help to alleviate any frustrations because being with different people in a different environment you can forget about everything else and start learning new aspects to what you are doing. And then you can take new things back to the group. I can see bits I´ve learned from solo projects getting into ULTRAVOX which makes me feel good.
We don´t have to spend all that money on a stage set. We don´t have to spend four hours sound checking each day. It´s just so what we can do the best possible at what we want. Why do something half-assed? People are getting accustomed to better and better sound so why not give it to them if you can. But we´d never just want to re-produce our records. We play all kinds of technical gymnastics to get the essence of the song live and then we build on that.
When Island dropped us we decided to go to America to see what it was like over there. We couldn´t afford to tour England without record company support but we could just about make ends meet if we toured America without PA or lights. Police had done it successfully and so had Squeeze. In fact we came back with a few thousand dollars profit which was unheard of. During the tour we got into endless arguments about how we should resolve all our difficulties and basically John Foxx´s ideas were different from those of the rest of us. So when we got home John decided to leave as did Robin which meant that ULTRAVOX was down to Billy, Chris and me. Everyone expected the band to fall apart at that point.
I suppose that after ten hits in a row I should get used to it. But I can´t.
ULTRAVOX is like any relationship. The people in it have got to have interesting points that you want to know about. I like the differences. I like mixing things up. Of course there are arguments but if you get very annoyed by something, what´s really annoying is that you´re getting annoyed.
We´re not trying to present an ULTRAVOX image, a typecast look. In fact we´ve stepped right back from that. But there is a definite style thing that we try to put on our music, our stage shows and our videos and it´s just an extension of our taste. It´s a long slow process because we are involved in everything we do. But because we take the time to do it, it comes out the way we want.
Our music is quite grand. We like things to be overblown and we do it for a reason. “Vienna” was very tongue in cheek, we thought it was funny and nobody got it. Everybody read too much in it … most of it is disposable pop music. It would be nice for someone to pick up the record in 10 years time and still remember it. But people make too much of pop music and take it too seriously.
We´re trying to project something positive. It´s a bit vague, but I really do think it´s important. It´s in the music. People come and see us and get that positive feeling off us.
You´ve got to be proud of what you do. We try not to do obvious things, and pick obvious singles. It would be easy for us to write another six “Viennas”. This time we did things which were off the wall like “We came to dance” which is a record that we wouldn´t normally put out.We haven´t been packaged or manufactured and we haven´t conned people into buying our records.
We don´t write separately. We write together in the studio. We don´t write on the road either because we concentrate so hard on doing it that you need an hour or so away from it every day just to keep your perspective. We also tend not to write anything while we´re apart because if we do then the other three will take it to bits and put it back together again another way so you just keep to ideas. Writing a whole song doesn´t work … not for us anyway because the other three are such strong personalities themselves.
You have to make compromises but that makes it better. If you compromise it´s because you have doubts. If you´re totally committed you´ll fight on. I like the fact that ULTRAVOX is a band … I don´t like bands where the balance is unequal.
I draw the line when the music becomes secondary – we all do – but I think that when we play live shows we should present something more than the music. It´s not so much that you have a duty to do it but I think we should.
Anybody who is in the public eye is going to have somebody liking them. You get tennis groupies and I´m sure anyone who´s on television gets them. I´m sure there are darts groupies, can you imagine it – these great fat girls following their dart players. There are a lot of bands who pander to it where the image is more important than the music, and they want screaming teenagers at concerts.
From our point of view we´ve never been a pop band though one or two pop numbers would get into the set. We were always just a bunch of fucking weirdos really. Misfits, but we just had a strong audience through doing “My Sex” or “I want to be a machine”.
I was always listening to pop music … that´s why I´ve got a real strong pop background. I can remember ridiculous songs from when I was about two because my mother always had the radio on. She loved music. I think my dad could play piano when he was younger but I never heard him. The place wasn´t big enough to take a piano.
