By Keith Sharp
James (Midge Ure) has fond memories of Canada. When his band Ultravox toured this country for the first time in 1979, he discovered that because his band contained a Canadian drummer, Vancouverite Warren Cann, they qualified as Canadian content due to CRTC radio regulations, which meant they received strong domestic airplay.
“Compared to the United States, which seemed to be playing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven” nonstop, Canadian radio was definitely more supportive of bands like Ultravox,” explained Ure on the phone from Bath, England, as he is preparing for a rare one-night performance October 30th at Mississauga Ontario’s Classic Bowl location where he is set to give two solo concerts.
“Canada is a lot more like England in its musical tastes, and besides, there are a lot more Scottish people there,” he cracked.
So why would he travel all the way from England to Canada for a one-night performance in this Toronto suburb?
“Well, I was hearing lots of great things about the promoter, Ed Sousa, lots of people over here, love him, I kept hearing, ‘Send Ed my best’ so when the opportunity came to accept his offer, it seemed a great way to play in Canada once again.”
When informed that tickets for his two performances literally sold out instantly, Ure seemed impressed that interest in his career still existed.
“That’s encouraging that interest in me is still there; I am looking forward to playing. It will just be me and my guitar, so that’s a challenge, but it will be fun.”
Eighties music fans will be aware of Ure’s legacy as the frontman for English techno-rock bands, Visage and Ultravox, hit songs like “Vienna” and “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” and his cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Fell To Earth. And Ure is, of course, famous for co-producing and co-writing Band Aids “Do They Know It’s Christmas” charity track with Sir Bob Geldof, which sparked the two Live Aid concerts in London and Philadelphia on Saturday, July 13th, 1985.
“Bob and I had both seen the BBC news report from Michael Buerk about people starving in Ethiopia, and we both felt we had to do something. It was the first time I became aware of the effects of global warming.” Ure noted. “That country had been suffering through a drought since 1982, and by 1985 the farmers there couldn’t produce any food.”
“So we decided we had to do something and as it turned out, other artists felt the same, and we were able to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (which has since been acknowledged as the second largest selling single recording in British music history with 3.7 million sales). Then Canada got involved with “Northern Lights,” and the U.S got involved with “We Are The World,” and things just took off,” Ure noted.
“The thing was that everything happened inside six months. There was no deliberation. The momentum of the singles created the concerts; we had no idea how big it was going to become. We just got involved and made it happen.” reflected Ure.
Ure agrees that the two concerts were a monumental global achievement whose legacy continues to this day. Queen’s 20-minute set has become legendary and proved to be a key focal point in the band’s Grammy-winning movie, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
A question put to him by this writer who had the privilege of attending that London concert? If John Lennon had been alive in 1985, would Live Aid have staged a Beatles’ reunion?
“What a charming thought,” responded Ure. “John would definitely have been there because he was into the Give Peace A Chance movement long before Live Aid, but it’s a good question whether the band would have actually agreed to perform together. George Harrison had told me to make sure we got good accountants after he felt he had been ripped off with his Concert For Bangladesh event, but who knows, maybe they would have all come out together during that finale curtain call.”
As for his own career, Ure is aware of a renaissance in 80s music. He toured the U.S in 2014 with `A Retro Future’ lineup of Thompson Twin’s Tom Bailey, Howard Jones, China Crisis and Katrina & The Waves. Katrina Leskovich benefitted from his David Bowie “Man Who Fell To Earth track being included in the cutting-edge Metal Gear Solid V The Phantom Pain video game and was in the midst of a global 1980s tour with his Electronica Band performing his Vienna album and sections from his Visage album when the COVID virus struck.
“We were in Perth, Australia, at the time when our last concert got cancelled,” noted Ure. “We had heard that Australia and New Zealand were closing their borders, and we had no idea how we were going to get home or what isolation problems we faced. But as it turned out, we didn’t have to worry. Britain was like, come on in, we don’t care how sick you are.”
Ure did record a livestream concert to make up for that lost concert in Perth and has since used his quarantine time to record a series of Backstage Concert Club concerts at his Bath England studios using state of the art equipment where he and selected guests perform acoustic sets and answer questions from online viewers. An experience that will come in useful when Ure performs a similar Q&A acoustic performance at Mississauga’s Classic Bowl – Sam Adams Stage on October 30th.
Despite a legacy that has seen Midge Ure perform with Visage, Ultravox, and a brief cameo with Phil Lynott’s guitarist with Thin Lizzy, and his own solo career. Not to mention his charity work with Live Aid, Live 8, Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Concert and serving as musical director for a series of Prince’s Trust concerts, Ure does not focus on future career goals.
He says he is in the process of writing at least three new albums. Ure is also organizing a ‘Voice And Vision’ tour of Britain, focusing on his ‘Rage In Eden’ and ‘Quartet’ albums but says he just takes things one day at a time.
“I just get out of bed, one day at a time and take things from there,” he admits. “I am just thankful to still be touring and recording.”