22nd October 2019
Midge Ure - “1980 Tour (Visage and Vienna)” 2019 - Support: Rusty Egan
New Romantic was born out of the Punk movement in the UK. It initially started in clubs like The Blitz in London, a small club night aimed at fans of DAVID BOWIE and ROXY MUSIC - and of course electronic bands such as KRAFTWERK. Both MIDGE URE and Rusty Egan were members of RICH KIDS, a band put together by Glen Matlock of the SEX PISTOLS. The roots of New Romantic were formed due to members of the punk scene wanting to be part of a distinctive, creative fashion movement, but led by a different style of music.
By 1980, MIDGE URE had joined ULTRAVOX after the parting of JOHN FOXX. VISAGE had been born, fronted by (the late) Steve Strange, with MIDGE URE and Rusty Egan writing and playing. This tour is to celebrate ULTRAVOX’s ‘Vienna’ album and the first album from VISAGE (self-titled). It’s worth mentioning this venue is a modern concert hall - many popular artists play here, but it is a seated only hall, mainly catering for classical music. It’s new, and very clinical - I’m expecting the acoustics to be excellent, but it is a soulless place. The promotional company was very difficult to find, and then ignored all requests for a press access pass - many apologies to the reader, all the accompany images were taken from the third floor balcony with a 300mm lens. Not ideal.
Rusty Egan has bounced around in the music industry for many years, working with names as big as U2. He started as a drummer for RICH KIDS, but become well known as the co-owner and DJ at London clubs such as The Blitz in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s - and then later with his involvement with VISAGE. The first two albums from the band featured Rusty, including big selling singles such as ‘Fade to Grey’, ‘The Anvil’, ‘Night Train’, ‘Mind of a Toy’ and ‘The Damned Don’t Cry’. The second incarnation of VISAGE didn’t include Rusty, and he drifted out of the public eye, only coming to obvious attention again with his very public squabbles with former band member STEVE STRANGE. He is now involved with Artefaktor Radio, and has recently released an album called ‘Welcome to the Dance Floor’. https://facebook.com/rusty.egan
Music & Performance
An unconventional support act opening this evening for MIDGE URE, some nights of his tour have TINY MAGNETIC PETS, but tonight is Rusty Egan. It’s unconventional as it’s not a live performance of music, it’s part lecture, part informal chat, part DJ’ing - based upon the history of the New Romantics. He talks about his musical influences from the early days of DAVID BOWIE and KRAFTWERK through to JAPAN, ULTRAVOX, GARY NUMAN, DURAN DURAN, SPANDAU BALLET, DEPECHE MODE and plays tracks to accompany. Next he gives an insight into his mixing techniques, and updates the audience on the projects he has recently been working on. The seated crowd seems suited to this presentation and it is well received with lots of participation and laughter. I enjoyed the potted history, more than I thought I would - again the seated atmosphere just seemed to suit the approach. As he leaves the stage he mentions he will be back on set with MIDGE URE.
Music: 7 (not live)
Performance: 7 (enjoyable conversation)
Total: 5 / 10
MIDGE URE has been around a long time, and is best known as the frontman for ULTRAVOX (second incarnation, after JOHN FOXX’ stint). ULTRAVOX was hugely successful throughout Europe, with many well-known tracks such as ‘Vienna’, ‘Hymn’, ‘Visions in Blue’, ‘The Thin Wall’, and ‘Dancing with Tears in Their Eyes’ - the list could go on. His involvement with VISAGE was incredibly important, and it’s fair to say he was one of the driving forces of creativity within the band. He was also successful as a solo artist, his biggest selling single was ‘If I was’. www.midgeure.co.uk / www.facebook.com/midge.ure
Music & Performance
After Rusty’s initial outing on the stage, as enjoyable as it was, I was now longing for live music. He returned to accompany the traditional drummer with a set of digital synthesiser drums. A keyboard player placed himself to the left of the stage, another to the right, one playing additional bass, the other playing additional violin. The band, minus Rusty, are collectively known as ELECTRONICA. As Midge entered the stage it was obvious he intended to play keyboards as well as his rather good guitar playing - a mobile keyboard was waiting for him. The full band were all dressed in black, MIDGE URE in a black suit and shirt.
