Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Archivist: Ultravox - Vienna

I must admit that my love of music has always stemmed from harmonies more than anything else. Brought up on a diet of Beach Boys, Beatles & The Association, my early (ears) were exposed to what beauty of the human voices could achieve.
When I started to form my own musical tastes, I quickly moved into the early American singer songwriters such as James Taylor, Jackson Browne etc and British Prog rock such as YES - who had brilliant three part harmonies courtesy of Jon Anderson (high), Chris Squire (even higher) & Steve Howe (low).
Follow this with bands such as The Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Poco, etc through the seventies. 
Punk & New Wave for me had no harmony. It was all about energy and taking the piss out of prog rock and the music I loved. Only the Clash and later The Jam had any relevance for me at the time. Mainly because they were more 'musical' and could actually play their instruments.
Along with Prog came the offshoot Kraut Rock. Krautrock as the name implies, was a collection of bands that based their sounds around electronic keyboards and came from Germany.
Some excellent sounds and music came out of these bands and they had a huge influence on the electronic movement that happened in Britain at the end of the 70s and into the 80s. I remember the very first Gary Numan appearance on Top Of The Pops in 1979 and thinking that this would influence a lot of new bands.

 Which it did.
One of these bands was Ultravox.
Ultravox were formed from the ashes of a group called Tiger Lilly back in 1976 when Keyboardist & Violin player Billy Currie, Guitarist Stevie Shears & Drummer Warren Cann were joined by Vocalist John Foxx & bass player Chris Cross. They produced two albums which were critically acclaimed but sold poorly.
For their third album, Systems of Romance, the band enlisted legendary German producer Conny Plank and saw their sound move more toward the electronic German sound that was so clearly an influence. But tensions within the band rose and finally came to a head when John Foxx left to go solo leaving Currie, Cann & Cross to join other bands.

In a twist of fate, they teamed up with Vocalist, Guitarist & Keyboard player Midge Ure who had previously had success with pop band Slick and Glen Matlock's Rich Kids.

With the Teutonic sound still in effect and with the pop sensibilities of Midge now in place they went on to record their debut album as the new Ultravox. The recordings became the brilliant Vienna.

The new sound and direction was evident from the first track Astradyne. It was a seven minute exploration of new sounds and Midge's soaring vocals.
Every track on Vienna is a killer cut. The first single released was a chart hit - the pulsating Sleepwalk, Passing Strangers and All Stood Still were also released as singles.

However, nothing could prepare the charts for the glorious title track, Vienna. It had a multi million pound video which was almost on every other song on MTV. With help from the video, the track shot up the charts. But as is the history of the British pop charts and the eccentricity of the great music buying public, it was kept off the top slot by Joe Dolce's Shaddup Your Face. A complete travesty. If any song deserved to get to number 1 it was Vienna. Maybe it stalled because the album was so successful and most people had the track anyway.
The album was a huge hit and from this success Ultravox went on to produce some really good albums throughout the 80s and a plethora of hit singles.
And Midge became the unrecognised initiator of Band Aid and the Live Aid concert in 1985 together with Bob Geldof. Another Travesty.
Midge Ure & Billy Currie also went on to lend their writing and production skills to other ventures proving what great songwriters they really are.
Even John Foxx went on to record some brilliant albums after the split from the band  and continues to produce great music as a musician and artist.
After splitting up in the early 90s, Ultravox reformed in the late 2009 and in 2012 released a new album called Brilliant.
And Vienna has to feature in the cult BBC drama Ashes To Ashes - set in the 80s - to great effect when you finally hear it.
Twitter - @UltravoxUK

No comments:

Post a Comment