He has an honest claim to the tune, having worked as Phil Lynott’s right-hand man for a couple of years, but the irony of ending his concert sets with Thin Lizzy’s greatest hit is not lost on Midge Ure.
“It should be ‘The Old Men Are Back in Town’, really, but there we are,” says the singer, guitarist, and keyboardist, checking in with the Straight from his home in Bath, England. “It’s a bit of levity at the end of the night, and it seems to do its job.”
At 64, and with gigs as disparate as fronting synth-pop pioneers Ultravox and cowriting the international charity hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” under his belt, Ure is no boy. Instead, he’s an avuncular presence, coming across as warm, wise, and self-aware, whether discussing the music industry or the chaos that is about to engulf the U.K. upon its exit from the European Union.
On that topic, he has this to say about the mock-Tudor dreams of the Brexiteers: “The reality of it is, I was born in a tenement slum on the outskirts of Glasgow, with gas mantles lighting the communal areas and no central heating. It was a mess! People have this very strange idea of what the good old days were. They weren’t that good.”
Get Ure talking about music, however, and it’s clear that he’s still remarkably young at heart. Not for him the coddled life of the semiretired rock star. Instead, this summer he’s joined forces with old friend Paul Young and a band of Americans for a tour that’s the rock ’n’ roll antithesis of playing the casino circuit. (The two will play separate sets with the same backing band, then return together for the encore.)
“I missed out on touring in America for about 20 years, and I got tired of it, so I started all over again. I found an agent, and I came out and I started doing little clubs and, slowly but surely, building things up,” Ure explains. “And Paul did the same thing. He had more or less disappeared from America, but he did a tour last year—a multi-act thing with mainly ’80s artists—and he enjoyed it. So I suggested there’s a way of touring where you don’t need to have a major label and you don’t need to go banging on doors asking for funding. And I told him how I’d been doing it: picking up musicians—really good musicians—in America and getting back to how it was in the old days.
“You have a guitar and an amplifier? Pick it up and put it in the back of the van,” he continues. “Put your ego to one side. If you want to go out and play places where you haven’t been commercially successful in the past, go out and do it and make it work for you. And if that means you have to get in the van and you have to go for 300 miles every day, be prepared to do that. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past five years, so it just made sense that we’d do something like that together, and it’s been working. It's been great.”
Although Ure has only issued one album of new material since 2000, the rigours of the road—along with his recent purchase of a state-of-the-art Arturia MatrixBrute synthesizer—seem to have sparked a new interest in recording.
“I’m putting my lab coat back on and trying to figure out how this thing works,” he says, laughing. “And I’ve got a hankering to get away from the three-minute track—still making something that’s melodic and atmospheric, but maybe just a bit more experimental. Although, having said that, what I’ve been working on over the last six months, when I can get into the studio, are songs.”
Midge Ure and Paul Young play the Rickshaw Theatre on Thursday (August 23).