Ultravox singer sees a new age of responsibility in rock music
Midge Ure, producer and co-writer of the Band Aid single ``Do They Know It's Christmas?'' and lead singer of the internationally popular band Ultravox, pauses a moment to reflect on the state of rock music today. ``It's a very dangerous area it's gotten into,'' he finally declares in his woolly Scottish burr. But his mock gravity dissolves in a chuckle as he adds, ``It's liable to become respectable quite soon.
``I don't know whether that's good or bad,'' he says, still laughing. ``I'd hate it to be like a real job. I think it might lose some of the magic if it becomes respectable!''
Although Mr. Ure is joking, he's making a serious point: During the last year, the world has seen rock music beginning to come of age, as many musicians have tried to shoulder their share of responsibility for the world around them.
The trend that began in November 1984 with Band Aid -- the effort by British pop and rock stars to help feed Africa's starving millions -- led to an unprecedented year of social responsibility in rock music.
Band Aid inspired similar efforts to relieve the African famine by American and Canadian musicians; the combined efforts of all three groups climaxed in last July's Live Aid concert. But the momentum didn't end there. American musicians banded together for a concert to aid American farmers, and Bruce Springsteen's former guitarist -- Steven Van Zandt -- rounded up another stellar cast of rockers to put out an anti-apartheid album called ``Sun City.''
``I think that musicians as people have changed,'' says Ure, whose first solo album, ``The Gift'' -- a recent hit in Britain -- was released here at the end of January. ``I think the old images of excesses -- throwing televisions out the window, all that stuff -- it's all gone. And I don't see why all the young musicians now should have to live up to that, or suffer from it.
``It was an image that rock musicians created for themselves 20 years ago,'' Ure said during a recent interview in Boston. ``All these musicians -- up until this year -- have had to live with that sort of stigma, that image, attached to what they do.''
Ure draws a distinction between some of the political messages of rock music during the 1960s and early '70s -- found in songs like ``Ohio,'' a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tune about the shooting of anti-war protesters at Kent State by National Guardsmen -- and the more personal messages some musicians are making today about social problems. He singles out artists like U2 and Sting for writing songs that don't preach a political line, but offer instead a personal reflection on such pressing world issues as violence in Belfast and United States-Soviet relations.
``Mixing politics and music is very difficult,'' says Ure. ``You always end up with very weak music, or very weak politics, or a mixture of both. It sort of softens both elements. . . . But you can make your own personal statement in music.''
Ure, however, insists that music simply doesn't work if it isn't first and foremost entertaining -- no matter what the message. And he, for one, knows how to entertain. ``If I Was,'' the single from his solo album, is a pure pop pleasure that recently went straight to the top of the British records charts.
But like his work with Ultravox, ``The Gift'' includes its share of personal statements about social issues. ``Wastelands,'' a slow, mournful song that builds to a powerful crescendo, is Ure's musical comment on Britain's high rate of youth unemployment.
``It's a song about Glasgow,'' explains Ure, ``and not necessarily about Glasgow, but about any working-class city and the problems that the youth has. They've not got a chance of doing anything, and they know that.
``Situations like that, that affect each one of us personally, that's what people are writing about,'' he says. ``And that's the interesting side of [music].''
Ure has done more than put his feelings on record, though. Along with Bob Geldof -- the Irish musician who's become known worldwide for organizing Band Aid and Live Aid -- he is a member of the Band Aid Trust, which is responsible for administering the approximately $92 million raised by the record and concert.
Already the trust has spent several million dollars on famine-relief efforts, according to Ure. But the majority of the Band Aid Trust funds have been earmarked for long-term projects, which experts say is the only way to help Africans become self-sufficient.
``We're inundated with projects from various sources,'' Ure says. ``And when we've got a project in front of us, we've got to find experts in the field, experts in irrigation or reforestation . . . to tell us which ones are going to work, which ones are needed, because we're not in a position to make that sort of decision. We can't just fund every Tom, Dick, and Harry that walks in with an idea.''
Ure says the Band Aid Trust will continue its fund-raising activities with things like an all-star sporting competition. Because of what he calls the ``horrific'' logistics, however, he says it's unlikely there'll be another mega-concert like Live Aid.
But Ure says he thinks Live Aid marked a turning point in rock music -- and that musicians will continue to be involved in the issues of the day. He also says he expects the influence of rock music to continue to grow.
``We're now at a period where rock music's been around for a long time,'' he says, ``and people who were into the Beatles are middle-aged couples, and they've got kids who listen to rock music. So we've actually got a massive amount of people in the world who are influenced by rock music.''