Tag: Midge Ure (Page 1 of 8)

MARILLION Interview

MARILLION have seen ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel’! In these long dark days of recent times, the prog veterans hope to shed some light across the stages of Britain with a 10-date tour in November 2021 culminating in 2 nights in London.

Presently, MARILLION comprise of Steve Hogarth (lead vocals, keyboards + percussion), Steve Rothery (guitars), Pete Trewavas (bass + guitar), Mark Kelly (keyboards) and Ian Mosley (drums + percussion).

For many years now, MARILLION have enjoyed a unique relationship with their fanbase and together they pioneered the concept of crowdfunding in music via the sponsorship of an American tour in 1996.

Despite a difficult 2020 for all, MARILLION united with their family of faithful fans for the online Couch Convention weekend in September which raised £31,530 for their crew who have been hard hit financially by the pandemic.

Of the weekend, Mark Kelly said: “What a weekend it was! We were totally stunned and knocked out by everyone’s involvement in everything that went on, from Steve Rothery’s late night cocktails to Pete’s Bass Masterclass. Ian’s Drum Q&A and my early morning fun run and all the music, chat and fancy dress in between. It was fun for us to be in the audience, too, reading and reacting to all your comments as the shows were streamed. The crew tip-jar was overflowing with your generosity, you raised a substantial sum for our wonderful crew. The money will go a long way to helping them survive a difficult year. Thank you!”

Mark Kelly kindly took time out from recording the new MARILLION album to talk to The Electricity Club about the use of keyboard technology in the band, being crowdfunding trailblazers and the modern day streaming business model among many other topics.

Thanks for taking time out of what I am sure is still a busy schedule to chat with us today…

No problem, I was hoping to home by now but I’m stuck in traffic on my way back from the studio.

Is that working on ‘Marathon’ (Mark’s forthcoming solo project) or MARILLION material?

‘Marathon’ is finished, this is for the next MARILLION album… Number 20! Funnily enough on the tour next year we play the Cambridge Corn Exchange almost 40 years to the day of my first gig with the band, in the same town.

I’ve been a fan all that time and it doesn’t feel like 40 years…

You’re right, it doesn’t feel like 40 years at all. You hear older people say time flies by and now I know where they are coming from.

Folk coming to this interview may wonder why we are speaking with you, but there is crossover between what you do and our usual fare, Vince Clarke for example is a GENESIS fan…

Funny you should say that, I was reading an article on one of the sites like TechRadar and they listed the Top 30 synth players and Vince Clarke was number 5 or 6 which surprised me. But thinking about it, there is a lot of crossover with the electronic stuff like TANGERINE DREAM and KRAFTWERK which is very much in the prog genre… Krautrock… the early days of synthesiser music and progressive rock were both experimental

So how are you all surviving the lockdown?

We’ve had a pretty good year by luck more than anything as we had already decided we weren’t going to tour this year. All we had in the book was ‘Cruise To The Edge’ which got cancelled back in April. So we didn’t need to change our plans much at all and for me it gave me the chance to do a solo album as we were in lockdown for 3 or 4 months.

We had just started work on the MARILLION album and had to stop. We are back in the studio now having resumed work on the album at the end of the summer. We are at that stage now where we’ve done a lot of jamming, have quite a lot of ideas and just need to get them past the arranging stage really. We are quite slow these days, we will jam then take those and jam around them again, working on the ideas we like to see what comes out and eventually they start to take shape as songs and that’s where we are at now.

We have 20 or 30 pieces, some lyrics and I’ll be optimistic and say by early next year we will have an album ready to record.

That’s great news both that you are busy and all keeping well. Moving on can you give us a recap of Mark Kelly, the early years?

I never saw being in a rock band as a viable career opportunity, it was something I did for fun playing on the local pub circuit. The guys I played with didn’t take it that seriously. I’d been an art student then switched to electronics as I wasn’t really enjoying the art stuff.

MARILLION were the opening act for the band I was playing for, Mick Pointer (the then-drummer) and Fish came up to me and asked if I fancied joining MARILLION.

I didn’t really know who they were and only watched them because our guitarist said “you should watch this lot, you’ll like them” and that was my start at becoming a professional musician.

It’s interesting as the documentary on the ‘Script For A Jester’s Tear’, MARILLION’s 1983 debut album boxset shows you as having, as a band, quite a drive and determination to succeed?

That was one of the things that attracted me to MARILLION was how serious they were about it all. Everyone back then talked about making it and back then, that meant as far as we were concerned getting a record contract with a major label.

Everyone was laser focussed on it, it wasn’t a hobby. We turned professional and that meant giving up any job you had and signing on the dole. Making a living back then as a gigging musician was hard, God it’s much harder now, and we actually did manage to feed ourselves.

We would play 5 or 6 nights a week in pubs and you would get paid 100 quid which I suppose wasn’t bad, it was a slog though we were determined.

The ‘Script…’ album… I joined at the end of ‘81 and we had signed within a year and were recording the album by Christmas 82. At the time, it didn’t seem to happen that quickly but looking back it did.

The great thing about the early days of MARILLION was wherever we went, we picked up new fans. There was a real buzz about the band at grassroots level where there wasn’t much from the mainstream press. We had a session on the Friday Rock Show and Sounds wrote about us but we weren’t cool enough for Melody Maker and NME!

So looking back it did happen pretty quickly, we were selling out Hammersmith Odeon by the time the first album came out…

I remember back in the day looking at that very prog thing of listing all the keyboards that you used on the album credits…

That’s funny cos as a kid, I remember pouring over the sleeve of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ by Rick Wakeman and the bird’s eye view looking down at all the keyboards that were labelled. Of course there was no internet, so you had to look things up in the library or rely on keyboard magazines. I think I was just trying to emulate my heroes, they all listed what they played so we did the same…

The equipment you used was pretty much top of the want list for the period. I have often thought, did you hire it in or how did the band feel about you blowing the entire advance on a new keyboard rig?

I was thinking about this the other day and I was lucky. The A&R guy at EMI, Hugh Stanley-Clarke, was a real keyboard fan and he also represented Thomas Dolby and he said “you’ve got to get an Emulator and you have to get a PPG 2.2” and these were really expensive.

To give you an idea, the PPG was about £6000 and the Emulator about 5, so that’s £11,000 on 2 keyboards. Around the same time, I bought my first house and that was £23,000! And those weren’t the most expensive if you think about, something like the Fairlight which was £30,000 or… what was that thing Keith Emerson played, the Yamaha GS1 that was about the same price!

You had a Jupiter 8 as well?

I loved my Jupiter 8, that was what another £3000…

So most of the advance went up on A-frames next to you on stage?

You’re not far wrong actually. We bought a drum kit and some amps, but I spent about 15 grand on keyboards so I was lucky. At the time, we got the money and bought the gear.

Advances in that technology was going leaps and bounds at the time and you were probably one of the last people to record an album before MIDI came in. I think you had the DX7 the next album, ‘Fugazi’?

I think I got that just after that. Folk were buying things like the DX7 but you couldn’t really do anything with it. It wasn’t until I bought a Juno 106 and could link that and the DX7 together with a MIDI cable to stack the sounds, it was then you could say, my God listen to this. The opening bars of ‘Misplaced Childhood’ are the sound of the DX and the Juno together. At the time it was groundbreaking.

I had a Commodore 64 computer and a guy at Hansa Studios in Berlin where we recorded ‘Misplaced Childhood’ showed me a box you plugged into the back of it. It was a Steinberg 16 track sequencer, the box had MIDI In and Out and you could record stuff and play it back. It was really basic, but at the time it was amazing to be able to do that.

With the technology, did you feel you needed to keep up with things like sampling?

I loved it, it was a great time to be getting into keyboards, at that time there was a lot of great things happening with the technology. There was a shit period in keyboard development…

The early analog stuff of the 70s and those early polyphonic synths like the Prophet 5 and the Jupiter was great through to the late 80s with iconic keyboards like the Korg M1 and the Roland D50, then in the 90s there were a lot of sampling keyboards that weren’t that good.

Then you had all the VST instruments that weren’t all that good either, but now a lot of those are really nice and you can get lots of interesting sounds. It’s all a bit too easy now I suppose, a bit like recording…

Do you not find the amount of choice you have in the libraries for these instruments can be counter-productive when you can spend hours just flipping through string sounds?

You’re probably right. I don’t use the software where you can hit a button and it writes for you, gives you chord progressions and stuff. I’ve dabbled with it but the stuff that comes out is great sounding but uninspiring. You have to differentiate between something that sounds good and the actual music you are playing.

For me, I search for sounds that are inspiring and make me be creative in what I play and I feel I am much more prolific these days than I used to be and part of that is having this amazing palette of sounds at your fingertips.

So are you more software or predominantly hardware based these days?

I’m totally VST based these days… the only bit of hardware I have been playing about with recently is I have broken the old Minimoog out for the ‘Marathon’ album and I have been using that with a ribbon controller hooked up to the gate and voltage control and that’s a bit of fun and to be honest that’s it.

I still use the Korg Karma for a few sounds but everything else is in software… if I had to choose one software synthesiser to be stranded on a desert island with, it would be Omnisphere by Spectrasonics. There’s a Bob Moog commemorative sound library that a load of well-known folk like Trent Reznor contributed to for the Moog Foundation and the sounds are lovely, I always go back to them.

There’s a huge amount of fetishism around all that old gear and the majority of people don’t care…

And I don’t think the majority of keyboard players can tell the difference either.

Steve Rothery, MARILLION’s guitarist had bought a modular system and it’s fun to play around with but that’s it…

To make car alarm sounds…

Hahaha! Yeah, I think I am with you on that. Some of the software emulations like Minimoog or Hammond organ or electric piano are great now and even things like acoustic piano which was always hard to get right for example, but the Modartt Pianoteq 6 is spot on, really responsive and nice to play which was always an issue in the past.

So do you have any formal training?

