What Happened When Midge Ure Drove Himself Across America
Midge Ure is music royalty. Or at least an indefatigable and decorated player who originates from the pre-digital age. He has sold millions of records, earned an OBE, lives a comfortable life in the U.K. with his family, and is a popular draw at music festivals. So why would the Scottish singer (who is famous for fronting the band Ultravox and co-writing “Do They Know It’s Christmas” with Bob Geldof) rent a car and tour across North America by himself?
“I did the tour for a specific reason: to show aspiring musicians the reality of what they might be able to expect in today’s music industry,” Ure says.
His experiment, a solo outing to support his critically-acclaimed 2014 album, Fragile, involved logging thousands of miles in rental cars, assembling and loading gear, and selling his own merch. Completely alone. No roadies, personal assistants, tour managers, family or friends. Ure compiled the 2015 footage he shot in airports, hotels, and venues into a documentary, Fragile Troubadour (see trailer below).
The film is both a glimpse into the difficulties of a musician’s life in the 21st century and an honest portrait of an aging artist trying to remain connected with his audience: Ure finds himself in Canada driving an SUV with Florida license plates and no snow tires and calls police to handcuff a stalker in Chicago. He deals with all the administrative aspects of the tour and becomes familiar with the hiccups that can break a solo musician’s bank.
“For example, something as simple as the merchandise not showing up to the venue in time can make the difference between making money on the show and not making money at all,” Ure says.
Because he had not toured widely across the U.S. in decades, many of Ure’s fans saw him perform for the first time during the jaunt’s sold-out stops. He quickly realized that, even with star power, a fan base, and a fancy resume, the new world order for musicians is rough. In spite of Fragile becoming one of his best-selling solo efforts in years, Ure says he experienced the same void of support that most new artists face.
”The industry is all over the place,” Ure says. “I’d been in America for six weeks and my music distributors never contacted me once. It confirmed my worse fears: that’s the way the industry is now and it may even deteriorate further.”
At 63, Ure is less worried about his place in music history than music’s place in history. As co-conspirator for 1985’s Live Aid, arguably the biggest and best concert ever staged, he believes music has a role to play in the “big picture” of life. The singer still serves as an ambassador for Save the Children and as trustee for the Band Aid Trust, participating in decisions about where the fund’s disbursements can be used best for anti-hunger programs in Africa. He is not keen to try another solo touring stunt again, but the experience of the Fragile Troubadour tour energized him to spend more time stateside. Currently, he’s back on the road with a full electric band, getting rave reviews for his still-nimble vocals, and playing favorites such as “Vienna,” “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” “Fade to Grey,” “If I Was” and “Dear God” (the yearning lyrics of which are apt for American audiences as we prepare for an unprecedentedly bizarre presidential election).
If Midge Ure has learned anything about the music industry over the past few years, it’s that music and artists—both new and old—are devalued by the system. Although he is a fan of streaming services such as Spotify, he is a firm purveyor of the idea that musicians should be able to earn a living from their work. The final scene of the Fragile Troubadour documentary sums up his feelings:
“It’s a sad indictment of what used to be a wonderful business,” Ure says. “My good friend Mark King from the band Level 42 suggested to me a few years ago that we might be the last generation to do [rock music] as a full-time job and as an occupation. That’s pretty scary.”
The Midge Ure Band performs at The Earl in Atlanta on October 15, 2016.
Image: Midge Ure selfie in NYC
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