Tag: Billy Currie (Page 1 of 2)

Vintage Synth Trumps with BILLY CURRIE

ULTRAVOX founder member Billy Currie is the classically trained maestro who declined a place at London’s Royal Academy of Music in order to follow a dream of becoming a rock musician.

He was also in TUBEWAY ARMY when Gary Numan made his first TV appearances on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ and ‘Top Of The Pops’ in 1979, as well as being part of ‘The Touring Principle’ concert extravaganza.

Although ULTRAVOX have released 11 studio albums since 1977 with John Foxx, Midge Ure, Tony Fenelle and Sam Blue as front men, the instrumental constant on synthesizers, piano, violin and viola throughout has been Billy Currie.

Although his most high profile period was in the Midge Ure fronted incarnation of ULTRAVOX, this might not have happened had Currie and Ure not met while working together on VISAGE; together with Dave Formula, John McGeoch and Barry Adamson from MAGAZINE, the project had been instigated by Rusty Egan to produce synthesized dance music fronted by Steve Strange to play at The Blitz Club where he was the resident DJ. Along with Numan keyboardist Chris Payne, Currie and Ure co-wrote VISAGE’s biggest hit ‘Fade To Grey’.

The classic hit line-up of ULTRAVOX featuring Billy Currie, Midge Ure, Chris Cross and Warren Cann reunited in 2009 and released a new album ‘Brilliant’ in 2012 before winding down after a tour with SIMPLE MINDS in 2013.

Since then, Currie has been busy with his solo work, the most recent of which was 2020’s piano-based long player ‘The Brushwork Oblast’; it was released as part of a new deal with Burning Shed who will also reissue all of Currie’s solo back catalogue on CD.

Billy Currie kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over a game of Vintage Synth Trumps and chatted about his life and brilliant career in music.

These Vintage Synth Trumps cards we are using are made by GForce and you’ve worked with them haven’t you?

Back in 2003, GForce asked me to do some programme signature tunes for the ImpOSCar, since then I’ve had a relationship with them where they give me synths. Recently they asked me to look at the beta of stuff like the Oddity3. Dave Spears of GForce introduced me to Dina Pearlman of The ARP Foundation, she is doing an online “Synthposium” on 5th November and talked me into being involved, I’m one of people on the panel with Dave *laughs*

This is like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies but with synths, when you were working with him on the first ULTRAVOX! album, did you use the cards during the creative process?

We talked about the idea but I don’t think we did… but then again, a few things happened in the studio while I wasn’t there! It’s a very distant memory that they might have *laughs*

I do remember us talking about how we should “change the atmosphere” if we got stuck, like “do this” or play football in the park, just to change things because we’ve all got a little bit blocked. Music is a thing that changes if you want to get spiritual or spacey about it, you can’t control it and all of a sudden, your frame of mind changes.

How did you find working with Eno?

It was great, I remember the first meeting in one of these slightly hippy-ish rooms that was clean but rough-matted. We’d finally signed our record deal after me doing a bum job in a warehouse for 3 years and rehearsing 4 nights a week and on Sundays… the other guys were cleaning toilets! *laughs*

Anyway, Eno walked in… I was a massive fan of ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ and I was aware of his Obscure label, that was like “wow”, we were connected to something really special. Because we were label mates at Island and Island looked after Obscure, I could take these albums home for free. I was really taken aback by him and it was nice to sit on the floor and talk. It was a good vibe and I remember in the studio, him having his Minimoog in one corner so we were thinking DI a little bit… that was quite new to me because we were very much “a band” and I realised “oh, you can just plug a keyboard into the desk”.

It was friendly but I was knocked sideways a bit by working with him. There was a piece that me and John Foxx wrote together called ‘Slip Away’, I wrote a piece of music that he liked and then he connected it with a song that he’d written. So it went into my music with a minimalist feel to it before my mesmerising grand piano which was very classical. I was very proud of it and we laid it down like we had in rehearsals. It was like I was finding my sound because it was greys into black, that was the feeling, a bit like ‘Rage In Eden’, put a bit of reverb in it and the beautiful sound made you tingle.

So what’s the story about what happened in your absence?

While I was out of the studio, mischievous Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite changed it and upset the applecart. Eno got his Minimoog out and on the minimalist syncopated spacey bit, he detuned that, like he’d got his destroy mode in. And when it came into my keyboards which are still in there, he did this beautiful colourful Minimoog sound that copied my top piano line and let the echo go into the next bit. So he was breaking the rules, it must have seemed a bit stiff to him what I did, so I felt he was trying to mess it up a little bit. Even at the end, there’s that “woo-woo-woo” echo coming through from that initial bit.

I wasn’t against any of it, I was finding my feet at the time so it blew my mind, but then I felt it was very colourful and I just accepted it. I mean we were going forward and we had Brian Eno producing us! But the idea of a producer was a little bit “hang on a minute” at first, I like to be in control, we were all like that, John was too but he had opened up himself to be produced which in a way, you’re kind of manipulated in some ways.

You’ve got to remember Brian Eno didn’t do that much on this debut album. But he was a lovely man and came in with this lovely food and these fantastic girlfriends, usually Swedish and that was very nice *laughs*

Were these sessions with Brian Eno the first time you were formally introduced to synthesizers?

When I was 19, I was in a band that didn’t get anywhere. I’d been coming towards keyboards in that band but they only had a Hammond organ which wasn’t my kind of thing. Our tech guy Vince had a flat in Willesden and one of the band’s that would come round to him to get their gear fixed was HAWKWIND, that was fun watching them! They brought in this oscillator box with two little joysticks on. Vince let me have a play so I sat there with headphones lifting the sound up and down, it was very basic but it had a big effect on me.

I had a go on a Mellotron in 1971, I was working with a singer songwriter called Jeff Starrs. Our manager Mark Plumber who worked for Melody Maker knew Kit Lambert who managed THE STRAWBS and we did a support gig with them. They invited me to their studio to get a demonstration of the Mellotron, Blue Weaver did it for me, a very lovely guy. This was so I could play it on Mark’s wife’s song. I produced the song and played Mellotron on it. This was in Pye Studios near Edgware Road and very state of the art at the time. Mark’s wife did not get a release with her songs. It was a fascinating experience for me though. The string sound was so unforgiving. It felt like I was sticking sellotape on the track, no touch sensitivity. It was powerful though and certainly lifted the track. It is a pity it wasn’t mine and Jeff’s music I was working on.

So the real first time was Brian Eno’s Minimoog with his funny little paintings to describe the sounds. He knew he’d blown my mind and he showed me some things that were fascinating. For the end of the album, John Foxx had the idea of ‘My Sex’… I didn’t do the synthesizer on that, I did the piano but I was watching Eno and loved the way he did the simple harmony and from that, I could see how powerful synthesizers were and that stayed with me. I like complication as well but I do love simplicity. And when Eno did another melody, exactly the same but using a major third above, I was like “F*CKING HELL”! I used to love doing that with sustained guitar like in ‘Lonely Hunter’ working with Steve Lillywhite, you would feel it in your heart. This was similar but in a different way because the sustain was on the Minimoog and you would put another harmony on the sustain, and that would be very powerful.

You got onto string machines as well?

On our demos for our first album, like ‘Dangerous Rhythm’, I was hiring things like the Elka string machine. I did try other string machines like the ARP Solina and I was like “UGH! DON’T WANT!”, the vibrato wasn’t right with my idea of strings and don’t forget, we were spending our own money then. But when I got the Elka Rhapsody, I was blown away so that’s why it’s used on ‘Dangerous Rhythm’. So that was the beginning of these melodies cutting through, I always had a problem with keyboards not cutting through in a loud band as ULTRAVOX! was at the time with the punk and new wave period.

This is interesting because what you say Eno did seems to contradict what he says about himself being a non-musician…

It was musical, but quite simple. I think Eno was pulled along a bit with us… going from major to minor, it’s not something I would have done because it was a bit bluesy, but I loved it. But yes, it was quite classical but there was dissonance inside ‘My Sex’ because he also did a another synthesizer counter-melody which goes right through it and you get this great clash which is a B Natural against a B Flat, so he was enjoying that was well. He would have seen that I was a classical musician but he knew I was in the middle of trying to create my own thing, so probably held back from completely destroying it *laughs*


So the first card is an ARP Solus, of course you are one of the main exponents of the ARP Odyssey… how did you come across it?

