Chris Cross | Maxwell Langdown | Midge Ure: The Bloodied Sword US CD-R 
- The Sword’s Theme
- Sword Speaks
- Propaganda Machine
- The Haunting
- Oceania’s Theme
- One With Man
- The Jester’s Theme
- The Pageant
- The Sword’s Theme [part II]
- Phil Lynott: Yellow Pearl [first version]
- Snips: Nine O’Clock
- Phil Lynott: Yellow Pearl [7″ remix]
- Midge Ure + Mick Karn: After A fashion [12″ remix]
- Phil Lynott: Yellow Pearl [12″ remix]
- Messengers: I Turn Into You
- Messengers: The Semi-Professionals
This was a weird left-field project that manifested shortly after Ultravox’s “Quartet” came to market in late 1982. I guess Chrysalis UK didn’t want to muddy the waters of their new cash cow, so this project was released in the winter doldrums of 1983. I recall seeing it in the display ads for record dealers in a new issue of Trouser Press. Woah! Midge Ure had a solo album called “The Bloodied Sword??!!” I was on the phone in a hot second to Record City on Colonial Drive to ask if they had any copies. They did, and my friend Tom and I were over there in a flash to buy the fresh imports. It had a nice cover. Very minimal, but elegant. The calligraphic drawings were very, very good. Though this had a Saville feel of Classicism to it, this cover was by John Pasche; the designer of possibly the most famous band logo in the world for those Rolling Stones.
It looked like Ure was working with Chris Cross from Ultravox, but the wildcard was Maxwell Langdown. Who was that guy? We dropped the needle in anticipation only to find a very different beast indeed from not only Ultravox, but also Visage, and hell, while you’re at it, even throw in Slik [Ure’s teenaged pop band]! The LP opened with “Sword’s Theme” with portentous synths crafting a very cinematic mood that rolled in off the moors like a heavy fog. There were no drums, or any sort of rock instrumentation, for that matter. Ure and Cross were responsible for the impressionistic music here. The spotlight was on the mysterious Maxwell Langdown; who had crafted an epic symbolist poem and gave it every inch of theatrics to put it across. He was not only the narrator, but he also acted the various characters whose dialog advanced the plot and themes.
And the theme seemed to be an audacious piece of poetry addressing what seems to be the crucial conflicts of civilization [how coercion and the threat of violence, together with politics, and the media shape the continued misery of human society] in a most theatrical manner. The music consisted of drones, wooshes, and sequencers on a variety of pleasing analog synths. Only on the “dance single” that opened side two [naturally!], called “One With Man” was there a distinct rhythm via drum programming. It stuck out here like a sore thumb. Meanwhile, Langdown emoted through a variety of vocal effects to embody the various participants.
One cannot say he was unwilling to tackle the big questions here, but at least he did so with the blackest of humor. The narrative consisted of the embodiments of sword, gun, and propaganda machine each touting their ironic “virtues” to a horrified narrator, who is given cryptic advice by a mystical seer and who is ultimately mocked by a passing clown. The end result didn’t posit any easy answers, but it was absolutely the most entertaining and theatrical posing of these existential questions I can remember hearing.
When this album appeared in early 1983, it had spent over five years gestating as the project had been begun with Midge Ure alone recording poet Maxwell Langdown in three different studios as early as 1979; prior to his involvement with Ultravox. It was only after joining Ultravox that he found a co-writer for the music that informed this album in bass player Chris Cross.
While Midge Ure had quite a frantically busy solo career apart from Ultravox and Visage, with productions of many albums and singles for other acts, this turned out to be the only project that Chris Cross made musically apart from Ultravox, save for helpoing out Ure on the Levi Jeans “Rivets” ad soundtrack in the UK. The only other musician involved was drummer Kenny Hyslop from Midge Ure’s days in Slik as well as its New Wave offshoot, PVC2. Of Maxwell Langdown, little is known. I swear I saw something on him decades ago on the web that had cast him as possibly the manager of Slik, but I can’t confirm that now.
I made a single copy of this disc for a friend’s birthday this spring as I had a single archival, printable CD left to my name. I still had my old iMac, which I had digitized and edited the files on. De-noising was a quick process. I’m really satisfied with De-Click software. It’s almost miraculous to my ears, so the re-mastering took only a very short time. More time-consuming was the booklet design, which had me re-typing the entire libretto and typesetting it on the pages of the booklet. It was an absolutely necessary act for an album like this one. It’s practically a Prog Opus! In fact, the project that this reminded me of more than anything else, was Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds” shorn of bombast, singing, and Richard Burton.
I wanted to put the “Set Movements” Ultravox cassette on as bonus material, since it was spoken word, but I could not find my tape in time [as this was a birthday present] so I snapped my fingers and realized that a selection of other Midge Ure productions, some notable, others obscure, would make this as thematically coherent a package as possible in my limited timeframe. Of course, three mixes of “Yellow Pearl,” the brilliant Phil Lynott single had to go on! The two 7” mixes I had on CD, but the 12” was vinyl only. All of them were necessary, but I still need the hit version of 2:53 that was the soundtrack for the cool Ure/Cross directed music video. I think that one’s on the “Phil Lynott Album” CD, but I’m not certain. Otherwise, it’s the injection molded 7” from 1982 that I still need.
I got the Snips album a year or so back, and was surprised to see that Midge Ure had produced the single form it, “Nine O’Clock.” It’s an energetic piece of pop rock from 1980 that’s not purely synth-rock like so much from this period, but it was plenty of charm, being closer to the Power Pop end of the spectrum. I had not heard the 12” single of Ure/Karn’s “After A Fashion” since I had bought it in 1983! When I digitized the track I had much more respect for it than I remember having at the time I bought it.
Then the one Messengers single I have managed to buy was a fantastic addition. “I Turn Into You” was more florid than Ure was at the time of its issue in 1983, but perhaps it indicated the direction that he would go in his solo career as he had been involved with Colin King and Daniel Mitchel from 1980’s album of Modern Man, the Scot band that was among Ure’s busy “New Wave Producer” period following the crash and burn of Rich Kids. The duo emerged from the wreckage of Modern Man as Messengers and they supported Ultravox on their “Quartet” tour as opening act and extra hands on synths. Ure produced their 3-4 singles on his briefly active boutique label, Musicfest. This one was grandiose and ornate, but was fully committed to such a rococo notion. Liberace would have approved. Later on, Ure recorded “The Gift” with Mitchell + King co-writing it all with him. What happened in the two years between this single and that album I can’t say, but though this single flirted with kitsch, it did so more successfully than “If I Was” did. Curating the bonus tracks for this CD actually lit a fire under me that may take another dozen years to acquire the good for, but I happen to think that a boxed set of Midge Ure loose productions might be a fascinating thing to hear in a single, coherent block of sound. Watch this space.
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