Tag: Warren Cann

New Europeans: The Legacy of ULTRAVOX

Photo by Brian Griffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Anton Corbijn

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

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

Billy Currie told 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 Brian Griffin

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

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

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

Also making a prominent appearance was the Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, a machine that used digital samples for its sounds which Warren Cann acquired, fascinated with furthering the possibilities of programmed percussion that had been opened up. Speaking to 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.

Photo by Pete Wood

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

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

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

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

Photo by Paul Cox

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

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

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

Using Far Eastern ethnic influences with a nod towards JAPAN’s ‘Tin Drum’, the title song was an exquisite but obviously mournful ballad. 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 amd Warren Cann moved to Los Angeles.

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

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

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

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

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

In his defence, Midge Ure told 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’.

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

Photo by Chi Ming Lai

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

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


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

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

https://www.facebook.com/UltravoxUK

https://twitter.com/UltravoxUK

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
12th September 2020

ZAINE GRIFF Interview

Born in Auckland to Danish parents, Zaine Griff possesses a musical CV that is impressive, reading like a Who’s Who of popular music.

First a bassist and vocalist with Kiwi rock band THE HUMAN INSTINCT, he left in 1975 and moved to London where he had stints in BABY FACE and SCREEMER before going on to study mime under Lindsay Kemp alongside Kate Bush. As a result, he joined Kemp’s production of a play written by Jean Genet called ‘Flowers’.

In 1979, Zaine Griff launched his solo career with future film music composer Hans Zimmer and ULTRAVOX drummer Warren Cann among the members of his backing band for an appearance at the Reading Festival.

With his Aladdin Sane-inspired persona, he was soon signed by Automatic Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros who brought in Tony Visconti to produce his debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. It spawned the 1980 single ‘Tonight’ but it peaked at No54 in the UK Singles Chart, partly due to an already recorded appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’ not being shown due to a Musicians Union strike.

It was during these recording sessions for ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ that David Bowie walked in to visit Visconti and was slightly taken aback by the resemblance between himself and Griff. Despite this, Bowie invited Griff be part of the band to record three new versions of his songs for an upcoming appearance on the 1979 Kenny Everett New Year Show.

One of them was ‘Space Oddity’ which later surfaced as the flipside to ‘Alabama Song’ while another was ‘Panic In Detroit’ that later appeared as a bonus track on the Ryko CD reissue of the ’Scary Monsters’ album; the re-recording of ‘Rebel Rebel’ has yet to see the light of day.

The second Zaine Griff album ‘Figvres’ was released in 1982 and saw Hans Zimmer stepping up to the producer role.

It ultimately laid the groundwork for the German musician’s eventual career in Hollywood. Also featuring on the album were Kate Bush and Yukihiro Takahashi from YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

Around this time, Griff held an art exhibition of his drawings in London’s Ebury Galley, to which his friend and contemporary artist Mark Wardel also contributed.

Meanwhile in 1983, Griff collaborated on six songs for Hans Zimmer and Warren Cann’s ambitious HELDEN album ‘Spies’ which despite the independently released duet with Linda Allan titled ‘Holding On’ being issued as a single in advance, remains officially unreleased. After recording with Midge Ure and Gary Numan, Griff returned to New Zealand in 1984.

In 2011, Zaine Griff made a comeback with his third album ‘Child Who Wants The Moon’ and returned to the live stage. While he has continued releasing albums and touring regularly, his music was being discovered by a cool young audience, thanks to American rockers MGMT covering ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ during their concerts in 2018.

Then recently, there came the surprise announcement that Zaine Griff was to join Rusty Egan and ‘Fade To Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne to perform the songs of VISAGE in an audio-visual presentation at W-Festival in Belgium and the Human Traffic Live & The Pioneers of Electronica showcase in London this Summer.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of VISAGE, founder members Midge Ure and Rusty Egan had deliberated for months as to who could take on guitar and lead vocals in a four man line-up with a nod to their original inspiration KRAFTWERK, eschewing the format of a lead singer fronting a band. With Ure committed to his own ‘1980’ tour performing VISAGE and ULTRAVOX songs, the role was offered to Zaine Griff.

While Steve Strange was undoubtedly the flamboyant face of VISAGE and played a vital role in the collective’s international visual profile, the many layers of backing vocals on the recordings were by Midge Ure and Rusty Egan, providing a crucial musicality to support Strange’s more monotone lead voice.

