Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 5]

The US cassette

[continued from last post]

Live tracks from Ure’s Christmas ’85 date at Wembley Arena filled out the program. Two songs, “When The Winds Blow” and “After A Fashion” came from the “Call Of The Wild” 12″ B-side. Of the two, the latter was much more interesting. While the former was much better pop than the number one song that came from this album, the latter was a one-off single from ’83 with Mick Karn of JAPAN. At the time, it was an underwhelming experiment. Nowhere near the ideal of JAPAN Meets Ultravox that could have caused us all to burst into flames if it had lived up to the full promise of that premise. But the live take here took a dryly reserved bit of art rock and gave it a vocal performance that bit down hard into the song’s neck. He’s singing it like he meant it here.

Finally, two more live tracks from that Wembley show were added to the DLX RM as previously unreleased tracks. “That Certain Smile” wins no favors with me. The cloying opening lyric is hard to overcome, no matter how much the middle eight tries. The title track from “The Gift” is a stuffy bit of art rock that makes more sense on a record than trying to imaging 60,000 people in a stadium hearing in a Midge Ure concert. Wembley was ill suited for such introverted material.


This album felt like a mashup of maybe three different projects; a move into chart pop, an instrumental album, and the bones of an Ultravox album. Some of the pop was not to my liking. The first two singles were problematic for me. Ure was hitting too far below his weight for my tastes on “If I Was” and “That Certain Smile.” But I felt that “When The Winds Blow” and “She Cried” worked for the pivot to pop that Ure was obviously trying to make. I suppose he thought that there’s no reason why he couldn’t manage to get a Phil Collins-like solo career out of this. They each had a rock past [Prog Rock, in Collin’s case] but were at home on the pop charts. And Ure was certainly a much, much better singer. But Collins’ career was built on transatlantic hits of the sort that evaded Ure, who couldn’t get arrested in The States.

The instrumentals ran the gamut from perfunctory to revelatory. At worst, these were like late period Ultravox B-sides of little consequence, but “The Chieftain” was a stunning track. It held none of the bloodlessness that sometimes typified the album. The appearance of “Wastelands” and the title track… and maybe “Living In The Past” all contributed to a little back pedaling by Ure; as if he were still keeping a foot on Ultravox soil. Paradoxically, the only two songs here with an Ultravox styled motorik beat were the least ‘Vox-like songs on the disc: “If I Was” and “That Certain Smile.”

We know it as “the pink thing…”

And the fallout from this album would have a lingering effect on the future of Ultravox. I couldn’t help but notice that after designing the first single and the LP cover, long-time designer Peter Saville was replaced with Michael Nash Associates instead. They had designed the “Love’s Great Adventure” single and “The Collection” album it was added to the previous year. They took over on Ure’s solo material from “The Gift” and when Ultravox re-convened, they were the design team who helped make “the pink thing” possible. Similarly, Mark Mark Brzezicki of Big Country drummed on “Wastelands” and found himself asked to sub for the sacked Warren Cann on “U-VOX” the next year. These were external signs of a sea change in Ultravox.

I also found that the lack of aggressive rock drive that typified a side of Ultravox at their best was something that would be in very short supply from him going forward. Fiery songs like the “The Chieftain” were thin on the ground for Midge Ure post-1985. As much as he wanted to be a pop star, to me at heart he’s a rock guy with rock values. Visage may have been a “dance band” but their ties to rock were much stronger than many would think at first. That band had muscular rock sensibilities at their core. The one song I could enjoy on Ure’s 2000 album “Move Me” was another powerful instrumental called “Monster.” Like “The Chieftain” it came out of nowhere to grab me by the lapels and make me notice it. In fact, the context was much stronger in 2001 when I bought a copy because it had been the 15 years and “The Chieftain” since I had heard Ure making as bold a musical statement.

