Midge Ure, a Scottish musician, singer, songwriter and record producer, chats with Kevin Cooper about the passing of Steve Harley, losing money on his Voice And Vision Tour, playing Rock City Nottingham for the first time and his 2024 Catalogue The Hits Tour.

Midge Ure is a Scottish musician, singer songwriter and record producer. He enjoyed particular success in the 70’s and 80’s in bands which included Slik, Thin Lizzy, Rich Kids and Visage, and was the second front man of Ultravox, after John Foxx stepped down.

In 1975 he turned down an offer to be the lead vocalist of the Sex Pistols choosing instead to join Slik who had a number one single in 1976 with Forever And Ever. In 1977 he joined Sex Pistol bass guitarist Glen Matlock in Rich Kids, but musical tensions within the band led to him leaving.

In 1978 with Rich Kids band mate Rusty Egan and Steve Strange, they formed Visage and in 1980 their second single Fade To Grey became a huge hit.

Ure stepped in to help Thin Lizzy in July 1979 following Gary Moore’s abrupt departure. They toured America and Japan and at the end of that tour he left to return to Ultravox who he formed with Billy Currie in 1979.

Vienna was released in 1980, which was kept from attaining the number one slot in the singles chart by Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face. Ultravox went on to release eleven studio albums, the last one being called Brilliant in 2012 which was their first studio album in eighteen years and the first in twenty eight years from the classic Ultravox line-up of Midge Ure, Billy Currie, Warren Cann and Chris Cross.

In June 1982 he released his first solo single, a cover version of the 1968 Tom Rush song No Regrets, which went to the top ten of the singles chart within one week of its release. He released If I Was in 1985 and his debut studio album, The Gift, in the same year. He has released a total of eight solo studio albums.

In 1984 he co-wrote and produced the charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas which has sold 3.7 million copies in the UK. He has also co-organised Band Aid, Live Aid, and Live 8 with Bob Geldof. He also co-wrote Phil Lynott’s Yellow Pearl which served as the theme of Top Of The Pops for much of the 80’s.

Whilst busy rehearsing for the European leg of his Catalogue The Hits Tour, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good afternoon Midge, how are you?

I’m good thanks Kevin, how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

No problem at all, thanks for doing it.

I have to ask, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

At the moment all is good I have to say. Everything is very good, and I honestly cannot complain; even the bad bits are good (laughter).

You and I last spoke just prior to the release of Soundtrack 1978 – 2019.

Really, oh my God that was a few years ago now.

Were you pleased with the fan’s reaction to the alum?

Yes, I was. It’s funny because whenever you do something like that, release what is basically a greatest hits album, people who don’t know all of your work, or those who have only recently gotten into what it is that you do, absolutely love an album like that, a compilation such as that and that seems to work.

Most of the reviews that I have read all appear to be singing your praises saying, “Midge Ure not only is a fantastic vocalist, but he is also a very accomplished guitar player”.

Well, there you go that just goes to prove how you can fool the public most of the time (laughter).

Is there any new material on the horizon?

There is always new material but it’s not complete. Gone are the days of being signed to a major label, having them banging on your door saying “we need this new album in six months’ time” is now gladly all gone. Everyone records at home now, and everyone has that facility, so I can sit here and twiddle and tweak to my heart’s content and I turn blue in the face. I did notice the other day that it is now ten years since my last solo record was released (laughter). So, I have been twiddling and tweaking for way, way, way too long (laughter). Having said that, I am very happy with what I have got so far. I just hope that I don’t carry on tweaking and twiddling until I go off what I have done and find myself starting all over again.

I asked JJ (Burnell) of The Stranglers the same question and he said that he had got 300 unfinished songs on his mobile phone.

Wow, well if he put his mind to it, he could very well have 150 finished one (laughter).

I last photographed you in 2023 on your Voice And Visions Tour here in Nottingham at Rock City and I have to say, as usual, you were absolutely brilliant.

Thank you very much, I have to say that prior to that I had never played Rock City. That was the very first time that I had played there. Like all standing gigs it was like The Barrowlands in Glasgow, it was full of vibes and in your face. It really was great, and I totally loved it. Saying that, I have to point out that the place isn’t in the best of conditions, but then again neither is The Barrowlands; it literally keeps your feet on the ground (laughter). Apparently, they have spent some money on the dressing rooms but not on the rest of the place (laughter).

