We love an ’80s rockstar here at Muddy. They don’t take themselves too seriously, they enjoy reminiscing about their worst ever haircuts (and neckerchiefs) and they always have great yarns about that time they got hammered back in 1984. Midge Ure, Ultravox singer, Band Aid co-founder and genial Glaswegian, is no exception. If you fancy heading south he’s playing at Chilfest in Tring, Hertfordshire on 8 July, otherwise just get ready with your chorus of ‘Ohhhhh Viennaaaaaa!’ as you read this.
Hey Midge, what gives?
I’ve just come back home to Bath from three weeks touring in America and then I head off again in a couple of weeks to Ireland, Dubai, Australia and New Zealand.
How does touring now compare with ‘80s tours – do you still party hard?
Oh god, no. But the process is much the same. Even in the halcyon days of Ultravox we never had tour buses – we drove ourselves and would make an effort to look around the places we were playing. Otherwise it’s like Groundhog Day, and you only ever see hotels and venues that all look the same. You can understand why American artists come on stage here and shout “Hello Manchester!” when they’re actually in Liverpool.
Have you ever done that?
I have thought I was somewhere else but thankfully never voiced it. But that was alcohol induced rather than due to touring exhaustion.
What’s on your rider these days?
Water and Pepsi Max, which I shouldn’t be drinking but I do. No sweets – I’m off refined sugar – and no bottles of champagne any more.
That sounds a bit boring.
We keep it simple now – you wise up after a while. You can’t keep up the hedonism forever. You do it when you’re young and get some success and some money in your pocket. But that thing of doing a show, then going to a nightclub ’til 4 in the morning, then waking up with a dreadful hangover – ugh. That’s in the past.
You’re playing Chilfest – are you a fan of festivals?
I like to hang out a bit, although I don’t do wellies and I don’t go out and watch the bands – I stand at the side of the stage. I like the backstage camaraderie at festivals. I’m looking forward to seeing Glenn Gregory from Heaven 17 at Chilfest as he’s one of my oldest friends. We all have busy lives and it’s hard to hook up socially so these things are great for us sad musicians to re-engage with old pals.
What was the stupidest thing you did in the ‘80s?
I did many stupid things but probably the stupidest was buying a house in Montserrat in the Caribbean. It was infested with termites so I had to rebuild it. Then a hurricane came along, so I had to rebuild it again. Then a volcano erupted and it was gone.
How bored are you of singing ‘Vienna’?
I’m not bored of it! If I was, I wouldn’t do it. What I do is alter how it’s performed and tweak the arrangement – it’s not discernible to the audience but I know. I’m not stupid, I know that at a festival, the audience isn’t there to hear the obscure seven minute instrumental off your second album, they’re there to hear certain songs.
Nostalgia: good or bad thing?
There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia as long as you don’t hang your hat on it. Otherwise you end up not doing anything new.
What was your biggest fashion faux pas?
There was a period in the ’80s when I grew a weird mullet – it was the start of me trying to grow my hair long enough to put it into a ponytail. I remember looking at a photoshoot in French Vogue with these guys with their hair tied back in little bows and thinking, Wow, that looks cool. But the transition between short and long hair meant a cringe-y, bizarre mullet.
What do you know now that you wish you’d know back then?
Never believe anything anyone writes about you – if they think you’re a complete dick, don’t believe it and if they think you’re wonderful, don’t believe it either. It either makes your head too big or makes you want to cry in a corner.
What’s been the most rock’n’roll moment in your life?
In the mid ’80s I had a garage full of classic British and German sports cars that looked beautiful but that I could never drive – the batteries would be flat or the MOTs would’ve run out. I remember coming back from my first trip to Ethiopia, looking around at all my stuff and deciding to get rid of it all. I was single but living in an 8 bedroom house on the river, with 8 classic sports cars in the garage. I mean, really?!
Who’d play you in a biopic of your life?
It’d have to be someone Scottish. Maybe Robert Carlyle – we’ve both got that rat-faced look.
He’s so convincing as Begbie in Trainspotting though – you look at him at think ‘psycho’…
Hmmm, yes maybe he’d be too violent. If I was being incredibly vain I’d say the other one from Trainspotting who’s really good-looking – Ewan McGregor.
You have four daughters – how embarrassing do they find you?
Suitably embarrassing. Certainly when they’ve seen me sing on stage or when I went to their school to give a talk. But I think there would be something wrong if they were fawning over me, wouldn’t there? It’s the law to be embarrassed by your dad.
What has having four daughters taught you about women?
That I’m always wrong, that you should never argue back and that I should know my place. I’m surrounded by women and I admit I still don’t quite understand them.
What’s the biggest misconception about you?
That I’m short. I’m 5’8 which is average. I got a phone call from a morning TV show once because they were doing a piece about really short celebrities. When I told them I was 5’8 they were really disappointed.
How odd. Did you stand next to really tall people a lot in the ‘80s perhaps?
Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet and Glenn Gregory are well over six foot so maybe that’s it.
Describe yourself in three words?
Fairly unassuming chap.
Can you tell me a joke? Keep it clean please.
I’m rubbish at jokes. OK, there was a guy who couldn’t tell the difference between incest and arson. He set his sister on fire.
Sorry Midge but that’s pretty poor.
It’s not good, but at least it’s not rude.
Hmm, don’t worry, I can help you out on one of those.
Midge Ure is playing Chilfest in Tring on 8 July.