“The Gift” was certainly a high water mark for Midge Ure. It generated a number one single in “If I Was.” That was a feat that evaded Ultravox’s grasp thanks to Joe Dolce. The album charted at number two, and he was able to have a live date at Wembley Stadium. That’s rock on a level heretofore unknown to Ultravox. But not to the co-architect of Band Aid.  This solo career launch was, in a sense, a valedictory lap for the talented and affable Ure. After over a decade of moving and shaking, partially behind the scenes, and at other times as the face of Ultravox in their run in the spotlight, Ure had arrived with his well-honed rock chops ready to grab the brass ring. He touched it a few times, but did not get to grasp it for long.

As things stood in 1985, Midge Ure was the old guard peaking and maybe not realizing it just yet. His music oriented chops would be less important to pop going forward. The seeds of the PWL empire were growing underfoot in 1985. Buy 1986 they would be the tail that wagged the UK pop dog. And dance oriented house music would be taking the place of New Wave rock [on its last legs by this time, in any case] on the UK pop charts. Midge Ure would never have a berth in the UK Top 20 again, and the notion of playing a solo gig to tens of thousands of people as he did at Wembley on December 23rd, 1985 would be a distant pipe dream. Afterward, Midge Ure became an elder statesman of Rock. The go-to man for the Prince’s Trust concerts for several years afterward, but a stranger to the charts.

Following the release of “The Gift,” it  was as if a five year dream of success was ending for Ure with the cold reality that he would never again command the sway that he had from ’81-’85. This album was the line in the sand for him in many ways. I had a hard time with this album when it came out and I was biased against it for the longest time. Now I find it the apex of Ure’s solo career. If I were to make a Midge Ure Rock G.P.A., this would rank at 2.5/4. Maybe 3 on a good day. It was not a bad run. There are many musicians whose time in the limelight was much shorter but “The Gift” will always have a bittersweet whiff to me for all of the sea change that it represented on what I could expect from Ure and even Ultravox moving forward.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

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22 Responses to Record Review: Midge Ure – The Gift DLX RM [part 5]

  1. Jordan says:

    Thanks for the excellent review of The Gift. I remember purchasing the 12″ (which I still have ) of No Regrets and remarking at the time, that clearly Midge was the leader of Ultravox as he could sell himself as a solo act. Though I knew it was a cover. Then came After a Fashion which was quite decent.

    I agree with your assessment of the music and image of The Gift. I think it is clear that Midge was attempting to go for a mainstream audience. The Phil Collins example which I never thought of is a good one. Except it worked for Collins and not Ure. Also, that Genesis was already a huge act in America and even more so in Canada while Ultravox was not. No surprise.

    What I find more interesting is why it failed for Midge after this album and never came back? That is nearly 35 years ago. A long time. Was it trends such as house music or brit-pop, PWL, a creative block, poor management, bad business decisions, MTV, Alcoholism and so on?

    I can look at The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order that was at the top in 85-88 so groups of that 80-85 era were still writing hits. Mind you that was not as a solo act.

    He had such an incredible creative run, very few people accomplished what he did in such a short time, in that genre. He was and still is a true talent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vlad says:

      Ultravox were certainly more than a sum of its parts. And fanbase doesn’t consist of only the lead singer’s fans. So sacking Warren was a major blow – you’d think he was simply a drummer, the one at the back, but Vox never had a hit as a trio. So the line-up had to be constant to keep the fanbase support, it was crucial in the days of such a radical change in music.

      And it changed very evidently by 1987, in fact since 1988 is was more like the 1990s already. All the signs of that decade were present – like the stifling dominance of club/dance music, orientation on the quick success, short-term investment in artists, pandering to youth market etc. So I’m sure Ultravox would’ve been inevitably diminished had they continued – like were almost everybody else. The bands you mention were rare exceptions, even those who survived the dreaded 1986 were damaged, like Eurythmics, Duran, etc. Midge alone simply had no place in this environment (we’re talking Engliand now, Europe was a different story as were the USA).

      He also had his problems – the “Answers to Nothing” album title is an indication of creative indecision. He himself stated that he wanted to become another Collins or Sting or Gabriel (and in 1986 interviews even proclaimed Ultravox to be “another Genesis”) – but in music world he had no comparable stance or respect. He also didn’t have their determination to succeed. Collins and Sting and Gabriel worked tirelessly at promoting themselves – while Midge has rarely been heard of during the second half of 1980s and beyond, having no aspirations to be a tabloid hero (when it was exactly what was needed from then on). In this way he simply couldn’t compete, moreover it was foolish of him to expect the comparable success.

