BILLY CURRIE 1981
Real Name: William Lee Currie, geb. am 01. April, Huddersfield, UK
First record bought: Tchaikovsky, Violin Konzert in D
Bands: Company, Ritual Theatre Group, Tubeway Army
ARP ODYSSEY, Yamaha CS20/40, Yamaha SS30, Yamaha CP70 Piano, Yamaha CS80, Yamaha GS1, Yamaha DX7, ELKA String Machine, Technics PX1 digital piano, OSCar Monosynth, Prohpet T8, P.P.G. Wave 2.2, Oberheim OB-X, CME, Novation
BILLY CURRIE 2010
An Interview with ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie
The True Transmission
Billy Currie is a classically trained, multi-talented instrumentalist/composer. With a serious musical background, he was once offered a place at London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Music back in 1969. He opted not to go; the prospect of regimented training and academics being promptly traded for a more creative and experimental outlook. He didn’t go far wrong and since then, he’s worked with TUBEWAY ARMY and subsequently toured with GARY NUMAN’s band in 1979. He was also a member of VISAGE – a studio-based project fronted by New Romantic icon Steve Strange, and co-wrote the smash hit single Fade to Grey with Chris Payne and Midge Ure. Now a long-standing member (since 1974) of the new wave electronic rock/pop synth pioneers ULTRAVOX, Billy has long since been associated with the technical side of song crafting, without a doubt becoming ULTRAVOX’s very own virtuoso of counterpoint and melody, and indeed famed for delivering sounds of radical contrast, all of which seem to hold that air of suggestive spontaneity.
Billy is typically noted for his trademark soloing, which in the main, was created using his ARP Odyssey synthesizer. His profound blends of some of the most harmonious and expressive sounds, have not only helped establish him as a player with a unique charismatic edge, and one of unprecedented musical sophistication, but have also brought a somewhat striking shade to the colourful threads that were interwoven to form the music of ULTRAVOX.
As a violinist, Billy would create a stylish, yet subtle classical inflection that still manages to leave a glaze all of its own, some three decades-plus later. On an instrument that perhaps lends itself more to virtuosity than others, he has also given scope to some of the most meaningful and unique aspects of ULTRAVOX compositions, when considering the eloquent melodic violin sequences contained within the vast majority of their earlier material. Alongside his sharp soloing however, be it on violin or synthesizers, there’s also the alto voicing of his viola playing, often understated and played legato – adding yet another dynamic to his sound.
To date, Billy has eight solo albums to his credit. Each exhibits many distinct and individual stylistic features, ranging from the exhilarating and worldly Transportation – Billy’s 1988 solo debut, to the organic violin/viola sounds that constitute Stand Up & Walk. The most diverse of all, perhaps emerges from the dynamic, intricate orchestration that leaps off the score to form Unearthed – showcasing snapshots of the lively symphonic, all set against contemporary vision, with definite impressionist elements that arguably go a little way to trigger a reminder to the French composer Maurice Ravel. Other works include Accidental Poetry Of The Structure, a delicately voiced dialogue forming an impressive collection of sensual and evocative compositions. There’s the heavily weighted, emotionally charged, upbeat synthesizer sounds hailing as Push, and not least, the wonderful minimalistic expanse that is Still Movement – to mention but a few.
Following the reformation of ULTRAVOX in 2009 for their critically acclaimed Return To Eden tour, there was more to follow in 2010, which saw them stage their show not only in Britain, but also in Europe and Scandinavia. In the space of just two years, fans have been privileged with the release of the Return To Eden DVD (filmed live at the London Roundhouse in 2009) and also 2011’s Moments From Eden EP (recorded live during the German leg of the Return to Eden Part 2 tour.). However, the best and most celebrated news would come in January 2011 with the announcement of a brand new ULTRAVOX album in the making. Fast forward to May 2012 and the album is here. The album entitled Brilliant is ready to hit the streets with Billy lately citing his favourite track was Live.