All the kids thought I was weird because I didn´t play football. I hated it. All my mates were into playing guitar. We got a lot of stick because we didn´t run around in gangs slashing people. It was really bad during the Mod era. I never used to go into town. It was too dangerous … they used to run riot. Kids used to run down Sauchiehall Street and just slash people with razors … people they didn´t know.
ULTRAVOX were once going to be the new Roxy Music, the new avant garde British band, the British Kraftwerk … all of a sudden we´re the first ULTRAVOX and we´ve set a standard people tend to follow. The fashion thing has just evolved around it.
I´m sure we´ve done more for the sales of doubled breated suits than anybody else.
All of a sudden you become a face. It goes hand in hand … you can´t avoid it unless you do a Howard Hughes and become a complete recluse and not talk to anyone. We just take it as it comes, but don´t go over the top on it because it´ll die someday soon. We don´t want to be in all the gossip columns. We want to be about for a very long time. There´s lot left in us and we want to be still doing it in ten years time.
We seem to have this amazing talent for being misrepresented, misunderstood and getting up people´s noses in the process.
I can´t understand why people say our arrangements are overblown. Our critics are always out of sync with what we happen to be doing at a particular moment. When we first started we were writing short two minute pop songs with no solos or whatever. We were having fun crafting songs that minimally. But by the time we got into the public eye we´d gotten really tired of that. We nevertheless used the experience we gained back then to construct slightly more ambitious musical pieces which unfortunately coinceded with a resurgence in the popularity of the single.
I like the way Midge plays guitar and the way we come together on “All Stood Still” and I´m playing the synth. It´s a very physical thing. I would love to fuck that ARP. I mean you don´t get many fucks on the road and it´s a good job there´s some sensuality in the music. It´s a very sensuous thing and the act of playing and instrument should be shown … that you´re getting exited about it.
I´d hate to have spent all those years developing something personal on guitar just to drop it so a machine could play the part for me, leaving me free to sing until a machine does that for me too. Then I´d be totally redundant. What´s the point?
The synthesizer is an easy instrument to get noises from. You can make some great noises which will last you about a year and then you come to the end of what a machine can do and it´s up to you to make it do more. Then you´re fucked, so you go back to the guitar.
I never profess to being a keyboard player. I make noises on synthesizers and that´s it. I know what I´m doing and that is as much as I need to do. My keyboard playing is very basic.
The whole idea is create a mood and atmosphere… it´s not meant as a spectacular thing.
I suppose we´ve influenced some people even if they won´t admit it. I hear ULTRAVOX things in Tears for Fears and China Crisis but I think everyone´s influenced by things they hear and like.They just develop their own style from that starting point.
Working with George Martin was a bit too staid for me. This time I´m going to go completely bonkers, strap on my hair chest wig and play the piano upside down.
The trouble with Visage was that there were too many chiefs, six characters all wanting an equal say without being prepared to put in an equal amount of work. I was doing most of the writing and producing and we all know that Steve (Strange) was the front man but when it became successful, jealousy and the nasty side of the business crept in. That was never the way it was intended.
We don´t want to write about “trucking down the highway” and “I love you” and “life´s great”. That´s boring. It´s all to do with atmosphere and feelings. The music and lyrics have to go together obviously. When you read our lyrics they might not take much sense but when you hear them with music it does make sense because all the images are flashing through your mind.
Probably the fact that I come from a seedy area of Glasgow helps me to do that what I´m doing because I´m just living out fantasies. “Passing Strangers” was a total fantasy. Having lived in Glasgow I could never profess to be arty and cold and distant just for the sake of fashion. I am what I am and it´s too strongly bred in me to be anything but that. Most Northerners are like that. Like Billy Currie, he´s a born Northener. I think had I come from Surrey and gone through what I´ve gone through for the last 10 years … the disappointments, the knocks, the failures … I think I´d be driving a bus.