I was thinking about all of this, especially with the thing I’m doing with Dina Pearlman, it was a bit of luck really. I’d had a go on Eno’s Minimoog and Chris Cross hadn’t bought his one yet, that was later before ‘Systems Of Romance’. I didn’t like the look of the Minimoog with the board in front of you because I was such an egoist, I didn’t want anything covering my body *laughs*

When I was playing live, I was very aware of the physical thing, I was imagining playing it stood up and what it would look like. Someone on the grapevine suggested the Odyssey and said it was really pokey which is what I wanted. I was suffering from not having a proper piano, I didn’t like the Wurlitzer or the Fender Rhodes because they were too jazzy. So I ended up with an RMI which sounded like a piano but had this horrible sustain constantly and kept getting lost in the mix, so I wanted something that would cut through.

None of this was cheap though?

Island were throwing some money at ULTRAVOX! so we got the Odyssey and an electric Fender violin, it was just the luck of the draw and we got a good deal. But it was quite expensive, so some of the sh*t we got from the punk people was probably deserved. At first, I thought I’d made a big mistake… there was this book and these silly cutover pages to put over it to show you where to position the sliders. I tried the strings setting of course and that was laughable and then woodwinds but eventually, I told myself to stop being so cynical. I was a classical musician but I’d kicked a lot of that stuff to touch! I didn’t want to play something that sounded like a clarinet or flute!

I wanted to express myself, I’d been able to do it on the violin but it didn’t really work in a rock band because of the lack of development in the amplification of it. The Fender violin did cut through but the pick-up used to feedback and we got complaints! While practicing at home, I had this woodwind sound on the Odyssey but I may have made a mistake and it had this vibrato on it. So I had to check where it was coming from, I looked to the left where the portamento was and it was the LFO. I went “I like that” and it got wider and wider and wider. But the mathematic process of it of being exact started to appeal to me… so if you pushed it forward and it would go up, then down, push it a bit further and it would go wider. So it was doing this “wow-wow-wow-wow” thing which I thought was really good.

I was trying to work out why this machine was expressive, this was amazing and something else! I had vibrato on the violin and viola, it’s what I liked so I was drawn to this. I’d learnt violin and viola from the age of 11 and looking back, what I did with the ARP was the same, I needed something for my soul to express myself. I just loved how expressive it was.

I was also learning about the voltage control oscillator and voltage control frequency in the middle; I knew if you brought them down, you got this thing where the sound would come in from the top and then down through like ridiculous, it would blow your ears apart!

That would have been mad!

I used to do that on stage in the ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ period and you could see people wince! I would have other wacky things like in the middle section of ‘Artificial Life’, just playing completely ad-hoc, weird aggressive stuff that was reminiscent of ROXY MUSIC. It was a case of playing live and working through the process.

That would later change because I would bring these two sliders in the middle close together to be a softer sound, not so harsh. I found a way to with two fingers to slide between the two sliders with my right hand… it didn’t have touch sensitivity but doing this, I would make something like the verse of ‘Vienna’ sound, like it was touch sensitive by bringing the amplification up a bit and you could turn your other finger to bring the frequency up. It would go “woah-oooh” with a bit of filter on it!

After ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!’ and ‘Systems Or Romance’, I learnt certain things that I really liked for that Billy Currie sound that I got to working with Gary Numan in 1979, then VISAGE and the solo on ‘Sleepwalk’. But that was finding a sound that would cut through. You’ve got to remember that the late 70s was very volatile, if you did a gig, it was very over-the-top, very loud and very crazy as the punters were very vocal and mad. It was nice to know you were being heard! I think I fell for the rock and roll thing a little bit, trying to be as loud as possible! *laughs*

Are you a frustrated guitarist in a way?

Not really, but I did play the guitar but I’ve never really had that desire. It was the first thing I learnt with my cousin David coming over. I was always fascinated by the guitar, it was why I wanted to be in a band in the first place, listening to things like SPIRIT ‘Mechanical World’, what blew my mind was the effects on the guitar, all that phasing and flanging.

During the pre-ULTRAVOX band TIGER LILY, in the Kings Cross rehearsal room someone left an acoustic guitar. I picked it up and played it doing this spacey finger picking and John Foxx was giving me that look of “oh, he’s a clever sod!” *laughs*

When Robin Simon joined ULTRAVOX, we messed about with pedals, I was always excited by the guitar with Midge as well, and I always loved the sound he used to get.

The next card is a Korg Mono/Poly…

That’s a bit contradictory! I don’t know that one…

Have you used much Korg stuff?

I’ve used the Korg M1 in 1987-89, I didn’t use it that much. It felt a bit like with the Roland D-50, it was sold on the first two preset sounds but when you tried to get into it, I found it rather unfriendly, the sounds were very clunky. I did use it when I was doing the HUMANIA album but I found it a bit limiting because you were more like a computer programmer doing all the increments, it was the start of all that kind of stuff. I should have been used to it but I never was, you had this on the PPG which came out in 1982. All this increments stuff to change the sound? I was used to knobs and sliders.

When I was working with Tony Fenelle for the ULTRAVOX ‘Revelation’ album, when I went on the road, I bought this big Korg 01/W Pro X with a nice weighted keyboard action and 88 chunky keys. That ended up being the MIDI master keyboard in my studio. I used it on three tracks I wrote in 1995, ‘Sisters & Brothers’, ‘Leap’ and ‘Quiet Words’ which are on ‘The Keys & The Fiddle’ album, those weird piano sounds. But I replaced it with the Yamaha CP300 in 2009.

Korg has had an interesting part in my life, but not that creative somehow, I wasn’t getting enough crazy creativity from them.

You mentioned the PPG, what interested you in acquiring the Wave 2.2?

Good question, that was just looking for new stuff and we would have got it just before the ‘Quartet’ album, we bought a Waveterm with it as well… God! It cost a fortune and could feed a country!! *laughs*

What was the PPG system like to use?

I loved it and it was still eccentric so it was exciting, we used it on the ‘Lament’ album as well. I can zoom in straight to a track called ‘When The Scream Subsides’.

There’s a bit in the chorus, that’s a PPG and I’m quite proud of that but if you solo it, the thing is falling to bits, there’s all sorts of stuff going on but what comes through is this creamy bright sound. You could go mad trying to work it, you would play it in the studio and you’d like that sound.

So it was all PPG in the solo of ‘When The Scream Subsides’, that was the height of the ‘Quartet’ album for me, that crisp metally sound… I remember doing that and the late Geoff Emerick who engineering went “Nice one!” *laughs*

The 40th anniversary of ‘Quartet’ has just happened, how do you look back on the album?

Yeah, it was excellent, I enjoyed doing it, it was great working with George Martin and Geoff Emerick, such great people and John Jacobs who often never gets mentioned, me and him used to stay in Air Studios until 4am.

Then there was tour that came with it featuring the huge ‘Monument’ stage set and that massive keyboard set-up…

It was a bit crazy! *laughs*

It was really good, I was trying to get natural distortion of out the ARP Odyssey and that’s why I took to the OSCar when it appeared because it had that overdrive like natural distortion. Chris Huggett came up with it, he’s sadly no longer with us…

Is it true Chris Huggett designed the OSCar with you in mind?

Yeah! He came to show it to us while we were making ‘Lament’, “Sound 1” and what a big ego trip I was on, was based on my ARP solo sound with that slight overdrive to it. On the ‘Quartet’ tour, it was very over-the-top, I got two Martin bins with three-way crossover as my own PA. My hearing is ok but I had to lean in on the right when I was playing the ARP because that ear is not as good as the left. There were people complaining because it was so directional that they could hear only me! *laughs*

Did you actually use everything on stage?

It was a ridiculous set-up then but the biggest keyboard set-up I got was on the ‘Lament’ tour…. there was my usual but on my left, I had a Yamaha GS-1, CS-80 and the PPG but then when I turned around to the back, there was a Prophet T8 and a Yamaha DX7 on top of that… I never actually played it, it was just something to look at! *laughs*

When Chris Huggett came in to show us the OSCar, three of us bought it and they got used. Midge learnt how to use the sequencer for ‘Love’s Great Adventure’ and Chris would do some basslines with it, but we were quite critical as it wasn’t as heavy as the Minimoog. When we were doing the ‘U-Vox’ album, our famous end of (*big laugh*), he came down with his salesman Paul Wiffen and they showed us this thing that was like the Emulator, but the company all went a bit tits-up when they overdid it and went bankrupt so it didn’t happen.

Going back to the 1979 Gary Numan tour, Chris Payne mentioned that although you had tons of keyboards, several were spares?

In ULTRAVOX, there weren’t many spares but I did have a spare ARP; however if the GS-1 went down, we were absolutely knackered and we didn’t have a spare CS-80. But I remember with Gary, he made sure that there was a spare Minimoog.