Just very recently, Billy stated on his website that he was also working on his next solo output. The Electricity Club caught up with him to talk about his vast body of work and not least, the new ULTRAVOX album.
The news regarding the new ULTRAVOX album only became public knowledge in January 2011 and was a tremendous surprise for fans – when did a new ULTRAVOX record become a very real possibility for the four of you?
It was July 2010. We had a meeting and decided YES!
New music is something you seem to have set your sights on fairly early on, picking up from previous interviews since the live reunion?
That’s correct, I discussed it with Midge and Chris as early as May 2009. They were not very interested then. We all got more serious about it while doing the 2010 Return To Eden Part 2 tour and in Sweden for the festivals, we spent the travelling time discussing how we would go about it. I have a great memory of Chris driving me and Warren all the way across Sweden to Varberg. We talked a lot. Beautiful country, especially in August. We usually went there in winter.
After putting out so much solo material, how did you find working with a full band again?
I was anxious at first. When we went over to Canada the first time in September 2010, we did not bring ideas with us to work on. I thought that was good. We all felt the same way. We had to start from scratch.
I brought a couple of very basic ideas just to fall back on if we got a NOTHING HAPPENING AT ALL moment. One became Rise. The band put such a great rhythm to it that I had to take my average idea off and do something better. Midge helped. It was a simple pattern of chords. A few 2nd inversions though. That’s an influence from my solo work. It’s just the bass playing the 5th of the chord.
How would you describe the tone of Brilliant?
It’s sounding bright and positive. It sounds like we are having a good time.
Stephen Lipson is an excellent choice as producer. What extra qualities has he brought to the album?
Mostly energy! He has lots of it! He is very organised as well. We mixed it together. He is very good with drums and the bass synth. He would work tirelessly on them. He never forgot the whole picture though. His sounds are powerful and direct. He responded very well to the mid-tempo tracks. With Hello, he helped us virtually rewrite it in the studio!
And with Remembering, he told us to go away and rewrite it! He does not take any prisoners. It was good that he knew how far to get involved. He knew not to start doing any writing himself. That was our business! We had a good laugh as well!
Violin is your first instrument and you are a left-hander that learned to play right-handed (violin/viola). Did this present any barriers during your early years when learning the instrument?
It did at the very beginning. It seemed so unnatural. It began to mean that I was much quicker making the notes, higher positions and generally faster. More head stuff. I loved the note number-crutching part of music like sight reading. My bowing with the right arm, which really should be the leader and creator, lagged behind a bit in power. My bowing got better when I was at Music College. My teacher likened the movement to animals and reptiles jumping to catch prey which I understood. Natural Instinct!
Did you feel any inclination over the years to become a concert violinist or involved in anyway with symphony productions?
Yes, that is what I intended to do. On viola, I led the viola section in the orchestra for four years, playing symphonies and all sorts of modern stuff. I loved the string orchestra as well.
You are a classically trained pianist. But what first attracted you to the synthesizer?
When I was in a band, I found that hiring a string synth like an Elka Rhapsody could put the track in a different world. A new world! So when I got the chance to buy an ARP synthesizer in 1977, it was to further that quest. It also cut like a chainsaw. It was nice to be heard. It was exiting to make my own softer sounds that would help the song by lifting it. I enjoyed making counter melodies to the vocals. Weird sounds could completely change the feel of a track.
Was it love at first sight with the ARP Odyssey? What made it so special for you compared with say, the Minimoog?
I just liked that honky mad sound. The LFO was in a good position for me. Just moving a slider up and down, forward and back. It felt right. The Minimoog was all knobs, it did not seem as agile. They were both incredibly spacey to use. Very different though. They were abstract times. You came, eventually, to a sound, used it and never got it back again quite the same way. A Minimoog that had to have the panel upright did not look cool for me but it had to be up to play it properly though. The ARP had a lighter keyboard action which I preferred.