Meanwhile, a fair number of tracks like ‘The Dancer’, ‘Moon Over Moscow’, ‘Whispers’ and the dance mix of ‘Frequency 7’ were instrumentals.

So as an associate of the New Romantic movement with connections to many key figures of the period, Zaine Griff is just the man for the job. He kindly spoke from his home in New Zealand to talk about his music career and the upcoming VISAGE 1980 x 2020 shows.

Your debut solo album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ was produced by Tony Visconti, how did that come about?

Tony Visconti was brought in to produce my debut album ‘Ashes and Diamonds’ by my record company MD Nick Mobbs at Automatic Records which was part of Warner Bros. When Tony heard my demos, he wanted to work with me.

It was during the recording of the ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ album that you were introduced to David Bowie and he had a proposal?

I was introduced to David Bowie by Tony at Good Earth studios. David had just returned from recording the Berlin trilogy and was wanting Tony to produce some tracks for a TV show. He had heard what I was doing and asked me if we could back him.

How did you run into Hans Zimmer and his batcave of synths?

Colin Thurston introduced me to Hans Zimmer when Colin brought Hans into Utopia studios to play keyboards on some demos I was recording there.

Everything from that session onwards, Hans played on. As Hans said to me only last year: “I was your keyboard player”.

In fact, he was much more than that. All the live work, studio work, Hans was with me, as I was with him during his HELDEN project.

You were frequenting The Blitz Club, what appealed to you about its atmosphere and how did you find the characters you met there?

I met Steve Strange at Legends night club. My manager Campbell Palmer owned Legends. I met so many amazing artists at Legends, we would dance and hangout till day break, often we would go to The Blitz Club or The Embassy. Everyone seemed to know each other and were supportive of each other. This is how I met Rusty Egan and Midge Ure, Boy George, Marilyn and so on.

Did it take much to persuade Rusty Egan to appear in your ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ video for the single?

I wanted at the time for Rusty to drum for me and Gary Tibbs to play bass. Well, they performed in the video of ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ and then they both were doing other projects. I tried!!

How do you feel about the American indie rock band MGMT covering ‘Ashes & Diamonds’ on their 2018 live tour?

Fantastic! I would love to meet them one day. It’s so cool when a younger generation plays your music in respect of the song and the composition. I was thrilled to say the least, I have followed them ever since.

Hans Zimmer had moved up to the producer role on ‘Figvres’ and it was to prove inspiring for his later soundtrack career?

I had to convince Nick Mobbs of Automatic Records to allow Hans Zimmer to produce my second album ‘Figvres’. So much so that Nick allowed Hans to co-produce and Nick would allow us to complete the album based on the first two weeks of recording. He loved what he heard and gave us his blessing to finish.

Up until then, Hans had only produced a single for THE DAMNED. ‘Figvres’ was his first album production. And indeed he is entitled to a full production credit for everything he put into ‘Figvres’ and of course Steve Rance, Hans’ engineer… what a team!

You had a good friendship with Warren Cann from ULTRAVOX who played on the ‘Figvres’ album too?

I heard ULTRAVOX on the John Peel show. I went out and brought ‘Systems Of Romance’ only because of the drummer. I had to meet this guy and work with him. I wanted Warren so much, I called Island Records, got his number, went to his flat and convinced him to play at the Reading Festival with me, and that’s how Hans and Warren met in rehearsal for Reading Festival.

The song ‘Flowers’ was dedicated to the late Lindsay Kemp and had Kate Bush singing backing vocals, what was it like working with her?

Working with Kate Bush was beautiful. She and I had studied under Lindsay Kemp, so it was easy for her to understand the ‘Flowers’ song and the emotion of the composition.

‘Flowers’ the show was a massive inspiration. Nothing comes near ‘Flowers’. So powerful, so dramatic and a huge inspiration to us both.

Hans Zimmer and Warren Cann formed HELDEN and you sang on the single ‘Holding On’, but the album on which you sang another five songs has never had an official release, do you consider it to be a lost classic?

I spent a whole year, most days and nights with Hans and Warren on the HELDEN project mainly at Snake Ranch Studios. I did a radio promotional tour with Hans. By then he was swept off his feet by film directors. Alas Hollywood.

