Exclusive Interview

NMP Live Meets Midge Ure

NMP Live Meets multi-award winning musician and Live Aid co-organiser, Midge Ure. 

Watch the full interview or read the transcript below.


In conversation with Midge Ure

So in the mid '80s, Bob Geldof and myself were in fairly successful bands. We saw the start of a famine in Africa that was to devastate millions of people. And we decided to put our musical prowess together and write a song to try and raise some money for the people in Africa, and we wrote Do They Know It's Christmas, and invited all our favourite musicians to come and help us turn this very seedy idea into something great.

That grew into Live Aid, which not only became, at the time, the biggest concert on the planet, it was actually two simultaneous concerts, one in Philadelphia, one in London satellite linked, but it became the biggest social event on the planet, a humanitarian event. So it's funny now looking back at it, because it kind of feels like I was there watching it as opposed to there doing it these days.

What were the main challenges producing the Band Aid single?

When you are in charge of something like this, you move into a different mode. You're not their mate anymore. You're not their contemporary anymore. You're not just the musician. I had 24 hours to record Phil Collins drums, do all the backing vocals, and get decent lines from each of the individuals, and mix the record, because it had to be in the pressing plants at eight in the morning, the next morning. Or it would never have made Christmas, it would never have been ready. That's how it was. It was vinyl, a big blob of plastic gets squashed, and then it has to be put in a sleeve, and then it has to be labelled and shipped out and gone into the shops. We would have missed it. So, I had to go into school teacher mode. 

The only time I got ratty with anyone was with Bob who continually sang the wrong song anthem. Bob's idea of melody was not the melody that we had put down on tape. Fortunately, I had recorded a guide vocal track that everyone could listen to, to get to know the song. So as other artists were singing their part, the other artists watching them doing their thing were learning the song. So it kind of flowed quite nicely.

How did the success of Band Aid lead to the Live Aid concert?

One of the systems that we wanted to try and change in Africa was the trucking system, the internal trucking systems. We didn't have the money to break this trucking cartel, where all the aid agencies use this one trucking cartel and paid handsomely for it. Because it's one thing getting the food to the docks, and the ports, and all of that stuff, and the airport, it's getting up country with the no roads. People have to drive up the dry river beds and all sorts of stuff. And we didn't have the money to break this cartel. 

So one of the millions of meetings we were having, we're having meetings every day in the accountant's office, because we had never owned an office. We never owned a phone. We never had a secretary, any of that. We begged, borrowed, and stole everything.

And we were using this meeting room and Bob walked in one day with a drawing on a pad, a drawing of the Earth, and a knife, and fork. And he said, "I've got this idea." And he said, "I want to put this concert on. And we can do one in the UK, we could do one in New York, originally.” And Harvey Goldsmith's chin just hit the floor, because at that time, mobile phones were the size of a small house and didn't work very well. You still had to book telephone calls across the Atlantic. You had to do everything by telex. There was no internet. There was no email, none of that stuff. 

So instantly we all thought a logistical nightmare, is this feasible? And from that moment on, it kind of grew. The seed of an idea that Bob walked in with kind of grew, the same way the Band Aid idea grew from that initial phone call. And it just took a different team of experts.

Luckily the people around the table, as I said, were kind of experts in their own right. And it just grew from that point. So every meeting from there on in was someone would walk in and go, "I've got Queen." You go, ‘what? What do you mean?’ It's the kind of conversations that you wish you had recorded. It was kind of bizarre. And if I could have kept the tapes on my answering machine, because that's how they used to do them back in the day, they'd be fantastic now to listen to, because it was everybody leave and Sting’s on the phone and all that stuff going on. So, it was just magnificent. 

And it's weird when you're doing something like that, because in your heart of hearts, you think, this isn't going to happen. You know that you're doing all the right things because you are shooting for the moon. This is just huge. The biggest concert ever the planet was ever going to see up to that point.

And right up until the day that we flew into Wembley to do Live Aid, because all the artists had to be flown in by helicopter and land in the field next to it. Up until that day, still somewhere the doubting Thomas here, in the back of my mind it's going to, no. It can't be, can't be, can't. And then I look down from this helicopter and see an empty Wembley Stadium with a big stage at one end and just thousands of people around it all waiting to get in. And that's when it kind of struck that this was real. This is going to happen.

What are your stand-out memories of Live Aid?

The backstage bit was fantastic. We were all put in a holding tank, a big green room area. And the moment the music kicked off, which was Status Quo, Rockin' All Over the World, which is the best song ever to kick off a global concert, irrespective of which musical camp you thought you belonged to, all the new romantics were standing in one corner and the rockers were standing in another corner, and we were all kind of divided up into little groups, the moment Status Quo kicked off, you looked around the room and all the heads are doing this, everybody. It was a leveller.

Everyone in the room got it. They're all thinking, "Ooh, we're part or something here. This is just going to fly." 

So seeing that, Ultravox's performance is in my mind, it lasted about three seconds. Everyone had 18 minutes. When you're about to walk on stage, the stage manager said, "When you go on guys, either side of the stage, there's a traffic light system, green when you walk on. It turns amber in 16 minutes, and you won't see it turn red at 18 minutes because the power goes off." And that was the only way we could keep all the artists in time. You're doing satellite links and stuff, and nobody ran over. It was hysterical. 