Chris Cross had a Minimoog which obviously suited his role in the band and Warren Cann bought his Roland TR77. Was there a particular moment or influence as to when ULTRAVOX Mk1 decided to utilise more electronics?
Our electronic sound started to creep in while making the Ha! Ha! Ha! album. My ARP, Warren playing more fours-on-the-floor like in The Man Who Dies Every Day, John Foxx’s vocals painting pictures, high synth helping with the pictures and Chris with the repetitive, still, bass guitar at that time, and robotic parts. In 1977, recording Hiroshima Mon Amour was a milestone.
You’ve mentioned in the past that when you were asked to join VISAGE, you had ideas stockpiled from before Systems Of Romance, “things that John Foxx and I argued about that we didn’t use”. So what songs on that first VISAGE album started off as ULTRAVOX ideas?
Mind Of A Toy and Tar. Another became I Remember (Death In The Afternoon) by ULTRAVOX and one was used as the melody on Kissing The Shame by me on Push.
When the Vienna album was released, Astradyne was the perfect opener and a glorious statement of intent. How was the track conceived, especially with all that interplay and the way the final section starts on that unexpected lift?
It is hard to remember now. Midge started with that strong melody, Chris’ bass was also a very strong feature. I played a piano counter melody behind. The track was so strong that we felt at ease to lengthen it with a long textural piano bit that is sort of bell-like with the metronomic bass drum beats and the violin tremolo solo. We even start it with the spacey piano bit. Midge came up with that final section lift taking it out of the long ARP solo. I double it! It is a very good strong keyboard part. I used to say at the time: “Only a guitarist could come up with that!” I meant that as a good thing!
It is very celebratory at the end. Definitely some LA DÜSSELDORF entering the rehearsal studio.
The ARP Odyssey was as good as gone by Lament. But ULTRAVOX were early adopters of digital synths with the PPG Wave 2.2, Yamaha GS1 and DX7…
I loved the PPG. It was hard to programme though. I loved that glassy sound. It could also be crisp and metallic! I changed from turning a knob or a slider to moving numbers or letter increments in a window. A bit like getting your money from the HOLE IN THE WALL at the bank, not a very expressive action.
How were you finding the transformation from analogue synthesis as a player and how it was affecting your creativity?
It was tedious! The DX7…I had a rack of eight, it was good for ending all creativity and causing a severe headache! Good sound though when stacked up. With MIDI, I found myself mixing the more boring DX7 sounds with Oberheim or PPG. That was fun. All my synths seemed to be connected by a MIDI cable, like a washing line, round the studio. I could have five or six different synths linked together to get one sound. That got a bit silly though.
You have worked with soft synths for a good while now and seem quite happy to do so. But at what point did you decide to get the ARP Odyssey fixed up for use on the latest album.
It was a couple of months before the tour. I used it on my Still Movement album on the track Deflect Downward. I use it on my solo albums occasionally.
Are you able to tell us on how many tracks the Odyssey appears on the new album?
What was the most disappointing synth that you’ve used, the one that didn’t quite meet up to expectations and why?
Prophet T8. I got it thinking it would be a competitor to the Yamaha CS80 but the action was always far too heavy. It was the only other synth that had a totally polyphonic touch-sensitive keyboard. It was about £4000…a bargain!
You mentioned on a recent update that you have played violin on the new album – something that has always been a big part of the ULTRAVOX sound. Can we expect some immensely atmospheric violin passages similar to those that were prominent on the likes of Vienna and Rage in Eden?
There is a rhythmic violin on Flow. The rest are solos. One violin part is adding atmosphere behind the vocals.
The Quartet and Lament albums had less obvious violin parts than the previous albums. Were there any particular reasons for that?
No, but Systems Of Romance had no violin on. Sometimes, keyboards are so consuming, especially when there are lots of very interesting changes going on in technology. There certainly was in 1982 to 84. To flag up your question about the change from analogue to digital, that was what was going on then. I sort of forgot about the violin.
You must be very proud having just completed the first new ULTRAVOX album for many years. Are there any particular highlights for you?