No, it’s one of the things I regret. I didn’t start playing until I was 15 which is very late and it’s always been something I am aware of and a bit embarrassed about. You watch someone like Jordan Rudess playing… I’m not saying I love every note that he plays but his technique is phenomenal. He probably started when he was 3, went to Juilliard etc and I didn’t do any of that and it shows.

I’m not trying to compete with Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman or Jordan, what I do isn’t that technical really but I try and play to my strengths.

After 40 years, you’ll probably be OK for at least the next album anyway!

Hahaha! I hope so yes!

One of the things I wanted to ask you about that is very related to The Electricity Club is your involvement with The Midge Ure All Star Band at the Mandela 70th Birthday concert at Wembley Stadium in 1988. How did that come about?

Midge Ure just called me up, I don’t know where he got my number, and asked me and I was flattered to be asked to play with all these amazing people.

At the age of 26 or whatever I was, to be asked to play in a band with Paul Carrick, Phil Collins, Mark Brzezicki, Mick Karn and Midge with all these superstars was amazing. We had a great time. We only had about 3 days rehearsal and the only stressful time was with Joan Armatrading… Paul didn’t want to sing ‘How Long’ for the umpteenth time and said can I just play keyboards so we worked out what to play between us.

The Joan Armatrading song ‘Love & Affection’ had some strings on it… I turned up at the rehearsals shitting myself as I hadn’t learnt any of the songs and neither had anyone else! We were all having fun, apart from Joan… she turned up after Paul and I had worked out the parts and stopped everything and said “just one keyboard player please” and told Paul to stop playing! So then I had to play both parts and as I say I’m not technically that good and she’s standing over me watching me do it… no pressure! It was all really good fun though, everyone else was great… THE BEE GEES were really nice chaps…

Not sure about the horns on ‘Kayleigh’ though…

Well the David Sandborn Horns were onstage so we had to use them. Phil and Mark has fun on that, they worked out little drum fills into the chorus which were different… Midge winged the guitar solo a bit but as I say, it was great fun.

You are a great advocate and early adopter of the use of the internet and you are recognised as one of the founding fathers of the whole idea of crowdfunding. Are you surprised by how the concept has taken off and developed over the years?

It developed out of necessity really. In 1997, we had a group of fans that wanted us to tour America and I said it wasn’t going to happen. We didn’t have a record deal and we would always lose money when we went to the States. One of the fans said “why don’t we create a tour fund and folk can donate money and then you can come and tour?”

It was incredible really, this wasn’t crowdfunding as we know it, it was just people putting money in a bank account, like charity almost. And when we hit the magical figure of $60,000 which is what I said we would need, I plucked the figure out of the air, as we had lost upwards of 100K in the past, they raised the money as we did the tour.

That’s what gave me the idea… if fans are will to spend that money to bring us over on tour and then still have to buy tickets, it shows there was a lot of goodwill towards MARILLION out there.

So when we wanted to do another album, we didn’t have a deal and were free. I said all we need is the money to live and record the album, why don’t we ask the fans to buy it in advance. Maybe surprisingly or maybe not, at the time it was revolutionary. Even the other band members were saying “Are you sure? Won’t the fans expect to have a say in what gets recorded and put on the record” as no one had done it before and we didn’t know if fans would actually put their hands in their pockets and pay upfront.

It was looking back such an obvious idea because of the internet and email and the fact you can reach out to people so easily and update them so readily, so it’s time had come and for us with the fans being so supportive, it wouldn’t have been something every band could have pulled off at that stage in their career.

I think it became something that some folk looked as an easy way to make money…

Yes and it wasn’t just the bands, the platforms that were set up to do it too. We went through Pledge Music for the last MARILLION album and after we had finished, they went out of business a few months owing lots of people lots of money! I think you’re right a lot of bands looked at it as a way to make easy money, but you have to do it with the right intentions. You have to show your audience appreciation for what they are doing for you, it’s not free money. It’s a collaboration, they are involved.

You are very good at that as a band and having a relationship with your fans…

We were lucky as we had had many years of doing that, being available and chatting with the fans. We used to do that right back in the early days on the first big tours, we would stay behind after shows and meet with the fans. Of course, word got round we did this and eventually the audience would stay behind in the venue and it would take hours to sign stuff, get a picture or whatever but you’d end up having 500 or so folk staying back, so we had to knock it on the head!

We used to like it as you would get to see the girls in the audience close up!

There were girls in the early MARILLION audiences, I don’t remember that!!!

Well if you have 500 folk, you might get 50 girls! So if there was a good looking one, there was a signal word where the tour manager would go and invite them to the after show party. But he got the signal word mixed up, and it was Fish that then came up with this one ‘Dodo’…

He thought that meant time to go, clear the room… the signal for stop without saying stop. So this good looking girl is there, Fish says “Dodo” and the next thing he is say “right everybody out” and we are like, what’s happening?!?

He says “Fish gave the signal” and he was like “no I didn’t you f*cking Dodo!’”

You are also to your credit heavily involved in the field of artist rights via FAC (Featured Artists Coalition) and PPL. Is this more important now that ever?

Yes, I think it’s necessary really. I don’t really do as much for FAC these days as it’s hard to find the time to do everything, though I am still on the board of PPL. I’m up for re-election soon and I have been doing it for 11 years now so maybe I will get voted off!

I think these days, people are much more aware of how artists make a living or don’t make a living and the issues around streaming services like Spotify.

I have a love / hate relationship with Spotify. I love it as a punter being able to just dive in and check stuff out if someone mentions a band. I am also aware however that it pays so little money unless you are up in the stratosphere which very few artists are there is nothing in it really, it’s just a promotion tool

Do you think there will ever be a balance struck?

It simply comes down to, unsurprisingly, that the labels are keep as much of the money as possible. They pay artists royalties based on old deal structures when they, the labels, had all those overheads, manufacturing, shipping, warehousing and all the rest of it and now they should be paying, at the very least, the artist 50% of what they get, where most are on probably 15 to 20% if that.

The labels are making decent money and many of the artists are not and I hope that at some point in the future things will be more balanced. I don’t think you can blame Spotify, they have never made a profit. They pay the labels a billion dollars a month which sounds like a lot of money, but it’s spread across the entire music industry and most of it never finds its way into the pockets of the songwriters or artists.

How big a risk or otherwise has the decision to put on a tour for next year been?

I think it’s a bit of a risk as we don’t know how things will pan out, but I do think there is a good chance the tour will happen. It is in a year’s time so…

You have a solo album coming out, what does that outlet give you that working with MARILLION doesn’t?

There are quite a few musical ideas I had over the years that never get used and I couldn’t see them ever getting used. The album has a bit more of an early MARILLION feel to it as the band has moved on from that.

I started working with a lyricist who was the person that was pushing me. Then I worked on some musical ideas with my nephew Conal and then we found Ollie who does vocals on the album and he has a great voice. Then because of lockdown, I said to everyone “let’s do this and record our parts at home” that it started taking shape

Do you think had given the album a different feel as you have done things in isolation rather than together in a studio?

The guys that mixed it says it doesn’t sound like it’s been recorded that way, it all hangs together really well, I very pleased with how it’s turned out. When we did finally did meet, some of us for the first time, we had a couple of days in Real World Studios and it sounded like we had been together for months.


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Mark Kelly

Special thanks to Sharon Chevin at The Publicity Connection

Mark Kelly’s ‘Marathon’ is released on 27th November 2020 and is available in CD, vinyl and a limited edition CD with a DVD of the album being performed live plus bonus behind the scenes footage direct from http://www.marillion.com/shop/

MARILLION’s ‘The Light At The End Of The Tunnel’ tour dates for November 2021 are as follows:

Hull City Hall (14th November), Edinburgh Usher Hall (15th November), Cardiff St David’s Hall (17th November), Manchester Bridgewater Hall (18th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (20th November), Birmingham Symphony Hall (21st November), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (23rd November), Bath Forum (24th November), London Hammersmith Apollo – seated (26th November), London Hammersmith Apollo – standing (27th November)

Tickets available from https://myticket.co.uk/artists/marillion

http://www.marillion.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MarillionOfficial

https://twitter.com/MarillionOnline

https://www.instagram.com/marillionofficial/

https://www.facebook.com/mkmarathon

https://marathonsounds.com/


Text and Interview by Ian Ferguson
30th November 2020

New Europeans: The Legacy of ULTRAVOX

Photo by Brian Griffin

What do John Foxx, Midge Ure, Tony Fennell and Sam Blue all have in common? They have all, at some point, been the lead singer of ULTRAVOX.

While Fennell and Blue are now largely forgotten, having only recorded one album each in ‘Revelation’ and ‘Ingenuity’ respectively, there are endless debates about whether the John Foxx or Midge Ure fronted ULTRAVOX is the valid and definitive one.

Like with the Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins led versions of GENESIS, both have their own sound and different audiences, while there are some who even like both. But whatever, the four piece ULTRAVOX comprising of Warren Cann, Chris Cross, Billy Currie and Midge Ure was undoubtedly the most commercially successful, scoring thirteen Top 30 hit singles in the UK over a period of four and a half years, as well as five Top 10 albums including a greatest hits collection.

How John Foxx departed the ULTRAVOX fold and Midge Ure came to join at the encouragement of Rusty Egan, following the first VISAGE sessions at Genetic Studios that included Billy Currie, is now more than well documented. The new quartet soon embarked on a US club tour in 1979 to test the water with their new material.

The thread between the two line-ups was German producer and engineer Conny Plank; he had offered to finance an album himself, such was his faith in the band. When interest came from Chrysalis Records and an offer of two days free studio time to make demos, ULTRAVOX opted to use their opportunity to complete a fully recorded version of ‘Sleepwalk’. It saw the new line-up of the band beef up their Motorik inclinations with lots of “fun-fun-fun on the autobahn” and Chrysalis duly offered a deal to the quartet.

ULTRAVOX were despatched to RAK Studios in London to record an album which was to be given the title of ‘Torque Point’ before the band and label settled on ‘Vienna’. With Ure’s background in power pop with SLIK and THE RICH KIDS, dynamic catchy choruses were to become a new trademark to go with a greater use of synthesizers, while there was a conscious move to utilise more of Billy Currie’s classical music training via his piano, violin and viola playing.