I was never really interested in football. Instead of going to matches I was playing the guitar with friends, which is more exiting I think. The only time I´d watch football is when Scotland play England and then my Celtic blood comes out and I become a hooligan for an hour and a half.
People in Glasgow have this weird mentality. They might hit you for no apparent reason.
I was ten when I first went out with a girl. I met her at a Girl Guides party after sticking a cream pie in her face. My first real girlfriend came along when I was 13. Her name was Margaret and she was in my class. After school we´d chat for a hour and I´d walk her up the road. On Sundays I´d go to her place and we´d just wander around.
It looks as though I have been in umpteen bands playing loads of different styles of music which isn´t quite true. It just happens that all those bands I´ve been in were successful to some degree and some of them were household names like Slik.
Then there was The Rich Kids who were fairly notorious in their own way even though they were a bit of a failure. And then Ultravox. I don´t count Thin Lizzy as being part of it because I was just helping them in a sticky situation.
I couldn´t become cold and distant and arty if I tried. If I sat till I went blue in the face I couldn´t do it. It´s my nature. I don´t try and be something that I am not. I could say “Right ULTRAVOX. I´ll look like a robot”. I can´t. I play guitar and when I do I really enjoy myself. I´m sure that I look exactly the same playing the guitar with ULTRAVOX as I did with Thin Lizzy. It´s not that distant.
When you reach a certain level of success in what you´ve been doing it opens doors for other things. Like with Visage I said I´d like to direct a video and they said yes. I´d never done it before and they just said “Here´s GBP 15.000. Go and do it.
My happiest moments as a kid always came at Christmas. I´m a real romantic and Christmas was magic. I always put my stocking up on the mantelpiece. My unhappiest moments were troubles at school. I remember one teacher didn´t like me and used to haul me before the headmaster all the time for swearing.
I hated school. I could never do anything. The only thing I was ever decent at was art. As far back as I can remember all I ever wanted to be was a pop star. Ninety-nine percent of my friends wanted to be either pop stars or footballers. But nearly all ended up being bus drivers or plumbers.
Just before I went to secondary school my parents bought me my first guitar for GBP 2. It took them a month to save up for it. I wanted to be like Gerry and The Pacemakers. They were my idols until The Monkees and The Small Faces came along. I had posters of Brigitte Bardot and Raquel Welch on my new bedroom wall when we moved to a better council house.
My most treasured item of clothing is a beat-up leather jerkin. I bought it from a guy for GBP 4 when I was 16 and it was already 30 years old. It´s always been too big and I´m still waiting to grow into it. I hope to wake up one morning and be six inches taller. All in all my style has stayed pretty steady since I was 17 when I made my only major change: Having my hair cut from hippy to James Dean and keeping it that way.
I´ve actually made more money than I´ve ever seen in my life but that doesn´t go for much. I mean .. if I only made a thousand pounds that would have been more than I´d ever made in my life. I spend it on impulse buying. But I think that´s what money is for. I don´t do this for the money … that just came along ten years after I´d started.
I´ve got a couple of old cars, an old Porsche, which sounds very flash but it isn´t. It doesn´t cost any more than a new Cortina. But I think style is really important, and style shows through in everything that you´ve got. I´ve also got an old 1954 Vauxhall, it´s really American looking, like a Buick, one of those big round ones with lots of chrome. I got that in Scotland four or five years ago for GBP 200 and I had it done up.
I think most people in the music industry seem like confirmed bachelors. You´ve got to eat when you can eat. You usually got to eat when you can eat. You usually get hungry when you´re in the studio in the middle of the night and everything´s closed. It´s a very anti social life. I can´t see why bands get the image of being such womanizers and raving it up in clubs all the time. If they actually work they never get a chance to do all these things.
If I´m working and have a reasonably full day in front of me I like to get up by eight o´clock. I never have breakfast … the idea makes me feel sick. I can´t eat for at least three hours after I rise; as it is it usually takes me an hour before I can fall into the shower.