I love the atmosphere of Lie, the chord changes of Live, and the simplicity of Change and Contact.
Apart from the fact yourself, Midge Ure, Chris Cross and Warren Cann have all written and recorded material – in your opinion, what makes this latest offering a standout ULTRAVOX record?
It is very positive!
You have mentioned that you are working on a new solo record. Based on the superior quality of 2006’s Accidental Poetry Of The Structure and 2009’s Refine, that is another wonderful piece of news. How far are you with it, and have you incorporated any new influences picked up from perhaps working with ULTRAVOX once again?
I have got eight tracks going now. Working with ULTRAVOX has encouraged me to get out my fiddle but I also thought: “Why not get my viola out as well!” It is quite a dramatic track with impOSCar sounds. Not too fancy. Mostly the violin and viola are in octaves. There’s some very strange violin on another. One violin is straight, the other is very effected! One track is very up with a tempo of 130 BPM.
I’m using Nexus, that is a synth that I used on ULTRAVOX’s Live (in the middle solo section) and Remembering. That could very well be an influence from writing with ULTRAVOX. The album will be released realistically early next year.
Your first solo album was Transportation in 1988 but why was that released before the material you were working on which ended up as Keys & The Fiddle?
I started a solo album in early 1983. I expelled much energy but then decided to shelve the music. I had just come off the eight month ULTRAVOX Quartet tour and we were soon to start the Lament album. VISAGE was breaking up. I had to keep an eye on my energy. I worked with Steve Howe on a couple of the tracks so when I started work on Transportation in 1987, I got in touch with Steve again as I loved working with him! Keys & The Fiddle was an album that Rob Ayling at Voiceprint wanted me to do in 2001. It was a process of putting out all the music I had in the vaults. So to speak!
Your solo work is primarily instrumental – how do you find your titles?
They come according to the nature of the finished piece.
So what’s coming up that you’re able to tell us about?
There’s the British and European tour with ULTRAVOX. We may be venturing out further in the New Year. I cannot say where yet as nothing is definitely booked.
If you had to take just one of your instruments to a desert island with you, which one would it be and why?
My viola. I sometimes hate playing it. It’s so big and hard to get round if I am out of practise. I love the look and smell of it!
The Billy Currie Interview
"The violin, viola, synthesizer and piano genius for Ultravox and Visage, speaks to 2-UpTop's Jim Powell"
Billy Currie has been in a few incarnations of Ultravox with the likes Chris Cross, Warren Cann, John Foxx, Robin Simon and Midge Ure. With Ultravox Billy has worked with legendary producers of the ilk of Brian Eno, Steve Lillywhite, Conny Plank and George Martin.
He toured with Tubeway Army/Gary Numan and was in the electro supergroup Visage with Ure, Steve Strange, Rusty Egan and the trio from Magazine, John McGeogh, Barry Adamson and Dave Formula.
Billy has also released many well received solo albums, aswell as collaborating with Phil Lynott, and also with Steve Howe on the Transportation album.
Can you remember the moment when you first wanted to be a musician?When I was 13.
I was playing the Violin quite well & so the Huddersfield Music College offered me free Viola lessons at the weekend. I got a place there as a Viola player 2 years later.
What did you learn to play first: the violin, viola or piano?
Can you remember the first time you came across a synthesizer?
Ultravox were doing demos with Steve Lillywhite in Polygram Studios. Stanhope Place. This was 1974-5. I remember only having a dodgy Crumer piano at the time so I had to hire in. The String Synth called the Elka was the first I liked & used. A full on Synth I didn't get to use till 1976 when I played Eno's Mini Moog on the first Ultravox album.
Who were your main influences for your playing style when you were first starting out?
Piano was my 2nd instrument at Music College. I just messed around having fun really. Probably because the Viola was so intense. I was mostly listening to Classical Composers and trying to compose my own music on the piano. At 19 I worked in a band that had a Hammond Organ. Didn't really feel that was me though so I kept off it myself. Keyboard players like Rick Wright and Terry Riley had an influence on me.
