Ultravox: more prog than new romantic?

Metal Hammer

When it comes to a really good prog-related story, Midge Ure‘s got a corker. “I was once asked to go and meet Rush, with a view to producing them. They were big Ultravox fans. So I flew over to Toronto, and we had a lovely dinner. Then we got round to talking about their album. They asked what my take on it would be, if I were producing. And I said, ‘I would simplify it.’” He laughs heartily. “Suffice to say I was on the plane home the next day! It was fine, though; I had to be honest. They were brilliant players, and we’d have made a great record together…”

What might have been. While Ure recalls his big brother playing YesRoundabout a lot in the house growing up, he muses, “Too many notes, as they said to Mozart in the movie. Though it’s not too many notes at all; it’s just a skill I do not have. I simply couldn’t do what the prog rock guys do. I asked my friend who played drums in a prog band once what it was like, and he said, ‘You count to 19 and a half, then hit a cymbal.’ Tell you what, though,” he adds, “Billy gets very into textures and augmented ninths and integration of classical structures…”

He does, too. Billy Currie and Midge Ure are here to talk about the 40th anniversary deluxe edition of the Vienna album, the band’s commercial breakthrough, usually referred to as a “synthpop classic”. It’s rather more than that narrow definition implies. While it did contribute to breaking the charts’ barriers against synthesisers, and that single became a watershed, it was a profoundly original and forward-thinking record in its own right. From the seven-minute instrumental opener Astradyne to the prescient electro of Mr X, the band were fusing sounds and styles in groundbreaking ways. Alongside the underrated multi-tasking of Chris Cross and Warren Cann, Ure and Currie broadened the vocabulary and palette of rock. 


(Image credit: Ultravox)

Ultravox had already done something of a Lazarus act. When Island dropped them in ’78 and John Foxx and Robin Simon left, despite the brilliance of the first three albums, they were finding the dawn of the 80s daunting. Currie (violin, viola, keyboards) was playing with Tubeway Army. Ure, nothing if not versatile, had endured, rather than enjoyed, a pop chart topper with Slik, gone on to minor success with Rich Kids, and filled in on guitar on tour for Thin Lizzy. The pair were now collaborating on studio project Visage, a New Romantic concept fronted by Blitz Kid Steve Strange. 


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