Midge Ure on Band Aid, the three Rs and his first guitar as he visits Hull

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 7 Jun 2017

If you wished to offend Midge Ure, there are two approaches you could take.

Firstly you could ask how he feels about Joe Dolce's 'Shaddap You Face' keeping Ultravox's 'Vienna' out the top of the charts in 1981 – a question the musician, singer/songwriter and campaigner tackles with good humour and quick wit.

Alternatively, you could tell him you would like to sample one of his musical masterpieces and turn it into a thumping dance music track. The latter would probably be met with less good humour.

He said: "I have always strived to do the very best with everything I have ever done, making sure it is the best I could possibly do.

"I want my daughters to be proud of the music I have made. I don't want it turning into something I do not recognise.

"Another musician once said to me that when someone samples one of your songs, it is like putting on your jacket, taking your dog for a walk, and then coming back with a cat.

"That is how I feel about it."

In an industry that often chews artists and performers up and spits them out in less time than it takes to download an album on to your iPhone, Midge's longevity is quite remarkable.

Indeed, he tells me sustaining such a lengthy career, doing something he loves, is both his greatest achievement and his biggest challenge.

"A lot of people in the industry have some degree of success and then disappear, and do something else."I remember having a conversation with Bob Geldof about the alternatives and for us there wasn't one. It was music or nothing."

Though the Scotsman might perceive sustaining a career in music that spans decades as his greatest achievement, ask the average person on the street and they will likely say his songwriting, his contribution to iconic bands such as Ultravox and Thin Lizzy, or his role in helping to mastermind Band Aid and Live Aid.

Bringing together a group of the biggest names in music and recording a song that went on to become one of the biggest-selling British singles in history would be accomplishment enough, but to do so in an era void of today's technology makes it even more remarkable.

The music underneath 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' was created by Midge on his toy Casio keyboard, recorded onto a cassette, and sent via a bike to Sir Bob, who came back to tell him in no uncertain times that it was rubbish.

Sir Bob then assured Midge he had penned the lyrics, though on hearing the words Midge said "it was clear he was making it up as he went along".

Nevertheless the duo carried on, and after spending days trying to fit these two "incompatible" components together, they came up with the all-important chorus, and the song was finished.

They then faced the challenge of drumming up a collective of artists to sing it."This was a time before mobile phones, or the internet, and to reach America you had to use Telex," said Midge. "Bob came to my studio and rang all of our friends and contemporaries. He ran up a massive phone bill while I was doing all the work!"

The pair managed to secure a studio in Notting Hill and turned up at 8am one Sunday morning to find a "three-ring circus" of media types.

Midge said: "It was crazy. Everyone wanted to know what was going on, so there was this huge sea of reporters and photographers. And Bob and me. And nobody else."

Despite their initial fears, every artist they had invited turned up – "plus a few we hadn't invited, which was fine". Everyone that is, except Boy George.

"He was in New York. We rang him in his hotel room, and woke him up to ask where he was. He said he hadn't realised it was that day, and apologised for missing it. Bob told him he hadn't missed it; there was Concorde leaving in an hour.

"Boy George turned up at 8pm, clicking his fingers demanding a brandy. We told him he would have to go to the corner shop himself."

The result of the musicians' endeavours is, of course, legendary.

The initial hope was to shift 300,000 singles – a figure dwarfed by the three million copies that were eventually sold. The single not only became the greatest charity single of all time, but also paved the way for Live Aid, and subsequently Live 8. Equally importantly, it shifted attitudes about charity and giving – particularly among young people.

Midge said: "People sometimes ask if I think it changed anything; after all, people are still starving.

"It did not 'fix' it, but then that is why we called it Band Aid; it could not cure the problem but it could fix it for a while.

"It also changed the attitude of young people towards charity. All of a sudden it was cool to be charitable, whereas before it had been seen as something done by your grandparents or the WI."

But how did a young lad living in a tenement flat on the outskirts of Glasgow get into music in the first place?

He said: "I did not excel at school. I was good at art and music but that was never picked up; it was never developed. All teachers were interested in were the 'Three Rs'.

"I was no good at spelling or maths, but I knew for a fact arithmetic didn't start with an R.

"Fortunately, my father had the foresight to buy me my first guitar."

That guitar cost £3 – equivalent to half his father's weekly wages. It was a bold move, and one which set Midge on a career path that would eventually take him from new wave bands such as Rich Kids and Ultravox and sythpop band Visage to being honoured with two Ivor Novello awards, a Music Lifetime Achievement Award at the Acoustic Festival of Britain, among others, and becoming an ambassador for Save The Children.

Midge was the guest speaker at the Institute of Directors Luncheon on Monday, which formed part of Humber Business Week 2017.

Speaking to more than guests at the dinner, he urged them to have the confidence to follow their dreams."If you do that, and work hard, success will come," he said. "Focus on the positives, not the negatives, and work with the people who you respect and who respect you.

My entire career has been driven by desire, it has never been planned, and I've always acted with no safety net.

"Some people spend their retirement doing their hobby, but I have been lucky enough to have a career doing what I love. I don't know what I would do if I had to 'retire' – I'd probably have to get a job."

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