Your forthcoming twenty-three date Catalogue The Hits Tour, shows that you have no signs of slowing down as yet?

No, not yet. I’m still feeling sprightly in my ripe old age, and I think that the last tour, the Voice And Visions tour was great, although even before stepping out or walking into the rehearsal room or whatever, I knew that we were losing money hand over fist because we had agreed to do the tour prior to lockdown. We had to postpone the tour twice and by that time the contracts had been signed, so we were playing a 2023 tour at costs based upon 2019 fees, so we knew that there was no way physically that it was all going to tally up. Despite that, I absolutely refused to put the price on the ticket in order to cover it all.

I thought at the end of that tour, ‘this is totally crazy.’ We did thirty-odd shows last time out, and I simply could not see just how we could maintain that. All that I was doing was keeping everyone else alive, and it didn’t work at all on any level. Then of course, I found myself playing The Royal Albert Hall last year for my birthday, and I have to be totally honest with you and say that I thoroughly enjoyed it which totally threw all of the equations out of my head (laughter). It was at that point that I thought, ‘to hell with it, let’s get back out on tour’ (laughter). It was such a good night, we all had such good fun, so I thought, ‘no, no, we can’t just stop this now’ (laughter).

You have briefly mentioned lockdown. How did you manage to stay busy during that awful time?

I set up a thing called The Backstage Lockdown Club. I saw that quite a few artists had taken to doing concerts on their computers and as good as the artists were, it looked dreadful and it sounded awful, coming through a little tinny speaker on your laptop, and singing into the mic on your laptop, whilst using the camera. So, I went out and did what I do; I invested in a multi-camera system, complete with an audio-visual mixing desk so that I could do proper performances that sounded like something (laughter). I had a vocal mic with reverbs, echoes and compression on it, so I could sit and talk to people, and then start performing.

And I have to say that it really did sound as though you were listening to a performance in a hall. I started doing this as something to do during lockdown but then people just refused to leave; they didn’t want me to stop it, so I carried it on all the way through. I sat here in my little studio sending it out to them. So I was appearing in peoples sitting rooms on a Saturday night every couple of weeks and that kept me logical. Plus, of course, having the ability to be able to sit down to write and record, which I took full advantage of. I actually wrote and recorded an entire instrumental album, which is one of my passions; listening to instrumental music. I did all of that and it kept me sane.

When you do manage to get some downtime; how does Midge Ure switch off and relax?

Not very well, to be totally honest with you. I really am not very good at it. Everything that I do is connected to, or associated with music, so its all-creative stuff really. I can’t just sit on a beach, pop on the headphones, and listen to a talking book because I fall asleep (laughter). I can’t lose myself by simply basking in the sun; that doesn’t work for me at all. If I am not writing or recording, I am creating videos. I am sitting creating graphics now for an American tour that I may be doing in the summer. So, I now have to come up with a logo; I don’t just farm it out to other people, I do it all myself.

Please don’t get me wrong, it’s not megalomania, it’s down to the Scot in me (laughter). Everyone keeps saying to me, “well I could do that for you” but I always think, ‘why should I pay someone to do that when I can do it myself’ (laughter). Being serious, it is sometimes far easier to try and do it yourself and translate what it is that you have in your head, whereas if you involve someone else it turns out like Chinese Whispers, and it is a million miles away from what you have started with.

What will Midge Ure do when the music stops? I recently asked Alice Cooper what he will do when he retires and he said, ‘retire from what young man, music or golf’ (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I toured with Alice a couple of years back in Germany, for a Rock Meets Classics concert so we had an orchestra together with a rock band and a variety of singers. Alice naturally had his own tour bus and he and his wife would travel on the tour bus to the next venue overnight, in order to be at the next city where Alice would play a round of golf at seven o’clock in the morning with all of his golf sponsors (laughter). He did this every single day; it was almost as if he had booked the tour in order to play golf. In the evening, he would put on the makeup, go out and enjoy himself. So, yes, Alice is quite right, what do you retire from? You can’t retire from music; it is in you. Whatever you do or wherever you go, music is always there so you might as well carry on doing it for as long as you think that you are doing it well.

Your audience demographic, it must please you when you see just how young the fans are who are coming to the shows?

