Ultravox (Contemporary Musicians)
The success of British New Wave band Ultravox cannot be measured by its popularity in the United States. The group was very popular in England in its heyday, during the British "electropop" rage of the 1980s, when musicians set down their guitars for synthesizers and keyboards to create a stylish and digital pop sound. The group followed in the vein of what groups like Kraftwerk and Roxy Music were doing in the late 1970s. One of the pioneering bands of the United Kingdom's "new romantic" movement, Ultravox are cited as an influence by such artists as electropop musician Gary Numan, among others. Ultravox topped the British charts several times during the 1980s with such hits as "My Sex," "Sleepwalk," "Passing Strangers," "All Stood Still," "Hymn," "Visions in Blue," "Lament," "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes," and "Love's Great Adventure." Only the single "Reap the Wild Wind" became a minor hit in America, breaking onto the charts at number 71. Ultravox albums Vienna, Rage in Eden, Quartet, Lament, The Collection, and U-Vox were all top-ten hits in the United Kingdom.
John Foxx began experimenting with synthesizers and making music during his school-age years. He moved to London in 1974 and met bassist Chris Cross, keyboardist and violinist Billie Currie, guitarist Steve Shears, and drummer Warren Cann. The five musicians shared a common interest in the music of glam-rock acts like David Bowie and Roxy Music. Foxx formed Ultravox in 1974, and the group was signed to Island Records in 1976. Their first album, Ultravox! was produced and supported by electronic-music guru Brian Eno of Roxy Music. Ultravox's brand of synthesizer music was, in large part, lost in the media attention the British punk-rock scene was receiving at the time. Many rockers were unimpressed by the synthetic and programmed sound of Ultravox, including, reportedly, Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.
The group released two more new albums on Island, Ha! Ha! Ha! in 1977 and Systems of Romance 1978. They scored a minor British hit with the single "My Sex" in 1977 but were dropped from Island after disappointing sales for Systems of Romance. The group went on hiatus for a while. Currie toured with Gary Numan. Island subsequently released a compilation, Three into One, in 1980. By that time, Foxx and Simon had left the group. Foxx either quit or "was sacked," Cann wrote in his bio on the Ultravox website; "it's still a moot point." Cann remembered the time as a low pointhe group had no manager, and he, Cross, and Currie were trying to keep Ultravox together. Cann recalled having to sneak into an Island warehouse to retrieve some of the band's equipment.
Ultravox was then revived as a quartet with Scottish guitarist and vocalist Midge Ure, whom Currie met while with the group Visage. Ure came to the group from the Scottish pop band Slik and the Rich Kids, which included ex-Sex Pistol member Glen Matlock. "When I joined Ultravox it was my ultimate," Ure said in an interview located online at dotmusic. "I felt I'd finally come home. The noise we made initially was fantastic."
The group's first release together, Vienna, brought Ultravox the success that would define their place in 1980s music. The new formation of Ultravox scored two minor hits, "Sleepwalk" and "Passing Strangers." The single "Vienna" was number tw on the United Kingdom charts in January and February of 1981. Ure was an engaging frontman, the band's new sound was atmospheric and different, and "Vienna" was accompanied by an artsy music video. "Vienna would never have been as successful as it was if it hadn't been so different from everything else that was around at the time," Ure said in the dotmusic interview.
The next three years were Ultravox's golden era. A string of top-20 United Kingdom hits kept the band on the British charts with such New Wave contemporaries Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. Together, these groups defined the "new romantic" movement of the 1980s. "All Stood Still" reached the top 20 in 1981, "Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" charted in 1984. Ultravox was also successful in Europe, but American success eluded them with the exception of the 1982 single "Reap the Wild Wind." The song became a minor hit, breaking onto the American charts at number 71, while it made the top 20 in the United Kingdom. Of the Ultravox albums Vienna, Rage in Eden, Quartet, Lament, The Collection, and U-Voxll of which made it onto the British top tennly Quartet broke onto the American charts, at number 61.
U-Vox, released in 1986, was the group's last album of new material in the 1980s. A year later, the group disbanded. Billie Currie took over and continued the band, forming a brand-new lineup. The new Ultravox released two albums in the United Kingdom in the 1990s, neither of which made an impact on critics or former fans. With a new singer, Tony Fennelle, the group released Revelation in 1993. Currie tried again in 1995 to revive the group with yet another vocalist, Sam Blue, and new guitarist Vinny Burns on the release Ingenuity.
Several members of Ultravox went on to pursue solo careers. Midge Ure has been the most successful as a solo act. He cowrote Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" and organized the Live Aid benefit concert with Boomtown Rats' frontman Bob Geldof. Ure then became the musical director for the Prince's Trust concerts. His solo work began while he was a member of the group, with his debut album The Gift, released in 1985. He proceeded to release Answers to Nothing, Pure, If I Was: The Very Best of Midge Ure, and Breathe. Answers to Nothing made it onto the United Kingdom charts at number 88 and produced the single "Dear God," which made it onto the top 100 singles chart. He also scored two top-ten hits, "No Regrets" in 1982 and the number-one single "If I Was" in 1985. Founding frontman John Foxx released several solo albums in England in the 1980s, including John Foxx in 1981. He scored a number of hit singles in the United Kingdom, but none of his work was ever released in the United States. Billie Currie released his own solo debut, Transportation, in 1988. Chris Cross became a psychotherapist.
Ultravox, Island, 1977.
Ha! Ha! Hal, Island, 1977.
Systems of Romance, Island, 1978.
Vienna, Ariola, 1980.
Three into One, Island, 1980.
New Europeans, Chrysalis, 1981.
Rage in Eden, Chrysalis, 1981.
Quartet, Chrysalis, 1982.
Monumenthe Soundtrack, Chrysalis, 1983.
Lament, One Way, 1984.
The Collection, Chrysalis, 1984.
U-Vox, Chrysalis, 1986.
Peel Sessions, Dutch East, 1988.
BBC Radio 1 Live in Concert, Windsong, 1992.
Revelation, Alex, 1993.
Slow Motion, Alex, 1993.
Rare, Vol. 1, Chrysalis, 1994.
Rare, Vol. 2, Chrysalis, 1994.
Future Picture, Receiver, 1995.
Ingenuity, Resurgence, 1996.
Dancing with Tears in My Eyes, EMI, 1997.
Premium Gold Collection, EMI/Electrola, 1997.
The Voice: The Best of Ultravox, EMI, 1997.
Extended Ultravox, Alex, 1998.
Live, WEA, 1998.
The Island Years, Spectrum, 1999.
George-Warren, Holly, and Patricia Romanowski, editors, Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 2001.
Larkin, Colin, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Muze UK Ltd., 1998.
"Midge Ure Interview," dotmusic, (March 25, 2002).
"Personal File," Ultravox, http://www.ultravox.org.uk (March 25, 2002).
"Ultravox," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 25, 2002).