Midge Ure has lived a life and then some. He talks to Chris Berry about his career in music and the personal demons he has battled.
MIDGE Ure has had three number one hits – with Forever and Ever with Slik in 1976, his co-written Band Aid classic with Bob Geldof, Do They Know It’s Christmas, and as a solo artist with If I Was in 1985.
Somewhat ironically, however, the song most associated with his glory days in chartdom, Vienna by Ultravox, only reached number two in 1981, thanks to the UK’s fascination with buying novelty records which saw Joe Dolce’s Shaddap You Face take the top spot.
But what happens when you’re no longer the bright young thing? His last UK top 20 hit was Cold, Cold Heart back in 1991. In Midge’s case he turned to alcohol. He’s not proud of what happened, but talks frankly about it and is in no doubt where his values lie today.
“Oh, it’s all true. My family are my strength and if they hadn’t supported me through it, I honestly don’t know if I’d be here today,” he says.
“I have no excuses. My father had died, my career seemed to be going nowhere and I lost sight of what I had. The most valuable people to me are my family, there’s no point in doing what I do without them to share it.
“The turning point was when we were supposed to be having a great family time on holiday and I went back to the car to get something. I went for a bottle of alcohol.
“As I turned around I saw my 11-year-old daughter looking at me and it was heartbreaking and devastating to see the look on her face.
“Until then I thought I wasn’t harming anyone other than myself but obviously you’re a pebble in the water and the ripples go a long, long way. I have four daughters and family is everything to me. It’s much more important than singing in a band.”
When he comes to Victoria Hall in Settle next Friday he won’t be with a band. He will take to the stage as an acoustic act – and he thrives on the raw sound. He’s been here before: there is a fantastic YouTube video of him playing at Settle five years ago performing an acoustic version of Vienna.
“I’ve become a firm believer that a song should be able to be stripped down to its bare components and still function. I really enjoy playing my songs this way,” he says.
This year he has already completed a US tour, an Australian tour is scheduled for April, and a solo tour is sandwiched in between all that. It’s not exactly a case of taking things easy as he approaches his 60th birthday.
“My work takes me away a lot but we still manage quality time together at home. I’m proud of my girls and enjoy the idea that one night I can be on stage in front of thousands, but the next I’m in the supermarket getting the weekly shop or hearing all the stories about school or work.”
Nearly every songwriter believes that some of his or her best works are ignored and sometimes scratch their heads at the songs that become famous. Midge recorded a song called Breathe in 1995, which charted very modestly in the UK the following year. He recalls being disappointed at the time, but was mollified by its subsequent success years later.
“Breathe was ignored at the time, but then a fan who worked for an ad agency in Italy got it placed with Swatch watches. It was then requested on radio after people heard it on TV and eventually it went to number two in Italy for almost two months. It also charted in Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Austria. I was very pleased and it justified my faith in the song.”
Band Aid remains the defining moment in Midge’s music career. The song raised nearly £8m for the starving people in Africa, put their plight on the political agenda, and he will forever be associated with the project together with Bob Geldof.
Although he is regarded as a quiet man, he organised the Live 8 concerts in 2005 to pressurise world leaders on ending world poverty. He has received the OBE, several honorary degrees and is an ambassador for Save the Children, but he’s never really been seen as high profile – and he’s happy with that.
“I once told an interviewer that I was the guy waving a tenner at the barman for a quarter of an hour, while Bob was the guy getting the drink. I made it clear in my autobiography that Band Aid and Live Aid were Bob Geldof’s initiatives, but the success of Do They Know It’s Christmas and the realisation that something as simple as a song could save a life was a turning point in my growing up as a person.”
For those who have never picked up on why he is called Midge it’s as easy as this. There were two Jims in a band called Salvation that became Slik. The other Jim (McGinlay) turned Ure’s name around and Mij (Midge) was born.
James Ure comes from humble beginnings, born in a one-bedroom tenement flat on the outskirts of Glasgow. His father was earning just £6 a week when he bought Midge his first guitar.
“He scraped together half his weekly wage to buy this second-hand dance-band guitar that I still have today. I think he knew just how important it was to me.”
Midge is widely respected on both guitar and keyboards. He’s still much in demand for concerts throughout the world whether they be acoustic solo nights such as the date in Settle next Friday or with Ultravox.
Last year he also played in a combo called Spike’s All Star Band with Jack Bruce of Cream and Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann’s Earthband. With the current trend of musicals and rock operas from the likes of Queen, Madness and Rod Stewart, maybe there’s room for an Ultravox or Midge Ure one?
He laughs off the suggestion immediately: “That would be too cruel to inflict on the world.”
Varied career of pop veteran
By the time Midge Ure’s If I Was went to number one in 1985, he had over the previous decade played with Slik, The Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy, Visage and Ultravox.
He has directed rock concerts for The Prince’s Trust, in honour of Nelson Mandela and directed videos for Bananarama.
He has won awards including an Ivor Novello, Grammy and BASCAP award.
Midge Ure plays the Victoria Hall in Settle on Friday, February 15. www.settlevictoriahall.org.uk