Friday, January 20, 2012
THE FRIDAY CORRESPONDENT
Recently, a reader requested a piece featuring Ultravox and Midge Ure. Your wish is our command.
The first incarnation of Ultravox formed in 1974 as Tiger Lily. Vocalist and keyboard player Dennis Leigh and guitarist Steve Shears were joined by Canadian drummer Warren Cann, bassist Chris Cross and soon after by violinist Billy Currie.
They played a mixture of glam rock, influenced by Roxy Music and David Bowie with a harder edge that suited the audience change of taste as the onset of punk approached.
Fledgling producer Steve Lillywhite produced their early demos and due to his involvement they were signed to Island Records but it was Brian Eno who produced their self-titled debut album.
With the change of name to Ultravox and Leigh’s name change to John Foxx, came a minor success with the single My Sex.
The second album Ha Ha Ha featured one track Hiroshima Mon Amour that showed the synth-led future of the band. This track is a particular favourite of mine and is still seen by critics and fans alike as the standout of this period of their work.
mp3 : Ultravox - Hiroshima Mon Amour
After their third album Systems of Romance, produced by famous German producer Konrad Plank, failed commercially, Island Records dropped them.Shortly afterwards, following a tour of America and Canada, Foxx departed the band to pursue a solo career while guitarist Robin Simon remained in the States.
This left Currie, Cross and Cann without a singer.
Currie had been a part time member of new romantic electronic supergroup Visage, who also featured Midge Ure.
James ‘Midge’ Ure’s musical journey to Ultravox had seen many twists and turns. He started as a guitarist in a covers band called Salvation that was the house band of the Clouds nightclub in his hometown Glasgow. When the lead singer left he also took on the role of singer.
In 1975, Ure was approached by Malcolm McLaren and offered the lead singer role in a new band he was putting together….. the Sex Pistols. He declined the offer.
After a name and image change Salvation became Slik and in early 1976 their third single Forever and Ever went to number one, in the UK Charts.
mp3 : Slik - Forever and Ever
Phil Coulter and Bill Martin who wrote the single, had previously written hits for other including Bay City Rollers. After three more singles without repeating their chart success, they terminated their contract with Coulter and Martin, citing unhappiness with their ‘boy band’ look. Ure in particular was determined to embrace the ‘new’ punk style of music that was becoming popular.
The members of Slik changed their name to PVC2 and released one single on Zoom Records:-
mp3 : PVC2 - Put You in the Picture
It was after this failed effort that they decided to go their separate ways.
Ure moved to the bright lights of London, where he met Glenn Matlock who invited him to join a new band he was putting together with Rusty Egan and Steve New to be known as The Rich Kids.
Elsewhere, Slik and PVC2 band drummer Kenny Hyslop and bassist Russell Webb formed the Zones.
mp3 : Zones - No Angels
Hyslop then went on to play sticks for both Simple Minds and The Skids. Webb also joined The Skids.
The Rich Kids released one album - Ghosts of Princes in Towers - as well as three singles to a fair amount of critical acclaim that wasn't reflected in poor sales.
After they were dropped by Island Records, things were hard for the remaining members of Ultravox . At one point they were so skint they even had to sneak into an Island Records warehouse to get back some of their musical equipment.
At this point in history, Ure had just completed an American tour playing guitar with Thin Lizzy. It was Rusty Egan who badgered Billy Currie to approach Ure with a view to joining Ultravox. Still a young man, Ure had been around a bit....but as he began rehearsing with Ultravox, he finally he was in a band that was moving in the right direction, with all members contributing to their new sound.
The product of these sessions was the album Vienna. Once again Konny Plank produced it, working with him was a dream come true for Ure, as he had long admired his work with Kraftwerk.
Midge Ure brought a commercial sheen to the previous Ultravox sound that wasn’t universally accepted by all their following, but that and their new electronic driven songs brought them an album that broke into the UK album Top Ten, peaking at No.3.
The first single from the album reached number 28 in the UK charts
mp3 : Ultravox - Sleepwalk
This was followed up by the title track - a song that was infamously held up on its rise to the top being stuck at #2 in the singles chart behind novelty one-hit wonder Joe Dolcesinging Shaddup Your Face
But while man at #1 faded into obscurity, it was just the beginning of an extended period of success between 1981 and 1986 with Ultravox enjoying 4 Top Ten albums and numerous hit singles.
As I’ve said on their rise to success, Ultravox shed a good number of fans that couldn’t accept Midge Ure as lead singer and frontman but history shows they achieved the commercial success their early record label craved.
Mr John Greer, Friday 20 January 2012