As Scottish tunesmith Midge Ure recently was teaching a master class at Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, he really wanted to answer students’ earnest questions about show business optimistically, but reality dictated otherwise.
“Halfway through the whole process, I thought, ‘None of these kids will ever have a multi-album deal, because those don’t exist anymore, and if they get four or five gigs in a row, that will be a tour, and the majority of them might not see that, ever,’” says the singer, 63, a veteran of Slik, Visage, Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy and new wave staple Ultravox, who appears in The City next week.
He decided to find out what happened to his beloved, once-nurturing music industry.
After reconvening Ultravox for the 30th anniversary of its ethereal classic “Vienna,” Ure scheduled an unusually arduous trek to support his 2014 solo disc “Fragile” and to counter an article he had read about established performers who no longer could make a living playing music in the digital age,
He booked a six-week tour of America dubbed “Fragile Troubadour” and documented it in journals and on video.
“It was a ridiculous task I set for myself,” he says. “I went out totally alone, no crew, no tour manager, no musicians, nobody.”
The winter jaunt was eye-opening. Driving (to save money) from venue to venue, he was often caught in blinding snow storms.
Some days, his merchandise didn’t arrive in time, thereby cutting into his projected profits.
“I did things I’d never done before, like a settlement at the end of a show,” he says. “I’m sitting there each night, counting out dollars and doing a tally: How many people got in? How many T-shirts did we sell? And if you didn’t sell your 20 CDs that night, you’d end up in debt.”
Ure — who penned the monster charity hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and with chum Bob Geldof co-engineered Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 — is still putting food on the table through his craft.
He tours Australia and New Zealand every year in our winter months, narrates programs for BBC Radio, and has a new BMG album coming this year, featuring orchestral versions of signature Ultravox and solo-catalog songs.
He likens his career to a duck paddling on a pond, calling it what he was born to do. He adds, “But you have to swim even harder these days just to get that bread crumb floating on the water. That’s why I documented that tour — to show young musicians possibly the best they could hope for. And if that didn’t scare you, maybe you were made of the right stuff.”
IF YOU GO
Midge Ure Band
Where: Social Hall, 1270 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 11
Tickets: $25 to $28
Contact: (415) 777-1715, www.axs.com
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