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Midge Ure

Scottish singer Midge Ure plays Chicago's Mayne Stage, Jan 19


by Jerry Nunn
Scottish singer Midge Ure is heading to the North Side of Chicago for a rare performance. He changed his name from James to the phonetic reversal, Midge, to avoid confusion with the common name.

He co-wrote and produced the holiday single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" featuring such singers as George Michael and Boy George. He was a key organizer along with Bob Geldof to create Live Aid, which raised millions of dollars.

Midge Ure - the front man for groups like Ultravox and Thin Lizzy - talks to Jerry Nunn about his career, including the decision to turn down the Sex Pistols and what's planned for 2013.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hello, Midge. You are originally from Glasgow?

MU: (Midge Ure) Yes, I am from Scotland.

JN Where do you currently live?

MU: I think to be part of the music world you had to move from there. Back in the ‘70s living in Glasgow was not a great place to be a musician. I moved to London and spent 20 years living there. Nearly 20 years ago I moved to Bath with my wife. It is a beautiful place.

JN: I have heard it's beautiful from other artists.

MU: Peter Gabriel lives here and has his Real World recording studio on the outskirts of Bath so even though it's a quiet, sleepy, little city, it still has a lot of facilities nearby if you need them.

JN: I heard you were asked to be in the Sex Pistols.

MU: That happened in Glasgow as well.

I was coming out of a music shop in 1975 and was stopped by an English guy. I was asked to speak to his friend around the corner. His friend happened to be Malcolm McLaren (manager of the Sex Pistols) who I didn't know at the time but had never seen someone so strange looking in the streets of Glasgow. He proceeded to talk about the New York Dolls and his shop. Then he started talking about a band he wanted to put together. He asked if I wanted to join the band but didn't ask if I was a musician. I thought that was mad and crazy. I turned it down and six months later it was the Sex Pistols.

JN: How did Ultravox come together?

MU: it came together from me working on a project I had put together with a couple of friends of mine. It was called Visage. It was a studio project to make electronic European dance music for the clubs that we used hang out in at the time. One of the ideas was to work with one of our favorite musicians who owned different bands to get together and make this whole collective thing. One of the keyboard players named Billy Currie we used was in Ultravox. Through the Visage project I watched Ultravox fall apart, get dropped by the record company and come back from America on tour a broken band. I stepped in and joined Ultravox, which was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me because I loved what the guys did. It was a vibrant time. I had no idea back then if the band had any future or not but what a fabulous band to join.

JN: Your solo single "Breathe" has such an incredible range. How do you protect your voice to hit those high notes?

MU: You know what? I don't and I probably should as I get older. I should look after it and exercise it but I don't. I just go out there and hope that I get somewhere near the right notes. A lot of the songs I have written over the years are in a very high key because I like that big soaring sound. When you put them all together and put them back-to-back that's hard work. It is not nearly as hard as when you are doing an acoustic show. There is not respite for that. There are no solos or breaks. It is just relentless singing. When I am onstage for over an hour I notice that my voice is taking a bit of a battering and I should really look after it.

JN: What will the show at the Mayne Stage be like?

MU: This will be the first band tour that I've done in America in 25 years. The last tour that I did was ten years ago and that was acoustic. This is a band that I haven't even met yet. It was recommended to me because they will play their own set. They are called Right the Stars and are from Los Angeles. It is the only way financially and logistically that we can make this work. Touring with a band is very expensive. This enables me to come out and enables them to get out and play records. This is the way that the music industry is going. You have to be flexible and adaptable. You have to be open to projects that may seem challenging. To me this is very exciting.

My answer to question is I'm really not sure. Until we go into rehearsals and whip these songs into shape I really won't know what form it's going to take. I know part of the challenge in our next few days is taking the songs I suggested and they will have to adapt them to their elements. If they are a better guitarist than they are on keyboards then I will have to put a keyboard part with guitar. In a way this makes the songs more interesting for me because I have to make it work.

With a bit of luck it will be a full band you are going to see. You will hear things ranging from "Breathe" and "Dear God" and "Cold, Cold Heart," things that were all top ten alternative out there. There will be some Ultravox and maybe even Visage thrown in as well. Those are on my wish list for the band to perform.

JN: The fans will be ready to hear those songs.

MU: Well, that's another thing because I'm not sure who is going to be there. When I agreed to do this my big worry was would anybody remember. Would people know what a Midge Ure is? I've been pleasantly surprised from the reaction on Facebook and Twitter. There has been a nice little buzz about it.

JN: I know people from the ‘80s clubs that are coming and I will get the word out for the LGBT fans so it should be a good mix.

MU: I certainly hope so. It would be lovely after all this time to play in front of people that appreciate it.

JN: Did you hear "Do They Know It's Christmas" over the holidays?

MU: Oh yeah, you start hearing it in October. It is 28 years after that song was written and released. It is still being played and has transcended the charity record that it was supposed to be. It is embroiled in the annual Christmas songs that are played now.

The legacy of that record is that every time it's played on the radio money is generated for the cause. Money goes straight to the Band Aid trust. I gave the songwriting credit to the trustees. Even thought the song is stuck between George Michael's "Last Christmas" and Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" the younger generation still know what the song stood for historically.

JN: What projects do you have for 2013?

MU: Everything had to be put on the backburner for the last couple of years because Ultravox has eaten up a huge amount of time since we got back together. We wrote a new album, which took two years to do. I just finished a three-month tour of the UK and Europe only a few weeks ago. My biography If I Was is coming out in the next few weeks as an eBook. My solo record I have been working on for about three or four years. I have to finish that this year before I get bored with it and decide to scrap it and start all over again. All of the stuff that I couldn't do in Ultravox I need to focus on this year.

Midge meets Mayne Stage, 1328 West Morse Ave., on January 19. Visit www.maynestage.com or call (773) 381-4551 for tickets.
 
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