When I get a chance I like to watch Lou Grant on TV. I watch lots of videos when I get a couple of days off. Riverside was the nearest thing they´ve ever got to doing anything that relevant to young people although the audience looked incredibly stale. It was very image-conscious, hypertrendy.
The videos are important in the sense that it´s a real outlet you´ve got. It´s like a movie in reverse where you have the soundtrack first and then you can make a video about anything you like. It doesn´t have to relate to the single. People read far too much into them. What it does is give you total control over what you´re doing. With records you sound as you want people to hear you and with videos they see you as you want to be seen. On a TV show it´s all under someone else´s control.
When I was younger I wanted to be an artist and then I thought a band should be able to combine all sorts of ideas both inside and outside music and that´s what ULTRAVOX have done. I don´t know if ever there will be a time when bands don´t have to tour any more, but with cable television there will be so much more opportunity for bands to experiment on film. There´s a programme in America where they just show videos of bands all day long. To be honest there´s a lot of concerts where your attention starts to wonder.
I think it´s finally happening for British bands in the States because the Americans have at last got fed up with the boring stuff they´ve been feeding on for years. Now at last there´s some variety for them and when we first went there they said they´d never seen anything like us before. The Human League started it all in America but they couldn´t build on the success of the first hit.
I´ve got a quiet lifestyle. I don´t play the big star and drink champagne for breakfast. I used to think about what would happen if I was really rich. You do make money if you´re successful and we have got money. But if you work it out we spent ten years working for success so spread those earnings out and we haven´t earned any more than a plumber has.
I have a nice house, a nice car – a Mercedes 280S. We carry our style through and we have fun with it. I have a house that´s full of Art Deco furniture. But then again I´ve also got a room at the back which is like a shit hole, which is where I watch TV and slob around. We see both sides of it … we´re working class so we´ve still got that influence.
We´re not big headed but we´ve made our own particular style of music. I decided not to go to the Royal Academy of Music and have a chance to create something of my own. It was a decision to not follow a classical career because I wanted to originate material. I also got into movement which is important with keyboards so you don´t just stand there like an idiot. I wrote piano pieces at Huddersfield School of Music. The teacher used to get me to play bits in front of the class and I remember my violin teacher hearing about this and saying what gives you the right to think you are able to create something worthwhile? And that is oppressive.
Australia was a real turn-up for the books for me. Britain´s got the wrong impression of Australia. We think of beer, kangaroos and Sheilas. It´s not like that. It´s a paradise. Sydney´s great … it´s a brilliant city. We got a real shock when we got there and the reception was great … we did four sell-out shows in a bit Hammersmith Odeon type place. The videos went down a storm too.
My ideal woman is one that likes me. Somebody that can stand on her own two feet, that won´t hang about me all the time, someone that´s got ambitions of her own. She´ll be chameleon like, she won´t look the same all the time, every other morning she´ll look different. It keeps your interest up.
It´s just fun playing around with fashion. Fashion is something you casually think about while you´re making music, the whole feel of the stage set … you think about that as you´re rehearsing and you think about what you´re going to wear on stage.
I hate going to rock and roll venues … there aren´t any good ones any more. They´ve always got terrible bands at the smaller places. The good ones don´t bother to advertise and you only find out about them by word of mouth.
I think we´re pretty serious about what we´re doing, so I think we´ve achieved a certain amount of magic – which is what we´re trying to do. We´ve carved out our own style of music and managed to survive. Since we´ve been together think how many other bands have fallen by the wayside.
We´ve been labeled all sorts of things … everything from the new Genesis downwards. But all we are is a modern rock band who use synthesizers.
We haven´t done anything that´s stunningly different in the realms of music. It´s not radically different from things that have been done before … it´s just that the synthesizer is a different instrument.
