A man who needs no introduction… Oh go on then. Visage linchpin, Ultravox frontman, Band Aid mastermind and solo artiste, Midge Ure shares a few formative influences
“It’s the music you discover in your younger years, when you didn’t quite understand what music is, that stays with you the longest. Instrumentals always played a big part in my life. And one of my earliest musical memories was hearing this wonderfully atmospheric, beautiful instrumental tune on the radio called ‘Sleep Walk’ by Santo & Johnny, a couple of lap steel guitar players who I think came from New York.
“This was in the late 50s, so I must’ve been six or seven when I first heard it. It has this feeling of immense space and ethereal other-worldliness to it. That haunting, atmospheric slide guitar has stuck with me, it sounds more like some angelic human voice than a guitar.
“This led me towards a wealth of other material from that era, stuff like Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ and ‘The Supernatural’ by John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, but ‘Sleep Walk’ is the one that left a lasting impact. All through my career, I’ve tried to recreate those sort of atmospherics. Growing up in the slums on the outskirts of Glasgow, tracks like this really had the power to transport me to another place. Ultravox’s ‘Sleepwalk’ [on the ‘Vienna’ album] has nothing to do with this one though. Our heavy metal synth workout is an entirely different beast.”
AFTERNOON MOVIES ON TV
“I can remember being ill, off school at home lying on the sofa, and catching this black and white movie on TV. ‘On the Beach’ was an adaptation of a novel by Nevil Shute. It’s about this group of people on a submarine who have survived a nuclear war. They wash up in Australia, which is home to the only other survivors on Earth.
“The film explores how these people choose to live out their final moments, all knowing that the imminent fallout is on the way, which is exactly what ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ was about. That recurring, apocalyptic theme has permeated an awful lot of my work since.
“I think some of that childhood film-watching rubbed off on me when we came to make videos, especially for ‘Passing Strangers’ and ‘Vienna’. Our record company wanted to just film us playing in a studio, but we said no, we want to shoot on 16mm film and do something more interesting. We found Russell Mulcahy, an emerging filmmaker, who helped us get the aesthetic right. ‘Vienna’ in particular was all shadows on the cobbles – all very ‘Third Man’, very film noir and we cropped the film to make it look like CinemaScope.
“After it came out, Russell was very much in demand. The funny thing was, being Australian, Russell had a slightly wonky mental image of Vienna. He wanted canals and gondoliers, so we had to explain to him that was Venice, not Vienna.”
“In the early 80s when I started touring regularly I became fascinated with Japan. It was one of the few places I’d been which felt and looked so radically different, in terms of the culture, the language, the look, the technology… everything really. It was just such an inspiring country because of the contrasts in the culture at the time: the traditional dress juxtaposed with all the incredible technology.
“The first time Ultravox toured there I remember bringing a koto back with me on the plane. I’m sure me dragging this six-foot-long instrument on board on an economy ticket delighted the airline staff! I think I used it on a solo track called ‘Edo’ [from 1985’s ‘The Gift’].
“When I first visited I was on tour with Thin Lizzy. The entire crew came back with first-generation Sony Walkmans, and instead, for some reason, I bought a cookbook and this enormous ghettoblaster, which was bigger than any of the equipment Ultravox owned. I took it on tour in America and and can remember blasting it out the windows of the tour bus as we drove along the highways.”
MY PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER, MISS GEBBIE
“The one stand-out person in my formative years was a young primary school teacher from the north of Scotland. She was the first person who spent real time with me and thought I was worthy of anything. I wasn’t very interested in school, but she saw something in me, honed in on my creative bent and encouraged it. She taught me how to draw a simple face when I was about nine or 10 and I ended up using that basic template to design the Visage logo.
“I got to meet her again a few years ago and had the opportunity to tell her about this, which was such a wonderful moment to share with her. She also played a role in my very earliest forays into playing live music. When we met she reminded me about stuff I’d long forgotten, such as performing in our Scout troop’s annual show, which she helped organise. I think I played Herman’s Hermits’ ‘I’m Into Something Good’. Looking back, she played a massively influential role in getting me started.”