Photo by Anton Corbijn

Released in Summer 1980, one of the key tracks on the ‘Vienna’ album was the robotic spy story of ‘Mr X’ which was voiced by Warren Cann and clearly influenced by KRAFTWERK. With its tight Compurhythm backbone, it was an idea that dated back to the John Foxx-era as its hook was very similar to his ‘Touch & Go’ on ‘Metamatic’ released in early 1980. But ‘Touch & Go’ had been premiered live by ULTRAVOX before Foxx departed.

Another standout was the lengthy instrumental ‘Astradyne’, a glorious statement of intent that was the perfect opener. Under the spell of German acts like LA DÜSSELDORF and RIECHMANN with a fantastic interplay between the band and a final celebratory section coming from an unexpected lift.

Billy Currie told The Electricity Club in 2010 that “Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is a very good strong keyboard part. I used to say at the time: ‘Only a guitarist could come up with that!’, I meant that as a good thing!”

There were more guitar driven songs too with Ure adopting the chunky flanged sound that had been showcased by his predecessor Robin Simon which blended well with the Minimoog, ARP Odyssey, Oberheim OBX and Yamaha SS30 that were in the ULTRAVOX keyboard armoury. ‘Passing Strangers’ was the hit single that never was while ‘New Europeans’ featured a lyric written by Warren Cann which hit the zeitgeist with a narrative about a young man whose “modern world revolves around the synthesizer’s song”.

Meanwhile ‘All Stood Still’ was verging on heavy metal in the vein of THIN LIZZY, perhaps unsurprising given Ure’s time as a stand-in-guitarist for Phil Lynott’s combo when Gary Moore went AWOL before their US tour with JOURNEY; it was this link that led to THIN LIZZY’s managers Chris O’Donnell and Chris Morrison looking after the business interests of ULTRAVOX. Complete with thundering Moog bass, powerhouse drums and Jimi Hendrix impressions using an ARP Odyssey, ‘All Stood Still’ rocked so much that many listeners were unaware it was a tune about a nuclear holocaust…

Sandwiched between ‘New Europeans’ and ‘Passing Strangers’, ‘Private Lives’ was like a less frantic amalgam of the two but if the ‘Vienna’ album had an under rated track, then it was ‘Western Promise’. Relevant today in light of questions about the British Empire’s past role in colonisation, slavery and genocide, the mighty tune used the Far East as its location with a distorted Ure ranting “Oh mystical East, you’ve lost your way, your rising sun shall rise again. My Western world gives out her hand, a victor’s help to your fallen land” like some totalitarian dictator…

But the tune which the wider public remembered most was the title track. When Conny Plank heard the demo of ‘Vienna’, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years. And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered for the now iconic track. As for the Roland CR78 Compurythm intro, Warren Cann told The Electricity Club that it was perhaps his proudest moment when he presented his idea to the rest of the band and went “How about this?”.

With the ‘Vienna’ reaching No2 as a single and No3 as an album in the UK charts, ULTRAVOX were getting the success they deserved. But for the follow-up ‘Rage In Eden’, they adopted a completely different approach. Whereas lyrically, a fair portion of the lyrics had been written by Cann, this now shifted primarily to Ure.

Photo by Brian Griffin

Although the ‘Vienna’ album had been written and played live before recording, the band decided to decamp to Conny Plank’s residential countryside studio with no material pre-prepared. Living in each other’s pockets for three months, the sessions were tense and that impression came across in the music.

Released in Autumn 1981, ‘Rage In Eden’ began with the optimistic spark of ‘The Voice’ and possessed the Motorik thrust of NEU! while maintaining some marvellous symphonic pomp. Creative tensions that had now emerged between Ure and Cross on one side, and Currie on the other who responded with his magnificent middle eight ARP Odyssey solo and a very proud ivory run.

But aside from that, ‘Rage In Eden’ was a paranoia ridden affair. However, many of its tracks were mighty. Chris Cross’ trademark triggered Minimoog bass synth came to the fore on tracks like ‘We Stand Alone’ and ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ with Billy Currie working more with the Oberheim OBX for his soloing, although neither was a particularly cheerful affair. In between, there was the tape experimentation of the title track which used the chorus of ‘I Remember’ played backwards to give an eerie Arabic toned “noonretfa eht ni htaed… rebmemer i ho” vocal effect.

Also making a prominent appearance was the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, a machine that used digital samples for its sounds which Warren Cann acquired, fascinated with furthering the possibilities of programmed percussion that had been opened up. Speaking to The Electricity Club in 2010, he surmised that “Drum machines lent a new dimension to music on two fronts; one, the hypnotic element given by perfect unwavering tempo, and two, the ability to endlessly layer, edit, and re-edit rhythm tracks.”

‘The Thin Wall’ dramatically merged synthesizers, guitar, piano, violin and Linn Drum for a formidable yet under rated hit single, but then the album entered a dense phase of indulgence with the deeply rhythmic but overlong ‘Stranger Within’ and the meandering ‘Ascent On Youth’. The melancholic interlude ‘The Ascent’ provided some relief despite its intensity before the haunting conclusion with the sparse mental breakdown of ‘Your Name (Has Slipped My Mind Again)’.

Not as accessible as ‘Vienna’, only two singles were lifted from ‘Rage In Eden’ whereas its predecessor had four; ‘Rage In Eden’ was ambitious and loosely conceptual but it may have been too much for some, including the band.

So for 1982’s ‘Quartet’ album, ULTRAVOX worked with George Martin, most notable for his work with THE BEATLES. The sound was brighter, more structured and stripped of the density that had characterised the albums with Conny Plank, perhaps coinciding with the use of more digital hardware like the PPG Wave 2.2 and Emulator.

The catchy ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ opened proceedings with an immediacy that was less angular and experimental that anything on ‘Vienna’ or ‘Rage In Eden’ although this poppier approach may have alienated any John Foxx-era fans that had stuck it out into the Ure-era.

However, the quasi-religious pomp of ‘Hymn’ had the anthemic thrust of the previous two albums and in ‘Visions in Blue’, ‘Quartet’ had its own ‘Vienna’ but aside from those, ‘Mine For Life’ and ‘Serenade’, overall it was something of a disappointment. While the mighty motorik attack of ‘The Song (We Go)’ offered some percussive edge, the middle second side trio of ‘When The Scream Subsides’, ‘We Came To Dance’ and ‘Cut & Run’ proved lacking in the delivery of their verses despite strong choruses.

Photo by Pete Wood

‘Quartet’ had been a big budget effort with recording in George Martin’s Air Studios in London and Monserrat plus a tour with a huge grey gothic stage set to support it, as documented in the ‘Monument’ concert film and soundtrack.

By this time, ULTRAVOX took out a huge amount of equipment live which caused many logistical headaches. There were nearly thirty keyboards and electronic gadgets on stage including ARP Odysseys, Minimoogs, PPGs, Emulators, Oberheims and assorted Yamaha keyboards including the CP70 electric grand piano which could take up to three hours to tune in soundcheck!

Then there was Warren Cann’s infamous percussion console ‘The Iron Lung’ which had the Simmons SDSIII, SDSV and SDSVII drum synthesizers, Roland TR77 and CR78 drum machines, a Linn LM-1, a LinnDrum, the Sequential Circuits Drumtraks and various effects processors like the Roland Space-Echo.

So things became more simplified by ULTRAVOX’s standards for the next album ‘Lament’ released in Spring 1984, with the recording sessions taking place in home studios and self-produced. Largely gone were Billy Currie’s trademark synth solos with the ARP Odyssey although its replacement, the OSCar made a fleeting appearance in that style on the closing song ‘A Friend I Call Desire’. Meanwhile Warren Cann had acquired the MIDI compatible Sequential Drumtraks and there were more obviously programmed rhythm tracks than on previous ULTRAVOX albums while the band seemed quite pleased with their new Yamaha DX7.

Photo by Paul Cox

But one new keyboard acquisition proved to be a major disappointment in Sequential’s giant Prophet T8. “I got it thinking it would be a competitor to the Yamaha CS80 but the action was always far too heavy” remembered Currie, “It was the only other synth that had a totally polyphonic touch-sensitive keyboard. It was about £4000… a bargain!”

The album contained many varying different styles as the band battled for a clear direction. ‘One Small Day’ was a decisively hands-in-the-air rockist statement in the vein of U2 and SIMPLE MINDS.

Meanwhile the brilliant ‘White China’ was a full fat sequencer number about the eventual 1997 handover of British ruled Hong Kong to Red China that developed on NEW ORDER’s ‘Blue Monday’.

Using Far Eastern ethnic influences with a nod towards JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’, the title song was an exquisite but obviously mournful ballad. owever the album’s highlight was the magnificent ‘Man Of Two Worlds’, an electro Celtic melodrama featuring a haunting female Gaelic vocal from Mae McKenna with doomed romantic novel imagery capturing a feeling of solitude in an unusual mix of synths, programmed Motorik rhythms and manual funk syncopation.

Notably a re-configuring of ‘Sonnenrad’ by NEU! guitarist Michael Rother from his ‘Sterntaler’ album which Conny Plank had produced and given a copy to Billy Currie, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ was yet another song about a nuclear holocaust. While it might have been a depressing subject to revive, there was the spectre of ‘Protect & Survive’ when Mutually Assured Destruction lingered in the minds of the population. Released as a single, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ reached No3 in the UK singles charts, ULTRAVOX’s biggest hit since ‘Vienna’.

Photo by Paul Cox

ULTRAVOX had been a consistent singles band but after eleven successive Top30 hits, it seemed as good a time as any to release a greatest hits for the 1984 Christmas market.

At the time of release, ‘The Collection’ was novel. Not only did it feature all thirteen Midge Ure-fronted era singles to date, but in ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, it also included a brand new one too.

It was a perfect package that could be played from start to finish, from ‘Dancing With Tears in My Eyes’ to ‘Lament’ via ‘The Thin Wall’, ‘Vienna’, ‘Sleepwalk’, ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ and ‘All Stood Still’.