On ‘The Touring Principle’, you did what many have cited as your best ever solo on a cover of ‘On Broadway’…

Yes, it was good, it was an opening… when Gary said we were doing ‘On Broadway’, I thought it was quite wacky and sounded pretty wild, I sort of just fell into it. We started writing, a combination of me, Chris Payne and Gary, I was holding down chords on the Yamaha SS-30 string machine as he was singing. There was an arrangement vibe going on and it just came about. I was always up for a solo so I might have just got ahead and done it, I was at that point then.

It was showing a bit of ‘Systems Of Romance’, like the solo on ‘Slow Motion’ but I wasn’t being let loose there. Here, I wasn’t so entrenched so I probably initiated it myself. Chris related to the arrangement so when Gary stopped singing, I would have gone onto the ARP and him onto the Polymoog with that ‘Cars’ vox humana sound.

I said “Right, that ends in F sharp major, when I start the solo on the A, we change to minor” and Gary was like “YUP!” because it was like ULTRAVOX. But Chris’ big chords were pulled back so that you could hear me, especially because he is also classically trained and a better keyboard player than me, he went much further at college on piano, I only went to Grade 4 *laughs*

I haven’t heard it in ages but I was still learning about the ARP Odyssey then… at the side of it, there was this octave thing that dropped it two bloody octaves so you had to get used to that. If you didn’t want to drop down, you’ve got to play on a different place on the keyboard, otherwise, you get lost. If you wanted to drop two octaves, then you stayed where you were.

It is a magnificent bit of playing… 

I can remember building the solo and it went round quite a while, it was such a buzz live because that was the first time I’d ever got to that level of theatres. I stayed down with that whirring, that was the unison thing between the two oscillators, you played on one of them while they were in unison and you’d turn the octave switch back to normal and go up two octaves. I added a bit of portamento as well which worked and was bang on, that was lucky. But I’d learnt to do portamento, so it came right up to the note at the beginning of the bar.

But cutting to the chase, I used a bit of that solo in the middle of the solo in ‘Astradyne’. I thought “I really like playing that” so that’s why that bit of ‘On Broadway’ ended up in there, but you wouldn’t really know, It was just great fun, I loved it. I was always this kind of person who wanted to be pushed out right to the front, which is why I was never happy being the viola player, even as a lead in an orchestra, it was never enough for me. I can play in the middle of a group and look at what’s going on arrangements, but I always have to have a moment right out front. John Foxx realised that because you’ve got to be careful when you have a personality like that in a group who can p*ss people off! *laughs*

I was lucky when the next line-up came together because working with Midge, he knew what kind of person I was because we’d worked together in VISAGE, so I had to be let loose. It was the same with Midge, he was the kind of guy who could stay a bit back which was really good, and he’d accompany me nicely on the keyboards and guitar, those nice Strat guitar chords. And of course, he had his time at the front with his guitar.

You used a bit of the end of ‘On Broadway’ on a solo track called ‘Matsang River’ from ‘Accidental Poetry Of The Structure’ which has just been reissued on Burning Shed, are you signed to them or are they licencing your material?

It’s a label run by musicians for musicians founded by Tim Bowness, so they know how het up we all get when we see a contract put in front of us, heart attack material and fights for months! So they don’t do that at all, it’s a gentlemen’s agreement. I like it and that’s that, we split everything equally, 50/50. So far it’s been working really good and I just like the people.

That ‘Matsang River’ thing, I was going to call that ‘Off Broadway’ but I thought that would be too obvious. I called it ‘Matsang River’ because I was interested in the Tibet problem with China.

When I finished that ‘On Broadway’ solo, I got into a Rick Wakeman position of playing the ARP and leaning across to the right and playing something on the Yamaha SS-30 string machine at the same time… I used to like doubling melodies and even on our first ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ playing ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’, I was doing that, playing two keyboards. I did a bit of playful ad-lib before it ended so I thought why not just use that.

So with this solo album reissue series, are you going in reverse chronological order? Like when is your first solo record ‘Transportation’ likely to come out again?

About 2052! *laughs*

We are going backwards but I am looking forward to reissuing ‘Transportation’. I will be doing ‘Still Movement’ next week when I’ve done my VAT!

‘Airlift’, the opening track on ‘Transportation’ is like “Yes, I’m free! This is me and this is what I can do”, was it an emotional release after the ‘U-Vox’ debacle?

It’s nice to hear Chi that you’re picking up on that, I know it’s a bit obvious but it was a long time ago. So yes, that’s what it was and it’s got some nice PPG on it, that has a nice roughness about it. The piano is a Technics PX-1…

Didn’t you use that on the ‘U-Vox’ tour? *laughs*

Yeah! You remember that! Did it not sound so good? *laughs*

I didn’t think the Technics was as good as your Yamaha piano…

… that’s because it didn’t have that natural string expansion… yes, it was a bit trite sounding, I hung onto it but got rid of it when those nice little boxes that you could MIDI to your keyboard came out, I used one of the ‘Unearthed’ album.

With ‘Airlift’, there’s a whole raft of keyboards. The solo at the beginning was a jazzy brass thing like a soprano sax, that was played with the first Akai 8-bit sampler, not even 16 bit! It was great to do that album, MIDI was a big thing there, I had the Prophet 2000, ULTRAVOX’s old Waveterm, an Oberheim, I’d be linking 3 or 4 sounds together, it what you did at that time.

I did start a solo album in early 1983 which I had to abandon when we took the ‘Quartet’ tour to America, it later made up what became ‘The Keys & The Fiddle’…

The next card is an EMS VCS3…

EMS, yes Chris Cross had one around the time of ‘Systems Of Romance’; it was the Synthi AKS with the blue touchpad keyboard and he used it for basslines before he had the Minimoog. It was troublesome to keep it in tune, so that was 10 out of 10 for tenacity for doing that. I particularly remember it when we went over to America when he was let loose with that, he never knew quite what was going to be coming out of it, a bit like an Eno gig.

There was a track called ‘Radio Beach’ which we played but never recorded, Chris loved chaos more so than me, I would be playing this sound on the ARP to this glam beat, the Americans seemed to love it. At the end, Chris would set his AKS free so there were all these crazy sounds. There was also ‘He’s A Liquid’ and ‘Touch & Go’ which John Foxx later recorded.

So ‘Touch & Go’ and ‘Mr X’, were they basically the same song that went into two directions?

Yes, we rehearsed at a studio in Kingsway and recorded ‘He’s A Liquid’ and ‘Touch & Go’ playing them live. I knew that John was going to record them both which annoyed me a bit because that’s how things were. But I knew he was not the type of person who would get into litigation, so if he was going to record ‘He’s A Liquid’ which I did write a bit of, especially that descending bit in the middle, then I thought I’d have the melody from ‘Touch & Go’ which I didn’t write much of. I knew he wouldn’t do anything about it because me and John got on, he understood me and I understood him. It was lucky but we just didn’t want to go down that route. It was also good how he let the ULTRAVOX name carry on, not mentioning other people who wouldn’t let it carry on! *deep laugh*


How involved did you get with the recent ‘Rage In Eden’ boxed set and the Steve Wilson remixes?

I fully got involved with Dermot James at Chrysalis, they are doing a great job and he is very thorough. He wanted me to go up to Steven Wilson’s studio to go over a few things, like ‘The Ascent’, Dermot had done his homework and knew I’d written it. I must admit, I was a bit nervous about it because I’m not always that good at getting right involved in something from years ago.

You’ve got this thing where it’s almost like opening up ghosts. But there’s another side to me which is adventurous. Steven Wilson lives near me and is a nice guy, he has a lovely studio. I sat and watched what was going on there as it was going through Logic. I saw what he was doing with ‘The Ascent’ and he kept my original piano which I was pleased about. I thought it was interesting the way he accented the theme and I knew from the music he does that he would be quite interested in certain things like that and ‘Stranger Within’ where Chris and Warren came up with something that was just odd in 10/4 time.

I know he’s into weird time signatures with his band PORCUPINE TREE so with ‘I Never Wanted To Begin’, I’m sure he really related to that because there’s a mad bit where I stubbornly carry on playing in 7/4 time with the violin until it meets up again on the first of the bar. Amazingly, Chris Cross played along with me musically on that one and did the ringing using a Roland sequencer. Steven Wilson will have got off on that and he did a good job, he’s not afraid of working with a violin.


Where did you see Steven Wilson’s approach as being different?

He put some space and air in places that never should be there like ‘The Thin Wall’ because it’s all very tight and controlled on our version with Conny Plank. I let go as well because it’s the second one, I was a little bit concerned when he did ‘Vienna’ but once you get through the first one, it’s OK.

