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Ure-ka moment for brilliant Midge
7:00am Saturday 23rd June 2012 in NewsXtra
It's been 20 years but Ultravox are finally back - with a new album and huge UK tour. The band's frontman Midge Ure tells Andy Welch about their reformation, getting back into the swings of things after so long, and what they have planned for the future.
Vienna by Ultravox is among the most well-known songs of the Eighties. No compilation of the decade would be complete without the band's brooding, atmospheric signature song and chorus.
"It means nothing to me," sang Midge Ure. "Oh, Vienna."
The video to the song, alongside with the title, tipped its hat to the 1948 Orson Welles film The Third Man, while the lyrics told of a whirlwind romance in Austria and European sophistication.
All in all, it was quite unlike anything released around the same time, particularly Joe Dolce's novelty hit Shaddap You Face, which ultimately helped keep the song from ever hitting the No 1 spot despite its massive sales.
The record industry has changed dramatically and few artists experience the kind of impact Ultravox had with that song. Almost 30 years after releasing their last album, the band's frontman Midge Ure knows this all too well. The last two years have been a steep learning curve for the 58-year-old.
"It used to be you'd release a single, hopefully get on Top Of The Pops, wait six weeks, release the album and then tour," he says, comparing the band's Eighties heyday with releasing an album in 2012.
"Now, who knows how you do it? The possibilities are endless."
Ultravox released their eleventh album Brilliant in May. It's the first featuring the classic line-up since 1986's U-Vox, and follows on from Ure reuniting with Chris Cross, Warren Cann and Billy Currie for a 30th anniversary tour in 2010.
"We never planned to make this album," explains Ure.
"These things are never planned. The reunion tour came about because we were approached by the promoters Live Nation, who said if ever we were thinking about getting back together, 2009/2010 was the time to do it.
"We all independently liked the idea, emailed each other and did it."
The album happened when Universal in Germany approached the band, expressing their enthusiasm for another Ultravox record and, while initially keen, Ure soon found things weren't as they first seemed.
"I was invited to this songwriters' convention where there were around 25 people in a room. The moment I walked in it became clear they were going to write songs with me, and there would be some odd licensing agreement where the label would provide the songs, and we'd just record them and put the Ultravox name on the album.
"It was so manipulative and crazy, not to mention hideously insulting," he continues.
"Not only do people in the industry want to cross all the Ts and dot the Is, they want to control how many Ts and Is you have in the first place.
"It was the X Factor-style process rather than a good creative process."
Fortunately for members of Ultravox, they'd already been working on their own plan and by the time they realised any agreement with Universal would be untenable, they'd already spent months writing and recording their own album the way they wanted to do it.
"We went off to my house in Canada, built a studio with laptops and got to work," says Ure.
"No one knew we were going, no one else came with us. We just wanted to go off and see what it was like. If it hadn't have worked, no one would've been any the wiser.
"Three of us lived there, and it was phenomenal. We went back a couple of months later, eventually doing three trips before going to Los Angeles to record the drums and finishing it all off in the UK."
The resulting album is, without meaning to state the obvious, pure Ultravox. There are huge, reverb-laden piano chords, haunting strings and electronic instrumentation, plus Ure's unmistakable voice.
"What did you expect?" asks Ure when met with this observation. "It's the sound we make when we're in a room together. Obviously we've moved it on, but this album is these four characters getting together, and each of the characters is made up of a collection of influences.
"Brilliant is cinematic and dramatic and atmospheric. All the hallmarks, all the good and bad things that have ever been written about Ultravox, are on this album. It's what we do and I'd be surprised if it didn't sound like us. It all felt so natural, I think we'd actively have to try not to sound like us to do something so different."
At the height of the band's fame, Ure became involved with Band Aid, co-writing Do They Know It's Christmas? with Bob Geldof. The time spent working on the charity single meant Ultravox took a back seat and, by his own admission, he was a different person by the time he returned.
"Success is a nonsense," he says. "And you get absorbed in the periphery of it all, the style... The jumble-sale suits become £1,500 Jean Paul Gaultier outfits and suddenly the band was suffering."
Knowing things weren't right when reconvening to record what would be their last album together in 1985, three members decided to sack Warren Cann, one of the band's founding members. "That shows how ridiculous our thinking had become," says Ure.
Thankfully there was no bitterness when it came to reforming in 2009, and in "typical" Ultravox fashion, he says the first meeting involved hugs, smiles and the swapping of memories.
"Warren could have been awkward, but there was none of that. It's just been old mates getting back together since then."
At the moment, it's uncertain whether there will be another album after this, but with rehearsals beginning any time for their September tour, Ure says anything is possible.
"We spent more money and time on Brilliant than any of us imagined, and we walked a long road, with the whole Universal debacle, so for now, we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves.
"Our reward is going out on the road and performing the songs we worked so hard on."
Extra time - Ultravox :: The band's first incarnation, Tiger Lily, formed in 1974, and featured Dennis Leigh (now more famously known as John Foxx), Stevie Shears, Chris Cross, Warren Cann and Billy Currie.
:: They soon became Ultravox!, dropping the exclamation mark in 1978, the same year they fired Shears and released Systems Of Romance, their last album with John Foxx.
:: James 'Midge' Ure joined the band in time to write much of 1980 album Vienna, steering the band in a much more New Romantic direction. His nickname is 'Jim' backwards.
:: Ure and Bob Geldof have been awarded two Ivor Novello awards for their work on Do They Know It's Christmas?, which upon release became the biggest-selling single in UK chart history, and remained so until Elton John's re-recorded version of Candle In The Wind, a tribute for Princess Diana, was released in 1997.
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