After four albums in five years, it was time for Cann, Cross, Currie and Ure to take a break, but instead, the ULTRAVOX frontman took a busman’s holiday. There was Band Aid and then a solo career which yielded a UK No1 in 1985 with ‘If I Was’, a song Ure had co-written with Danny Mitchell from the band MESSENGERS who had played support and augmented the live  ULTRAVOX set-up on the previous two tours.

After an appearance at Live Aid, when ULTRAVOX reconvened in 1986 for the making of their next album, the quartet imploded with Warren Cann unceremoniously fired from the band due to musical differences. By now, Cann had more or less given up the notion of live drums while the other three favoured a back-to-basics approach with more live instrumentation.

Despite Conny Plank returning to produce, the resultant ‘U-Vox’ was poor. The title said it all, a band with something missing. The album saw ill-advised excursions into funk, brass and folk with the latter being a rather sombre collaboration with THE CHIEFTAINS about the threat of a nuclear holocaust called ‘All Fall Down’.

Meanwhile most of the other tracks on ‘U-Vox’ were uninspired pieces of rock, with the lame ‘Moon Madness’ being a particular low point. Despite this, there was a genuine highlight in ‘All In One Day’, a magnificent song about ‘Live Aid’ which featured an orchestral arrangement by George Martin. However, after an underwhelming arena tour, ULTRAVOX split. Midge Ure continued his solo career to varying degrees of success while Chris Cross left music to become a psychotherapist amd Warren Cann moved to Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Billy Currie made three attempts at reviving the ULTRAVOX name. However, the first one featuring Marcus O’Higgins as singer and a returning Robin Simon on guitar was blocked; when the recordings from these 1989 sessions were finally released as ‘Sinews Of The Soul’ under the name HUMANIA in 2006, the booklet notes saw Billy Currie launch into an almighty tirade against Midge Ure and Chris Morrison who had taken on the role of sole ULTRAVOX manager after Chris O’Donnell moved on. An interview that Currie gave to Beatmag that year was no less frank.

There was now a lot of bad feeling, so any possible future activity involving the four members of the classic ULTRAVOX line-up was now unlikely… or so it seemed. In 2003, Ure was playing a significant amount of ULTRAVOX material on his ‘Sampled Looped & Trigger Happy’ tour.

Then in 2009, the impossible happened and the classic line-up of ULTRAVOX reunited for the ‘Return To Eden’ tour following an offer from Live Nation, who their former manager Chris O’Donnell was now working for. The show went on two triumphant European stints and things went well enough for a new album to be recorded, with writing taking place at Midge Ure’s log cabin retreat near Montreal in Canada.

Co-produced by Stephen J Lipson, the ‘Brilliant’ album’s title song chorused a cautious optimism in a bittersweet comment on pop culture. Meanwhile as the album opener, ‘Live’ came as message of intent like ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ but without the imminent nuclear holocaust as its superb instrumental breakdown dropped to a magnificent pulsing sequence, piano and lone bass drum reminiscent of LA DÜSSELDORF.

One of the main talking points about the ‘Brilliant’ album was Ure’s voice which now possessed a fragility and honesty only could have come from battle-hardened life experience. But fans were polarised about his use of the Melodyne, an audio pitch modification tool not dissimilar to Auto-Tune.

In his defence, Midge Ure told The Electricity Club in 2015 about how “it’s a tool and no different from any of the plug-ins that I use when I make music. It’s a bit like saying ‘why do you use reverb on your voice?’… well, it’s because it suits the song and makes it more interesting.”

The excellent ‘Satellite’ recalled former glories and even recycled the violin solo from the album version of ‘The Thin Wall’ while the percolating sequences and rhythmic snap of ‘Rise’ emulated Giorgio Moroder for a 21st Century update of ‘Western Promise’.

‘One’ and ‘Remembering’ captured the chromatic romanticism of Europe with its classical influences although the soaring stadium rock pandering of ‘Flow’ was not to everyone’s taste. However, this blip was countered by the whirring ARP Odyssey lines on ‘Change’ which featured some majestic widescreen inflections glossed with beautiful ivory runs bouncing off a shuffling percussive pattern.

Closing with the resignation of ‘Contact’, a sensitive statement about the emotional detachment caused by modern technology, ‘Brilliant’ was a better album than many expected and righted the wrongs of ‘U-Vox’. There was another successful European tour and it looked as though the old wounds between the four had healed. Then came a surprise run of dates opening for SIMPLE MINDS on the arena leg of their ‘Greatest Hits+’ UK tour at the end of 2013 but after that, it all went quiet.

Speaking to The Electricity Club Midge Ure said that “We always said we were never getting back together to take over the world as a band and pretend we were a bunch of teenagers, we all have other things that we do. And we said that if and when something interesting pops up, we would get-together and do it”. But in 2017, Billy Currie made a statement on his website that his tenure with ULTRAVOX was over and even sold his beloved ARP Odyssey MkII on eBay!

Despite this, the legacy of this particular incarnation of ULTRAVOX lives on, with Ure going out on the road in 2019 with his solo band to play the ‘Vienna’ album in its entirety on ‘The ‘1980 Tour’ as a testament to its artistic longevity. And now there is a 40th Anniversary boxed set complete with a new 5.1 surround sound mix by Steven Wilson.

ULTRAVOX also brought the sound of the NEU! axis to a mainstream British audience and even re-exported back to Germany – in acknowledgement, Ure had the music of Michael Rother played before the shows of ‘The 1980 Tour’.

Meanwhile, there has also been a substantial and diverse ULTRAVOX legacy within modern popular culture. The Manchester pop duo HURTS effectively played on being TAKE THAT dressed as ULTRAVOX, especially with their single ‘Stay’ and its accompanying promo video. Meanwhile for their quintet reunion album ‘Progress’, TAKE THAT themselves interpolated ‘Vienna’ for a song called ‘Eight Letters’ which resulted in the rather unusual credit “written by Barlow / Donald / Orange / Owen / Williams / Ure / Cross / Cann / Currie”!

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

But the biggest ULTRAVOX legacy can be found in the stadiums of the world via the Teignmouth rock trio MUSE. It is not difficult to imagine Midge Ure singing ‘Starlight’ while ‘Vienna’ has been borrowed not once but twice, first on ‘Apocalypse Please’ where the middle eight bass synth section was more or less lifted note-for-note while the second time was more obviously with the drum intro to ‘Guiding Light’.

ULTRAVOX were indeed a jigsaw sequence, but no-one could see the end.


‘Vienna’ is released as a 5CD+DVD and 4LP clear vinyl boxed set by Chrysalis Records on 9th October 2020, pre-order from https://ultravox.tmstor.es/

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/UltravoxUK

https://twitter.com/UltravoxUK

https://www.instagram.com/ultravoxuk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th September 2020

TEC’s 25 SONGS OF THE BLITZ CLUB

The soundtrack of The Blitz Club was provided by its resident DJ Rusty Egan and its story is more than well documented.

This vibrant post-punk scene, whose flamboyant clientele were dubbed ‘Blitz Kids’, ‘The Cult With No Name’ and ‘New Romantics’, became the catalyst for several bands including VISAGE, SPANDAU BALLET and CULTURE CLUB, as well as assorted fashion designers, visual artists and writers.

Rusty Egan told The Electricity Club: “I just played as much as I could fit in, it was not all disco. It was a bar and opened after work. I’d arrive 8.30–9.00pm and played all my faves till it was packed, then I got them dancing and at the end, I slowed down”.

The dancing style at The Blitz Club often involved the swaying of arms at a distance from the face like slow motion maraca shaking so as not to spoil any carefully hairsprayed styles. Meanwhile, feet movements were often impossible as the small dancefloor was often overcrowded!

With Steve Strange as doorman and fashion gatekeeper, the concept for what was initially a “Bowie Night” came together at Billy’s nightclub in Soho in Autumn 1978 in an effort to find something new and colourful to escape the oncoming drabness in the Winter Of Discontent. After a disagreement with the owners of Billy’s, the pair moved their venture to The Blitz Club.

Although Rusty Egan had been a soul boy and an active participant in punk through a stint rehearsing with THE CLASH and then as a member of THE RICH KIDS with Midge Ure, the two friends became fascinated with electronic dance music though the Giorgio Moroder produced ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer and KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ album which had been a surprise favourite in New York discos and whose title track referenced David Bowie.

“There was a couple of years of punk which Midge Ure and myself weren’t too impressed with in terms of the clubs and the environment in Thatcherite Britain, it was horrible in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool!” recalled Egan, “So we were just trying basically to grasp the good in life, trying to be positive in a very negative time.”

Although Egan curated an eclectic playlist of available synth works supplemented with soundtracks and relatable art rock tunes, tracks were comparatively scarce in this new innovative electronic form.

So with studio time available following the split of THE RICH KIDS, Ure and Egan hit upon the idea of making their own electronic dance music for The Blitz Club, fronted by Steve Strange.

Ure came up with the name VISAGE for the project and presented the demo to his then employers at EMI Records, but it was rejected! Undeterred, the pair recruited Billy Currie from a then-in hiatus ULTRAVOX plus MAGAZINE’s Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson to record the first VISAGE album at the-then newly constructed Genetic Studios of Martin Rushent.

When Billy Currie toured with Gary Numan in 1979, he and fellow keyboardist Chris Payne composed what was to become ‘Fade To Grey’; it was included on the eventual ‘Visage’ album released by Polydor Records in 1980 and the rest is history, reaching No1 in West Germany!

VISAGE was the beauty of the synthesizer played with symphonic classical overtones fused to the electronic dance beat of Neu Europa and visually styled like a cross between the Edwardian dandies and Weimar Cabaret. Midge Ure remembered “it was a major part of my life and Steve was a major part of that period”.

The meeting of Ure and Currie in VISAGE led to the diminutive Glaswegian joining a relaunched ULTRAVOX who released the iconic ‘Vienna’ album in 1980. Co-produced by Conny Plank, the German always thought in terms of sound and on the title song, he imagined an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years.