      And, of course, there were Chrysalis – who simply didn’t know what to do with him and also seemingly didn’t want to do anything. I’m talking mainly of the US division here. It plagued Ultravox, it plagued Midge too. “If I Was” wasn’t even released as a single in the US, despite being an international hit, even in Canada! Chrysalis US was exactly the wrong company for the British artist to be on. And even European division was very complacent, relying on the “natural” success and having troubles doing anything if the success wasn’t coming fast or slacked off after the quick start. So Ultravox or Ure solo had no one fighting for them. It really is an even story of both creative troubles and business problems.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Vlad – If “If I was” was not released in the USA, then what is this? Its release notwithstanding, Chrysalis US were an awful label! They signed to them specifically for their US division, but that was huge logistical mistake as they simply weren’t capable of promoting the band in the backward US market. “Quartet” actually had a chance here. In 1983, I heard “Reap The Wild Wind” on the most regressive “FM Rock” station in town once! The “New Music” and “Second British Invasion” paid a lot of dividends to bands I liked, but none to Ultravox. This was down to their clueless label. Correspondence with Warren has confirmed that much!

        But then Midge left Chrysalis for Arista; an even worse label! That dealt a killing blow to his career, I’m afraid.

        Like

        • Tim says:

          The late 80’s is such an odd time.
          I fanned some flames with a challenge a part or two back talking about how so many of the new romantic/new wave/post punk bands tanked in the mid 80’s but you know…..
          Some of them pulled off some solidly good albums as the decade came to a close.
          The defense offers these exhibits:
          Erasure – Wild Wayyyyy better and more consistent than much of what came before it and the dance/house/proto-EDM vibe actually helped make this a far better album than anything that the team made before it.
          Eurythmics – Savage Damn this is Annie’s fave and I can see why. Their best since Sweet Dreams, not one damn clunker on the album. How many bands can pull that off what 6 albums in?
          Eurythmics – We Too Are One Some folks this is not their cup of tea, far better than the Revenge of Being Yourself Tonight. Ignore the sliding scale of mid 80’s ick and this still has a lot of great songs on it several albums into their career.
          Dsquared – Big Thing Ohhhhhh they have not left behind entirely the days of Seven and the Coked Up Tiger but holy hawt damn this album has all the best alchemy of the misfires from Rio forward, it’s like they made stone soup and dredged the fat off of the kettle while the pot was boiling and cranked out their 2nd best album.
          Tears For Fears – hey, let’s totally swim against the tide and piss off our fans and make this album that is not at all what they expect but quite good.
          Howard Jones (disclaimer, I don’t really think he is new wave) – Cross that Line – side 1 is all pop let’s try SO HARD for another hit but damn side 2 is a really nicely crafted, understated and underheard collection of pop tunes.
          Prefab Sprout – From Langely Park to Memphis – TDMR guest produces another masterpiece.
          Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive – tell me more, Dave.
          The Pet Shop Boys did their own damn thing as is their want but what they did was usually interesting and they branched out working with others and gestated what would become Behavior.
          New Order – who else mainstream made a house album this listenable while cranking out the most listenable singles?

          I know I’ll think of more as soon as I hit POST COMMENT, if I had to choose between mid 80s and late 80’s I’ll take the late 80’s.

          Like

          • postpunkmonk says:

            Tim – With you there big time for Erasure! I ignored them completely for three albums, but heard that playing in-store and bought it on the spot. Went back and then bought everything, but that’s still their acme. As was “Savage.” It boggled my mind how they could pull that one out of a hat following their descent into excruciatingly bad American R+B! I thought that “Revenge” was their stab at rekindling the pop sound of The Tourists, and I much preferred it, but there’s still a huge gulf between that one and “Savage!” If that one is Ms. Lennox’s fave, then what accounts for her 25 years of dreck? Never really got “ We Two Are One.” It’s the odd one out for me. “Big Thing” would be in my DD top three if they had not written and recorded the stunningly hideous title track and put it right in the beginning of the album where it does its best to kill me right up front! But “ Palomino” and “Land” are exquisite! The best songs they would ever write.