I´m always on the look-out for bits and pieces for the house. I particularly like Art Deco so I constantly tramp round a series of antique and junk shops keeping an eye on things. If there´s something I like and it´s a limited edition I´d be the mug that pays GBP 200 for it, although I believe that if you´re paying money for something old it´s only worth that money to you.
When you think of arty you tend to think of people on the front page of NME you´ve never even heard of. If you substitute the word arty for tasteful, we´re very concerned about having everything concerned with ULTRAVOX done to a built-in quality.
The stage set took three months to get together, and that´s how we work. It´s not just our purses we´ve got to look at in years to come, we don´t want to look back at it and think it´s a load of crap, because you´re associated with it for the rest of your life. In that way we´re arty.
There´s got to be the point when you´re not flavour of the month, where people aren´t interested any mor, where people have grown up and gone on to other things, or you´ve got nothing else to offer. It doesn´t worry me. I think I´m versatile and talented enough to move into other areas. I enjoy doing videos and other things. You can´t be in the public eye for ever. It would be stupid to think you can. I don´t want to be like Mick Jagger at 42 or whatever age he is. There are lots of things I´d love to do. I´d like to direct a movie. That would be great. I´d like to act in one, but it would have to be right. We´ve been offered a few things but they´ve been a cross between Caligula and Alien. I´ll wait until something turns up. I´d like to do a film score.
In England we were so utterly unfashionable at one point that even if we´d shot ourselves we´d only have got a mention.
ULTRAVOX – Not Standing Still - By Chris Van Valen and David G., 1981
Ultravox’s song “Vienna,” their third single since reforming after the departure of lead singer/lyricist John Foxx (nee Dennis Leigh), was number one on the British charts for quite a while. “Vienna” has established the band as legitimate stars, a distinction they so richly deserve but were denied due to a disregard for fashion and poor reception by the British press. The current band’s members, Billy Currie (keyboards, violin, questionable guitar), Chris Cross (bass guitar, synthesizer, vocals), Warren Cann (drums, electronic percussion, vocals), and ex-Rich Kids Midge Ure (lead vocals, guitar, synthesizer), have avoided the danger of collapsing due to the loss of a key member by abandoning those aspects which characterized Foxx’s presence – a highly serious image, mechanical stage manner, and intellectual approach – and taking a romantic view of living in a modern world.
We met Midge Ure (who spoke with a very thick Scottish burr) and Chris Cross (whose real last name is St. John) fall of 1980, during the band’s extensive (U.S) East Coast tour. They proved to be as entertaining off stage as on.
FFanzeen: Let’s have a quick summary of what the band was doing between the first American tour (Fall ’78) and the break with Island, and then with Foxx.
Chris Cross: The break with Island was before the tour. The main reason we came over was because we didn’t have a record company. It was something that we really wanted to do, so we came over.
FF: There were tracks recorded, weren’t there?
Chris: That was before we went to America, as well. It was that stuff that we played on that tour.
FF: “Radio Beach” and “He’s a Liquid”?
Chris: Yeah, and “Touch and Go.”
FF: What happened to that stuff?
Chris: John put it on his album, being a friendly sort.
FF: What was the story behind the compilation, Three Into One?
Midge Ure: He put a writ on me and I didn’t have anything to do with any of the other albums. I had nothing to do with it.
Chris: We didn’t want it to come out. He didn’t want it t come out. The only way we could try and stop it was if he sued us or we sued him. So he sued us. Island was trying to make a free buck from us and it worked.
FF: Midge, how did you join the band?
Midge: It was just when they’d come back from that first American tour and they parted their ways. I’d met Billy (Currie) just before the tour. I didn’t know any of the guys in the band at all. I was doing a studio project with some of my favorite musicians.
FF: Was that Visage?