And when Billy Currie came to record his ivory parts, that was exactly the feel which Plank had engineered. It was to become a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the New Romantic movement when it was released as a single, stalling at No2 despite being one of the best selling singles of 1981, gracing the UK charts at the same time as ‘Fade To Grey’.

Having started as a “Bowie Night”, the man himself became fascinated by this emergent cult with no name that he had inspired. In 1980, Jacqueline Bucknell, an assistant from his label RCA who was also a Blitz Kid, had taken Bowie down to The Blitz Club to cast extras to appear in a video for his new single ‘Ashes To Ashes’; among the chosen ones was Steve Strange.

Utilising Roland guitar synths and an ARP string machine with a final burst of ARP Odyssey, David Bowie saw ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as an epitaph for his artistic past as he lyrically revisited the Major Tom character from ‘Space Oddity’ over a decade on.

With this, The Blitz Club had now become a mainstream phenomenon as the BBC’s Nationwide programme sent an investigative team in, signalling a changing of the guard in popular culture with parallel scenes going on at The Rum Runner in Birmingham, The Warehouse in Leeds and Crocs in Rayleigh from which DURAN DURAN, SOFT CELL and DEPECHE MODE were to respectively gain their fledgling followings.

The perceived elitist exclusivity of The Blitz Club had partly become legend as a result of Steve Strange refusing entry to Mick Jagger for his sporting of blue jeans. Playing on this and adopting its electronic aesthetic to attract attention, five lads from Islington formed SPANDAU BALLET and initially only performed at special events which were by invitation only. Essentially becoming The Blitz Club’s house band, the quintet later scored worldwide success with a less radical sanitised pop soul sound.

Singer Tony Hadley said to The Electricity Club: “Our first album The ‘Journeys To Glory’ will always be one of my favourite Spandau albums, we were just young excited lads trying to make our mark on the world. There’s a rawness and energy on that album that is impossible to recreate. I love synthpop and still one of my favourite songs is SPANDAU BALLET’s first release ‘ To Cut A Long Story Short’.”

Not all enjoyed their visits to The Blitz Club; Billy MacKenzie notably highlighted the vapid nature of the scene in ASSOCIATES’ second hit single ‘Club Country’. But buoyed by its success, Steve Strange and Rusty Egan eventually vacated The Blitz Club and took over The Music Machine in 1982 and relaunched it as The Camden Palace, making it one of the UK’s first modern superclubs.

But the spirit of The Blitz Club still lives on and recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at a number of events across Europe including W-Festival in Belgium.

Using Dave Rimmer’s 2003 book ‘New Romantics: The Look’ as an initial reference point and calling on the memories of Rusty Egan himself to verify whether he had actually played these songs in his DJ sets, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 Songs Of The Blitz Club to celebrate the flamboyant legacy of that Blitz Spirit.


ROXY MUSIC Both Ends Burning (1975)

Following-up the hit single ‘Love In The Drug’, ‘Both Ends Burning’ was ROXY MUSIC’s second ‘Siren’ call. With Bryan Ferry’s stylised but anguished vocals, it was a track which laid down the sophisticated art pop trail that JAPAN and DURAN DURAN would later be pursuing. Featuring a prominent coating of ARP Solina string machine sweetened by hypnotic bass and squawky sax, ‘Both Ends Burning’ is probably the most under rated single in the Roxy canon.

Available on the ROXY MUSIC album ‘The Best Of’ via Virgin Records

https://www.roxymusic.co.uk/


BRIAN ENO Kings Lead Hat (1977)

With a title that was an anagram of TALKING HEADS, the New York art school combo were the inspiration for the frantic metallic romp of ‘Kings Lead Hat’ which became a favourite at The Blitz Club. Brian Eno aped David Byrne in his vocal delivery, while he was later to produce three of the band’s albums as he moved further away from art rock as a solo artist. The song was later covered by ULTRAVOX in their live sets during the early phase their Midge Ure-fronted incarnation.

Available on the BRIAN ENO album ‘Before & After Science’ via Virgin Records

https://brian-eno.net/


KRAFTWERK Showroom Dummies (1977)

KRAFTWERK reacted as they generally did to negative criticism by writing a song. A response to a review that said their motionless persona at live performances was like ‘Showroom Dummies’, the sparse eerie atmosphere was punctuated by a tight and rigid electronic drum sound that was completely new and alien, something Rusty Egan was looking to emulate. Incidentally, the count-in of “eins zwei drei vier” was a deadpan Germanic parody of THE RAMONES!

Available on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Trans Europe Express’ via EMI Music

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


IGGY POP Nightclubbing (1977)

An Iggy Pop collaboration with David Bowie, the Vampiric glam of ‘Nightclubbing’ was the former James Osterberg’s commentary on what it was like hanging out with him every night. Utilising a simple piano melody and a cold Schaffel rhythm via the mechanical precision of a Roland drum machine, legend has it that Iggy insisted on keeping it, saying “it kicks ass, it’s better than a drummer”. Alongside ‘Lust For Life’, ‘Nightclubbing’ also featured in the soundtrack of ‘Trainspotting’.

Available on the IGGY POP album ‘The Idiot’ via Virgin Records

https://iggypop.com/


ULTRAVOX! Hiroshima Mon Amour (1977)

Utilising Warren Cann’s modified Roland TR77 rhythm machine, this was John Foxx moving ULTRAVOX! into the moody ambience pioneered by CLUSTER, away from the art rock of the self-titled first album and the punky interim single ‘Young Savage’. ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ had initially been premiered as a far spikier uptempo number for the B-side of ‘ROckWrok’. Incidentally, the ‘CC’ credited on saxophone is not Chris Cross, but a member of the art collective GLORIA MUNDI.

Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ via Island Records

http://www.metamatic.com/


LA DÜSSELDORF Viva (1978)

LA DÜSSELDORF’s second long player ‘Viva’ was their most successful album and the title track was a regular staple at The Blitz Club. An oddball slice of cosmic space rock sung in French and German by Klaus Dinger, proceedings were aided by the dual motorik thud of Hans Lampe and Thomas Dinger. Performed with the same group of musicians, ‘E-Musik’ by Dinger’s previous band NEU! had also been a favourite at The Blitz Club, influencing the intro of the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Face To Face’.

Available on the LA DÜSSELDORF boxed set ‘Triple Album Collection’ via WEA Records

https://www.dingerland.de/


GIORGIO MORODER Chase (1978)

Commissioned by Alan Parker for the graphic prison drama ‘Midnight Express’, the noted director wanted some electronic accompaniment to the crucial chase scene of the film in the style of ‘I Feel Love’. The bassline from Giorgio Moroder’s own 1976 cover of ‘Knights In White Satin’ was reappropriated. The fruit of their labours was this Oscar winning Hi-NRG romp bursting with VANGELIS-like keyboard melodies, driven by an intense slamming and syncopated by popping pulses.

Available on the GIORGIO MORODER album ‘Midnight Express’ via Casablanca Records

https://www.giorgiomoroder.com/


THE NORMAL Warm Leatherette (1978)

Already a fan of German music and ‘Autobahn’ by KRAFTWERK in particular, Daniel Miller’s sense of experimentation and an adoption of punk’s DIY ethic led him to buying a Korg 700s synthesizer. Wanting to make a punk single with electronics, he wrote and recorded the stark JG Ballard influenced ‘Warm Leatherette’ as an independent single release on his own Mute Records. Meanwhile, The Blitz Kids came up with their own bizarre twisting and turning dance entering a human arch to accompany it…

Available on THE NORMAL single ‘Warm Leatherette’ via Mute Records

http://mute.com/category/the-normal


RIECHMANN Wunderbar (1978)

The late Wolfgang Riechmann is the forgotten man in the Düsseldorf axis having been in SPIRITS OF SOUND with Michael Rother and Wolfgang Flür; had his life not been tragically cut short, he certainly had the potential to become a revered and respected cult musical figure. The opening title track of his only album chimed like a Cold War spy drama before the beautifully almost oriental melodic piece imagined PINK FLOYD meeting CLUSTER over a delicate Schaffel beat.

Available on RIECHMANN album ‘Wunderbar’ via Bureau B

http://www.bureau-b.com/infotexte/Riechmann.Wunderbar.Bio.engl.pdf


VISAGE In The Year 2525 (1978 – released 1983)

ZAGER & EVANS’ pessimistic ditty was perfect fodder for the first VISAGE demo. Steered by Midge Ure using his freshly acquired Yamaha synths and punctuated by Rusty Egan’s incessant Roland drum machine and synthetic percussion, ‘In The Year 2525’ was perfectly resigned aural dystopia from its vocodered intro onwards. Steve Strange’s deadpan fronted the sombre tone perfectly but Ure’s vocal backing and counterpoints added that extra slice of musicality.

Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Face’ via Universal Records

http://www.visage.cc/


YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA Firecracker (1978)

One of first Japanese bands to have a Top 20 hit single in the UK was YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA in 1980. ‘Firecracker’ was a cover of a 1959 composition by Martin Denny but actually released as ‘Computer Game (Theme From The Invader)’. Recorded in 1978, the parent self-titled album was noted for its use of the then brand new Roland MC8 Micro-Composer to control the synthesizers. The result was a clean, exotic pop sound that was unusual, even in the synthpop heartland of Europe.

Available on the YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA album ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ via Sony Music

http://www.ymo.org/


GINA X PERFORMANCE No GDM (1979)

Produced by Zeus B Held, ‘No GDM’ was written by androgynous art history student Gina Kikoine in honour of the “great dark man” Quentin Crisp and featured an array of ARP and Moog synths to signal the birth of a new European Underground. Unsurprisingly, the song gained heavy rotation at The Blitz Club. The nonchalant, detached vocal influence of GINA X PERFORMANCE went on to be heard in the music of LADYTRON, CLIENT and MISS KITTIN.