The opening track, ‘Yellow Pearl’ although a well-known THIN LIZZY track, was co-written by MIDGE URE who was a member of the band at the time. For me, being of a certain age, and for the vast majority of the audience, this was a great way to start the set - a popular TV music program in the UK used this music to open and close the program. As this tour is essentially a nostalgia fuelled extravaganza it instantly brought back memories of being a teenager watching all the great bands of the time, in 1980. The sound was good, the lights pretty good, and the band seemed tight on this track - a good opener.
The VISAGE set continued the evening, not every track on the album was going to be played, and they opened with the single ‘Visage’. I have to say, I hadn’t realised how important Steve Strange’s voice was to the overall sound of the band - Midge’s voice has aged reasonably well, he’s now 66, but sounds strangely at unease with many of the VISAGE tracks. Maybe just me? I’m not sure, but it continued to niggle me throughout the VISAGE set, and then felt correct for the ULTRAVOX set. ‘Blocks on Blocks’ and ‘The Dancer’ were rattled through, and after the first three VISAGE tracks, it wasn’t just the lack of Steve’s vocals that niggled me. The band just weren’t providing what was required. Was it their playing? Not entirely. The drummer did play a little lifelessly, and reminded me of many a cabaret act on a ferry or cruise ship, the bass player / keyboard player followed the theme - adequate, but nothing special, and the keyboard playing from the third guy was certainly much the same. I started to put the performance under further scrutiny as I listened. I came to the conclusion it was mainly the production, the mix, the way it sounded.
When presenting a nostalgia tour should an artist play updated versions or stay true to the original sound? It’s a hotly debated topic - but these tracks were neither. No updating, no modern twist - the overall sound was of the 80’s, but a poor copy of the originals - it sounded flat with little in the way of dynamics at all. To my ears this became worse for ‘Mind of a Toy’, a personal favourite track of mine. I remember listening to it, as a young teenager, thinking how twisted, melancholic and slightly disturbing the single sounded - the video maybe helped this with its added visuals. The version played tonight really lost all of this atmosphere, it sounded like it was played on a Bontempi organ - it encapsulated the sound of my mum playing her favourite tunes in the living room on her treasured 1970’s electric organ. I cannot explain how disappointing this was for me - I saw VISAGE play at the Whitby Gothic Weekend some years ago, not long before Steve died. Again not the original band, but they didn’t kill the haunting feel of ‘Mind of a Toy’ - I was beginning to think that I wasn’t going to enjoy this concert much.
VISAGE’s cover of ‘2525’ was played next, it wasn’t originally on the first album, but was an early song recorded by the band. I’ve always loved this cover version, the synthesized voice, the melody, the theme of the lyrics - it just works for me. Would tonight continue in the same murdering of a well-loved track? Not quite, this one worked better. The synthesised voice provided by Midge worked well enough and the melody carried the performance - this worked better for the band. ‘2525’ was followed by a Rusty Egan solo track called ‘Glorious’. I quite enjoyed the track, I’d not heard it before. The overall sound somehow reminded me of the third and final incarnation of ULTRAVOX, kind of an easy listening experience. I came to the conclusion this was the overall sound of the band ELECTRONICA - not cutting edge electronic, but an inoffensive, middle aged, easy listening version of an electronic band.
The final track of this part of the set, the penultimate VISAGE track, was ‘Fade to Grey’. Some of the crowd got to their feet and danced. Rusty was beaming with pride as he played the famous sonic boom synthesised beat. Midge carried the vocals well enough, I didn’t miss Steve at all - perhaps all my negativity was of my own doing? Certainly I’m used to hearing Midge’s version of this song, he plays it regularly - maybe that helped my acceptance? Either way, I enjoyed the single, as did the crowd - the response as it ended was loud and appreciative. Rusty left the stage, and the performance carried on without him - it was time to play ULTAVOX’s album ‘Vienna’.
