Singer, songwriter and guitarist Midge Ure and I go way back. Of course, he had no idea about this until recently.
Ure – who returns to Milwaukee to perform at Summerfest on Friday, July 1 at 5:30 p.m. on the Generac Power Stage – was the frontman for the groundbreaking synth-driven group Ultravox during the era when I best knew their work.
Seeing them live is one of my more memorable concert experiences even 39 years later.
I caught up with Ure to ask him about his current tour with Howard Jones, who performs at the Big Gig at the same date and on the same stage at 9:30 p.m.
In recent years, Ure – who was also a member of Silk, Visage and the Rich Kids and toured as guitarist with Thin Lizzy, as well as being a co-organizer of the Band Aid/Live Aid project – has performed solo acoustic sets, revamping songs originally drenched in technology by stripping them down to six strings pulled taut across a wooden box.
But for this jaunt, Ure has “dusted off the synths,” so it seemed like a good time to catch up with him.
OnMilwaukee: I hear you're "dusting off the synths" for this tour, will you be doing a lot of the Ultravox-era stuff?
Midge Ure: The set is quite Ultravox heavy and the great thing is the songs still stand the test of time. When it’s not your own show it’s best to stick to songs which might have resonated with the general audience rather than specifically your own audience.
Do you find that a lot of fans turn up at the shows are skeptical when you step out onstage with an acoustic guitar?
This tour with Howard is synth and electric guitar so no acoustic this time round.
How has the response been?
The response on this tour has been utterly amazing to me. I always thought that the same “alternative” radio stations would have played both Howard and Ultravox back in the day and that seems to have been the case. The song recognition factor has been extremely high!
As someone who grew up listening to "Vienna" and "Rage In Eden" I admit I was taken aback by how well some of the songs work in that acoustic setting. Were you confident from the get-go that they would translate? Were they actually written on acoustic guitar?
Very little of what I’ve done was written on acoustic so I had to tread carefully when doing acoustic versions and chose wisely. I am amazed so many songs made the transition smoothly.
Looking back on your long and varied career do you have a musical, I guess collaborative, experience that stands out to you as one you'll never forget; that means the most to you personally?
Doing a duet on “Sister and Brother” with Kate Bush. Collaborations should be based on mutual respect and every one I have done has been organic and not “manufactured” by record labels.
Great to see Kate doing so well here in the States ... it gives us all hope!
Do you play songs from all these experiences (Silk, Rich Kids, Visage, etc.) in your set these days?
I switch the sets up when touring so the next U.K./European tour will focus on two Ultravox albums “Rage in Eden” and “Quartet” – all of which I’ve had to re-learn!
I have to ask: Do you regret not joining the Six Pistols when you had the chance? It's intriguing to think about how that band, and your career, could have been different, isn't it?
You have to stick with and live with the consequences of decisions you have made in your life and I’m glad to say that was one decision I’ve never regretted. I would have ruined the band.
What's next for you?
I’ve been working on three projects during lockdown, a follow up to “Fragile,” a follow up to “Orchestrated” and a totally instrumental album which I’m extremely happy with.
I'm not sure if they have high school proms in Scotland, but they're a big deal here. I never regret having skipped mine at the famous Tavern on the Green in New York City to go see Ultravox at Avery Fisher Hall. Thanks for that memorable experience!
Avery Fisher Hall was a great experience to us, as well. It was just one of those magical nights when everything jelled. Glad it still resonates with you.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.