Available on the album ‘Nice Mover’ via LTM Recordings

http://www.ltmrecordings.com/gina_x.html


JAPAN Life In Tokyo (1979)

Working with Giorgio Moroder, David Sylvian submitted ‘European Son’ for the session in Los Angeles but it was rejected by the producer. Instead, the Italian offered several of his demos, of which, Sylvian picked the one he considered to be the worst so that he could stamp more of his own vision for the developing synthesized sound of JAPAN. Considered to be too avant-garde at its inception but ahead of its time, unbeknown to Moroder and Sylvian, they had just conceived DURAN DURAN!

Available on the JAPAN album ‘Assemblage’ via Sony BMG Records

http://www.nightporter.co.uk/


THOMAS LEER & ROBERT RENTAL Day Breaks Night Heals (1979)

Originally released on THROBBING GRISTLE’s Industrial Records, ‘The Bridge’ album saw Scottish duo Thomas Leer and Robert Rental trading vocal and instrumental duties. With an air of FAD GADGET, ‘Day Breaks Night Heals’ showcased some of Leer’s pop sensibility that was later apparent in his Arista solo period and in ACT with Claudia Brücken, while Rental maintained a dark experimental presence in this slice of artful electronic blues. Robert Rental sadly passed away in 2000.

Available on the album ‘The Bridge’ via The Grey Area

http://mute.com/category/thomas-leer-and-robert-rental


SIMPLE MINDS Changeling (1979)

Manipulating their influences like SPARKS and MAGAZINE with a very European austere, Glasgow’s SIMPLE MINDS were “underground, pulsating through” thanks to the rhythmic interplay of Derek Forbes’ bass with Mick McNeil’s synths. Charlie Burchill was now thinking beyond the sound of a conventional electric guitar while the precision of under rated drummer Brian McGee locked the glue. That just left Jim Kerr to throw his bizarre shapes and pontificate over this dark avant disco.

Available on the SIMPLE MINDS album ‘Reel To Real Cacophony’ via Virgin Records

http://www.simpleminds.org.uk/


SPARKS Beat The Clock (1979)

Having graced the UK Top 20 again with the tremendous ‘No1 Song In Heaven’, SPARKS continued their Giorgio Moroder produced rejuvenation and had an even bigger hit with ‘Beat The Clock’. Percussively augmented by Keith Forsey who was later to produce Billy Idol, Russell Mael’s flamboyant falsetto more than suited the electronic disco sound while the programmed backing meant that Ron Mael could stoically maintain his image of doing nothing.

Available on the SPARKS album ‘No1 In Heaven’ via Lil Beethoven Records

https://allsparks.com/


TELEX Moscow Diskow (1979)

Belgian trio TELEX comprised of Marc Moulin, Dan Lacksman and Michel Moers, with the intention of “making something really European, different from rock, without guitar”. Opening their debut album ‘Looking for Saint Tropez’ which also contained their funeral robotic cover of ‘Rock Around The Clock’, ‘Moscow Diskow’ took the Trans-Siberian Express to Moscow, adding a funkier groove compared with KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ excursion for what was to become a cult international club favourite.

Available on the TELEX album ‘‘Looking For San-Tropez’ via EMI Music

https://www.facebook.com/TELEX-312492439327342/


THROBBING GRISTLE Hot On The Heels Of Love (1979)

From their third album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the uncompromising THROBBING GRISTLE led by the late Genesis P-Orridge were neither jazzy or funky! Gloriously sequenced by Chris Carter via a Roland System-100M modular, ‘Hot On The Heels Of Love’ was mutant dystopian disco lento with a hypnotic rhythm punctuated by a synthetic whip-crack for that S&M twist as Cosey Fanni Tutti’s whispered vocals competed with pentatonic melodies and electronic drill noises!

Available on the THROBBING GRISTLE album ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’ via Industrial / Mute Records

https://twitter.com/ThrobbingGrstle


ZAINE GRIFF Ashes & Diamonds (1980)

Zaine Griff had a Bowie-esque poise was tailor made for The Blitz Club and Tony Visconti saw enough in him to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. Featuring Hans Zimmer on synths, the title song was sitting just outside the Top 40 and earned a performance on Top Of The Pops but the episode was pulled thanks to a Musicians Union strike. Demonstrating the song’s longevity despite it not being a major hit, it was recently covered live by American alternative rockers MGMT.

Available on the ZAINE GRIFF album ‘Ashes & Diamonds / Figvres’ via MIG Music

https://www.zainegriff.com/


THE HUMAN LEAGUE Being Boiled (1980)

‘Being Boiled’ was the first song Philip Oakey wrote with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh for THE HUMAN LEAGUE, his bizarre lyrics being the result of a confusion between Buddhism and Hinduism while highlighting the plight of silk worms. Intended to reimagine FUNKADELIC’s funky overtones as synthetic horns, this brassier re-recorded version with fatter electronic beats was included on the ‘Holiday 80’ EP and the ‘Travelogue’ album, becoming a dance staple of The Blitz Club.

Available as a bonus track on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Travelogue’ via Virgin Records

http://www.thehumanleague.co.uk/


SPACE Tender Force (1980)

Didier Marouani wrote the worldwide hit ‘Magic Fly’ but having left the band, Roland Romanelli and Jannick Top continued as SPACE. The rousing thrust of ‘Tender Force’ was, like ‘Magic Fly’, produced by Jean-Philippe Iliesco who later invited Rusty Egan to contribute a timbale heavy remix of this synth disco tune ; he was later to begin an ill-fated business relationship with Iliesco who was named by Midge Ure in his ‘If I Was’ autobiography as responsible for putting a wedge between him and Egan in VISAGE…

Available on the SPACE album ‘The Best Of’ via Nang Records

http://www.space.tm.fr


YELLO Bostich (1980)

Although now known as a duo, eccentric Swiss pioneers YELLO actually began as a trio of Dieter Meier, Boris Blank and Carlos Peron. Later remixed and extended, the military drum tattoo at the start of ‘Bostich’ was deceiving as an electronic throb quickly set in. This was perfect avant garde disco for The Blitz Club with a quirky range of vocal pitches from Meier while the track also included a style of speedy European rap later that was repeated on their only major UK hit ‘The Race’ in 1988.

Available on the YELLO album ‘Essential’ via Mercury Records

https://www.yello.com/


LANDSCAPE Einstein A Go-Go (1981)

Electronic pop music was often seen as pretentious, LANDSCAPE had their tongues firmly in their cheeks as evidenced by ‘Einstein A Go-Go’. “The song is a cautionary tale about the apocalyptic possibilities of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of theocratic dictators and religious extremists.” said the band’s Richard Burgess, “We talked about the track conceptually before we wrote it and our objective was to make a very simple, cartoon-like track with a strong hook that would belie the meaning of the lyrics!”

Available on LANDSCAPE album ‘From The Tea-Rooms Of Mars…’ via Sony Music

https://twitter.com/Landscape_band


SHOCK R.E.R.B. (1981)

Written as a B-side instrumental for The Blitz Club’s resident dance troupe SHOCK to work a routine to, ‘R.E.R.B.’ was constructed by Rusty Egan and Richard Burgess, hence the title. Burgess had been doing the linking interludes with a Fairlight on the first VISAGE album and brought in Roland System 700 modular driven by the Micro-composer while Egan triggered the brain of the synthesized drum system that Burgess had been working on with Dave Simmons for its punchy drum fills.

Available on the SHOCK single ‘R.E.R.B.’ via Blitz Club Records

https://twitter.com/DJRustyEgan


SOFT CELL Memorabilia (1981)

Produced by Daniel Miller, one of the first SOFT CELL recordings on signing to Phonogram was the seminal ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a favourite at The Blitz Club. Dave Ball’s deep Roland Synthe-Bass and klanky Korg Rhythm KR55 provided a distinctive danceable backbone to accompany Marc Almond’s souvenir collecting metaphors about sexual promiscuity. After this, SOFT CELL were signed by Rusty Egan to Metropolis Music for publishing.

Available on SOFT CELL album ‘Keychains & Snowstorms: The Singles’ via Universal Music

https://www.softcell.co.uk/


Approved by Rusty Egan, The Electricity Club presents the ‘Blitz Spirit’ playlist capturing the era plus a few tracks from just after at: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0y4GXXotg4BFPZ6qMklwdx


Text by Chi Ming Lai with thanks to Rusty Egan
13th April 2020

Ten Years Of TEC: STILL PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

The Electricity Club celebrates its tenth birthday and it really has been synthly the best.

At the HEAVEN 17 aftershow party for their triumphant gig at The Magna Science Park on 6th March 2010, following chats with Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken, interview opportunities opened up.

It was obvious there was gap waiting to be filled for a quality web publication that featured the best in new and classic electronic pop without having to lower itself to using the dreaded “80s” label. The Electricity Club was it and became reality on 15th March 2010.

Electronic pop music didn’t start in that Thatcher decade and certainly didn’t end there either. So there was even an editorial diktat which banned The Electricity Club’s writers from using the lazy”80s” term as a reference. Tellingly, several PR representatives said that one of the site’s main appeals was that it avoided the whole nostalgia bent that had been presented by both virtual and physical media.

At the time, kooky female fronted keyboard based pop like LA ROUX, LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE, LADY GAGA and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS were among those touted as being the future at the time. But it proved to be something of a red herring, as those acts evolved back into what they actually were, conventional pop acts.

The Electricity Club preferred the sort of innovative synthpop as outlined in BBC4’s Synth Britannia documentary with the next generation of artists like MARSHEAUX, VILE ELECTRODES, VILLA NAH and MIRRORS more than fitting the bill and that ethos of featuring pop music using synthesizers stuck too.

Meanwhile, The Electricity Club’s portfolio expanded swiftly with key personalities such as Rusty Egan, Sarah Blackwood, Richard James Burgess, Warren Cann, Chris Payne, Thomas Dolby, John Foxx, Andy McCluskey, Neil Arthur, Alan Wilder, Mark Reeder, Gary Langan, Jori Hulkkonen, Howard Jones, Mira Aroyo, Sarah Nixey and Hannah Peel among those giving interviews to the site during its first two years.