Midge: Precisely. I asked Billy if he wanted to do some stuff, and he was well up for it. He thought it would be just great working with some other musicians for a while. Just like a busman’s holiday. When they came back from America, I didn’t know that the band was ready to split. When they did split, I started working with Billy and he didn’t want to do anything with the band at that particular point. The whole thing had become one big pain in the backside, and he just went away and did the Visage stuff. When I got through working with Billy on it, I wangled my way into the band.
FF: What do you mean “wangled”?
Chris: Not really [laughs].
FF: The band had a direction on Systems of Romance [the band’s third and last album with Foxx]. Did this point in the direction from which you were coming?
Midge: Definitely. I think Systems was half a great album. There were some really good songs on it, but it was still a bit confused at that point. But the band was starting to get somewhere. I didn’t like the first two albums at all. When I joined the band, my idea was that it would be an obvious step up from “Slow Motion” and “Quiet Man,” while still keeping an experimental state, like “Just For a Moment,” and continue from that point. What we’ve got now is what I’d personally liked to have seen the band doing before. But it was just too mixed up before – it lacked the right ingredient.
FF: I read in one paper where you and Billy said that this album is a stopover to get yourselves together before going on to more experimental stuff in the future. What direction will the follow-up to Vienna take?
Midge: It’s started already. We recorded while we were in Miami for a couple of days. When we go into the studio, we have no idea at all what we’re going to do. We just recreated something in the studio. The track is pretty good, too. It’s only now that we can do that because we’ve been together a year and a half. We’re starting to rely on each other and bounce ideas off each other. You go into the box and you’re under pressure to be as good as everyone else has been, and make it mix.
Chris: Instead of having everything meticulously planned, we’ll do half that way and half very, very loose and free, and just see what we come up with.
FF: The set was similar to the first tour with the new band. Was the first tour just to show that the band was still alive?
Midge: Yeah, and it helped us break in the new material. We don’t like the idea of recording material before we’ve played it for a while. Once you’ve recorded it, that’s it, you can’t really change it that much.
FF: What was the idea behind trying to get a contract while insisting on not doing demos?
Chris: Demos are a real problem because when you do them, there’s always something on them. For example, drums: that’s impossible to recreate the magic. We have demos that we’ve done before that are much better than the finished tracks.
Midge: It’s not that we’re trying to be elitist. We blew more record deals because of that then anything.
FF: I guess Chrysalis is treating you better than Island?
Chris: Oh, yeah. The mafia treats us better than Island [laughs].
FF: Midge, I saw Glen Matlock at the gig last night. What does he think about what you’re doing now?
Midge: I’m sure he’s quite pleased. He could see what was happening when the Rich Kids started to split. I wanted the Rich Kids to sound more like the way we’re doing things now, and he wanted the Rich Kids to sound more like what he’s doing now with the Spectres. I went to his gig and I could see all the Rich Kids things from his point of view, and he saw my Rich Kids ideas from my point of view. I’m sure he thought it was…bloody awful [laughs].
FF: Where do you think Ultravox fits in right now, with Gary Numan capitalizing on the style of music you pioneered?
Chris: I don’t think we fit in with the Numan thing or electronic thing at all.
Midge: We don’t want anything to do with that.
Chris: We’re similar to what we’ve always been; we’ve never really quite fit into what’s going on. We basically don’t want to be a fashionable band because as soon as you are, it ends in six weeks. We’re really very conscious of that.
FF: In every interview that Gary Numan gives he mentions Ultravox as his primary influence.
Midge: We can’t see the connection, musically. We can see some basic ideas, but he’s taken them off on a tangent. I can’t see any similarity between him and us at all.
Chris: The whole similarity is more in his mind. It’s sort of like is version of what Ultravox sound like to him.
FF: One of his songs, “The Joy Circuit,” sounds as though it was ripped off from “Astradyne.”
Chris: We actually recorded pretty much during the same period of time.
FF: What sort of relationship does the band have with Foxx?
Chris: We never see him. He does exactly what he always wanted to do. You know, he wants to be a pain in the ass artist [laughs]. Really, all he wants to do is sit home and beat people away from the front door.