What was the idea behind you recording a cover of ULTRAVOX’s ‘Passionate Reply’ with Midge Ure?

Chris O’Donnell suggested I do some recording with Midge. He played me ‘Passionate Reply’ on an acoustic, I had not heard it before and I just loved it. We recorded in his Chiswick studio. We recorded enough material for an album and the masters were stored at Rock City Studios with Gary Numan’s mum.

I loved working with Midge. I had known Midge from when he was in SLIK. The band I was playing with at the time were the support to SLIK. I knew then just how good he was.

Looking back, we were so naive to it all. ULTRAVOX was managed by Chris O’Donnell and Chris Morrison, they were my production management company and production company to VISAGE. See how close knit we all were? And of course they managed THIN LIZZY.

There was that TV appearance performing ‘Passionate Reply’ on ‘The Freddie Starr Show’? What can you remember about that?

I was told I was to go to Manchester and do this show. All I wanted to do was not do it. Hated the whole tacky production. Still I stood up there alone and did it.

You recorded ‘This Strange Obsession’ with Yukihiro Takahashi and Ronny, that’s quite an international combination?

I had worked with Ronny on one of my songs ‘It’s A Sin’ with Hans producing her and Yukihiro approached me to write for him. I asked Ronny to join us. That was amazing working with Yukihiro. The translation barrier was understood with music.

Although you never recorded together, there’s a photo of you with Steve Strange and Mick Karn, what was the occasion?

That photo of Mick, Steve and I was at my art exhibition at the Ebury Gallery Victoria.

Gary Numan invited you to duet with him on ‘The Secret’ from ‘Berserker’, it has a good chemistry, how did you find working in the studio with him?

Gary Numan called me asked me to work on ‘Berserker’ just out of the blue. He was great to work with, I remember him doing takes faster than what I was used to; if he liked that take, that was it. Midge was like that as well. They knew what they wanted.

You returned with your third album ‘Child Who Wants The Moon’ in 2011, what was behind what appeared to be a lengthy hiatus?

It was a lengthy hiatus because I was burnt out, exhausted, not well, I had to go. I was not in a great space. I decided to try and get well again and stop wanting the moon… you know wanting the impossible.

You’ve released the albums ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Mood Swings’ since then and have returned to performing live again. Was that aspect something you’d missed over the years?

My problem is I cannot stop composing. I recorded ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Mood Swings’ purely for composition fulfilment. In the liner notes of ‘Mood Swings’, you can see the album is dedicated to Steve Strange.

How did the upcoming VISAGE 1980 x 2021 gigs with Rusty Egan and Chris Payne come about?

I had a call from Rusty late last year. He had spoken to Midge and Chris Payne, and asked if I would be interested in the VISAGE 1980 x 2021 shows. I find this an honour and a privilege. This project is about the music of VISAGE, not the front man or side man, it is about the music VISAGE produced and created.

These VISAGE shows from my perspective are a celebration of 40 years since the VISAGE debut was released. For me, it will also be a 40 years celebration of my debut album ‘Ashes & Diamonds’. It is also a celebration to Steve’s life, Rusty, Midge, Chris and everyone involved in the making of VISAGE and all their incredible fans and followers.

Which are your own favourite VISAGE songs?

Songs like ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’ are classic compositions of that time. Again, I love the energy they put in the studio, I don’t believe they ever performed live. I have spoken to Chris but I haven’t seen him since I sang on Gary Numan’s ‘Berserker’ album… I can’t wait to work with Chris and Rusty again.

What are your plans after these VISAGE 1980 x 2021 dates?

I will be doing some live shows later this year in London.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Zaine Griff

Special thanks to Rusty Egan

‘Ashes & Diamonds’ and ‘Figvres’ are still available via Mig Music on the usual digital platforms

Zaine Griff, Rusty Egan, Chris Payne and Dave Brooks perform the music of VISAGE 1980 x 2021 at W-Festival in Belgium on Saturday 28th August 2021 – tickets are available from https://w-festival.com/en/

https://www.zainegriff.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Zainegriff.officialnews/

https://twitter.com/ZaineGriffOffic

https://www.instagram.com/zainegriff/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
13th February 2020, updated 29th December 2020

A Beginner’s Guide To MIDGE URE

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 when their single ‘Forever & Ever’ became a UK No1 in 1975 and turned Ure briefly into a teen idol. 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.