The Electricity Club has always prided itself in asking the questions that have never usually been asked, but which fans want to know the answers to. And it was with this reputation for intelligent and well researched interviewing that in March 2011, the site was granted its biggest coup yet.

Speaking to Stephen Morris of the then-on hiatus NEW ORDER, the drummer cryptically hinted during the ensuing chat that Manchester’s finest would return by saying “I never say never really”; and that is exactly what happened in Autumn of that year and the band have been there since, as popular as ever and still making great music with the release of ‘Music Complete’ in 2015.

Monday 21st March 2011 was an interesting day that partied like it was 1981 when it saw the release of albums by DURAN DURAN, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and JOHN FOXX & THE MATHS. Also in 2011, Mute Records celebrated their influential legacy with a weekender also at London’s Roundhouse which culminated in ERASURE, YAZOO and THE ASSEMBLY performing in the same set.

Despite the ‘Brilliant’ return of ULTRAVOX, 2012 paled in comparison after such a fruitful year and several acts who were featured probably would not have gained as much coverage in more competitive periods. With pressure from outsiders as to what was hot and what was not, this was the only time The Electricity Club felt it was obliged to support a domestic scene.

But realising acts like HURTS and STRANGERS were actually just jumping on an apparent synth bandwagon and possessing more style than substance, The Electricity Club decided to change tact and only featured acts it felt truly passionate about, even if it meant upsetting the wider synth community. The reasoning being that just because a band uses a synthesizer doesn’t mean it is good.

During this time, MIRRORS sadly disbanded while VILLA NAH mutated into SIN COS TAN. But the year did see the launch of CHVRCHES who stood out from the crowd with their opening gambit ‘Lies’. With their Taylor Swift gone electro template, Lauren Mayberry and Co managed to engage an audience who didn’t know or care what a Moog Voyager was, to listen to synthpop!

2013 turned out to be one of the best years for electronic pop since its Synth Britannia heyday. What The Electricity Club achieved during this year would take up a whole article in itself… there were high profile interviews with Alison Moyet, Gary Numan and Karl Bartos while OMD released the album of the decade in ‘English Electric’. PET SHOP BOYS made up for their ‘Elysium’ misstep with ‘Electric’ while there was finally a third volume in BEF’s ‘Music Of Quality & Distinction’ covers series.

Although 2014 started tremendously with The Electricity Club being invited to meet Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür in Cologne, the year suffered next to quality of 2013.

The interviews continued, particularly with key figures from the Synth Britannia era including Midge Ure and the often forgotten man of the period Jo Callis who was a key member of THE HUMAN LEAGUE during their imperial phase.

But the year saw grandeurs of delusion at their highest, with one artist of a far too normal disposition in particular failing to realise that in order for a crowdfunding campaign to succeed, they needed to actually have quite a few fans in the first place!

Then, there was the similarly clueless Alt-Fest debacle which saw the organisers play Fantasy Festival with no cash to underwrite the infrastructure to enable it to actually happen!

Sadly today, there are still egotistic chancers organising events with zero budget and the money from ticket sales being fleeced to fund their holidays. But these artificial factors are rarely considered and so long as there are lower league artists desperate to play for nowt and a misguided enhancement in profile that is often on a platform that provides minimal exposure anyway, then the confidence tricks will continue.

2015 saw the local emergence of Rodney Cromwell and Gwenno, while the majestic Swedish duo KITE proved that they were the best synth act in Europe with the ‘VI’ EP and their impressive live show.

It was also the year when ERASURE front man Andy Bell gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to offer some revealing insights.

Making something of a comeback after a recorded absence of nearly eight years, Jean-Michel Jarre presented his ambitious two volume ‘Electronica’ project which saw collaborations with a varied pool of musicians including Pete Townsend, Lang Lang, John Carpenter, Vince Clarke, Hans Zimmer, Cyndi Lauper, Sebastien Tellier and Gary Numan.

VILLA NAH returned in 2016, as did YELLO with Fifi Rong as one of their guest vocalists while APOPTYGMA BERZERK went instrumental and entered the ‘Exit Popularity Contest’. Riding on the profile generated from their ‘A Broken Frame’ covers album, MARSHEAUX released their biggest-selling long player to date, a two city concept in ‘Ath.Lon’. This was also the year that The Electricity Club first became acquainted with the analogue synthesizer heaven of Johan Baeckström, a modern day Vince Clarke if ever there was one.

2017 saw a bumper crop of great albums from the likes of I SPEAK MACHINE, LCD SOUNDSYSTEM, SOULWAX, IAMX, GOLDFRAPP and DAILY PLANET, while veterans such as Alison Moyet and Gary Numan produced their best work of the 21st Century.

However DEPECHE MODE unleashed their most dire record yet in ‘Spirit’, a dreary exercise in faux activism bereft of tunes. Salt was rubbed into the wound when they merely plonked an underwhelming arena show into a stadium for their summer London show.

The trend was to continue later in 2019 as DEPECHE MODE just plonked 14 albums into a boxed set, while OMD offered an album of quality unreleased material in their ‘Souvenir’ package.

And with DEPECHE MODE’s sad descent into a third rate pseudo-rock combo during the last 15 years to appease that ghastly mainstream American institution called The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame with guitars and drums, Dave Gahan in particular with his ungrateful dismissal of the pioneering synth-based material with which he made his fortune with, now has what he has always coveted.

And don’t get The Electricity Club started on the 2019 Moog Innovation Award being given to Martin Gore, a real insult to true synth pioneers if ever there was one, including Daniel Miller, Vince Clarke and Alan Wilder, the three men who actually did the electronic donkey work on those imperial phase DEPECHE MODE albums! Gore may have been a very good songwriter during that time, but a synth innovator? Oh come on!?!

With regards Synth Britannia veterans, new albums in 2017 from Richard Barbieri and Steve Jansen saw a revived interest in JAPAN, the band with which they made their name.

Despite releasing their final album ‘Tin Drum’ in 1981, as a later conversation with one-time guitarist Rob Dean proved, cumulatively from related article views, JAPAN became the most popular act on The Electricity Club.

The return of SOFT CELL dominated 2018 with a lavish boxed set that was not just comprised of previously released long players, new songs, new books, a BBC documentary and a spectacular farewell show at London’s O2 Arena.

Meanwhile, adopting a much lower profile were LADYTRON with their comeback and an eventual eponymous sixth album. A Non Stop Electronic Cabaret saw Canadian veterans RATIONAL YOUTH play their first ever UK gig alongside PAGE and PSYCHE, but coming out of Brooklyn to tour with ERASURE was REED & CAROLINE.

EMIKA was ‘Falling In Love With Sadness’ and Swedish songstress IONNALEE showcased one of the best value-for-money live presentations in town, with a show that surreal imagined Kate Bush at a rave!

But from China came STOLEN, one of the most exciting bands in years who were then later rewarded for their graft with a European tour opening for NEW ORDER.

2019 was the year when synthwave graduates Dana Jean Phoenix and Ollie Wride were coming into their own as live performers, while electronic disco maestro Giorgio Moroder embarked on a concert tour for the first time with his songs being the true stars of the show.

Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS gave his first interview to The Electricity Club to tie in with his solo album ‘Gone From Here’, while a pub lunch with Mark White and Stephen Singleton mutated into an extensive chat about their days in ABC. Lloyd Cole adopted a more synthesized template on ‘Guessworks’ and Britpop went synth as GENEVA’s Andrew Montgomery formed US with Leo Josefsson of Swedish trio LOWE.

If The Electricity Club does have a proudest achievement in its first ten years, then it is giving extensive early coverage to VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND, TINY MAGNETIC PETS and SOFTWAVE, six acts who were later invited to open on tour for OMD.

Partly because of this success, some of those who were less talented felt aggrieved despite feeling a narcisstic entitlement to be featured. A few deluded artists even went as far as to blame The Electricity Club publically for their lack of traction! NoW that’s what The Electricity Club calls deluded!

If an act is good enough, the fact that The Electricity Club hasn’t featured them should not matter, especially as other electronic and synth blogs are available. After taking its eye of the ball once before in 2012, The Electricity Club maintained a trust of its own gut instinct.

Meanwhile, its stance has been tested by those shouting loudest who instantaneously champion what they perceive as the next big thing like sheep, without really looking ahead at a wider picture. However, TRAVIS on VSTs is just not The Electricity Club’s thing frankly…

The Electricity Club’s participation in the annual ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf for on-stage interviews with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Mark Reeder and Zeus B Held was another high profile engagement to be proud of. Then there were six TEC branded live events and five rounds of hosting ‘An Audience with Rusty Egan’ in one of the most unenviable but highly entertaining refereeing assignments in music 😉

Other highlights over the last ten years have included The Electricity Club’s 2015 career retrospective on German trio CAMOUFLAGE being edited and used as booklet notes for the Universal Music sanctioned compilation CD ‘The Singles’.

There was also ‘The Electricity Club’ 2CD released by Amour Records in 2019 which included TEC featured acts like MESH, SECTION 25, SIN COS TAN, KID KASIO, NIGHT CLUB, QUIETER THAN SPIDERS, ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, DAYBEHAVIOR, LIEBE, TWINS NATALIA, KID MOXIE, GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS, ELEVEN: ELEVEN, AUTOMATIC WRITING, FOTONOVELA and QUEEN OF HEARTS among its 34 excellent tracks, including a bangin’ MARSHEAUX remix of Katy Perry!

As 2020 settles in, highly regarded artists within the electronic community continue to engage with The Electricity Club. Neil Arthur recently gave his seventh interview as BLANCMANGE and his tenth interview overall, taking into account his side projects FADER and NEAR FUTURE. Not far behind, Martyn Ware has also been a regular interviewee having spoken to the site on six occasions while Paul Humphreys has been interviewed no less than five times.

The Electricity Club is still pushing the envelope, continuing to reflect the interests of people who love the Synth Britannia era and have a desire to hear new music seeded from that ilk. With artists like ANI GLASS, IMI, KNIGHT$, NINA, MECHA MAIKO, GEISTE and PLASMIC among those on the cusp of a wider breakthrough, there is still more excellent music still to be created, discovered and savoured.