We did have a bit of a mix-up because there was a version of ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ he wanted to call work-in-progess. It was not but I came round to it as it was a rough mix that Conny had knocked up on 2 tracks that had this middle section that I wrote and I wanted to hear the keyboard parts. I backed off because I understand it’s interesting for ULTRAVOX fans to hear it now as a work-in-progress. I remember thinking “f**king hell, it’s driving me nuts!” because it sounded wrong… when you make an album and keep hearing something that’s wrong, it has an effect on you, I’m very sensitive. You’re pushing through to accomplish your art, to get it past the winning post. That was the only thing I got bothered about but it is what it says, a work-in-progess.

Staying on ‘Rage In Eden’, what was it like working with the late Conny Plank because ULTRAVOX did 4 albums with him?

Yeah, it was good working with Conny Plank… a lot of people forget he did the ‘U-Vox’ album, he actually came over to London and he stayed at my house in Notting Hill. The guys from KILLING JOKE came round while we were working, he was at the desk with a big joint! *laughs*

My last memory of him was saying goodbye to him in Montserrat, I drove him to the airport after the ‘U-Vox’ mixing. But it just didn’t seem right because our relationship was very strained, George Martin turned up and I think Conny was a bit under-the-cosh. He wasn’t happy, he didn’t like the SSL desk and he actually recorded some compression on the vocals of ‘All Fall Down’ which was a terrible thing to do. Conny never did that so he obviously wasn’t in the right place, we tried to remix that track. Then he went off to do that tour of South America with Dieter Moebius where he was playing Flugelhorn, he had been practising at my house and I loved it.

I actually love wind stuff, in my first band, I was playing with a sax player who also played viola. I actually got some nice sax sounds on the ARP which was instigated by Conny. Of course, they’re not real sax sounds, I wouldn’t do something so naff but the bite of it fitted in with the music like ‘Someone Else’s Clothes’ and ‘Some Of Them’ on ‘Systems Of Romance’, doing it in duophonic which had a natural distortion and was very interesting…

There’s a bit in the middle of ‘Astradyne’ where the phrasing is quite saxy

Yeah, we were doing all these things with synthesizers, you’d make it up as you go along. Instruments exist but the synthesizer doesn’t really, it will do what it bloody well likes! *laughs*

Conny would be wide open to stuff like that, he knew exactly how to place it in the mix. I mean I wouldn’t really know but he was right tuned in there, just like when we did ‘Dislocation’. All I did was get the little box and plug it in with a sequencer and we used a clock CV from ‘Just For A Moment’; the bass drum had carried on and on and on with nothing else on so that pushed my basslines along, Eventually when the drum clocked it along, it did that powerful unsettling phrase, you can hear some really ad-hoc stuff in there where I’m making the notes by moving the slider. It’s Conny, he just got hold of it and made the echoes when John did the vocal. I remember blowing Gary Numan’s mind when I took a white label to play it at this Bowie night we were at…


How would you describe your relationship with Conny?

My relationship with Conny was very much in the fact he knew what we were doing and he was right in there, making it happen. He was psychic in a way because he was one step ahead of us when we were coming up with stuff, thinking of how it was going to work out and laying it in with everything else.

I couldn’t cope too much with stuff like talking boll*cks in the kitchen, I wasn’t very good at that and I just wanted to get on with the music… he knew me like that, but I was definitely someone you could trust. We didn’t particularly do anything sociable together even when he was staying over at my house, it was kept to business. But I don’t think he liked any other studio apart from his own near Cologne.

His head wasn’t good over in Montserrat and I think it might have been the first signs of him not being very well. He was a lovely guy, I don’t think I ever had any rows with him… but he might have made a few noises to get me to shut up sometimes if it looked like one might brew up, to remind us that we were at his place.

Time for another card and it’s the Roland Jupiter 8… now I know you were an Oberheim man, so out of those polysynths, why did you opt for an OBX rather than say, any of the Jupiters or the Sequential Prophet 5?

I liked the Prophet 5, Dave Formula had one and we used it on the ULTRAVOX B-side ‘Paths & Angles’… after that, I don’t know why I didn’t use it more. The Roland, I messed about with it but I never went down there. I liked the Oberheim, I got the sounds that I used on ‘Rage In Eden’ quite quickly, there was just some character about it which I found really eerie and quite pokey.

I remember when Chrysalis sent us the 24 track masters, it was quite mind-blowing to hear Midge’s isolated vocals on ‘Vienna’ 40 years later, that was quite interesting. But there’s things like on ‘Accent On Youth’ where the Oberheim slides up into the verse, it was so f*cking loud but Conny knew how to fit it in, now that’s good mixing! I was lucky to find that sound from the Oberheim which comes into the instrumental on ‘Accent On Youth’ and then ‘The Ascent’ which sounds like an Eastern European choir, that deep “doo-doo, doo-doo-dooh”… when I listened to it, I was like “F*CK OFF! THAT’S JUST AMAZING”, I just love it and yet when you listen to it, it’s almost a bit tacky but because you can hear the sharpness of it, it sounds like male voices. I also like the solo sound that I got for the end of ‘We Stand Alone’. It had good character but it took me a while to get into it.

I later got the Matrix 12 as well, but it didn’t fit with my head, it was all the dials and everything. I sometimes used a programmer Mel Wesson on the ‘Transportation’ album. I also used the Oberheim on the ‘U-Vox’ tour to bring some crunch into it as I was using a stack of DX7s in the TX816 modules.

Photo by Brian Griffin

Talking of male voices, how did reversing the tape of Midge from ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ for that really eerie chorus of the ‘Rage In Eden’ title track come about?

That was excellent, it was Midge on a roll there. This was how confident we’d got by then, this was our moment, I thought “I haven’t got anything to do on this!” and the rest of the band just looked at me like “f*cking hell”. Midge came up with most of it but of course Warren and Chris were getting their stuff together. I think Midge just suggested the idea to Conny or maybe Conny suggested using a tape backwards.

It just fitted with the feel of the song, especially alongside Midge doing his Strat anthemic kind of thing, he had a way of hitting it so that he didn’t hit it too hard, it was a style he came up with, it’s not heavy.

Another card, it’s the Korg MS-20, DAF used one of these connected to a Korg Analog Sequencer on the classic stuff they did with Conny Plank like ‘Kebabträume’…

There was a lot of stuff coming out then so you’d do your own little thing because it was expensive, we only really started throwing our money around in 1981. Things were developing each month for things like that and you’d do it all different ways. HEAVEN 17 would do it a different way, talking to Martyn Ware, they’d have their own bag of tricks and keep it to themselves.

I had an ARP sequencer which I used on VISAGE ‘Blocks On Blocks’, it’s a great sound when you put it in octaves.

Talking of VISAGE, the 40th anniversary of ‘The Anvil’ happened in the Spring and some of your most underrated work is on that, I love ‘Again We Love’ and the instrumental ‘Whispers’…

‘Again We Love’ has got that middle section I did, I listened to it a few years ago, it’s got the ARP in there, after the “again we love” bit, there’s that Minimoog doing the thudding in there, it was like “yeah, we love that!”; we were also using my Roland drum machine on that album which had been doctored by our tech guy Pete Wood, I sold it to Rusty Egan.

We’d just done the ‘Rage In Eden’ album so my memories of doing ‘The Anvil’ aren’t that good because I was tired and I knew Midge was tired as well, so there were efforts to avoid friction on that album because we were so knackered. We’d had a holiday so I’m not complaining but to take on another album was really quite something! *laughs*

I have fantastic memories of ‘Whispers’, I had a lot to do with that one… we were wrapping up the album and I wrote it right near the end. I enjoyed working with John Hudson, he’d sussed out this CS-80, that melody was really nice, it was the heart pouring out…

‘Whispers’ is a track of yours that no-one talks about but it is brilliant…

Oh, thank you very much.

Photo by Denis O’Regan

What about the ARP Odyssey solo on ‘The Anvil’ title track?

Oh, that’s not me, that’s Dave Formula… he had an ARP Odyssey but our sounds were very different, that’s very Dave. It was great working with him, he was so off the wall because he’s from a jazz background.

So when I wrote ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’, our faces were against to wall to come up with another ‘Fade To Grey’. So Dave did this off-the wall middle section, he was an exceptional keyboard player. He was big on the CS-80 and Prophet 5, he did the middle section of ‘Blocks On Blocks’ as well.

We gelled very well. One of the points we loosened up was when we did the backing track of ‘Night Train’. I came up with the chorus, I loved soul music when I was 15-16 and I’d heard Midge come up with some funk and soul on ‘The Horseman’… I was in the studio and I was like “what the f*ck’s he doing now?”, I thought he’d lost the plot as we were so tired… but then I was thinking “I like this”.

So was ’Night Train’ almost jammed?

