Midge Ure revisits Ultravox’s synth prime on Voice & Visions Tour at Grand Opera House

Midge Ure: Recalling Ultravox’s Rage In Eden and Quartet albums with Band Electronica

MIDGE Ure & Band Electronica finally play their postponed Voice & Visions Tour show at the Grand Opera House, York, on Sunday.

The York gig should have formed the tour’s opening night when first arranged for February to April 2022, but “ongoing uncertainty around Covid-19” led to Ure putting the itinerary on hold.

“The tour has been postponed twice and dates got moved around. Some we could do, some we couldn’t,” he says. “We did four dates in September and now we’re doing 30 shows in April and May.

“Tech-wise, I’ve moved a few things, but set-wise, no changes. Electronic noises, yes, but everything else is ‘direct injected’,” says Scotsman Midge, 69.

Ure & Band Electronica last played the Opera House on October 20 2019 on The 1980 Tour, when Ultravox’s 1980 album, Vienna, was performed in its entirety for the first time in four decades, complemented by highlights from Visage’s debut album, as Ure recalled the year when he co-wrote, recorded and produced the two future-sounding records.

Such was the “overwhelming response” to this retro excursion that Ure decided “the logical and emotional follow-up” was to reprise the nostalgia trip for the Voice & Visions Tour to mark the 40th anniversary of Ultravox albums Rage In Eden and Quartet, released in September 1981 and October 1982 respectively, backed up by landmark songs from Ure’s back catalogue.

“The synthesiser can be absolutely heart-rending and very emotional in its impact,” says Midge

“The 1980 Tour was all about celebrating the year of 1980, not just for me, doing the Vienna album and the first Visage album, and recalling all the new technology that went with that very exciting time and the response to that,” says Midge.

“We had people there who’d seen Ultravox, people who’d been too young, so to hear it being played in such an authentic way was mind-blowing. Requests came for us to do more of the albums.” Hence Midge is “delving back in time to revitalise two standout albums from my career”.

In the wake of the global success of Vienna, Ultravox headed back to Conny Plank’s Cologne studio to record their second album with Ure as frontman, Rage In Eden, a top five entry in autumn 1981, replete with the singles The Thin Wall and The Voice.

Quartet, their third studio set with Ure, arrived in quick succession with production by The Beatles’ producer, George Martin, no less. It became their third top ten album, boosted by four top 20 singles, Reap The Wild Wind, Hymn, Visions In Blue and We Came To Dance.

Why work with George Martin after the experimentalism of Kraftwerk producer Plank? “Ultravox would not listen to anyone. We were very dogmatic in what we wanted to achieve, so the idea of someone saying ‘you need to edit that’, ‘stop doing that’ was alien to us, but everyone respected George,” says Midge, recalling their headmaster/pupil relationship.

“To hear it being played in such an authentic way was mind-blowing,” says Midge Ure

“He was a more traditional producer, but he still had tricks up his sleeve, like having the guitars playing backwards. I loved working with George and I don’t know many that didn’t.

“Here’s an example: we were in the studio at Montserrat, spending a lot of time in front of the mixing desk while he worked on the faders, when he pointed to his eyes one day and said, ‘music doesn’t come from here, it comes from here’, pointing to his heart.”

Jumping between guitar and keyboards, vocalist Midge is touring with Russell Field, his regular drummer for 25 years, and India Electric Co members Joseph O’Keefe and Cole Stacey, who handle bass, keys and violin duties. “They’ll be doing their own 45-minute set prior to getting the chance to do their homework with me,” he says.

“Back in the 1980s, when Ultravox first called it a day, by then we were touring with 23 synthesisers because that’s what we needed to do to generate that sound. Now it can be done with fewer instruments.”

In a show focused on electronics, experimentation and synthesisers, lighting will be important too. “Technology in lighting is changing just as rapidly as in music. We’ve gone for lighting that does a variety of things: changing from stroboscopic to wide beams to narrow beams, using different colours, to enhance the feeling of a song, like a good video could do,” says Midge.

The poster for Midge Ure & Band Electronica’s Voice & Visions Tour, visiting York, Bradford and Hull

“So, when the song is moody and atmospheric, I want the lighting to be moody and atmospheric too, rather than using graphics, where people at the back end up just looking at them.

“I was lucky enough when I was a young lad to see David Bowie perform on the Ziggy Stardust tour at the Glasgow Apollo, and I remember when they played Space Oddity that they put a spotlight on the mirror ball. The implicity of that has stuck with me. Something simple yet so effective.”

More than 40 years on from synthesisers making such an impact in the electronic music of Ultravox, Midge says: “The synthesiser can sound and calculated, and is very effective when used in that way, but it can also be absolutely heart-rending and very emotional in its impact.”

Midge Ure & Band Electronica, The Voice And Visions Tour, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday (30/4/2023), 7.30pm; St George’s Hall, Bradford, May 11, 8pm; Bonus Arena, Hull, May 12, 8pm. Box office: York, atgtickets.com/york; Bradford, bradford-theatres.co.uk; Hull, bonusarenahull.com.

Midge Ure also plays Let’s Rock Leeds, Temple Newsam, Leeds, headlined by Soft Cell and OMD, June 17. Box office: letsrockleeds.com (general admission sold out already).

Did you know?

MIDGE Ure & Band Electronica first played the Grand Opera House, York, in November 2017 when headlining a 1980s’ triple bill with The Christians and Altered Images.

Copyright of The Press, York