Midge Ure opens up about Live Aid, Thin Lizzy, his battle with alcohol and how hit single Vienna nearly didn’t happen.

For children of the Eighties, Midge Ure will forever be the man behind the classic electronic hit Vienna. But there is far more to this talented singer-songwriter, as Catherine Scott discovers.

Midge Ure kicks off his 2022 tour in York Picture: Midge Ure

Midge Ure remembers clearly the day he told his dad he was going to give up a sought-after engineering apprenticeship to join a band. “I grew up in the slums of Glasgow and I was destined to work in a factory, although I was lucky enough to get an engineering apprenticeship – around 500 people had gone for ten jobs and I got one. But my heart was always in music,” recalls Ure, now 67.

“I was about two-and-half years into the apprenticeship and I had to tell my parents that I had been given the opportunity of playing in a band full-time for £25 a week.

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“I can remember seeing my father thinking, ‘This is a really bad move.’ But my mum just said ‘Follow your heart’.” And so he did.

Midge Ure was on tour in Australia when the pandemic hit

Despite his phenomenal success since, Ure’s dad – a van driver – still took some convincing. “I think it was when Ultravox were playing the Glasgow Apollo in the early days. My dad came along but someone had stolen his car. I bought him a car and gave it to him for Christmas and I think he realised I was doing okay. But it wasn’t really until I appeared on This Is Your Life that he could really understand my success.”

But that success didn’t come overnight. A guitarist, Ure played in a number of bands around Glasgow and had a chart hit with his band Slik, before moving to London at the age of 24 when he joined Rich Kids with former Sex Pistol, Glen Matlock.

In 1978, Ure and Rich Kids bandmate Rusty Egan formed Visage with lead vocalist Steve Strange. Although Visage’s first single was unsuccessful, they signed with Polydor in 1980 and their second single, Fade to Grey, co-written by Ure, became a hit.

It was during this time that Ure was approached by Thin Lizzy’s frontman Phil Lynott to tour with the band. “I’d been a Thin Lizzy fan all my life and when I saw Phil in Glasgow I pulled over and told him I was in a band and we got talking. I ended up taking him home to my parents’ house and they fed him,” recalls Ure.

Midge Ure performs onstage during the Prince's Trust Rock Gala 2011 at Royal Albert Hall on November 23, 2011 in London, England. The gala, sponsored by Novae, raises vital funds for the youth charity's work with disadvantaged young people. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

“When Slik had a number one he sent me a book of his poetry. Then a couple of years later I was about to join Ultravox and Phil rang me and said he was in America and Gary Moore had left suddenly and could I be there by tomorrow to help them out.

“It was the stuff dreams were made of. They put me on Concorde and I had to quickly learn all the guitar parts and then I was suddenly playing to 25,000 people with Thin Lizzy.”

For a while between 1979 and 1980, Ure was committed to three different bands, all of them pretty successful: Ultravox, Visage and Thin Lizzy.

In 1980, Ultravox released Vienna, their first album with Ure at the helm. Despite being the band’s biggest single success, the title track was nearly never released on 45. “We knew we had written something special with Vienna but the record company thought it was too long for a single, as to get played on the radio they had to be no longer than three minutes, and so they wanted us to cut it down. But we were determined that it had to be heard in its entirety.”

In the end the record company agreed and once people heard the track it was an immediate hit, although it was kept off the top spot in the UK single charts by John Lennon’s Woman and later Shaddap You Face by Joe Dolce.

“It seemed to resonate with people,” says Ure. In 2019-20, to mark the 40th anniversary of the album release, Ure went on tour with Band Electronica. During the “1980 Tour” they performed the Vienna album in full and also included highlights from Visage’s self-titled debut album.

It was while touring New Zealand and Australia that the pandemic hit. “We were a long way from home and we just wanted to make sure that everyone could get back,” he says.

Plans for a “Voice & Visions” tour to mark the Rage in Eden and Quartet album anniversaries had to be pushed back due the pandemic. The rescheduled tour is due to kick off at the Grand Opera House in York in February next year. Ure has also created a “Backstage Lockdown Club” with live streamed acoustic songs and Q&A sessions on the Patreon website during lockdown.

“I think we all need something to look forward to at the moment and I can’t wait to get back out on the road with all the old favourites that people want to hear.”

Ure is a great believer in luck and believes it has played a huge part in his career. He was appearing on The Tube when Paula Yates received an irate call from her then husband, Bob Geldof. Geldof had just seen Michael Buerk’s BBC news report on the Ethiopian famine and wanted to do something to help.

“I was standing next to Paula when she got the call from Bob and she said, ‘He wants to speak to you’. He said he really wanted to do something but the Boomtown Rats were finished and would I help him. Of course I agreed and after I watched that horrific footage the idea for Band Aid was born.”

Ure describes the resultant single, Do They Know It’s Christmas, as one of the best songs he has ever written, although when they started out, he says, it was a “half-baked idea”, adding: “We just wanted to get a Christmas number one. But once you start something like that you are totally consumed by it.”

Ure and Geldof jointly set up the Band Aid Trust, and he remains active as a Band Aid trustee. He also co-organised the Live Aid concert of 1985 along with Geldof and Harvey Goldsmith. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium before a crowd of 72,000, and John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, with 89,484 people in the audience. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time; an estimated audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast, nearly 40 per cent of the world population at the time. The event is estimated to have raised some £150m.

It is clear while talking to Ure that family is everything to him – his love of his parents, his wife, actress Sheridan Forbes, and four daughters. But despite all his success, he is not without his demons. He talks openly about his struggles with alcohol and says his wife helped him beat his addiction.

“She’s a Doncaster lass and she wasn’t going to put up with it forever.” And it was the risk of losing his family that made Ure give up booze. “Without family what’s the point,” he says.

Midge Ure’s “Voice & Visions” tour will 
begin at York’s Grand Opera House on February 22, 2022, with other dates next year including Hull Bonus Arena (February 24) and Sheffield City Hall (March 22). www.midgeure.gigantic.com