Do you think back with some relief that you changed the band name from Tiger Lily to Ultravox!?
We all knew we were going to drop Tiger Lily. When we signed to Island it was time to move on.
Why the exclamation mark after the name Ultravox! and then why did you drop it??
The name was like a product e.g. Magnavox etc. The exclamation mark just seemed to help this further. I thought it was quite an original idea at the time! We dropped it at the end of he decade because it didn't seem to fit. It looked a bit punky by then. It helped draw a line between the two line- ups as well.
What bands did you support when you were Ultravox! and starting out?
Eddie and the Hot Rods. A couple more but can't remember their names.
Were you fearful for Ultravox's future when lead singer John Foxx left, and what were your thoughts at this stage??
I did not know what would happen. I knew I was skint though and had to get a place in another band.
How did Gary Numan approach you to play on his debut album ‘The Pleasure Principle' and tour with his band, and how much did you enjoy that tour??
I had joined Visage very early in 1979 and it was while I was checking out Magazine at Drury Lane Theatre that Gary came up to me in the bar to ask if I would be interested in gigging with Tubeway Army.
I was up for it. That changed dramatically when he released Are Friends Electric right n the middle of the rehearsals for what was going to be a short tour at the club level. It was exiting having a taste of success! Even though it wasn't mine.
How did you get involved in the Visage project?
The seventies line-up of Ultravox did our last UK gig at the Marquee club in late December 1979. Just after Christmas day. Robin Simon and I were just sitting in the dressing room and Rust Egan came marching in.
He told us about his club around the corner called "Billy's". He said we have to come round and party. He was playing music from our "Systems of Romance" album. It was a boost to see a new scene starting up! He introduced me to Midge the second time I went. Midge was DJ'ing. I liked the Music they were playing at the Club like Telex. Fun Electronic Dance music! We decided to get a new band together.
This is where you met with Midge Ure and presumably enjoyed working with him. How long did it take for you to make your mind up to get him involved with Ultravox?
After we had written a few tracks together for Visage. About August of that year.
Did you have to persuade the other remaining Ultravox members to give Midge a go?
Visage seemed to be such a mixed collaboration, with real experienced and top-notch musicians, and an inexperienced lead singer, in Steve Strange. How did everyone get on?
It was a laugh for the first album. I used to piss myself mostly from listening to Midge & Rusty wind each other up. These loud and 'no messing' strong characters were good for me at the time because It made me spring back into life! Steve and I got on well. I supported his ideas at times when he lacked confidence. I don't think Visage ever played live.
Was this because every musician was already too busy with their own bands?
Yes we were very busy. The project was always a studio project.
Did you and one of Gary Numan's band, Chris Payne, write ‘Fade To Grey' when touring on the road with Numan in 1979, and then what did Midge Ure add to it in the studio??
Yes Chris and I did write the music for Fade To grey in the sound checks on Gary Numans tour. I brought Ced Sharpley & Chris into the Visage studio to record it. I did nothing with it until Visage were short of tracks for our first album. I gave Midge the music on cassette tape and he wrote the Vocal part.
At what point did you realise that you had made classic albums with that Visage debut release and ‘Vienna' with Ultravox?
Early 1981. It was a very big surprise really. It was like we had got the timing right!!!! In the 70,s it always felt like we were out of synch with everything else.
Did Warren Cann write the lyrics for 'Mr X'?
Did you ever meet Joe Dolce and did you want to punch him and tell him to shut up his the face??
The charts are like doing coke. It is a bit dangerous to not be happy with the success you get and just keep wanting more. I did not mind that much that Vienna was not number one. Honest!
I've always been amazed how you manage to come off the piano, for your violin solo, then back to the piano, always on time when playing ‘Vienna' live. It's similar to U2's The Edge with piano and guitar solo in ‘New Years Day'. Have you ever missed your timing?