Midge: I’m sure he’ll come up with something eventually, but it must be alienating for him to step out of a band that, whether or not he admits it or not, had a lot to do with the music. The music was the band. To step out of that and try to do it all yourself must be a bit…lonely.
Chris: He has a really good keyboard player that works with him. He does all the good bits.
FF: How did you get back to working with producer Conny Plank?
Chris: He just really liked the idea of doing it. He’s the only person that we have a good working relationship with. We feel confident about the way he works and the sounds he gets.
Midge: We keep saying that it would be nice to work with somebody else. I’ve only done one album with him, and found it great and interesting working with the guy. This is the band’s second album with him so we looked around and couldn't come up with a single other name worth trying.
FF: He seems to have a handle on the electronics. He gets a good sound out of machines.
Midge: People try to use synthesizers as cold machines or an effect, like plugging in a fuzz box or whatever. He uses it like an acoustic instrument. He plays it back through a speaker cabinet and mics it up just like a guitar amp or a drum kit, an ambient thing. He treats it different ways like any other instrument, not just an electronic one.
Chris: He gets a natural sound.
Midge: And it comes across on the record. Most synthesizer groups are cold and plunky-plunky.
Chris: It’s a lively sound.
FF: Roxy Music started the idea of the synthesizer as more than just a fancy organ that makes funny noises.
Midge: I like the idea of Eno playing out front, from the mixing deck.
FF: You do (Eno’s) “King’s Lead Hat” and the encore. Have you ever talked to him about it?
Midge: He came to see us in LA, just as we walked off stage. He missed it. He said he’d liked to have heard it. We asked him what the lyrics were. He said he didn’t know, ‘cause we don’t know either. We sort of made them up. It’s the only thing we do that incredibly loose. It changes every night. We don’t know what the next line is. Really spontaneous.
FF: What’s your schedule like now? You recorded in Miami. Is that going to be your next single (this song is “Passionate Reply,” the B-side of “Vienna”)?
Midge: That was an experiment. It’ll probably be the B-side or an album track. We started recording early in 1981, after a short tour of England.
FF: The “Passing Strangers” video was very cinematic, not just the usual close-up of the singer’s face.
Midge: That’s what we were trying to steer clear of. We even added a violin that’s not on the record.
FF: You got Billy Currie to sing on it, too.
Midge: That was hard [laughs].
Chris: He couldn’t remember the words. Twenty times I had to tell him the words and he still said, “What’s the second line?”
Midge: We just wanted a video that didn’t look like a band playing. That’s why we did the live stuff.
FF: It summed up the idea of the song. It must not be as hard as having him play guitar, though.
Midge: Well, that’s hard to listen to more than it’s hard for him to play.
FF: The crowd cheers when he puts it on.
Midge: Part of the crowd cheers when he puts the guitar on. The other part cheers when he doesn’t. He says, “I fancy the guitar,” he doesn’t say he plays it. He enjoys himself.
FF: Have you any idea of what your next phase will be?
Midge: Hopefully, it’ll be a step up from what we’ve done.
Chris: We’ve got four or five set songs. It’s more interesting to go in not knowing what we’re doing.
Midge: It’s a whole different way to working. On Vienna, it’s a layered thing, not more than two of us playing at one time. It was all done bit by bit. That’s hard in itself, trying to get a sound like a band playing. This time we’re going to let one person go in at a time and play whatever they want to play.
FF: Vienna suggests several possible directions, such as the title track’s use of space.
Midge: The really sparse introduction. Then we built to a crescendo.
FF: At your shows, the crowd’s mood seems to go up and down, but at the end, they all go crazy.
Midge: Dance songs. It’s got to go up and down. When I go from guitar to keyboards, there’s not much happening on stage. It’s sort of a listening period. Then we do some older stuff.
FF: Will you be stepping out more on guitar?
