Midge Ure is willingly doing the two things that most performers dread on his upcoming US tour, which kicks off in the Bay Area this week, Wed/15 at Yoshi’s.
The former Ultravox frontman, Visage and Thin Lizzy member, and Band Aid, Live Aid, and Live 8 co-producer will take questions and song requests from audience members.
“I think it’s been instigated by social media,” Ure told 48 Hills. “Prior to that, people who wanted to know something about you had to read it in a magazine. Social media has broken down that barrier, so the logical conclusion is that you can — if you’re brave or stupid enough — get in front of an audience and open yourself up to questions or musical requests. There’s an intimacy about that that the audience will like.”
Aside from audience interaction, the raw and revealing “Songs, Questions & Answers Tour” will feature acoustic versions of the Grammy and Brit Award-winning Scottish musician’s most indelible tracks from his 40-year career, many of which are found on his recent 32-track Soundtrack 1978-2019 CD/DVD collection.
US fans will surely recognize such ‘80s synthpop staples as “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes” and “Vienna” with Ultravox, “Fade to Grey” with Visage and , as well as Ure’s solo single “Dear G-d.”
I spoke to Ure about his new greatest-hits collection, upcoming tour, and the upsides and downsides to being vulnerable.
48 HILLS Soundtrack is not only the soundtrack to your career but also the soundtrack to many of your fans’ lives. What does the title mean to you?
MIDGE URE We all have soundtracks to our lives. Every significant moment we have is peppered by a specific piece of music. When I thought about what I wanted to do on this album, I wasn’t interested in the greatest hits. I wanted to handpick a journey through my life in song and songwriting because your songwriting changes as you get older and you get more proficient at it.
You have a wider subject range as you grow older, so I wanted to put something together that encapsulates both my life of songwriting and recording but reflective of the fact that each and every one of us has a different soundtrack than everyone else.
48 HILLS You’ve played your songs acoustically before on 2017’s Orchestrated and are now embarking on an acoustic tour. How does that change the songs, especially the ones that were originally synth-based?
MIDGE URE I think there’s an element of when an audience hears anyone performing a stripped-down version of a song, they still hear the original arrangements in their heads.
For anyone who doesn’t already know the song, you better have written a song that stands the test of time and stands the test of being able to be stripped down to that extent that you can perform something on a piano or guitar and it still stands up.
48 HILLS You’re promising an increased intimacy with the question-and-answer portion of your show. But what’s in it for you?
MIDGE URE It makes for a different show every night. There’s a security in having a setlist, of course, but there’s also a repetitiveness to playing the same songs in the same order every night because that’s what you’ve routined with your band.
When you don’t have a band, you can change as often as you want. But it also means that I have to be on my toes in order to be able to do this and have to be fairly confident that if I attempt to play something that I think I know, it doesn’t go horribly wrong.
48 HILLS Does the transparency that fans are demanding from their favorite artists today detract from their rockstar mystique?
MIDGE URE I think it opens up the world a little bit more. The days of barriers and walls and barbed wire and absolute secrecy are gone. People like to see that you’re real, human, and have flaws as they do and you get depressed and elated and fed up and tired of politics and people — all of that stuff.
We’re all made of the same substance and suffer from the same problems. We all become elated by the same types of things, so why would you pretend to be something different or better than the people sitting in the audience? So I think the time is right to drop the facade and see the real person.
48 HILLS You’ve been in so many bands. If you could reunite just one, which would it be?
MIDGE URE Good question. It would be Ultravox. Ultravox was the band. Everything prior to that was an apprenticeship, as I worked my way toward Ultravox.
48 HILLS You’ve said that the Russell Mulcahy-directed “Passing Strangers” video set the template for all videos to follow. For kids today, who grew up on YouTube, can you explain the importance of that video and what makes it still stand up today?
MIDGE URE At that time, people were talking about “Bohemian Rhapsody” and some of the other early pop promos going around, which were all shot on video — all squeaky clean and electronic. But there was no quality to them.
When we decided to do “Passing Strangers,” we set parameters that we wanted to follow through into future videos. So instead of shooting on video, we shot on 16MM film, which gave it a grainy movie quality. We cropped the screen top and bottom to make it Cinemascope and we went from color to black and white and did the entire film noir thing like shadows on walls and made it a very European-looking thing.
We used the same director, Russell Mulcahy, for “Vienna” and just translated all the parameters into the “Vienna” video — the same feel and atmospherics that worked well with the music. When we put out a video, viewers around the world would see something that was absolutely Ultravox. We cared about our image, which didn’t tend to happen with other artists, who just handed their music to their label who then just farmed it out to directors who just came back with their visions of what it was all about.
48 HILLS Two years after the release of “Vienna,” you recorded a brilliant cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” which you recently re-recorded for your Soundtrack album. With Bowie’s birthday and deathiversary this week, he’s been on a lot of fans’ minds. How have you coped with his passing?
MIDGE URE I was devastated when I heard the news because it was a weird generational thing. Bowie was only maybe a handful of years older than I was when he died. But it’s that weird thing that when you’re young, someone that much older than you seems like an adult because they’re much more grown-up. But as you get on in life, that gap between your ages disappears.
But in my mind, I was still the 15-year-old kid, who fell in love with Bowie and his music. That never changes, that fandom, that idolizing someone as talented as him, so you don’t expect people like that, that you respect and admire to that extent to die. It was too soon. It just wasn’t right. It makes us more in touch with our own mortality because he was one of those guys who was going to go on forever. It’s just not right when it’s someone from your generation.
48 HILLS I noticed that Eurythmics just reunited for a show for the first time in years. Who are the other bands from your generation that you would love to see back together?
MIDGE URE I never saw Talk Talk, so that would have been an amazing thing. I was fortunate enough to see Kate Bush doing her first shows in London in the late ‘70s and see her at the Hammersmith [Apollo] in 2014, so I’d love to see her again, sitting at the piano and singing for me.
48 HILLS Most people have only scratched the surface of all the amazing music from the ’80s. Who do you think are some of the most underrated bands from that decade?
MIDGE URE Japan. I can see why Japan had a hard time becoming successful in America because you kind of had to work at Japan. They weren’t what you’d call radio-friendly for the American airwaves. Very similar to Ultravox, they were played on college radio and some of the new wave radio stations, but they never cracked mainstream radio.
48 HILLS If I had to describe your music in a phrase, it would be “heart on your sleeve.” What are the pros and cons of being so vulnerable in this way?
MIDGE URE I tend to think that that’s what songs should be about. I shouldn’t have to sit down and invent a scenario or create a world that I don’t inhabit in order to write a song. I write a piece of music and sometimes I find it very difficult to let the piece of music go out into the big wild world because you’re right, I do wear my heart on my sleeve and it’s not always comfortable doing that.
I’ve written songs about depression, alcoholism, and not knowing what to do next because if I write something that’s real, true, and honest, I firmly believe that someone somewhere will connect with that song because they’re going through exactly what I am talking about. That’s what makes it worth it.
MIDGE URE (ULTRAVOX) ACOUSTIC DUO
Wed/15 8pm, $24-$59
More info here.