“It’s rubbish. It’s nowhere near the best song I’ve ever written.”
Midge Ure is speaking about the Band Aid record “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” which he co-wrote with Bob Geldof. Considering that upon its 1984 release it promptly became the best-selling single in U.K. chart history, one might think Ure would speak about it with more reverence, but this type of candor is what makes his new autobiography If I Was… so compelling.
In writing the book, Ure found himself tracing the arc of a quite extraordinarily varied career. It started with mid-Seventies Scottish pop band Slik, who were literally groomed to be the next Bay City Rollers by that latter group’s writers and got off to a good start with a U.K. Number One. However, Ure found it in no way fulfilling, due to the fact that the backing tracks were put together by third parties. “I remember when I got the phone call telling me that ‘Forever and Ever’ was Number One. I was kind of smiling but distant at the same time because it wasn’t mine,” he recalls.
Slik quickly imploded. “I think naivete probably got me through,” Ure says of the aftermath. “A lot of self-belief I suppose, although I’d nothing to base it on at all. I hadn’t achieved anything. And I was incredibly lucky: getting a phone call from Glen Matlock asking me to join the Rich Kids.” Ure loved his time in the band formed by the man who had recently departed the Sex Pistols but laments, “The live gigs were a fucking nightmare. We used to get bottled going on stage — ’cause I was some kid from a teenybop band.” There was another problem: “Glen and I started pulling different ways. I started listening to a lot of stuff that was coming out of Germany, which was electronic based, and I bought a synthesizer. Glen hated it and Rusty [Egan, drummer] and I were really into it and making all these wonderful bizarre noises and we were off with Visage and Glen lost his band.”
Visage was fronted by Steve Strange, a club-owning figurehead of the New Romantic Movement. “It was never meant to be commercially successful,” says Ure. “It was meant to be a bunch of music we could play in Rusty and Steve’s club.” Nonetheless, several hits followed, including the haunting worldwide smash “Fade to Grey.”
Meanwhile, there was still something of the old rocker in Ure, as he accepted an invitation to sub for Gary Moore on a Thin Lizzy tour. “I loved Thin Lizzy,” says Ure, laughing. “They put me on Concorde to go to America. I’d never made so much money ever in my life and I came back with money to invest in electronics and stuff that I needed for Ultravox.”
It was with Ultravox that Ure made his reputation. A group that mixed the best of electronics with the best of rock, they scored a global hit with Ure’s sweeping love song “Vienna.” “I lied to the papers about [the subject] at the time: the Secessionists and Gustav Klimt, whatever,” Ure says. “I didn’t know about any of that stuff. I wrote a song about a holiday romance, but in this very dark, ominous surrounding.” Meanwhile, “Yellow Pearl,” a jam Ure had written with Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott became the theme tune to legendary BBC chart music show Top of the Pops. Ure recalls himself in this period as “man of the moment.”
However, it wasn’t all self-gratification. Ure and friend Geldof were shocked by images of famine-stricken Ethiopians and wrote a song, and they persuaded fellow pop stars — including Bono, Sting, Duran Duran and George Michael — to sing it. “It was two totally incompatible bits of music that had to be glued together with a new piece of music in the middle and the last thing we came up with was the ‘Feed The World’ bit,” says Ure of “Do They Know It’s Christmas.” “It’s a song without a chorus. It shouldn’t work but it did because of what was going on, because of the people who contributed their talents to it, because of the media exposure.” (Ure is now working on a new recording of the song, featuring members of Coldplay, Travis and Oasis, to benefit the famine victims of the Sudan.)
The royalties from the record literally saved lives but not as many as the revenues from the Live Aid concerts that Geldof and Ure arranged the following year. The concert featured the biggest name in music — including U2, a reunited Led Zeppelin, and Tina Turner and Mick Jagger — performing on two stages on two different continents.
Ure’s star has waned in recent years but he feels slightly insulated from declining media exposure. “The first money I ever made, I bought a recording studio because I think if you have the tools you can carry on making music whether the guys in suits are interested or not,” he says. “I set myself up years ago to be completely and utterly self sufficient.”
This notwithstanding, the autobiography was a painful process that at one stage drove Ure deep into alcoholism. “It was the most miserable time of my life,” he says. “Going back. Because the great bits aren’t there anymore. The camaraderie of being in a band. The joys of being young, free and single and touring the world and doing all the stuff that a young lad should do. And of course the bad bits are still bad. I just lost the plot completely and I’m sure a lot of it was self-inflicted but a lot of it was due to the book. It’s been a strange experience and I think it’s going to get stranger over the next few months.”