Once I did that brassy chorus of ’Night Train’, before I knew it, everyone was getting round me like Barry Adamson on bass and Rusty… it’s great to play drums with Rusty, it’s very different to playing with Warren, can you imagine the atmosphere in the place? *laughs*

Often in a studio, you are just messing around, trying to get a sequencer to bloody work, so when ‘Night Train’ was coming together, I’ve just got this memory of being in a different band, the way we just slowed down a bit, went into the chorus and sped it up. There was no code, it was real time. If you listen to ‘Night Train’, it speeds up and slows down. When you’re working with a great bass player like Barry, you just know because he’s nodding and pulling silly faces, it was just so much fun to work with him, such a lunatic *laughs*

Then John McGeoch came up with a sax part and it was great to have that on, but ‘Night Train’ went into a bit more normal VISAGE in the middle eight which was Midge’s contribution, it pulled it back into being more European.

I get the impression that on ‘The Anvil’, there was more of a willingness to experiment with funkier ideas that weren’t possible to incorporate in ULTRAVOX?

Yeah, you wouldn’t do it in ULTRAVOX, but there was some frustrations creeping in a little bit. I came up with ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ and while we were rehearsing, I wanted something with a bit of a swing to it, a bit like Steve Miller ‘Abracadabra’ because I like dance music, and Warren was like “are you having a laugh?”. It had such a hooky melody, I felt it could swing to make it more dancey but that didn’t come off and I was happy with what we ended up with. Two-thirds into ‘Rage In Eden’, you do then realise it was the right direction. But I had to be careful, Midge was on my page a little bit, we didn’t want to do anything too naff, thinking we could do soul and funk.

Another story and I’m digressing a bit here, but I remember when we went on the road, Tony Thompson from CHIC and John Taylor from DURAN DURAN came over to check me out about getting involved with this project that would have Robert Palmer singing called THE POWER STATION. I was given a time and a rehearsal place to come to, but I was in the middle of the ‘Lament’ tour and I didn’t turn up! *laughs*

Of course, the song you had with ‘Dancing…’ in the title, you couldn’t actually dance to it! *laughs*

If you analyse it now, dance to that? You’d need a pair of clogs and some sticks holding you up! *laughs*

I used to want some more dancey stuff but it went tits up in VISAGE because of that! Midge eventually left because Rusty got in this American producer John Luongo to remix ‘Night Train’. I liked it but Midge cut himself off and walked out, that caused a few ructions because I didn’t.

VISAGE was a bit of a knock-up, sometimes I forgot that because I loved it so much. But let’s face it, if you gonna get involved in it after an album from ULTRAVOX like ‘Rage In Eden’, you’re not going to just mess about are you? Otherwise you wouldn’t do it. I may have got a bit more involved than I intended to but I liked the move towards a more soulful thing.

One thing about ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ was it got me checking out Michael Rother ‘Sonnnenrad’ which inspired it…

I know this sounds a bit arrogant, but ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ wasn’t very hard to do for me, it was quite easy. In 1983, we were searching for a new direction and the atmosphere in ULTRAVOX wasn’t very good at all. So we were trying all these different things and I was taking a bit of a step back from writing which was unusual for me. I saw what experimental stuff was coming out and I wasn’t into the band much, I was hanging on by the coat tails really. So I thought I would go right ahead and do something which I knew the fans would love, because they would recognise it as vintage ULTRAVOX, almost going backwards and going against the grain.

At home, I had a Boyd mini-grand piano art-deco thing, that sounds a bit fancy but it was the 80s… Conny had given me this album he produced, ‘Sterntaler’ by Michael Rother. That melody on the opening track ‘Sonnnenrad’, it was very relaxing and pleasing, it was just nice … no hassle and I came up with this other thing that was doing fourths resolving to a minor which was very Michael Rother, but then the scale came right up perfectly in thirds. Then you start doing things that are quite German. I’d got used to doing this from all the touring I’d done.

So I appeared in rehearsal with this thing and Midge was like “thank f*ck you’re doing something”… I’d got the arse because I wasn’t happy with things, what had happened in VISAGE was dragged into ULTRAVOX so he was very much “bring it on!”; before I knew it, he’d got a nice feel with the guitar and quickly got the verse and it was like “Sh*t, here we go! It’s a hit!”

The way Midge went into that verse, he did a great vocal… I walked into Mayfair Studios when he was singing that and I thought “F*cking hell! He’s thrown the kitchen sink at that! Well done my son!”; I mean, after all the aggro and bad atmosphere, you’ve got to get releases and he must have doubled it about 36 times!

Final question and I’m interested because I am descended from Hong Kong immigrants, but is ‘White China’ on ‘Lament’ about the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Communist Red China?

Yes, I think it was; I was a bit naïve and didn’t discuss it with Midge then because it really wasn’t a good time, and I thought if he was going to delve into politics, it wasn’t a good time to discuss that either. It was unfortunate but sometimes when bands work so intensely together, it doesn’t seem appropriate to ask questions, we’d always worked on this assumption that we’d get our own meanings for ourselves out of the lyrics. In the 80s line-up, it was never “it means this”; my interpretation of ‘White China’ was about Hong Kong being taken over by the British to sell illicit opium… when countries change like that, it does make you think, how does it end? It’s not good now how China is trying to make Hong Kong like the mainland, it’s a difficult situation.

What about ‘White China’ musically, it sounds like you were listening a lot to ‘Blue Monday’ by NEW ORDER!! *laughs*

Yes, it did a little bit, that was a new drum machine we’d got, the Sequential Drumtraks. Midge got that dancey triplet thing going on but ‘Lament’ was such a strange album, I don’t want to make a big deal out of it but it wasn’t a pleasant experience…


…in retrospect, the ‘Lament’ album sounds three-quarters finished…

Yes, I think it was, really we weren’t getting on too well. We might have done some more tracks if we had been! But I did like that rhythm on ‘White China’, it’s funny to think about it now because when it was being played through Warren’s monitors, that verse and the hi-hat, it sounded great. I remember Warren’s mad crew guy, he was an absolute lunatic jumping around to it! *laughs*


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Billy Currie

ULTRAVOX ‘Rage In Eden’ has been reissued as 40th Anniversary 5CD + DVD audio deluxe boxed set by Chrysalis Records, available from https://ultravox.tmstor.es/

A selection of solo works by Billy Currie is available on CD via Burning Shed at https://burningshed.com/store/billy-currie_store

‘2022: A 50 Year ARP Odyssey Synthposium’ takes place on Saturday 5th November 2022, details at https://alanrpearlmanfoundation.org/fall-synthposium-2022-a-50-year-arp-odyssey/

https://www.billycurrie.com/

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057882589562

https://open.spotify.com/artist/14sHnYweMuHQ3UH4f5UmOa

Vintage Synth Trumps 2 is a card game by GForce Software that features 52 classic synthesizers and available from
https://www.juno.co.uk/products/gforce-software-vintage-synth-trumps-2-playing/637937-01/


Text and interview by Chi Ming Lai
14th October 2022

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, there was a fantastic interplay between the band and a final celebratory section coming from an unexpected lift.

Billy Currie told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2012 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 Trevor Key

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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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.

‘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.

Photo by Pete Wood

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 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.

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!”

Photo by Paul Cox

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. But 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 and 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK 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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, 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’.

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

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”!

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

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

A Beginner’s Guide To MIDGE URE

Photo by George Hurrell

Midge Ure needs no introduction as one of the UK’s most highly regarded songwriters and musicians.

Best known for his involvement in ULTRAVOX’s ‘Vienna’, voted “the UK’s favourite No2 of all time” in a BBC Radio2 poll in 2013, the diminutive Glaswegian first found fame as the front man of SLIK. Their single ‘Forever & Ever’ became a UK No1 in 1975 and turned Ure briefly into a teen idol while the band had their own comic strip in Look-In magazine.

Luckily, SLIK could play their instruments and write their own material so in 1977 under the name PVC2, they released ‘Put You In The Picture’ on Zoom Records, a punkish single that sold more than anything by SIMPLE MINDS during their tenure on the label.

Having become fascinated by KRAFTWERK when they hit the UK charts with ‘Autobahn’ in 1975, he purchased his first synth, a Yamaha CS50 in 1977. So when Ure joined RICH KIDS and met drummer Rusty Egan, it was to change the course of his career when he subsequently founded VISAGE and joined ULTRAVOX.

VISAGE had been started in 1978 by Ure and Egan as a project to make up for the shortage of suitable European styled electronic dance music to play at The Blitz Club where the latter was the resident DJ. Needing a front man, they turned its doorman Steve Strange to act as Pied Piper to the colourful clientele who were later to be dubbed the New Romantics. Ure would subsequently help to deliver the movement’s signature song ‘Fade To Grey’.

