This may just be the longest consecutive amount of time Midge Ure has ever spent at home, yet—pandemic or not—he’s still finding himself as busy as ever. “I’ve toured all my life, so the idea of being static is very odd,” says Ure. “I’ve done a few other bits and pieces, but that’s kind of what I do if I’m not traveling. The studio is my little area where I can go, shut out the world, and do what I need to do.”
Back home in England with his wife and four daughters, Ure is working on charitable speaking engagements, lending his vocals to a tracks—including a recent re-recording of The Mission’s “Tower of Strength“—and writing new material in between all the cracks, all while launching a monthly performance series Backstage Lockdown Club. Busying himself at his Environment Studio, situated at the bottom of his home’s garden in Bath, Ure believes he’s also found the secret to keeping organized.
“I went to Peter Gabriel’s personal studio once and it’s just covered in Post-it Notes, because he’s working on so many different things at the same time,” jokes Ure. “Maybe I need to buy some Post-it Notes.”
Sticky note reminders or not, Environment is the setting for Backstage Lockdown Club, which Ure kicked off Sept. 5. The monthly subscription-based performance series features intimate, acoustic performances, including song requests, Q & A sessions, and chats with Ure, all broadcast live from his studio. Once venues reopen, club members will also have exclusive access to club-only tickets for VIP pre-show acoustic performances, merchandise, and more.
Taking cues from other artists who have been utilizing the live stream “stage,” Ure first started thinking of the idea for the monthly club-based series after his German tour was postponed following the pandemic, but he was adamant to take things up a notch, experimenting with a higher quality setup for a more state-of-the-art audio and visual experience for viewers.
“I’ve always been interested in photography and directing videos, so it wasn’t a major leap,” says Ure, who rigged his own Lockdown Club layout using a mixer for the vocals and guitar for the necessary echo, and reverb to get a polished sound, while a small audio-video mixer cuts between three cameras for picture-to-picture or split screen effects, giving viewers the impression that someone is manually filming the event.
“I found these cameras and a little tracking system, which sits perfectly on top of my keyboard and tracks up and down in front of me, so you get thislovely slow, languid movement,” says Ure of his Lockdown setup. “Although it’s a one-man setup, I wanted it to have the feel that if you’re investing in this and become a club member, that it’s quality stuff.”
Generally broadcast at 7:30 p.m. (UK time), with occasional morning time slots for Australia and New Zealand, and Japan, the club is run by the subscription-based artist platform, Patreon. “I wanted to do something that wasn’t just singing into the computer and singing into a web cam,” says Ure. “I wanted to treat this exactly the same way as I would treat a piece of artwork for the new release. I pride myself in the fact that with Ultravoxx, and even solo-wise, I always spent a lot of time creating a great sleeve to put the music in, because the graphics and the text is just as important to me as the music.”
Moving through Ultravox’s extensive catalog, including the band’s fourth album, Vienna, which turns 40 this year, Ure says each performance is specially curated, reflecting fan favorites and other requests, including a show dedicated to covers and another themed performance around “Ones That Got Away.”
“I’ve done quite a few cover versions of other artists’ songs on album tracks that were singles that are people’s particular favorites,” says Ure of the back and forth interaction via Lockdown Club. “People really want to be engaged in the whole process. They don’t want to just watch a recording.”
Ultimately, Ure says it’s a fun, relaxed atmosphere, where he’s answering questions and fulfilling requests within his limited instrumentation. “People have already started throwing obscure Ultravox tracks out at me, which I’m not even sure I can perform,” laughs Ure. “They ask for things that are almost impossible for one person with the instrumentals, but I’m quite reverent about it. When someone says ‘hey, can you play ‘Astrodyne’?’ I say ‘no, not unless you’re going to help me from where you are.’”
He adds, “I do find it refreshing and it’s a very different way of interacting with people. It’s like me coming off stage and coming to sit and meet your table, having a chat, then playing a song directly to you.”
In the midst of Lockdown Club and other projects, Ure is also working on new music to follow up 2014’s Fragile and his more instrumental Orchestrated (2017), the latter reimagined, orchestrated versions of Ultravox and solo material is something he would like to revisit again since the list of tracks are endless.
“Time is my partner,” he says. “Writing is quite a strange thing unless I’m collaborating in a band situation where you can bounce off each other where things can happen reasonably quickly. If you’re doing stuff on your own, you can’t really discern whether it’s any good or not. And the only way you can do that is to walk away from it.”
Ure says he tends to write in jigsaw puzzle-size pieces, then glue them all together at some point. “It’s not the concept of me going into the studio with a complete song,” says Ure. “I tend to clear the entire thing in the studio. The production and the textures and the atmosphere and the melodies and all of that stuff comes together over a period of time. I can walk into the studio and listen to something that I haven’t worked on for six months and feel inspired. It just grows over a period of time.”
For Ure, the Lockdown Club will also serve as a testing site for new songs, which he plans on slipping into some sets.
“I might have the audience hold up some cards with numbers like a jury,” says Ure. “If it’s only a five or a six, that’s not good. I’ll need at least a 9.2 before it goes on the album.”