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, PETER GODWIN, RONNY, PHIL LYNOTT and MESSENGERS, as well as 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 COMPANY. 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), Amsterdam Q Factory (March 09), Breda Mezz (March 11)

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


Text by Chi Ming Lai
15th August 2017

ULTRAVOX Brilliant

No tomorrow, just today… 

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.

One of the main talking points about ULTRAVOX’s new single ‘Brilliant’ has been Midge Ure’s voice.

As one of British music’s most respected elder statesman, his almost whispered tones now possess a fragility and honesty that can only come from battle-hardened life experience.

Ironically, ULTRAVOX never reached No 1 themselves in the UK or Germany and while ‘Brilliant’ is unlikely to reach such heights, the song contains all the ULTRAVOX hallmarks of Billy Currie’s Eurocentric piano and synth embellishments, Chris Cross’ motorik bass arrangement, Warren Cann’s rhythmical syncopation and of course Midge Ure’s layering guitar for a classic track that choruses a cautious optimism.

“No Tomorrow, just today…” Ure sings. Let’s face it; none of us are getting any younger. The message of ‘Brilliant’ could be interpreted as: ‘life is precious…embrace it!’ but Ure says the song is actually “a bittersweet comment on pop culture”.

Based on audio previews so far of the long player itself, ‘Satellite’ could potentially be sitting up there with the electronic rock of ‘I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)’ and ‘We Stand Alone’ from ‘Rage In Eden’, while the precolating sequences and rhythmic snap of ‘Rise’ could be a 21st Century answer to ‘Western Promise’.

For those youngsters who love MUSE or HURTS, ‘One’ and ‘Remembering’ will respectively inform their aural palettes as to where all that chromatic romanticism originally came from, but quite what long standing fans will make of the soaring stadium pandering to the landfill masses on ‘Flow’ can only be guessed at.

Thankfully, this minor blip is countered by the whirring ARP Odyssey lines on ‘Change’. This also features some majestic widescreen inflections glossed with beautiful ivory runs as the machine led percussive pattern builds, coloured by incessant synth bass and shuffling schlagzeug.

At times, it even sounds like a more sedate second cousin to MUSE’s ‘Undisclosed Desires’ but considering how many times the Teignmouth trio have borrowed ‘Vienna’, maybe it’s now time to take some back!


The album ‘Brilliant’ is released by EMI Records on 28th May 2012

ULTRAVOX tour the UK in Autumn 2012. Dates include:

Bristol Colston Hall (21st September), Oxford New Theatre (22nd September), Portsmouth Guildhall (23rd September), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (25th September), Birmingham Symphony Hall (26th September), London Hammersmith Apollo (27th September), Guildford G-Live (29th September), Manchester Palace Theatre (30th September), Southend Cliffs Pavillion (2nd October), Ipswich Regent (3rd October), Sheffield City Hall (4th October), Blackpool Opera House (6th October), Glasgow Clyde Audiotorium (7th October), Gateshead The Sage (8th October)

http://www.ultravox.org.uk

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


Text and Photo by Chi Ming Lai
15th May 2012

WARREN CANN Interview

Warren Cann is best known as a founder member of ULTRAVOX. Born in Vancouver, he began a love of electronics and music that led him to moving to the UK to make his fortune as a drummer. He auditioned for SPARKS but didn’t get offered the job.

Eventually though in 1974 via a small ad in Melody Maker, he joined the band TIGER LILY who were later to become ULTRAVOX!

Led by Dennis Leigh aka John Foxx, their first two albums ‘Ultravox!’ and ‘Ha-Ha-Ha’ fused the art school spirit of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, DAVID BOWIE and ROXY MUSIC with the pioneering Teutonic inventiveness of KRAFTWERK and NEU!

Working with producers Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite, Cann became fascinated with the use of guitar effects to treat drums and played around with early rhythm units as ULTRAVOX! started to incorporate more electronics into their work.

For their third album ‘Systems Of Romance’, ULTRAVOX (now with no exclamation mark!) found their perfect bedfellow in the legendary producer Conny Plank who had previously worked with KRAFTWERK and NEU! It was Plank who said “I like synthesizers when they sound like synthesizers, not when they sound like natural instruments. I like them to have their own colours. The strange areas of colours that you can do with synthesizers is what’s interesting for me, not just copying an acoustic instrument.”

