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Pop Music : Ure, The Elf Behind 'Christmas'

April 28, 1985|DENNIS HUNT

It was Bob Geldof's idea to organize a group of Britain's biggest pop/rock stars, dubbed BandAid, to record "Do They Know It's Christmas" to raise money to feed starving Ethiopians. This was the inspiration for "We Are the World" and other benefit singles. As spokesman and principal organizer, Geldof's efforts have been highly publicized.

But there was another key creative figure in the project that many don't know about--Midge Ure, lead singer, guitarist and keyboards player of the English rock band Ultravox. Not only did he co-write and co-produce the single, he also played most of the instruments. With Geldof dominating center stage, Ure's role has largely been forgotten.

"I was at the center of it with Bob," said Ure, a Scot with one of those charming, sing-song accents. "I backed off from the public side of it. Bob is very good at that part of it. He's got a high profile because of it."

Don't get Ure wrong. He's not on a glory hunt. The purpose of his current American visit is to promote Ultravox's "Collection," a greatest-hits package on Chrysalis Records that has been a big hit in Europe.

But it's his first chance to explain to American music fans his pivotal role in the making of "Do They Know It's Christmas." When he was first contacted by Geldof, Ure thought he wouldn't be doing anything that significant. "I was thinking I'd help make some phone calls," he said.

But Geldof had something more important in mind. "He asked if I had any ideas on writing the music," Ure said. "I ended up helping write the song. We wrote it in one day. Bob worked on a part and I worked on the second part, a musical part. The day we got together we had a rough version of the song."

As the project evolved, Ure got more involved. Originally Trevor Horn, who produces Frankie Goes to Hollywood, was supposed to produce but, Ure explained, he needed too much time: "It would have taken him a couple of weeks and we wanted it finished at the end of that week to have it out in time for Christmas. When Trevor couldn't do it, my part grew."

So it was Ure to the rescue, helping out in the production and using his home studio to record the instrumental track. "I played most of the instruments myself," he said. "Most of it is keyboards, so it was quite simple."

Ure was continually astonished by Geldof's tactics: "The guy's a maniac, a dictator. He's ruthless. You had to be on the inside watching the whole process to really appreciate how he intimidated the hell out of people. It was fun to watch."

Such tactics, Ure conceded, were necessary to get the job done quickly. "He did what he had to do. To get all the home phone numbers of those stars (such as Boy George, Sting and George Michael of Wham!) and get them together so quickly was amazing. I would have called them and said, 'Please, can you do it, please?' But Bob told them, 'Get the hell over here and do this and this and this now."'

According to Ure, Geldof bulldozed some major public figures. "You should have heard the way he was talking to Robert Maxwell, who's a big man at the Daily Mirror and one of the more powerful men in Britain. I overheard this phone conversation. Maxwell wanted to do something that Bob thought was out of line. Bob told him off in foul language. I couldn't believe he was talking to this important man that way.

"Bob even confronted (Prime Minister) Maggie Thatcher, the big wheel. I couldn't believe that either. The guy's nuts. He would have confronted God himself if it meant getting something for the project. You have to admire him."

"Yeechh, what are they trying to do to me!" shrieked Ure, suspiciously eyeing the tall glass of Jack Daniels-and-Coke he had just sampled. Setting it down on the restaurant table, he signaled for the waiter.

"Too much Jack," he said, gasping. "That will put me under the table long before I'm usually under the table." His laugh--loud and hyena-like--filled the nearly empty room.

Ure, 31, is a member of the fraternity of boisterous rock stars. He's rowdy, likable and totally unpretentious, a perfect model of the good drinking buddy.

"It's nice being obscure like I am here," he said, referring to Ultravox's small cult following in the United States. "You can get drunk and crazy and nobody cares. If I'm in the gutter, nobody will say 'There's Midge Ure of Ultravox drunk in the gutter."' He howled with laughter again.

Ultravox may attract some new American fans with this greatest hits album, "Collection." Though successful in other countries, this techno-rock band has never caught on in America. While some of its music is cold and obtuse, much is marvelously melodic, brilliantly arranged pop--like its single, "Vienna."

Why hasn't Ultravox been able to score in the American market? "I don't know," Ure replied pensively. "For some reason, our music is wrong for this market. But we're not going to do songs with a disco beat or add heavy metal guitar solos just to get an American hit. I'm sure we'll get one before I die."

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