For someone who has been making music since the 1970s, Midge Ure certainly gives every impression of still loving playing his music live an unbelievable six decades on. The third night of the UK leg of his Voice & Visions tour saw him take to the stage with a show that had been postponed not once but twice because of the pandemic. “It’s taken a while and you’ve been more than patient” the singer told the Brighton audience with characteristic charm.
For a musician with such longevity and a huge back catalogue of songs, it must be a challenge for Ure to choose a setlist. Never one to simply wheel out the hits (of which there are many) like a tired old jukebox, Voice and Visions promises to perform highlights from Ultravox’s Rage In Eden and Quartet albums (from 1981 and 1982 respectively) as well as “solo hits and more”. This is a canny approach. Hardcore fans will be rewarded with forays into tracks from seminal albums rarely heard live since the early 80s. By contrast, the more casual fans are never too far from a hit.
In interviews, Ure has suggested that a lot of his hit records have been overshadowed by the behemoth that is Vienna, one of the decade’s defining and enduring songs. However, the Voice and Visions tour is a timely reminder of the chart-bothering songs he has created throughout his career. If I Was, his 1985 number one solo single gets a vigorous rendition here, retaining the song’s vitality along with its ability to irritate grammar sticklers. Yes reader, The Recs mouthed the words “If I Were” like the pedants we are. His first solo outing, No Regrets, a cover of the Tom Rush song, made famous by the Walker Brothers, is played with great gusto. From Quartet Hymn proves to be a rather neglected classic and timely anthem of keeping faith in a time of corruption. With typical self-deprecation, the introduction “Here’s a song I wrote a million years ago” precedes a full-throttle Fade To Grey. Midge and the band present his Visage hit as the era-defining synth-dominated classic it is, albeit sans French mutterings.
Even if you aren’t overfamiliar with the two albums in the spotlight on this tour, the quality of the original songwriting and current arrangements keep it from being an esoteric exercise. Songs such as The Thin Wall and The Voice recall the freshness of the Rage In Eden album, the former with a Visage-like analogue jauntiness, the latter reveling in quintessential Ultravox grandeur. Talking of his preparation for this tour, the Scottish singer hilariously admitted that he had to get a Spotify account to relearn some of these songs. Revealing that this process threw up some surprises and “not always in a good way”, the reward was that you discover “a little nugget” that got lost along the way. For him, I Remember (Death in the Afternoon) was such a song and duly delivered with appropriately huge percussive bombast. For us, the undiscovered gem of the entire set was Your Name (Has Slipped Me Mind Again) . Haunting and dramatic with an opulent sparsity, the stunning album track will have us seeking it out on our own Spotify account.
By contrast, the tracks from the Quartet album reflect the turning point in Ultravox’s sound from epic electronica of scale towards a more commercial poppier sound. We Came To Dance retains its idiosyncratic synthesizer playfulness while Mine For Life sees Ure thrashing about with electric guitar abandon to the obvious delight of the sell-out crowd. Reap The Wild Wind is the most poppy ditty of the night and is joyously infectious as a result.
Not one to milk the audience’s visible, sincere admiration, following a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gap, the encore opened with Astradyne, an instrumental track that is a synth-tastic treat, evoking the time when the 80s looked towards the future and soared.
For someone as creative as Ure, that hit must be a mixed blessing. It has an inescapable gravitational pull. Whatever his personal feelings may be, Vienna is performed with an understanding how important this song is to his listeners. There is a palpable frisson as the opening chords hang in the air before that iconic percussion kicks in. All cinematic grandiloquence and delicious piano glissandos, it is genuinely thrilling to hear Vienna in all its chilling operatic glory.
What is particular striking about the Voice and Visions tour is the quality of the musicianship. Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe perform the excellent opening support set as India Electric Co. with a commendably listenable collection of songs that occasionally remind us of the twinkly exuberance of The Blue Nile. The pair of talented multi-instrumentalists become Midge’s band for his set along with music’s happiest drummer (and Midge / Picard “clone” according to the singer) Russell Field. Full credit to Ure’s sound engineers – the huge, crisp and clear sound is about as flawless as we’ve heard on live tours.
Towards the end of the gig, Ure reflects on the difficulties for live music in the last few years and then sincerely thanks his audience saying he’s so “pleased that you stuck with us”. The singer is not someone who wears his emotion easily on his sleeve but the mutual gratitude between performer and audience is palpable. Despite having sustained success across his long and influential career, Midge wears his legacy lightly. He’s just a man who loves performing his music and long may he continue to do so.
Ure The Best ★★★★★