Lorraine Wilson

MIDGE Ure is one of music’s grafters. As well as touring for the best part of three years, he has somehow managed to bring together a new album – and that was 18 months in the planning.

Now he is back at home in Bath and says that he “won’t be moving his arse off the seat for a while”.

It’s a typically frank comment from the Cambuslang-born boy, who has lived longer in England than he did in Scotland but who hasn’t developed a tolerance to the nonsense that can come with living among the luvvies. Perhaps that's a consequence of spending the first 10 years of his life in a one-bedroom tenement flat with his brother, sister and parents.

The new album is Orchestrated, a collection of 12 songs drawn from his Ultravox and solo songwriting. The title gives a heavy hint to the content. These have all been re-recorded with an orchestra and new vocals.

There has been a fair bit of re-imagining of back catalogues recently, with some stripping songs back, such as Simple Minds’ acoustic album and Benny Andersson’s Piano, stripping ABBA back to solo piano.

Although Ure has decided to orchestrate, that doesn’t mean it the album is wall to wall woodwind and string swells.

“When I first thought about the album I was determined that it wouldn’t involve just taking the songs and banging a whole load of strings on it.”

Although he has had a 45-year career in music, there has been no need to learn the theory.

“I don’t read or write music so although I could hear what should happen in my head, the key to the whole thing was finding the right compadre for the project.”

After trying a couple of arrangers who did precisely what he didn’t want the album to be, he was introduced to Ty Unwin, not only one of the country’s most respected composers and arrangers but, and perhaps most importantly, a huge admirer of Ure’s work.

“It did help and that’s not at all an ego thing,” says Ure. “He knew the songs, he had a feel for the work, and he was able to suggest songs that I would never have thought of including. In many ways he knows my work better than I do.”

Unwin went off with a track to see what he could come up with, but it wasn’t an instant success. “It took about three tries,” says Ure, “but when he did get it – we knew we had the right approach. The thing is, he took Reap the Wild Wind to work with and I thought that would be the easiest. We knew then that we didn’t need to be dictated by how the songs were recorded previously.”

Although the album starts with a resplendent version of Hymn that conjures up images of striding across a snowy Red Square in Cossack hat and boots, it isn’t indicative of the rest of the album.

It’s followed by a sparse and low-key version of Dancing with Tears in My Eyes, which is largely accompanied by nothing but piano with strings punctuating the choruses.

“My songs have always been cinematic. I write in pictures so it’s easy to make them widescreen. I’m glad we’ve been able to re-imagine them in a way that sometimes gives them even more meaning.”

The choice of the final 12 had to be strict and in it he was guided by Unwin who suggested recent tracks such as Fragile that perhaps hadn’t received the audience that they deserved.

Benny Andersson said that with his Piano album, some songs that he thought might work were way off the mark so he recorded around 50 and then made the final choice of 21. That was one man and a piano though.

“We had to be strict. What Ty would do is use orchestra samples to build up the arrangements to demo them, so we knew how they would sound once we went into the studio with a real orchestra. There could be more than 100 audio tracks on one song, so we had to edit before we started.”

There was another reason to take time before putting the score in front of the orchestra. “Away back when Vienna was a hit, the record company thought it would be a great idea to record it with an orchestra. So, we did – and as soon as it was done I took a razor blade to the master tapes. No-one needed to hear that.”

Vienna has made it on to Orchestrated “there were some songs that had to be there” but with the passage of time, in this case 35 years, voices change. Re-recording vocals that were famous for long, pure, high notes, were a challenge for the modern-day man.

“It was strange going back to record vocals on the early songs. Obviously, my voice isn’t as pure as it was. It’s a little bit lower and a bit raspier but I think the performances suit the arrangements. Standing there recording vocals with an orchestra in my ear really dictated how the new vocal should be.”

There have been live performances with orchestras and anyone who had seen him play live recently will attest to no loss of quality or power in the Ure pipes. There are discussions about playing the album live.

“When I’m playing live and I have a guitar strapped around my neck it’s easy to stand back from the microphone and let rip.

“Walking on with my hands by my sides feels a little different, but it has been talked about. My ideal would be to do it with each local symphony orchestra rather than tour with an orchestra.”

The young Ure coming off the back off hits with Slik and about to join the Rich Kids with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock could hardly have predicted this.

The career has involved working with heroes such as Small Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan, as well as sharing a flight to LA with hero Steve Marriott a short time before he died.

“He invited me back to sit with him, and then he proceeded to sing Frankie Miller songs to me at the top of his voice – and you know what that voice was like.”

John Lennon is the only Beatle he hasn’t performed with on stage and his collaborations include the eternally particular Kate Bush. He was also the guitar player and contributing songwriter with Thin Lizzy for the period before discovering synthesizers and forming Visage, which led to Ultravox.

And of course he was jointly responsible for one of the most lasting collaborations of all time, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? It’s on his mind at this time of year and as a trustee is still involved with the dispersal of funds.

“It doesn’t take up nearly as much time as it used to,” he says. “It used to be days spent around a table, but that was pre-internet, so we can do everything online now. There has been a good injection of cash this year as it’s been used in Daddy’s Home 2. The hope is that there will always be some money coming in to administer and Bob [Geldof] and I can hand it over to the next generation.”

The former Celebrity MasterChef finalist celebrated his 64th birthday in October, which coincided with playing in Glasgow – as close to a hometown gig as he gets.

Although his derriere is firmly in Bath, where he lives with his second wife and three daughters, he has plans to tour again next year.

The touring itself appears to be inspirational, particularly throughout Europe. “We recorded the album with an orchestra in Sofia – it’s almost a collective. They are a group of orchestral players who manage themselves. But watching these musicians work and create everything that’s required from dots in front of them – it always blows my mind.”

It’s a part of the world that he has visited often, and the affection seems to be mutual. “Ultravox were one of the first bands to play in Poland so I always get something of a hero’s welcome there. When I played in Germany recently, I walked across a bridge and suddenly everything was in Zlotys. There was no discernible border and I was in Poland. I love that.”

Midge Ure Orchestrated (BMG) is out now.