So going on and doing it, I remember the sea of hands. I remember people singing along with the songs. I remember it was a glorious day. And then I managed to sneak out front for an hour and watch a lot of artists. I'd be sitting there thinking, I'm not going to like this. I'm not keen on them, and then sit there and watch someone do something brilliantly, and sit there with egg on my face, and then watch the next one and do the same thing. It's not quite my cup of tea. Oh, bloody hell. That's great. I sat and watched this thing. It was just glorious, glorious.

What are the main topics you speak about?

I don't use graphs or pie charts, and I don't use projectors and PowerPoints and all of that stuff. I walk on, and I talk, and I talk about my life and my challenges. I talk about the bizarre things that have happened to me in my life.

You cannot sit down at 20 and map out what you think your life will be, because it wouldn't be that. That might be your goal. You might have to go all around the houses to achieve that goal. And it's not always your decision when the phone rings, or you lose a job and you get a different job, and it takes you off on a slightly different path. You have to make the best of those decisions that are made on your behalf or that you make when those moments come.

So I talk about my reality. And when I talk about what Bob and I did with Band-Aid and the challenges that were involved with it, because it's something most companies resonate with, they understand the complexities of having to deal with people's egos, having to deal with stuff that you're actually not 100% sure that you are capable of doing. It's a constant climb. It's a constant challenge. And when you find these challenges in your life and you talk about that with other people, they get it. They can see that you're just the guy who could have lived next door to them. You're not somebody special. Special things have happened around you, and it's how you deal with those special things that makes you the individual you become.

I've said many times that I think we are all the culmination of our influences, not just music. You are the culmination of your parents, the teachers you had at school, the friends you've had, the books you've read, the movies you've seen. And what comes out eventually is you, that you're the sensibility of that, and you have the feelings of this, and you have the trust issues of that.

So it's this combination of things that makes us individual characters. And that's what I am. I'm nothing different from anybody else. I've just been in weird situations that I've had to deal with, thrown into very kind of left-field situations. You just have to get on with stuff.

I've said many times, if my history was written down on a piece of paper and you sent it to Hollywood to make a movie, they just wouldn't think it was real, because it's not. At 20, you can't think, well, by 25, I'm going to do this. And then when I get to 30, I'll be doing Ultravox and touring the world. And then by the time I'm 35, I'll have done the biggest concert in the planet. It doesn't work that way.

Do you perform at corporate and private events?

Yeah, of course. I've performed at corporate events before. I've done quite a few. And they're always fun. They're always fun, because it's an audience who maybe normally wouldn't come and see you if you were playing the near town. It's off their radar. They're not tuned into what's happening in the current venues. Or they know Vienna, and they know Dancing with Tears, and they know If I Was, but they don't know anything else.

But when you do an event, you play a concert, a corporate event, there's something about it, probably the fact that they'd been at the champagne all day, and they're having an absolute ball, and it's the end of their three-day stint, and they're letting their hair down. And they just love it. There's something really vibrant about doing all.

I've done a few things in the past, because corporate events companies like to challenge companies, and it's usually the same kind of thing. And this particular events company asked me if I could just set the challenge for a company to make a record. And they had done a little bit of recce work beforehand. They'd sent a little questionnaire asking various things about sport and whatever, and, "Do you play an instrument?". So we kind of knew that there were people in there who would step up, that have done a bit of karaoke, and we guide them through the process of making a record in 24 hours. And when you see them step up to the microphone, they're petrified. And then when you play back what they've done, they are in awe. And then you play back a video that they've shot the day before. We do it all within a 24 hour period.

Doing that stuff is just fun to me. It's just hysterical. It kind of reinvigorates my enjoyment of the creative process. Because a lot of the time when I'm writing new material, I'm in a studio on my own, so you can't really share it with other people. But when you do corporate events, you're seeing people who didn't know you were walking on stage, who are surprised, who having a ball, singing along with you. It's just great, because they weren't expecting it. It's a reciprocal thing. I get a buzz from doing it, and they get a buzz from seeing it.

As a speaker, what’s the key to engaging an audience?

Speaking from the heart. I've seen many speakers, and they have a script, and I don't have a script. I don't have anything. I'm honest. Sometimes I can stumble. Sometimes I'd say things that I haven't planned to say. I kind of deviate. I'm doing a tour right now where I'm taking questions from the audience, and depending on what the questions are will dictate what song I'm going to play.

Hence, I don't know what I'm going to do every night, but it doesn't mean that it's wrong. Some nights it flows easier than others, but that's how life is. So I go on and I talk about the challenges I've had.

If you are honest, and true, and real when you speak, just as I am in my music, people will get it. There's nothing complicated to understand when you talk about overcoming massive challenges. And I've had them not only in my business, but my personal life. I'm a recovering alcoholic. I've been dry for 14 years. It was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do in my life. And it's a challenge every single day. But I take my hat off to people who stand up and go, "I've got a problem. I'm going to fix that. I'm going to do something about that." And that is honesty.

If you're interested in booking Midge Ure you can enquire onlineemail us or pick up the phone and speak to one of our booking agents. For further information on Midge Ure, testimonials and video clips view his profile.


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