On the last tour in August my tech guy gave me the Violin not switched on. That was good! Usually it's fine.
‘Rage In Eden' and ‘Quartet' further installed Ultravox's standing amongst the elite of the 80's electro bands. Was it hard work to keep coming up with such high quality albums, or was it all coming naturally and easily for the band?
It got harder by Lament.
During that Quartet tour, the four of you ended ‘The Voice' song and the gig, by all playing the drums. Myself and two friends (who were brothers) spent one Saturday morning listening to ‘Monument' in their bedroom, and decided to do the same, but using our hands on the leather seats of some kitchen stools. When the song had finished we were dripping with sweat and grinning like Cheshire Cats, only to find their dad stood by the doorway, just staring at us and shaking his head in bewilderment, before leaving the room.
Was it as much fun as it looks?
Yes! And more! Ultravox always wrote quality b-sides.
Do you think its a shame bands these days don't have the need for them?
Thanks! Its not really a shame. Things have moved on. We used to be so pleased to be on record, in any way, so we worked hard on doing good b-sides.
It was a bit of an oddity though because most artists knew that the fans really wanted the A-side. It was tempting for artists to just put something quick and rubbish on to get it done. That could then piss the fans off!
I remember buying Roxy Music,s single "Love Is A Drug" way back in 1975 ish and put on the b-side called "Sarabande". I liked the title so I had expectations. It was 3 minutes of jammed, knocked together rubbish. It put me off the band because I thought it was a bit mercenary the way they had done that.!
You stopped contributing to Visage around this time. What was the reason for that?
Midge quit. We were all arguing.
Did Midge Ure's dedicated work for Band Aid and Live Aid, put any strain on Ultravox, or do you think it helped the band's profile even more?
It put strain on Ultravox.
Was it nerve-wracking playing at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium?
How pleased were you with the ‘Lament' album and ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' getting so high in the UK singles chart?
Chuffed! Surprised and Relieved.
Warren Cann was let go for the making of the U-Vox album. Was this and the subsequent outcome of U-Vox, a real low point for Ultravox?
Did all three of you decide the time was right to go your separate ways?
We never discussed it. It just happened.
You made two more albums under the banner of Ultravox in 92' and 96', though you were the only original member left. Whose decision was that to still use the name Ultravox?
Your keyboard soloing style, using analogue synths like the ARP Odyssey, is a ‘Billy Currie' trademark'. Ever though of patenting it....it might have stopped John Foxx nicking the sound for his early 80's solo stuff?
Thank you! No I haven't really
Who made the first move to get the four of you back talking again?
Chris O"Donnell !!!!
We used to have two managers from 1979. Chris Morrison & Chris O"Donnell. Chris O"Donnell left early in our 80,s success. About 1982.
Chris O"Donnell got back in touch with us all again. Back in 2008.
What were the motives for getting back together again in 2009, and why was ‘Rage In Eden' chosen as the album to come back with and play live in its entirety?
We missed each other and wanted to play our music LIVE gain! Rage In Eden was chosen because it is generally our fans favorite album.
How much have you enjoyed being back playing live together again, and has there been any plans to tour another Ultravox album and write any new material together??
We have enjoyed it very much. We are discussing the idea of new material now.
I think it would be very exciting to do that. Ultravox out next year touring and playing tracks from a new album. Yes!
What are the your career highlights so far?
The whole of the Rage In Eden tour. Japan, Australia, UK, Germany etc.
What tracks are you most proud of your playing on: one for keyboards etc / one for violin/viola ??
Keyboards - Astradyne / Violin - The Ascent
First single ever bought?
Cliff Richard - Please Don't Tease
First album ever bought?
The first Stones Album.
Last album bought?
David Sylvian - Manafon
Are you a vinyl, CD, iTunes or mp3 man?
What are your five favorite albums you have played on?
1 - Vienna
2 - Visage
3 - Rage In Eden
4 - Transportation
5 - Accidental Poetry of the Structure
Desert Island/Isle Of Mann Discs - What 5 albums would you take, that you weren't involved with?