Despite the newly focused sound, John Foxx departed in 1979 to go solo. Following a brief hiatus during which main synthesist Billy Currie worked with Gary Numan and VISAGE with whom he met Midge Ure, the diminutive Glaswegian then joined Cann, Currie and bassist Chris Cross to become the most commercially successful version of ULTRAVOX.

Over a period of four years, they conquered Europe with their brand of symphonic synthesized rock with classic albums such as ‘Vienna’, ‘Rage in Eden’, ‘Quartet’.

Along with the rest of the band, Cann’s continued innovative use of new technology integrated with conventional instruments pushed boundaries and challenged perceptions of how electronics could be used in music. Shedding the sweat and armbands image of the rock drummer, he became the metronomic meister of the rhythm box.

As well as using drum machines, Cann made use of early manually operated electronic percussion such as the Claptrap as heard on ‘New Europeans’, and the Synare III which provided the ‘thunder’ sound on Vienna’. He developed a sequencer for use in tandem with Chris Cross’ Minimoog which featured on the single ‘The Thin Wall’ among others.

And he was also one of the first drummers to acquire the Linn LM-1, the first programmable digital drum computer. Indeed, Cann had eventually acquired so much equipment that it was all packed into a huge complex next to his drum kit and nicknamed ‘The Iron Lung’ by the rest of the band. At the height of ULTRAVOX, ‘The Iron Lung’ contained the Simmons SDSIII, SDSV and SDSVII drum synthesizers, Roland TR77 and CR78 drum machines, a Linn LM-1, a LinnDrum, the Sequential Circuits Drumtraks and various effects processors like the Roland Space-Echo.

Despite their success and an appearance at Live Aid, ULTRAVOX imploded, with Cann being forced to leave the band in 1986 before recording of what became the disastrous ‘U-Vox’ album and their eventual demise. Continuing to work as a musician but eventually transferring to guitar and keyboards, he moved to Los Angeles where he still resides. Fast forward to 2008 and the classic line-up of Cann, Cross, Currie and Ure reformed to celebrate their musical legacy on the ever expanding ‘Return To Eden’ tour.

While he was in Scandinavia playing festivals with ULTRAVOX during the summer, Warren Cann took time out to talk to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his innovative career and the current reunion.

During Foxx and Ure eras of ULTRAVOX, you harnessed the development of synthesizer technology and electronic percussion, pioneering its use in both studio and live work. How do you feel about your role in all that?

I’m very proud of it. It was very hard work – at the time, there were so many obstacles between what I wanted to do and what the technology would allow you to do… very frustrating! A lot of ingenuity went into trying to coax the machines to give the results desired as, in those days, the machines hadn’t yet realized they were instruments.

Can you remember what your first drum machine was and what it was like to use?

Of course. It was a Roland TR-77. No memory, no tempo display, no individual outputs, no programmability! It was incredibly primitive by today’s standards but at the time, this was about as high-tech as you could get for a drum machine.

Is it true you wired a volt meter in series with your drum machine and stuck tape on the dial to mark the appropriate tempos for each individual song?

Controllable and repeatable tempo settings are vital when using a drum machine. The TR-77 had no tempo display to tell you the beats per minute (BPM), it only had a fader to control the tempo and the sensitivity was very coarse; you only had to look at it to make the speed jump by a huge amount. Trying to get tempo changes from song to song in a live setting was very hit-or-miss… almost always miss!

To solve this, I had a second potentiometer wired up with the first one to give a ‘Coarse/Fine’ set of controls. This gave a much more useable degree of control. Then, to actually work out what the tempo would be, I connected a volt meter with an LED readout to the clocking circuit… this gave a DC voltage and I could just read the display and make a note of the number – it was an arbitrary voltage, but it corresponded directly to the speed and that solved the problem. If the correct speed of the song gave a voltage reading of 11.45 volts, then I could simply adjust the fader till the clock voltage read that value!

Mr X had its origins in the John Foxx-era of ULTRAVOX but with you on lead vocals and you wrote a fair proportion of the lyrics for the ‘Vienna’ album. When John Foxx left and before Midge Ure joined, was there ever any consideration given to you perhaps becoming the new lead vocalist of ULTRAVOX?

Yes, I wrote about half of the lyrics for the ‘Vienna’ album. No, there was no thought of me being the lead vocalist at that time.