As the band burst into the instrumental ‘Astradyne’ I somehow saw the band come alive. It’s difficult to explain. The volume certainly seemed to increase, the power now giving the dynamics to the sound that had been missing. The light show also seemed to come alive - I know this tour was initially for just playing the album ‘Vienna’, the VISAGE set idea was added later. But, overall, this seemed to be chalk and cheese - it was like somebody had flicked a switch. My earlier conclusion that it was the production at fault seemed to be vindicated. The band weren’t as lifeless as the lacklustre sound initially suggested. They still weren’t of the high ULTRAVOX standard, in particular the extreme talent of Billy Curry’s keyboards and violin was sadly missed. But now, in my opinion, they couldn’t be likened to a cabaret act - perhaps more as a decent tribute band.
As the set progressed through onto the two popular singles ‘Passing strangers’ and ‘Sleepwalk’ some of the crowd had left their seats - some had even ventured to the front of the stage (was this the one thing at such a prestigious classical venue?). Midge was at ease with the crowd throughout the show, and chatted and made comments to bolster the crowd into participation. I particularly found his comments about ‘Shaddap You Face’ a novelty song written and performed by JOE DOLCE that kept the single ‘Vienna’ off the top spot in the UK charts. It really was a travesty that such a poor comedy record reached number one, and beat ‘Vienna’ in the popularity stakes!
The lighting show also went up a gear, adding three video panels to the rear backdrop strip LED lights (and some rather funky looking flame effect sconce lights). This was now becoming a much better gig. ‘Mr X’, another favourite of mine added some nice visual effects on the screens with TV transmission style interference with the text ‘Mr X’ flickering - it really set the scene for this ghost-like story. The KRAFTWERK influence is very strong in this song, and it somehow showed even more - perhaps in part to the original (rare) lead vocal by Warren Cann being replaced by a synthesised voice (provided of course by Midge). The track ‘Vienna’ is understandably a highlight of the evening for many people. Beams of white light projected down onto the stage, evoking the columns featured strongly in the video, a thick waft of smoke clings to the floor. It’s such a classic, strong track it surely was important to add to the visuals - and it was, very well done indeed. Key features of ‘Vienna’ are Midge’s voice and the violin playing. Both are adequately recreated, along with the tinkling piano, but sadly the outstandingly stylised violin playing of Billy Curry is missed. Yes, there is someone playing a violin, but unfortunately not Billy.
The set is finished with yet another single off the album ‘All Stood Still’. The crowd were enjoying this too much for the band not to return, they came back for their first encore. To let the reader into a secret, after the initial disappointment, I was also enjoying the performance too. The first of two encores, ‘Passionate Reply’, from the same era as ‘Vienna’ and then fast forwarded further into ULTRAVOX’s career, with the single ‘Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’. The second encore consisted of the single ‘The Voice’, and followed with the last track of the evening ‘Hymn’. I walked away from the gig feeling it was let down by the lacklustre VISAGE set. I couldn’t quite decide what had let it down. But it just somehow didn’t work well. The rest of the set sounded far superior and the band seemed to feel much more comfortable with this material - perhaps due to the numerous past appearances playing it? I last saw them play with Midge at Amphi Festival in 2018, and certainly their performance was much better this evening.
- Visage set (with Rusty Egan) -
01. Yellow Pearl
03. Blocks on Blocks
04. The Dancer
05. Mind of a Toy
06. In The Year 2525
07. Glorious (Rusty Egan track)
08. Fade to Grey
- Vienna set -
10. New Europeans
11. Private Lives
12. Passing Strangers
14. Mr. X
15. Western Promise
17. All Stood Still
18. Passionate Reply
19. Dancing With Tears in My Eyes
20. The Voice
Total: 6.8 / 10
All Pictures by Kevin Stevens