One inferior revivalist platform featuring far too much normal rubbish once complained that The Electricity Club “only feature bands that are popular…”; what they actually mean is “only feature bands that are really good”! 😉

The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to everyone who has taken the time read any article on the site over the last ten years, it is greatly appreciated.


‘The Electricity Club’ is released by Amour Records / Minos EMI / Universal Music in collaboration with Undo Records as a 34 track 2CD set in a deluxe 6 panel digipak with track-by-track commentary and ‘O’ card; the compilation be purchased from the following retailers:

Europe http://www.poponaut.de/various-artists-electricity-club-p-18056.html

North America https://stormingthebase.bandcamp.com/merch/various-the-electricity-club-2cd

The tracklisting is:

CD1

01 MAISON VAGUE Synthpop’s Alive
02 KID KASIO Full Moon Blue
03 ELECTRONIC CIRCUS Roundabout
04 DAYBEHAVIOR It’s A Game (Marsheaux remix)
05 MARNIE The Hunter
06 ELEVEN:ELEVEN Through The Veil
07 NIGHT CLUB Cruel Devotion
08 QUEEN OF HEARTS United
09 KATY PERRY Hot ‘N’ Cold (Marsheaux remix)
10 ERASURE Be The One (Paul Humphreys remix)
11 KID MOXIE The Bailor
12 KEEP SHELLY IN ATHENS Oostende
13 FOTONOVELA featuring JAMES NEW Our Sorrow (Original mix)
14 GIRL ONE & THE GREASE GUNS Jessica 6
15 AUTOMATIC WRITING Continuous
16 METROLAND Thalys (London Edit)
17 RODNEY CROMWELL Black Dog

CD2

01 SIN COS TAN Trust
02 POLLY SCATTERGOOD Other Too Endless (Vince Clarke remix)
03 TENEK What Do You Want? (Alternate TEC version)
04 ANALOG ANGEL We Won’t Walk Away
05 ARTHUR & MARTHA Autovia
06 MARSHEAUX Suffer The Children
07 SECTION 25 My Outrage
08 047 featuring LISA PEDERSEN Everything’s Fine
09 TAXX Is It Love?
10 LIEBE I Believe In You
11 QUIETER THAN SPIDERS Shanghai Metro
12 iEUROPEAN featuring WOLFGANG FLÜR Activity Of Sound
13 TWINS NATALIA Destiny
14 MESH Tuesday
15 MIRRORS Between Four Walls
16 OMD Time Burns (Fotonovela rework)
17 VILE ELECTRODES Deep Red

Please note this product is NOT on sale through The Electricity Club website and only via retailers


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Image Design by Volker Maass
16th March 2020

MIDGE URE + TINY MAGNETIC PETS The 1980 Tour Live in Northampton

For Midge Ure, it would be an understatement to say that ‘The 1980 Tour’ has been a success.

Focussing on the VISAGE and ULTRAVOX material that was released in what could be considered as the Year Zero in the synthesizer career of Midge Ure, he has been thrilling audiences what they have long desired… solo live renditions of some of best electronic pop of the Synth Britannia era, with the diminutive Glaswegian playing electric guitar AND synths!

After 40 years, these songs have, as Ure sang on the 1984 ULTRAVOX single ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, “stood the test of time” and unsurprisingly, ‘The 1980 Tour’ has been extended to Australia, New Zealand, Sweden and this second leg in the UK.

Accompanying Midge Ure on the first leg of the UK tour which began in October 2019 had been his old RICH KIDS band mate Rusty Egan with his support set of monologues and memories from the New Romantic era. Disillusioned in 1978 with rock and noting that electronic music from the likes of KRAFTWERK, SPACE and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA was on the ascendency, the pair had formed VISAGE.

This had been partly to make up for the shortfall in UK synth music at the time, so that Egan had some homegrown material he could play down at The Blitz Club where he had been holding Bowie-themed nights with Steve Strange, the venue’s face and gatekeeper who was to become VISAGE’s flamboyant front man. And it was via keyboard virtuoso Billy Currie becoming involved in the VISAGE project that Ure was then invited to join ULTRAVOX and the rest was history. Thus the early work of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX can be seen as one single creative thread for Midge Ure.

With Rusty Egan otherwise engaged in his own VISAGE 1980 x 2020 live presentation with ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne and Zaine Griff set to debut at W-Festival, it was Dublin electronic trio TINY MAGNETIC PETS (who had been the opener on the German dates of the ‘1980’ tour) to begin proceedings at the Royal & Derngate. A rather plush entertainment space in the centre of Northampton, the helpful staff were all dressed like members of the Gary Numan band circa 1979, coincidentally the time when Billy Currie was a member prior to the launch of the Midge Ure fronted ULTRAVOX.

TINY MAGNETIC PETS certainly did as their name suggested as glamourous singer Paula Gilmer magnetised the crowd who were actually quite lively for a Monday night, clapping and swaying along to songs such as ‘Shortwaves’, ‘Not Giving In’ and ‘Falling Apart In Slow Motion’ with polite enthusiasm.

One song that stood out was a rousing symphonic new number called ‘Echoes’ which will be on the new TINY MAGNETIC PETS upcoming new album ‘The Point Of Collapse’. Literally echoing ULTRAVOX, it caught people’s attention. Ending the set with ‘Semaphore’, Eugene Somers’ synthetic beats and Sean Quinn’s ‘Europe Endless’ inspired synth passages certainly surprised and satisfied an audience who had not been expecting to hear a Germanic flavoured Irish support band on the bill.

Backing by Cole Stacey on bass + synths, Joseph O’Keefe on synths, piano + violin and Russell Field on electronic drums, Midge Ure took to the stage quite early in the evening and opened with an instrumental rendition of ‘Yellow Pearl’, the iconic ‘Top Of The Pops’ theme tune from 1981 which he composed with Phil Lynott but had been originally slated for VISAGE.

Heading straight into the ‘Visage’, its call for “New styles, new shapes, new moulds” recalled how much of a cultural impact the New Romantics had, with the daily BBC TV ‘Nationwide’ news magazine presented by Jon Snow even commenting at the time that the movement’s members predicted it likely to have a bigger impact than punk… oh how right they were!

Also from the first VISAGE album, ‘Blocks On Blocks’ recalled Cold War tensions and The Berlin Wall, before leading into the NEU! inspired romp of ‘The Dancer’; earlier in the evening, the audience had been treated to the beautiful resonances of ‘Flammende Herzen’, the debut solo album by NEU! guitarist Michael Rother who was a significant influence on the sound of ULTRAVOX.

Recollections of The Winter Of Discontent came with a superb rendition of a vocoder assisted ‘In The Year 2525’, the Zager & Evans cover that was demoed by Midge Ure, Rusty Egan and Steve Strange and offered to EMI as VISAGE who then turned it down… ooops!! Harking back to VISAGE, there was a rendition of ‘Glorious’, a new tune written with Rusty Egan and Chris Payne with its inherent anthemic qualities showing that Ure has lost none of his prowess.

After ‘Mind Of A Toy’, Ure joked about how 50% of concert audiences did not want to be there, having been dragged along by significant other halves and were likely to only know two songs. With ‘Fade To Grey’ probably being one of them, he launched into a full-blown synthesized performance which initiated that first chorus singalong of the night.

Performing the whole of ULTRAVOX’s breakthrough ‘Vienna’ album in order, there were welcome airings for ‘Private Lives’ and ‘Western Promise’. Meanwhile the absence of Warren Cann was neatly managed with ‘Mr X’ being vocalled on vocoder to highlight its KRAFTWERK roots. ‘Passing Strangers’ and ‘New Europeans’ saw Ure having fun playing the guitar hero although the latter’s lyric about how “his modern world revolves around the synthesizer’s song” is still relevant forty years on.

The biggest cheer was naturally reserved for the title track which has become something of a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for The Blitz Club generation; for its recording, co-producer Conny Plank had engineered its weary sound by imagining an old man at a piano in a desolate theatre who had been playing the same tune for forty years, which was eerily ironic!

While ‘Vienna’ didn’t get people dancing, the crowd finally got on their feet for ‘All Stood Still’, proving that in the world of Synth Britannia at least, nothing goes down better live than an uptempo tune about a nuclear holocaust…

For the encore, Midge Ure dusted off ‘Passionate Reply’, the excellent B-side to the ‘Vienna’ single; but as good as it was, its presence was a little lost with the crowd craving some hit singles. It may have been better positioned as an interlude before ‘Astradyne’, but everyone got what they wanted with ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’. Notably a re-configuring of ‘Sonnenrad’ by Michael Rother, ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ was yet another song about a nuclear holocaust.

Now while it might have been a depressing subject to revive, these songs emerged from the spectre of ‘Protect & Survive’, when Mutually Assured Destruction haunted the minds of the population. But with climate change now very much a reality, it was very fitting. But there came relief from all the apocalyptic anxiety with the escapist quasi-religious pomp of ‘The Voice’ and ‘Hymn’ to end the evening on a rousing optimistic high, aided by the untutored vocals of a mass audience choir!

‘The 1980 Tour’ has been all about a body of great songs that were the product of an aspirational cinematic era which came was a reaction to the grimness of the incumbent sociol-political environment. It’s perhaps no surprise or coincidence that this era of VISAGE and ULTRAVOX is resonating again not just with the public, but with the man who was a key contributor to that music.


MIDGE URE ‘Soundtrack: 1978-2019’ is released as a 2CD+DVD boxed set, available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/

http://www.midgeure.co.uk

https://www.facebook.com/midge.ure/

https://twitter.com/midgeure1

TINY MAGNETIC PETS ‘Girl in a White Dress’ EP is released by Happy Robots Records as a CD, available from https://www.amazon.co.uk/

https://www.tinymagneticpets.com/

https://www.facebook.com/tinymagneticpets/

https://twitter.com/TinyMagneticPet


Text and Photos by Chi Ming Lai
20th February 2020

« Older posts