Yes, it does hugely, not just the hardcore fans who have been there all the way through, but there is a new generation or two who are coming along now because they have found your music on the internet. Music is now consumed and distributed in a very different way to how it was some thirty or forty years ago. Nobody buys music anymore, certainly not young people, but they hear it. They hear it on streaming services, they hear it in games, they send links to each other saying ‘check this out’ and they have no concept of when or how that stuff was recorded. It could be brand new for all they know simply because they do not listen to the radio. So, it lives a life way beyond what any of us expected it ever to do, because back in the 80s when your records hit the charts, if you were lucky, the moment it drops, it’s gone.

We will never hear it again until someone in the band dies, and that’s how it was; it was very short lived. You might just hear it on a chart show somewhere some twenty-odd years down the line. But no, it has gone beyond that now. An entire generation of kids turn up and they now want to make the same sounds that we made. They want to use modern technology, and I now get loads of kids asking me questions like, “how did you get that sound, was it a bass synth” to which I reply, “no it was a mini moog.” So it really is great, it’s wonderful that the youngsters are still engaged in it enough to go out and ask the questions. Also, it’s great that they can be bothered to sit down and watch some old guy like me doing it.

What is your stance on the people who record you on a mobile phone, which I have to say when I am trying to enjoy a gig totally pisses me off?

I totally agree with you, and I would assume that it pisses you off almost as much as it pisses the artist off. What happens now is that whenever you are looking out into a dark auditorium or a dark theatre, somebody lights up from below, and you know that they are checking their Facebook page, or they are looking at their Tik Toc account, and all artists do now realise that half the audience are no longer there to see you, they are there because they have been dragged along by their other half. So, they only know two or three songs, whilst the rest of the time they are bored to tears, probably.

It is the ultimate in rudeness, not just to the artists because it is as if someone has put spotlights on them, and it is the age-old thing that you are standing in front of twenty thousand people, and you can see the one seat that is empty from the stage and that one seat really winds you up (laughter). I personally find it so disturbing. It’s the same whenever you go to the cinema or the theatre, people answer their phones, and people talk in the middle of a concert. I always think that if I were sitting somewhere near to that person, I would be absolutely furious. They have lit the place up, they are distracting others from what is actually happening on stage, and equally people holding phones up videoing; I just don’t get it.

I saw (David) Bowie performing his Ziggy Stardust concert at the Glasgow Apollo back in 1972 and I remember every detail of it. It’s in my head, I didn’t need a phone, I didn’t need to record it, and I have to say that it beggars belief when you think, when do people go, ‘I know what I will do this evening, I will look at my phone and I will watch that entire concert that I recorded three years ago that I have never watched’. It doesn’t work. Then it’s, ‘I will listen to it through the shitty speaker that was recorded on this shitty mic through this crappy lens’ no, it simply doesn’t work. It is an expensive night out and it drives me crazy.

Whenever I go out and do a few acoustic shows, there will always be half a dozen guys standing at the back getting smashed and talking really loudly at the bar. They have no idea who or what you are, and they are just there because it is the event, it is what is going on in the town that night. I think, ‘really, you are just spoiling it for the other five hundred other people who are sitting here to listen to every word that I am singing’. I have to say that things have changed, it’s the way that it is, and social media and phones are a major part of that.

As a touring artist, just how has Brexit affected you?

Whilst I wouldn’t say that we were not unscathed, because nobody is unscathed anymore, it really is a pain in the backside. We have reverted back to how things were in the 70s. Whenever you wanted to tour over in Europe you had to have a carne for all of your equipment and every border that you crossed the truck has to be stopped, the carne shown and stamped. The customs people would say, ‘I want to see flight case number twenty-seven, flight case number seventy-three and I want to see these microphones’. So, you had to take everything out of the truck on every border.

It has annihilated any young bands attempts to get out into Europe and play the bottom of the bill on the multitude of festivals that they have out there. They simply cannot afford to do it. Getting a carne will cost at least a couple of thousands of pounds, and what you have to remember is that these bands play for a few beers and some petrol money in order to cut their teeth and learn how it all works. The whole thing is ludicrous. You have to get all of your paperwork in order, you have to empty the truck in the middle of the night, you have to get your passport stamped at every border, fill in forms, all sorts of stuff. It really is madness, absolute madness.