Others involved in VISAGE included MAGAZINE’s John McGeoch, Dave Formula and Barry Adamson but also crucially Billy Currie, taking a break to heal his wounds from a recently fragmented ULTRAVOX following the departure of leader John Foxx. At the suggestion of Egan, Ure joined the band and the rest is history.

Photo by Brian Griffin

The classic ULTRAVOX line-up of Ure, Billy Currie, Chris Cross and Warren Cann had a run of twelve consecutive Top 40 hits singles in the UK before they imploded due to good old fashioned musical and personal differences, in the wake of Ure’s parallel solo career and his charity work with the Band Aid Trust.

But Ure was always been happiest in the studio and during his first ULTRAVOX phase, he also produced tracks for FATAL CHARM, MODERN MAN and MESSENGERS as well as Ronny, Phil Lynott and Peter Godwin, all while working on the second VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’.

The last ten years have been particularly busy for Ure. A regular on the live circuit with his endearingly intimate acoustic gigs featuring career highlights in stripped back form, he also undertook a number of key musical collaborations with European producers. But his most high profile project was the reformation of the classic ULTRAVOX line-up in 2009.

Following the winding down of ULTRAVOX after an arena tour opening for SIMPLE MINDS in late 2013, Ure returned to the acoustic format for two live tours backed by INDIA ELECTRIC CO. But Autumn 2017 sees Ure returning to synthesizers and electric guitars with his BAND ELECTRONICA tour.

He said on his website: “I want to revisit some material that I’ve not really been able to perform with the recent acoustic line-up, so you can expect to hear songs that haven’t been aired for a while as well as the classics and a couple of surprises! I’ve really enjoyed touring with a band and now I want to expand back to a four piece and return to a more electronic based format”

With that in mind, here is a look back at the career of Midge Ure and his great adventure in electronic music via this twenty track Beginner’s Guide, arranged in chronological order and with a restriction of one track per album / project


RICH KIDS Marching Men (1978)

Fresh from being ousted out of THE SEX PISTOLS, Glen Matlock offered Ure a place in his new power-pop combo RICH KIDS. An anti-Fascist anthem produced by the late Mick Ronson, ‘Marching Men’ was notable for Ure’s first use of his Yamaha CS50 on a recording, much to the dismay of Matlock, whose idea of a keyboard player was Ian McLagan from SMALL FACES. Eventually, the band imploded with Matlock and Steve New thinking guitars were the way to go, while Ure and Rusty Egan felt it was electronics.

Available on the RICH KIDS album ‘Ghosts Of Princes In Towers’ via EMI Music

http://www.glenmatlock.com/


VISAGE Tar (1979)

Despite the rejection by EMI, the first VISAGE demo of ‘In The Year 2525’ attracted the attention of producer Martin Rushent who wanted to release the collective’s music via his Genetic imprint through Radar Records. ‘Tar’ was a cautionary tale about smoking dominated by John McGeoch’s sax and Billy Currie’s ARP Odyssey. Alas, Radar Records had funding pulled from its parent company Warners just as the single was released, stalling any potential it had. As the album was put on hold, Ure found yet another lifeline.

Available on the VISAGE album ‘Visage’ via Spectrum

http://www.therealvisage.com/


ULTRAVOX All Stood Still (1980)

Ure joined ULTRAVOX to record the now classic ‘Vienna’ album, although it was testament to Conny Plank’s faith in the band that he continued to work with them after John Foxx left. On ‘All Stood Still’, Ure put his live experience with THIN LIZZY to good use on this fine barrage of synthesizer heavy metal about an impending nuclear holocaust. Driven by Chris Cross’ triggered Minimoog bass and Warren Cann’s powerhouse drums, the interplay between Ure’s guitar and Currie’s ARP Odyssey was awesome.

Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Vienna’ via EMI Music

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


PHIL LYNOTT Yellow Pearl (1980)

German music formed a large part of Rusty Egan’s DJ sets at The Blitz Club and even Irish rocker Phil Lynott frequented it. ‘Yellow Pearl’ was a LA DÜSSELDORF inspired co-composition with Ure, while Rusty Egan later played drums on the remix which became the ‘Top Of The Pops’ theme in 1981. A VISAGE track in all but name, ‘Yellow Pearl’ was so draped in the involvement of Ure and Egan that it was almost forgotten that the figurehead of the song was the frontman of THIN LIZZY!

Available on the THIN LIZZY album ‘Greatest Hits’ via Universal Music

http://www.thinlizzy.org/phil.html


FATAL CHARM Paris (1981)

Nottingham combo FATAL CHARM supported ULTRAVOX and OMD in 1980. Their excellent first single ‘Paris’ was produced by Ure and their sound could be seen reflecting the synth flavoured new wave template of the period. Singer Sarah Simmonds’ feisty passion gave a freshly charged sexual ambiguity to the long distance love story written in the days before the Channel Tunnel. Instrumentalist Paul Arnall said: “We were able to use Midge’s Yamaha synth which gave it his sound”.

Available on the FATAL CHARM album ‘Plastic’ via Fatal Charm

http://fatalcharm.co.uk/


ULTRAVOX The Voice (1981)

Co-produced by Conny Plank, with the Motorik thrust of NEU! and a marvellous symphonic pomp, ‘The Voice’ was a fine example of the creative tension that had now emerged between Ure and Chris Cross on one side, and Billy Currie on the other. Characterised by the swimmy Yamaha SS30 string machine, a magnificent middle eight ARP Odyssey solo and piano run was the icing on the cake. The song took on a life of its own in a concert setting with an extended closing percussive barrage.

Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Rage In Eden’ via EMI Records

https://www.facebook.com/UltravoxUK/


VISAGE The Damned Don’t Cry (1982)

To the public at least, it was business as usual with the second album ‘The Anvil’ and its launch single ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’. Very much in the vein of ‘Fade To Grey’, it was full of synthesized European romanticism. But with Steve Strange and Rusty Egan now finding success with their club ventures and ULTRAVOX becoming ever more popular, it was unsurprising that ‘The Anvil’ lacked the focus of its predecessor. Internally, things had gone awry and tensions with Egan led to Ure bidding adieu to VISAGE.

Available on the VISAGE album ‘The Anvil’ via Rubellan Remasters

https://www.facebook.com/therealvisage/


MIDGE URE & CHRIS CROSS Rivets (1982 – released 1984)

Midge Ure and Chris Cross worked together on an eccentric synthesized spoken word album with eccentric British poet Maxwell Langdown entitled ‘The Bloodied Sword’. But their involvement in ‘Rivets’ came about when Levi’s® were about to launch their expensive new TV advertisment… an executive, unhappy with the soundtrack shouted “What we need on there is ‘Vienna’”! The campaign was a successful one and Ure was commissioned to submit music for the next commercial entitled ‘Threads’; however his ’633 Squadron’ inspired electronic tune was subjected to demands for rewrites by the paymasters so tired of the politics, Ure withdrew the track… that piece of music became ‘Love’s Great Adventure’.  Levi’s® sponsored ULTRAVOX’s ‘Set Movements’ tour and ‘Rivets’ was part of a cassette that came with the souvenir programme!

Originally released on ULTRAVOX ‘Set Movements 1984 Interview’ cassette, currently unavailable

https://twitter.com/CCrossky


MIDGE URE & MICK KARN After A Fashion (1983)

‘After A Fashion’ was a blistering sonic salvo that crossed the best of JAPAN’s rhythmical art muzak with ULTRAVOX’s ‘The Thin Wall’. However, it stalled at No39 in the UK singles charts and sadly, there was to be no album. But Mick Karn later played on ‘Remembrance Day’ in 1988 and Ure briefly joined JBK, the band formally known as JAPAN sans David Sylvian for an aborted project in 1992. Sadly Karn passed away in 2011 after losing his battle against cancer.

Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘No Regrets’ via EMI Gold

http://mickkarn.net/


MESSENGERS I Turn In (1983)

Glaswegian duo MESSENGERS were Danny Mitchell and Colin King whose only album ‘Concrete Scheme’ as MODERN MAN in 1980 was produced by Ure. The pair toured with ULTRAVOX as support during the ‘Quartet’ tour, as well as joining them on stage to augment their live sound. MESSENGERS’ debut single ‘I Turn In (To You)’ was also produced by Ure but criticised for being ULTRAVOX lite, although the song held its own with its dramatic widescreen passages.