1 - Low - Bowie
2 - Looking for Saint-Tropez - Telex
3 - In a gadda da vida - Iron Butterfly
4 - Italian Symphony - Mendelssohn
5 - Closer - Joy Division
Hero in music?
What state do you think the music business will be in, in ten years time?
It is constantly changing. Haven't a clue! It is still exciting!
First gig attended?
"Free" - Manchester Uni. 1969 I knew this DJ called Simon Stable. He was able to get me up and on stage behind the Marshall Amps. It was amazing to see a great band like that working so well together through the gig! Learnt so much about gigging from that experience. Paul Kossoff was such a brilliant Guitarist. Good left hand fingering style.
First gig played and its abiding memory?
Brighton Uni. 1969, First band called "Springbirth".
Going down great. Playing a fluid Viola solo. I also played six string bass. That was a laugh! Kept getting told to stop playing too many notes. We had a beautiful American singer. She was tall with long blonde hair.
Best gig played?
Vienna tour in Glasgow. 1980. Weirdly perfect. Some of Simple Minds were there.
Favourite gig venue?
Favourite Radio Show?
Virgin now Absolute
Favourite tour cuisine?
Favourite tour drinks?
Was Rum Orange & Pineapple. Now Still Water.
Berlin, Amsterdam, Milan, Chicago, LA, Sydney, Tokyo
What football team do you follow?
I will go with my sons choice, Arsenal
Who would you consider ‘playing away' from the missus with? (hopefully with her consent):
Who would you consider turning gay with? (hopefully with their consent):
Heroes in Life:
Bowie, Bela Bartok
Interview Old Friends Electric - Billy Currie
In our new regular transcription interview series about heroes of electro-pop, sung and unsung, Adam Locks hooks up with Billy Currie
When it comes to reminiscing about early ‘80s British electro-pop, more often than not, it’s The Human League and Depeche Mode who get first mention. However, it was the two incarnations of Ultravox – first with John Foxx and later with Midge Ure – that produced some of the most significant and experimental albums of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ (1980) and ‘Rage in Eden’ (1981) offered an aural landscape that was infinitely more complex, atmospheric and textured than any of their rivals and this was down to a major pioneer of the synth: Billy Currie. Currie was the band’s main keyboardist and, unusually for a synth band, an accomplished violin/viola player (he’d once turned down a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London). Currie’s originality can be heard, for example, in his violin/viola playing for the track ‘Mr X’ from ‘Vienna’ with some incredible wails and howls coming from the electrified strings. But it’s his ARP playing which is even more startling. Take a listen to Currie’s scorching ARP solo at the end of Ultravox’s ‘The Voice’ and the barmy electronic screeches he gets out of his synth in ‘All Stood Still’, both from a 1983 concert in Berlin on ‘You Tube’. Aside from Ultravox, Currie was the main song writer for another hugely influential electro band – Visage – co-writing their most commercially successful and iconic hit: ‘Fade to Grey’. He also worked with Gary Numan for the ‘Touring Principle’ tour in 1979, playing his ARP to breathtaking effect on tracks such as ‘On Broadway’. Since Ultravox’s messy demise in the latter part of the 1980s (the rot started with the sacking of their drummer – Warren Cann – in 1986), Currie has continued as a solo artist. To date, he’s released seven solo albums, the first of which was ‘Transportation’ (1988). His latest, ‘Accidental Poetry Of The Structure’, shows an artist still experimenting with music, but now through virtual or soft synth technology. Beatmag visits him in early August at his North London to discuss his work, past and present.
With the recent reissue of the first three Ultravox albums, what’s your view of them now?