Fifty years of writing and recording, just how hard is it for you to put a set-list together?

Ask me nearer the time (laughter). I haven’t got a clue as to what I am going to play yet (hysterical laughter). There will obviously be key songs that people will expect to hear who would be furious if I didn’t play them. But, equally so, I want to play some things that I haven’t played. I want to play some of the more interesting pieces of music because a lot of the time the ones that become big successful commercial records aren’t necessarily your best work. So, it really does have to be a cross section and, as I said earlier, I have still got to try and please the other half who are sitting there looking at Tik Tok (laughter). I have to try and make it interesting so that they don’t simply sit there on their phones for an hour and a half because there is nothing that they recognise coming off the stage (laughter).

From a personal point of view, will there be any Thin Lizzy tracks?

You know what, that has been mentioned a few times now and I have to say that I don’t know how I would do it because, as you well know, all of the Lizzy stuff is double guitars. I’m not sure that I am capable of doing it but it does give me a wide range of what I could perform. I’m currently toying with the idea of delving into a Rich Kids track or two. I am looking at just what else is out there. However, because the forthcoming tour is an all-encompassing thing, I’m not out there promoting an album or any current material as such, it is a retrospective thing, and it does give me the ability to delve into that and see just what is possible.

Putting you on the spot, what has been the highlight of your career so far?

That would be working with artists who I both respect and admire. That could be anyone from Eric Clapton to Peter Gabriel to Kate Bush to whom ever. It could even be Mick Ronson. I met my heroes, I worked with my heroes, one on one and that is the best accolade that you can get; the fact that they were willing to work with you. It never ceases to amaze me that these people actually knew who I was (laughter). It is a one-way street, you are a fan, you get into the music because you are a fan of what someone else does, and then when you get the opportunity to meet them you are either tongue tied or you find yourself standing on stage with them, and that really is glorious.

To quote the title of one of your solo hits, No Regrets?

No, not at all, even my mistakes were good, even my bad bits were good (laughter). I say that simply because I got to do this. I say it many times whenever I go back to Glasgow, whenever I have got some time, I walk around the streets that I used to walk around when I was a kid, not for nostalgias sake, but to remind me that I wanted this, I asked for this, and unlike many, many others, I got it and I do not take it for granted, ever.

What is currently on Midge Ure’s live rider?

It’s funny that you should ask me that because I have just received an email from my American agent this morning asking me what I would like on my rider to which I replied, “the same as the last time” which was the makings of a sandwich, a cookie if there is one, and a few cans of diet coke. That’s kind of it these days. There is no alcohol on there because I gave that up a long time ago (laughter). You won’t find anything outrageous on there, I have got a very boring rider (laughter).

I am going to leave the last word to you on Steve Harley’s recent passing.

His passing was really is very sad. I believe that Steve knew that it was coming and that he had known for a while. Steve actually got in touch with me a few months ago and we started texting each other and he never mentioned anything regarding his health, so I had no idea that he was ill. There was something in the water; something in the air even then back in the 70s when Bowie came onto my radar with Ziggy Stardust, Queen had arrived together with Sparks and Cockney Rebel. All of a sudden, production and song writing changed.

There was something different about it; it was quirky, it was interesting, it was really interesting productions whenever you hear something like Sebastian, or Mr Soft or whatever, Steve was one of those guys. Steve, like my good self, was a worker, he was a grafter, it didn’t matter to him whether he was in front of fifty thousand people playing or fifty people. You do your job, you get up there and you do it, and he did that, and for that, I take my hat off to him. Obviously, it came as a shock when I heard the news. I always found Steve to be an absolute gentleman. I produced a record for him back in the 80s and he was lovely.

On that note Midge, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it has, as usual, been delightful. Good luck with the forthcoming tour.

Listen, it will be what it will be; it will be fun (laughter). It’s like whenever people ask me, “who’s in the band” to which I reply, “all of the people who I get on with.” That’s more important than the best drummer in the world, or the fastest keyboard player; it’s the people who you can spend two months with, in a box on wheels. That’s what is important.

I’m hoping to photograph the gig at The Symphony Hall over in Birmingham on Sunday 1st December which will be an honour.

That’s brilliant. I look forward to seeing you there. It’s been a pleasure as usual Kevin, you stay safe and I will see you in Birmingham.

Tickets for the tour are now on sale