Originally released as a single via Musicfest, currently unavailable

http://www.discog.info/modern-man-messengers.html


ULTRAVOX Man Of Two Worlds (1984)

An electro Celtic melodrama in four and a half minutes, the magnificent ‘Man Of Two Worlds’ was the highlight from ULTRAVOX’s self-produced ‘Lament’ long player. Featuring an eerie female Gaelic vocal from Stock Aitken & Waterman backing vocalist Mae McKenna, the doomed romantic novel imagery capturing a feeling of solitude with haunting synths, programmed Motorik rhythms and manual funk syncopation was an unusual template, even for the period.

Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Lament’ via EMI Music

https://twitter.com/UltravoxUK


MIDGE URE If I Was (1985)

‘No Regrets’ had been a big solo hit in 1982 so with ULTRAVOX on break, Ure took a busman’s holiday and recorded his first solo album ‘The Gift’. A song demoed by Danny Mitchell of MESSENGERS for their aborted long player, while there was a big anthemic chorus and vibrant string synth interludes, ‘If I Was’ was a very different beast from ULTRAVOX in that this was a love song. Featuring LEVEL 42’s Mark King on bass, it became a UK No1 single in the Autumn of 1985.

Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘The Gift’ via EMI Music

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/


MIDGE URE Man Of The World (1993 – released 1996)

As a reaction to the pomp of ULTRAVOX, Ure went back to basics with his ‘Out Alone’ tour in 1993 which featured acoustic renditions of his own songs and covers assisted by a pre-programmed keyboard. One song he performed was Peter Green’s ‘Man of the World’, a bittersweet song about a man who has everything he wants, except the companion he craves. A live recording ended up as a bonus track on the ‘Guns & Arrows’ single, but a studio version appeared on 2008’s ’10’ covers album.

Live version available on the MIDGE URE double album ‘Pure + Breathe’ via Edsel Records

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


JAM & SPOON Something To Remind Me (2003)

For Jam El Mar and Mark Spoon’s attempt at a ‘pop’ album, the German dance duo featured vocals on all the tracks and among those recruited were Dolores O’Riordan of THE CRANBERRIES and SIMPLE MINDS’ Jim Kerr. For his return to full blown electronica, Midge Ure’s contribution ‘Something To Remind Me’ was big on beats. Recording coincided with preparations for the ‘Sampled Looped & Trigger Happy’ tour which saw Ure use a more technologically driven format for live shows for the first time in many years.

Available on the JAM & SPOON album ‘Tripomatic Fairytales 3003’ via Universal Music

https://www.facebook.com/Jam-Spoon-59220848974/


X-PERIENCE Personal Heaven – Desert Dream radio mix (2007)

Thanks to his continued popularity in Germany, Ure was much in demand as a guest vocalist and was persuaded to record a song he had written with HEAVEN 17’s Glenn Gregory by dance production team X-PERIENCE. Duetting with Claudia Uhle, who provided her own sumptuous vocals to compliment the electronics and muted synthetic guitars, the punchy Desert Dream radio mix was particularly effective.

Available on the CD single ‘Personal Heaven’ via Major Records

http://www.x-perience.de/


SCHILLER Let It Rise (2010)

Named after the German poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller, Christopher von Deylen’s domestically popular ambient electro project recruited Ure to sing on the dramatically widescreen ‘Let It Rise’; he said: “SCHILLER’s got his very own, very good and distinctive style which is much more of a laid back, trip-hop dance thing”. Ure revisited the track for his own ‘Fragile’ album in a more stripped back arrangement.

Available on the SCHILLER album ‘Atemlos’ via Universal Music

http://www.schillermusic.com/


ULTRAVOX Rise (2012)

In 2009, the impossible happened and the classic line-up of ULTRAVOX reunited for the ‘Return To Eden’ tour. Things went well enough for a new album to be recorded and writing took place at Ure’s retreat in Canada, Produced by Stephen J Lipson, several of the tracks like ‘Live’ and ‘Satellite’ recalled former glories while with this take on Giorgio Moroder, the percolating sequences and rhythmic snap of ‘Rise’ could be seen a robotic 21st Century update of ‘The Thin Wall’.

Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Brilliant’ via EMI Music

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


LICHTMOND Endless Moments (2014)

LICHTMOND is an ambitious audio-visual project led by sound architects Giorgio and Martin Koppehele to “Experience Dreamlike Time”. Very progressive in its outlook with “A magic triangle of electronics, ethno and rock songs”, Ure featured on lead vocals and said on the album notes: “For me LICHTMOND is a unique combination of music, visuals and brilliant imagination. All coming together to make one great big piece of art. Enjoy it!”

Available on the LICHTMOND album ‘Days Of Eternity’ via Blu Phase Media

http://www.lichtmond.de/


MIDGE URE Become (2014)

Although Ure had been regularly touring and playing festivals, there was a gap of 14 years between the ‘Move Me’ and ‘Fragile’ long players. The ULTRAVOX reunion was the spark he needed to get his sixth solo album of original material finished. The lead single was ‘Become’, a romantic and less abrasive take on ‘After A Fashion’. With a danceable metronomic beat, it had a classic synthpop sound that Ure admitted he was “kind of harking back to early VISAGE”.

Available on the MIDGE URE album ‘Fragile’ via Hypertension ‎Music

https://twitter.com/midgeure1


RUSTY EGAN PRESENTS Glorious (2016)

‘Glorious’ not only reunited our hero with Rusty Egan but also Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’; Ure said: “I liked the music, Chris Payne and Rusty had done a great job but I didn’t think the song / melody / lyrics were strong enough… I stripped the demo down to the basic track, edited it down into a more ‘song like’ format and started working on a glorious melody. I added the main melodic synth line and layered guitars over it, ending with the ‘hopefully’ uplifting solo over the outro”.

Available on the RUSTY EGAN PRESENTS album ‘Welcome To The Dance Floor’ via Black Mosaic

http://rustyegan.net/


Midge Ure’s BAND ELECTRONICA 2017 live dates include:

Frankfurt Batschkapp (Sep 27), Munich Technikum (Sep 28), Cologne Kantine Kulturbetriebe GmbH (Sep 29), Bochum Zeche (Oct 01), Hamburg Gruenspan (Oct 03), Berlin Columbia Theater (Oct 04), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (Oct 10), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (Oct 11), Bournemouth Pavillion Theatre (Oct 13), Guildford G Live (Oct 14) , Milton Keynes Theatre (Oct 15), New Theatre Oxford (Oct 17), High Wycombe Swan Theatre (Oct 18), Folkestone Leas Cliff Hall (Oct 19), Skegness The Embassy (Oct 20), Edinburgh Playhouse (Oct 22), Dundee Caird Hall (Oct 23), Gateshead Sage (Oct 24), Manchester Opera House (Oct 25), Dartford Orchard (Oct 27), Basingstoke Anvil (Oct 28), Sheffield City Hall (Oct 29), Halifax Victoria Theatre (Oct 31), Buxton Opera House (Nov 01), Birmingham Town Hall (Nov 02), York Grand Opera House (Nov 03), Southport Theatre (Nov 04), Blackpool Grand Theatre (Nov 05), London Shepherds Bush Empire (Nov 07), Torquay Princess Theatre (Nov 08), Portsmouth Guildhall (Nov 09), Salisbury City Hall (Nov 10), Truro Hall for Cornwall (Nov 11), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (Nov 14), Eastbourne Devonshire theatre (Nov 15), St Albans Arena (Nov 17)

Further information at http://www.midgeure.co.uk/shows.html


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th August 2017, updated 1st June 2023

BILLY CURRIE Doppel

Best known as ULTRAVOX’s classically trained virtuoso instrumentalist, BILLY CURRIE is back with a new solo album ‘Doppel’.

Following the sharp, spikier aesthetics of tracks like ‘Jump Spin’ on ‘Balletic Transcend’ in 2013, ‘Doppel’ is a more pastoral instrumental collection, with Currie’s trademark synths, viola, violin and classical piano all present and correct. Cascading synthetic strings are the metronomic backbone to the sub-seven minute ‘Neoteric Slip’, a lively orchestrated cacophony of sound with a screeching, passionate violin interlude add some tension to proceedings.

A familiar template makes an appearance with swimmy chorused string machine and tinkling ivories alongside prominent synth rock textures and a four-to-the floor rhythm construction for the ULTRAVOX flavoured ‘Tremolo Shudder’.

The beautifully filmic ‘Silver Tongued’ takes a lonely piano and sprinkles its surroundings with the occasional drop of space dust while the progressive ‘Doppel’ title track with its phased percussion and staccato voice samples provides another steadfast canvas for Currie to apply his violin and piano magic.

Taking things down, ‘In Full Cry’ explores other worldly territory not far off the late Japanese trailblazer TOMITA before the optimistically uptempo ‘Gleam’ and the expressive bowed exordiums of ‘Viola Reach’.