Midge: I’m doing one or two more solos than on the first tour. I hate guitarists that just do straight-out solos. I play a backwards solo at the end of “Passing Strangers.” It’s a great song to solo over. I never played much guitar with the Rich Kids. I let Steve New do most of the live stuff.
FF: You seem to enjoy yourself on stage. Foxx just stood there.
Midge: I do enjoy myself.
FF: How were you accepted initially by the fans?
Midge: I didn’t know that the fans thought that Foxx was the whole band until we went out on the road. I never thought that at all. I thought he was the singer and wrote good lyrics and that’s it. The fans thought that Foxx was the savior of the band, and I wanted the band to get the recognition they deserved. That was hard for the fans at first.
FF: Your vocal style is different. You’re a singer and he sort of spoke-sang. Both versions are good in their own context.
Midge: I suppose that’s ‘cause I’m a singer before I’m a guitarist and he’s an artist before he’s a singer. He hadn’t been in a band before he was in Ultravox. I’ve been singing for years.
FF: Was it conscious or a coincidence that a few of the riffs, for example “Vienna” and “Maximum Acceleration” from Systems of a Romance are similar?
Midge: Someone else pointed that out to me. It’s a coincidence. On “Vienna,” it’s much slower [Midge sings both]. We use those scales that Billy knows. “Quiet Man” and “Sleepwalk” use similar scales. Those chord progressions and scales make up the sound which is Ultravox.
FF: When Billy plays more I guess he’ll learn more scales.
Midge: Well, I’m teaching him all I know.
FF: How does the new recording techniques differ from the earlier albums, Ultravox! and Ha-Ha-Ha?
Chris: It was basically similar. “Fear in the Western World” was done live. Everything else was just bass and drums with other parts overdubbed.
Midge: “Astradyne” and “Passing Strangers” were done that way. With a synthesizer; it’s easer to mix from the control room.
FF: How’s the writing distributed now?
Midge: We all contribute. Some of the stuff Warren’s done totally. He did “Mister X” and part of “Sleepwalk.” Then Chris and Warren will change a line there and there.
FF: On stage, the vocal parts were very cleverly altered. Was this done by your sound man?
Midge: I do all that on stage. I use foot switches so I don’t have to depend on the sound man in case he’s having a chat and forgets to switch it on. I’ve got a set of switches that does echoes and megaphone, stuff like that.
FF: “Mr. X” reminds me of “Touch and Go.” Was this an effort to salvage a piece of old material that Foxx used?
Chris: We didn’t know he was putting out an album. We had “Mr. X” done before he had his album.
Midge: The band wrote the music. John used it and said he wrote it.
FF: Chris, how do you keep it together on the freak out during “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”?
Chris: I find playing the reggae really the easiest to play. Like on “Dangerous Rhythm.” I like mixing it into berserk electronic surroundings. It’s almost like dub.
FF: Did you play sax on the album cut? The record says, “Sax by C.C.”
Chris: Everyone asks me that, but no, I didn’t.
FF: Would you like to do dub records?
Chris: I’d like to do one. I was trying to think of a song that would suit it and I couldn’t think of one.
Midge: I like the way Andy Partridge (of XTC) does it because it’s not very reggae-ish. He totally changes things. I’m sure we’ll eventually do one, but it’s very expensive; studio time and everything.
FF: Whatever happened to Stevie Shears?
Chris: Last thing we heard, he was playing in Cowboys International. I haven’t heard anything since then.
FF: The album cover of Vienna looks very robotic. What that intentional?
Midge: To me, it looks like a ‘40s fashion photograph of a band. We were trying to get a natural look and it just turned out that way. We stole the crumpled up paper idea from an old Vogue magazine picture. It was a lady standing there in an evening gown with all these shadows in the background. It looked really nice. And it was just crumpled paper. But ours just looked like crumpled paper.
[Source: in FFanzeen Number 7; Text by Chris Van Valen and David G, 1981]