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        • Vlad says:

          > If “If I was” was not released in the USA, then what is this?

          What is this, indeed! Haven’t seen this entry and now I’m surprised. Midge implied in his memoir that the Chrysalis US refused to release it… Now turns out it was released – but not promoted, as per usual. Nice! (not)

          > This was down to their clueless label. Correspondence with Warren has confirmed that much!

          That I’d love to read :) Warren’s usually very good with details and while he provided some in various issues of “Extreme Voice” I’d love to know more (and there’s just not enough of WC’s interviews in this world! :) ). I see the picture already but some details (crucial, no doubt) evade me. If it’s possible to read your conversation (even if maybe in bits) I’ll be really grateful!

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  2. Andy B says:

    Thanks for the review Monk. I agree it’s an excellent and fair summary of the album. I bought the three singles off The Gift on release but I remember feeling some disappointment at the time. I agree that the lyrics for That Certain Smile are cringeworthy but I always liked the music. I was surprised it only made 28 in the UK charts after If I Was reached number 1. Wastelands only making 46 was a bit surprising too.

    The Gift itself really is a hodgepodge of ideas. Still I prefer it to any of his other solo albums. I’m pretty sure if he could have started work on another solo album straight after The Gift he would have done. I imagine he felt obliged to record one more Ultravox album. Shame that the result was so half hearted. Then there was Answers To Nothing. That really does have few saving graces. I would be interested to hear your review of that sometime Monk.

    I have tickets to see Midge in concert next April in Southport, a seaside resort about thirty miles north of Liverpool. He’s backed by India Electric Company. I’ve never previously had much interest in seeing a solo set of his, however he’s also doing a question and answers session. I’ve certainly got some questions I’d like to ask him. So if there are any questions you would like me to ask him on your behalf please let me know and I’ll try my best.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      AndyB – I underrated “The Gift” because I was too emotional for too many years about it. There’s only really two weak cuts on it to my ears now. The rest rambles but I don’t necessarily need a coherent “statement” to enjoy music. The rest of it is pretty good to excellent. The DLX RM is even better as it rolled in fantastic other material like the “Call Of The Wild” 12″ and “No Regrets.” And in case I didn’t stress it enough, I think “Piano” was a world class instrumental.

      Now, back in the day, I preferred “Answers To Nothing.” He even got Peter Saville back for the design of the campaign, which had some cachet with me. But for the last 10 years, I’ve come to see that one as a miserable, po-faced wallow. Maybe it’s a valid response to seeing a continent starve up close, but only the euphoric solo in “Dear God” offered any hope to me.

      I had a couple occasions to speak to Midge following the two shows we saw and I didn’t ask any questions but made sure to suggest that one day he make an album with his friend Glenn Gregory. I think it could be fantastic. Gregory is so much more than Heaven 17. The songs he wrote for ABC on “Skyscraping” were fantastic.

      If I had asked him questions, maybe one of them would have been “why lately with the electric band in the US after so many years of acoustic touring?” Also, whose idea was it to get Robert Fripp to play on “Breathe?” I was at a Fripp concert/Q+A years ago and was too intimidated by The Headmaster, as I call Fripp, to ask him anything at the time, but weeks later “How did you come to play on Midge Ure’s “Breathe” album?” would have been something I was curious about. There’s no six degrees of separation between those two that I can see.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tim says:

    Soooooo……maybe we need to come up with a consolidated Midge Ure solo efforts album that takes the best from his output and ignores the rest?