The brilliant ‘Glibberig’ enters the colder mechanical territory of former bandmate JOHN FOXX before a sudden increase of tempo two minutes in which allows Currie to ply his distinctive piano.

With ‘Stymie’ providing a suitably stylized close, ‘Doppel’ is an enjoyable body of work that will appeal to those who will appreciate an intriguing electro classical fusion that sets itself apart from synthpop or dance.


‘Doppel’ is available as a download through the usual digital outlets and on CD-R via Amazon On-Demand

http://www.billycurrie.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Billy-Currie/124950034330891


Text by Chi Ming Lai
5th June 2016

Lost Albums: VISAGE The Anvil

By the time that VISAGE’s second album ‘The Anvil’ came out in Spring 1982, things were very different for the cast who had produced the eponymous debut started in 1979, and which in early 1981 spawned the massive European hit ‘Fade To Grey’.

Midge Ure had accepted Billy Currie’s invitation to join ULTRAVOX and were now riding hide internationally thanks to the success of ‘Vienna’; sax playing guitarist John McGeoch left both VISAGE and MAGAZINE, and was now a member of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES; keyboards man Dave Formula though remained in the Manchester post-punk combo.

Meanwhile, thanks to the success of ‘A Club For Heroes’ at The Blitz in Covent Garden and Barracuda on Baker Street, Rusty Egan and Steve Strange were about to embark on their biggest venture yet with the Camden Palace. Strange, in particular had become a bona fide celebrity and was being snapped by Paparazzi hanging out with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Diana Dors, Marianne Faithful and Jerry Hall.

In many respects, it was unsurprising that ‘The Anvil’ appeared to lack the focus of its predecessor, but it was still a very good record. The synthesized European romanticism that had dominated the ‘Visage’ debut was omnipresent, especially with the lavish monochromatic Helmut Newton cover photograph. But a funkier perspective had been introduced to proceedings, thanks to Strange and Egan’s growing interest in the new funk forms that had been emerging in clubland, particularly from New York.

Photo by Denis O’Regan

It was a direction that had been indicated on ‘We Move’, the B-side to ‘Mind Of A Toy’ and in order to authentic things further, there had been talk of ROXY MUSIC bassist Gary Tibbs joining, but he was then head hunted by ADAM & THE ANTS. Instead, original VISAGE bassist Barry Adamson rejoined, but this time as a hired hand and his subsequent contribution to half of the album was to have a profound effect.

The funkier direction also allowed Midge Ure to indulge in techniques and styles he would have never got away with in ULTRAVOX. But while VISAGE had been started in 1978 by himself and Rusty Egan as a project to make up for the shortage of suitable Euro styled electronic dance music in the clubs, he had not been naturally schooled in funk the way Rusty Egan had been as a soul boy. While the genre blend was to produce some fabulous music, the continuing musical differences would subsequently lead to a fallout between the two friends.

To the public at least, it was business as usual with the album’s launch single ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’. Very much in the vein of ‘Fade To Grey’, it was set to a drum machine syncopated by Rusty Egan’s percussive mantra while Billy Currie’s piano and ARP Odyssey made its presence felt in the solo. And reprising the prominent female vocals that featured on ‘Fade To Grey’, ex-HOT GOSSIP members Perry Lister (Mrs Billy Idol) and Lorraine Whitmarsh added their own wispy feminine touch, as they were to do throughout the album alongside backing vocals from Ure and Egan.

While ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ delivered what was expected, the harder edged, Teutonic salvo of ‘The Anvil’ almost certainly was not. Featuring some superb guitar work from Midge Ure and metronomic drumming courtesy of Rusty Egan minus his hi-hats, it was Steve Strange’s tale of a night out in New York’s notorious gay club of the same name.

Billy Currie’s superb screaming ARP Odyssey and Dave Formula’s brassy synth riff completed the industrial revolution. It had been intended as the album’s first single and a German version ‘Der Amboss’ had already been recorded as one of the bonuses.

Rusty Egan said: “For me, ‘The Anvil’ was the lead track, ‘The Anvil’ in German (‘Der Amboss’), the 12-inch remixes… but the record company didn’t support that! They were pushing for another ‘Fade To Grey’ so they were going for ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’!” While, Polydor were not so keen to use ‘The Anvil’ as a launch pad, DIE KRUPPS’ subsequent electro metal cover in 2007 proved belatedly how seminal the track actually was!

While the following ‘Move Up’ with its hard bass sequence developed on the title track, it suffered being sat next to it, but that set the scene for the rather bizarre but enjoyable sonic sandwich of ‘Night Train’. With Dave Formula’s wobbling, detuned synth line bouncing off Barry Adamson’s bass and Gary Barnacle’s squawking sax, the funky overtones augmented by Rusty Egan’s drumming were then counterpointed by an ULTRAVOX styled piano and violin passage in the middle eight.

While the elements all provided a marvellous musical excursion, Ure’s final production was perhaps not direct enough for the American club market that Egan and Strange now coveted. Ure said to Smash Hits at the time: “During the last album I kept hearing phrases like ‘commercial’ and ‘appealing to the American market’. I don’t like the ‘American market’ much”!

So when ‘Night Train’ was remixed for single release in Summer 1982 by noted American disco producer John Luongo at the instigation of Egan, it spelt the end of the diminutive Glaswegian’s association with VISAGE. “I didn’t like it” he simply said.

Despite an impressive first side, even better was to come on side two with some real lost masterpieces in amongst the throng. First up was the ULTRAVOX meets CHIC hybrid of ‘The Horseman’. It certainly was interesting to hear Midge Ure aping Nile Rodgers, albeit using his distinctive flanged guitar style rather than a more traditional fluid rhythm slice.

And with Ure’s backing vocals so prominent in the mix of ‘The Horseman’, especially in the middle eight, it was almost an ULTRAVOX song in all but name. While Steve Strange’s characteristic, but occasionally dispassionate lead voice was an essential part of VISAGE’s identity, it was Ure’s input that provided the credible vocal musicality, as proven by Strange’s hopeless, undirected vocals that were on evident 1984’s disastrous Ure-less VISAGE album ‘Beat Boy’.

‘Look What They’ve Done’ was a dramatic slice of neu romance, and it was on songs like these where Steve Strange’s less tutored vocals came to the fore, suiting a colder electronic backdrop more than the misguided adventures into rock which came later.

But with the glorious ‘Again We Love’, every aspect of VISAGE’s collective talents clicked in unison, both vocally and instrumentally. From the dramatic start and the eerie, atmospheric melancholy to the stupendous percussive climax and echoey fade, ‘Again We Love’ summed up what VISAGE was all about. Yes, they were the New Romantic supergroup and were a formidable combination when firing on all cylinders. And it was this song on ‘The Anvil’ that probably got closest to recapturing the grandeur of ‘Fade To Grey’.

With that impressive trio of songs, the album took a slight dive with ‘Wild Life’. This was disappointing as the B-sides of the album’s two singles, the metronomic instrumental ‘Motivation’ and the proto-PET SHOP BOYS of ‘I’m Still Searching’, were far superior. Typically the type of rushed filler that adorned most albums of the day, ‘Wild Life’ sounded like several musical idea fragments gaffer taped together with a middle section that had Rusty Egan impersonating BOW WOW WOW! It had no proper lyric to speak of either but thankfully, victory was snatched from defeat with the beautiful, dreamy ambience of ‘Whispers’.

Featuring Perry Lister and Lorraine Whitmarsh surreally conversing like five year old girls over a hypnotic piano motif, the track’s chilling shimmers and sad synth replies were interrupted halfway through by a simple, heartfelt melody over a stark funereal beat. Its enigmatic use on a TDK TV advert featuring Steve Strange actually got it a single release in Japan. And ironically, despite Strange not appearing on the track itself, ‘Whispers’ has now sadly gained further poignancy and resonance in light of his passing on 12th February 2015.

‘The Anvil’ is possibly the most under rated album of that Synth Britannia / New Romantic period. Although it went silver in the UK and reached No6 in the album chart, it never got the artistic acclaim it deserved, no doubt overshadowed by the accomplishments of ULTRAVOX, JAPAN, DURAN DURAN, ASSOCIATES and SIMPLE MINDS at the time. While not as consistent as  VISAGE’s debut, there are certainly a number of songs on ‘The Anvil’ that are among the best of the era and truly merit reinvestigation.


Dedicated to the memory of STEVE STRANGE 1959 – 2015

‘The Anvil’ is available on CD via Rubellan Remasters at https://www.rubellanremasters.com/online-store

http://www.visage.cc/

http://www.billycurrie.com/

http://www.daveformula.com/

http://www.midgeure.co.uk/

http://rustyegan.blogspot.co.uk/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th March 2015, updated 21st March 2020

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