Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK new romantic/new wave group formed '75 by vocalist John Foxx (b Dennis Leigh, Chorley, Lancs), bassist Chris Cross (b Chris Allen, 14 July '52), who met when Cross moved from London to join Preston-based Stoned Rose. Infl. by Roxy Music they formed Tiger Lily with Drummer Warren Cann (b 20 May '52, Canada), guitarist Steve Shears, keyboard/ violinist Billy Currie (b 1 April '52). After an arty cover of Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin' (used as theme for porn movie) the band slipped through several names (Innocents, Fire Of London, London Soundtrack, the Zips) before signing with Island as Ultravox! (exclamation later dropped). Ultravox! '77 co-prod. by Roxy hero Brian Eno, like him used keyboards in an unorthodox manner behind Foxx's half-spoken vocals to court interest: it didn't sell, along with Ha! Ha! Ha! '77, despite being hailed by Gary Numan and others as infl. on the coming wave of synth music. On stage they were an uncomfortable mixture of old (glam-rock) and new (punk), sneering in plastic macs. Shears was replaced by Robin Simon for Systems Of Romance '78, made with German prod. Conny Plank, but they were still ahead of their time; Simon and Foxx left and Island dropped them (later compiled Three Into One '80 to cash in). Currie moonlighted with Numan (who still plugged the band in interviews) and Visage, where he met Midge Ure (b James Ure, 10 Oct. '53, Glasgow; ex-Slik, Rich Kids): Ure joined Ultravox and resuscitated it, now a quartet with Cross, Ure's vocals/guitar, Cann and Currie. Signed with Chrysalis, hit with title track from Vienna '80, made with Plank, a quasi-classical ballad with haunting violin solo from Currie, magical video (dir. Russell Mulcahy), bravura vocal from Ure: no. 2 UK, followed by no. 8 "All Stood Still'; they were established as a top-selling LP and singles act in UK and Europe (though not in USA). Rage In Eden '81 yielded "The Thin Wall' and "The Voice' as '81 top 20 hits, while seeming a trifle self-important; Quartet '82 was prod. by George Martin, incl. "Reap The Wild Wind', "Hymn', "Visions In Blue', all top 15. They diversified, Ure and Cross directing their own videos from "The Voice' onward, prod. for other artists; Cann meanwhile linked with ex-Buggle Hans Zimmer to record as Helden. Ure commenced a solo career, made no. 9 with cover of Walker Bros "No Regrets' '82, top 40 duet with Mick Karn "After A Fashion' '83, solo LP The Gift '85 with no. 1 single "If I Was': he co-wrote most songs with Danny Mitchell, half of former Ultravox tour support the Messengers (he also played in Ure's live band that toured to promote LP). Ultravox continued, at sparing pace; live mini-LP Monument '83 suggested that ideas for group framework were lacking, confirmed by release of Ureera compilation The Collection after studio LP Lament, both '84, and several more hit singles. Ultravox parallel Roxy Music in having had one career as innovators and another with a smoother, more commercial blend. Foxx did well with chart LPs of his own (Metametix '80, The Garden '81), but thenceforth recorded less; Ure found worldwide fame as co-writer of Band Aid anthem "Do They Know It's Christmas' '84, the world's fastest selling single until '97, with Bob Geldof; with Geldof he is now part of the rock establishment, making it harder to do anything new. Cann left Ultravox '86, disagreeing with machines; album U-Vox that year used them less, one track featuring Irish trad band Chieftains. They disbanded '87; a group called U-Vox toured '89 and made album Revelation '93 with vocalist Tony Fenelle. Ure made solo albums The Gift '85, Answers To Nothing '88.