    Like

  4. Richard Anvil says:

    I remember finding The Gift a real mixed bag, and I always felt If I Was getting to no 1 in the UK was an absolute fluke as it didn’t sound like a no 1, it was just he had been in the media a lot due to Band Aid. But as there was no Ultravox album that year it was better than nothing. I agree in retrospect it’s his best solo album as later ones dropped any real synth content and seemed to focus on lots of percussion, then he just went MOR. I remember him getting very angry that no-one recognised how fantastic an album Breathe was (which was because it wasn’t). I’d seen Ultravox live in 1982 in a huge, packed venue of thousands then exactly 10 years later I saw Ure on tour in a pub with about 100 people max. It kinda brought home just how much he’d fallen. Only his latest, Fragile, has returned to the keyboards and for me is a return to form though it still sounds very DIY.

    When the DLX version of The Gift album came out I was very annoyed by an omission and actually complained to the guys who project managed it. What annoyed me was that they didn’t include the Mick Karn single or 12” mix. The excuse I was given was that it wasn’t a Midge solo single (despite that neither were any of the others from The Gift as they were all written with or by Danny Mitchell and it was included in the Midge No Regrets singles compilation) but what was really galling was the DLX came out after Mick had been diagnosed with cancer and was desperately trying to raise funds for treatment so the royalties from the three tracks (After A Fashion single and extended versions and b side Textures) could have really helped and there was more than enough space to include it. In fact the extended version finally got its first non vinyl release earlier this year as a download.

    Continuing on from your disappointment of a poor Japan/Ultravox collaboration (I actually do like AAF though) is that there was an additional footnote. In the late 90’s Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri of Japan approached Midge with the idea of making an album together after the critical success of Rain Tree Crow but subsequent split with David Sylvian. They got as far as writing and recording two songs, Cry and Get A Life but that was it. They were both eventually released on the Little Orphans CD in 2001, unfortunately in mono due to a mastering error, and show a glimpse of the glory that could have been. You can find them both on YouTube.

    Final footnote, the main keyboard player on Midges The Gift tour (and therefore on all the live tracks on this release) was none other than a young Craig Armstrong many years before his Massive Attack and soundtrack fame.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vlad says:

      > the royalties from the three tracks could have really helped

      This I doubt very much as I remember reading that Mick was diagnosed at a very advanced stage, unfortunately, and didn’t have many chances. Midge tried to get a charity concert together for him but it was too late. Also, I doubt “The Gift” was such a big seller on reissue that anyone involved received any considerable sum.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Vlad – Too true about Mick’s fast decline and death. My first day of blogging was about his diagnosis. That was June 2010 but Mick died in January 2011, so there was at least half a year. I know Midge tried to get a benefit going [there’s a BBC link on it in my blogpost] but it never came off.

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        • Duncan Watson says:

          If you wish to find out which two people only ever made money out of Japan (the band) then I urge you all to read the two biographies “Japan – A Foreign Place (The Biography 1974-1984)” and “Cries And Whispers 1983-1991” which are unbelievably beautifully written by Anthony Reynolds. You can find them both here https://burningshed.com/artists/japan-artist
          They are not cheap (well, the first one is cheaper now that it is in paperback) but they are truly superb books and are well worth the time and money.
          The other book to read is Mick Karn’s autobiography “Japan And Self Existence”. It is so much harder to find but I managed to source mine here http://www.lulu.com/shop/mick-karn/japan-and-self-existence/paperback/product-5538416.html despite being tempted to pay the vast prices that EBay & Amazon charge for it.
          Read in isolation, it is a much harder to follow. Not because of his untimely death or its brutal first-hand honesty, but because each chapter picks a point in his life and so it jumps around within his timeline. That makes it much more difficult for you to gain a picture of his life, chronologically. Once you combine it with the two Japan books, it actually all slots into place.
          Wow, what an insight there is into who can cream the most off a band’s short life

          Like

          • postpunkmonk says:

            Duncan Watson – Thanks for pointing out that “A Foreign Place” is back in print in paperback. I found out too late about the hardcover and missed the boat on that one! Furthermore, I had no idea of the second volume. This has been my year of Post-Punk books and I must act on these quickly since JAPAN were one of the most compelling bands of their era. It’s also good to know that the Karn book is available for less than a king’s ransom. Thanks for the tip.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Richard Anvil – I actually thought “Breathe” was a huge step up from “Pure,” but I’ll admit that I have not spun my copy in 20+ years. I did like the tracks with Robert Fripp guesting somewhat. I wanted to buy “Fragile” at the merch table the second time I saw Ure but he had shipping difficulties and the goods had not been delivered. At that point I was willing to give “Fragile” a chance in spirits of not liking the single at all. I’ll say this for Ure; the man has chutzpah. He has no ego problems in playing small gigs. I still can’t get over the 106 capacity dive bar I saw him in the first time. And that was in Atlanta – the most cosmopolitan city in the US south! Well worth going though. A personal icon 6 feet in front of me doing it right was wonderful to see.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tim says:

        I saw Julia Fordham in an even smaller venue here in Madison, WI and I want to say the ticket was $10 (touring supporting Concrete Love which is probably the album that I like the most by her).
        I got there early enough to be parked as close to the performing area (no stage) as possible and she was clearly very nervous when she came out and commented to the audience something along the lines of ”you all can probably see the hair in my nose from there.”

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – I’m still amazed that you even got to see Julia Fordham period. I only ever got her first album but liked it a lot. As a former Wilsation I was happy to see her have a near hit. No wait, I also got her JPN only live album that followed it!

          Like

          • Tim says:

            I had zero clue who she was in the 80’s to be honest. My first exposure was a copy of Lexicon magazine that I bought because it had a Dolby discography and I think an ABC interview. I read the whole issue, including the interview with her, and I had no context for it, just, wow, this guy really digs this lady, he should probably have asked her out while he had the chance.
            Fast forward a couple years and I was in a record store that is part of a small locally owned chain here in Wisconsin, the guy who started it lives in my hometown and is, er, a character shall we say. So I go in and they have promo posters and whatnot for Fordham’s hits collection all over the place and I still have no idea who she is. I kinda intuited that the whole promo thing was a refugee from their classical and jazz department.
            Anyhow, if you’ve seen the cover for it they have her dressed up and kinda slinky but she looks kinda pissed off, like okay you’re going to objectify me but I’m only going to go so far with this (Anna Kendrick would say she was rocking a resting bitch face). Any I’m an intuitionist when it comes to music purchases and I liked it that she was projecting a complicated and kinda conflicting image for this and I thought what they hell, I’ll give this a try. And I really liked a lot of the tracks. I mean her forte is straight up love songs and all that but every now and then she throws in one of these Nick Cavey things where it’s like “this isn’t really a love song” one of his sad eyed solitary kids. Like Porcelain, which I think I must have listened to several times in a row the first time that I heard it. After that I just burned through the catalog. I’m surprised you only have the first one, that one is kinda so-so for me, the sophomore album is quite good and then there’s Concrete Love which is just a dead good beginning to end pop album.

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  5. Richard Anvil says:

    Shows how little I know about royalties though it was also about raising money for the family Mick was leaving behind, which could have helped over the years. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame Midge at all, he probably only had minor input on the tracklisting plus they probably had agreed it way before Mick was even diagnosed, but it was appallingly bad timing.

    I agree I did like the Fripp involvement on Breathe and thought the album was an improvement but like you I’ve not listened to it in years and can’t remember the tracks anymore. Fragile in its arrangements and style is a throw back to The Gift with more keyboards and a number of instrumentals. The problem I have with it, which I also have with UVs Brilliant is that it all sounds very mono quality with very little spread of the sound (except the instrumentals for some reason) so I wonder if in both cases the problem is the tech Midge has been using.

    Having Midge 6 feet away from me 10 years after he was 50 foot away was really quite an experience. His best solo tour for me was his acoustic one in the noughties which was basically a comedy stand up with songs. Pretentious he is not. I still love his comment about remixes back then that it was like giving someone your dog to talk for a walk and when they bring it back it’s been turned into a frog.

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  6. Andy B says:

    Just heard today that Midge and band are touring next Autumn/Fall. They are playing the whole Vienna album and Visage highlights. Shame it’s not Ultravox but it sounds interesting. Thankfully he’s playing Liverpool. There are plans to visit other territories too but only Germany is mentioned so far on his website. Hopefully they can make over to the US too for his fans over there.

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