Your acquisition of the Linn Drum Computer must have been quite a revelation? In your opinion, how did this and machines like it change popular music forever?

Yes, I got the Linn LM-1 when I was working with Hans Zimmer on our HELDEN album. While still very primitive, I’d consider it the first true modern drum machine and it was like going from a VW Beetle to a Ferrari. It’s hard to give such a big question a brief answer. 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.

What of your contributions to ULTRAVOX songs are you personally most proud of?

As a band, ULTRAVOX never wrote music unless we were all together in the same room – this is very rare. We would throw ideas back and forth in infinite combinations until we’d achieved what we wanted to hear. We all influenced each other. As such, it’s almost impossible to pick out specific pieces or themes. I’m proud that my ideas and attitudes contributed to making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Still, if I had to pick just one… I’d say when I played the ‘Vienna’ rhythm to the band and said: “How about this?”

Photo by Paul Cox

ULTRAVOX rhythmically had always been an even mix of real drums and drum machines but on 1984’s ‘Lament’ album, there was noticeably more programmed percussion than on previous albums. Was there any particular reason for this? And did it ultimately lead to the tensions which led to you leaving in 1986 prior to the recording of the ‘U-Vox’ album?

No particular reason, it just worked out that way. And it certainly didn’t lead to the reasons I left.

What did you do after that? Was a solo music career ever a consideration?

I made some demos which were not well received by Chrysalis… they thought the tracks were too much like IGGY POP which I took as a great, if entirely unexpected, compliment! I did a lot of session work; 7000 Danses by INDOCHINE, lots of television shows for KIM WILDE and produced demos for aspiring bands. I joined a band called THE SONS OF VALENTINO and had a great time, but then I left to play guitar and keyboards for THE HUW LLOYD-LANGTON GROUP. I later moved to Los Angeles to pursue a future in film scoring.

Photo by Brian Griffin

How did you get the call about the 30th Anniversary ULTRAVOX reunion and what was your initial reaction?

Like the others, I received an e-mail from a previous manager, Chris O’Donnell, who was now with Live Nation.

He said it was their opinion at LN that now just might be a good time to consider reforming and playing some shows. To our surprise, we all agreed with him!

The DVD footage of you meeting the guys again for the first time at the rehearsals for ‘Return To Eden’ brought a lump to my throat. How was it all for you?

Yes, it was quite emotional. And very surreal… we were all aware of the many years that have passed, yet at the same time, it was like only yesterday.

How did you cope with getting back into the rhythm of playing drums again after over 20 years?

To be absolutely honest, far more easily than I’d anticipated! Like riding a bicycle…

Did you have much opportunity to do any of the drum programming for the tour or had that been pretty much completed before you joined full band rehearsals. How did you find using the ‘new’ technology?

I did the programming for the songs that required it during the first week or so of rehearsals, then fine-tuned as necessary. As for the new technology, you have to see it from my point of view; I was merely learning some new software, I didn’t have to learn what was going on – I merely had to learn the eccentricities of a sequencing program I hadn’t used before, the principles are all the same. The greatest benefit was being able to condense and ‘miniaturize’. Instead of having a huge rack of hardware to make noise with, it could all be contained within a laptop.

What probably had the greatest impact was not our ability to streamline the amount of equipment we had to deal with – great as that was – but being able to eliminate the old-style on-stage monitoring system.

Instead of having a smaller version of the out-front sound system pointing at us so we could adequately hear each other, we used the ‘In-Ears’ system of super hi-fi ear phones which gave each of us an individual and repeatable mix for each song.

It cut our soundcheck time from two or three hours to an easy fifteen minutes. It also enabled us, when necessary, to not do a soundcheck at all (most festivals, for example). Fantastic!

And when you finally got on stage, how did you feel about the ecstatic reaction you were getting at the shows? What were the personal highlights for you?

It was amazing! Truly! The personal highlights were going onstage together at the first show in Edinburgh (… another surreal moment!) and playing at Hammersmith in London (we always considered that venue as ‘home’).

What next for you? Will there be further tours from ULTRAVOX or even the possibility of new material?

As I write this, we’re playing concerts in Sweden, Finland and the UK. As for further tours and/or new material… you’ll just have to wait and see!


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to WARREN CANN

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

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


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
13th October 2010