BC: “I got a copy sent from the record company which was a miracle! No, it’s really nice! I thought the art work looked good, especially on the first album ‘Ultravox!’. They’d treated it, worked on it. When I first saw the first album cover I thought it was really good whereas back in those days, I didn’t like it because I was thinking, ‘Shit, why didn’t we go for a black and white one’. A black and white one would have looked tougher, more street, and still kept the over-the-topness we wanted. Instead, because of the colour being rich and slightly Roxy decadence, it tendered to look shiny and expensive and so gave credence to the accusation from the NME that we were a manufactured band made up of rich session musicians. Unbelievable really because we were all broke and doing shit jobs to make ends meet. We worked hard rehearsing the band four evenings a week and all day Sunday. I lived with my girlfriend I’d invited down from Yorkshire, but saw very little of her. She stuck it out for four years though. Not bad!”
You were really hammered by the British press, weren’t you?
BC: “Yes, yes, but we don’t have to go down that road do we?”
No. Let’s go back to those first three albums. How does the music sound to you?
BC: “Well, I got the albums sent from Universal which is more than what we got from Chrysalis when they were putting out their horrendous Midge Ure and Ultravox remixes. You don’t even get sent a copy since it’s all done behind your back. Who is bitter and twisted?! I listened to a bit of ‘Ha!Ha!Ha!’ because that tends to be my favourite one. I thought they’d gone a bit over the top with the EQs. Someone had been let loose probably a little bit too much, but that’s only from listening to a couple of tracks. I really like ‘Artificial Lives’. I listened to that straightaway. I was thinking that they’d brought out some frequencies that I’m not sure I’d have brought out. It’s very sharp, but they’ve changed it a lot and I found it a bit unsettling and rather annoying, actually, after a few tracks. But this is just one brief listen. I have to sit down and concentrate and listen to the whole album, so I should give the person a chance, yet I’m not interested enough to actually do that. I probably will some time, but I’m not that interested. I am interested in Ultravox, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the sort of thing I’ll do probably when I’m pissed! You know when you get a few beers down you and you really tune in?! What I did find fascinating was that, for the first time since 1977, I heard the ARP part that I put in the chorus of ‘Distant Smile’ which went to the same melody as the guitar. I was annoyed at the time because the synthesizer was being mixed out and I was pretty pissed off. But I got my own way on other tracks. I was a bit like that, you know. And I can hear it, and I can hear the LFO – the vibrato – and that was quite mind-blowing. My instant feeling on that particular album, the mastering guy /girl, wanted to bring out the keyboards, that’s what I thought. So, it was quite interesting.”
You’ve mentioned Steve Lillywhite, but Ultravox also worked with other producers, namely Brian Eno and Conny Plank. What do you think they brought to each of those albums?
BC: “He died in 1987 and I suddenly realised that he was exactly ten years older than me and that’s terrible. He died of lung cancer. He was working on a solo album. I was talking to him when I was working on my ‘Transportation’ album in my studio. He sounded very weak. It’s just a shame because I would have loved to have worked with him more. It was great working with Conny Plank.”
What’s interesting about Conny Plank is that Ultravox continued to work with him after ‘Systems of Romance’ with ‘Vienna’ and ‘Rage in Eden’. Why did you keep him on as a producer?
BC: “We’d found something with ‘Systems of Romance’ and, obviously, when John left he realised that as well, and also other bands: Depeche Mode, Human League and so on.”
‘Systems’ was a very influential album.
BC: “Yeah. Anyway, there were other things going on and things happening, like Gary Numan. And we later brought in a pop musician – Midge Ure – which, to his own admittance, hadn’t got a great background. But we welcomed him with open arms because he was a musician and we wanted that after working with John as a song writer more than a musician. John was very much a words man, but he was quite a good guitarist, actually. Midge was quite happy to come in with some ideas already created, a sound that was already created and then to take it from there. He has a work ethic mentality, not particularly an originator, but that was okay because we wanted to sort of catch up. So it made sense to stay with the person we’d just been working with and sort of develop it, because ‘Systems of Romance’ was very intense. We had to do it very quick and I have memories of John mistakenly writing two lyrics for the same track. I don’t mean that as a put down, but I mean that he’d got all this going on in his head. It felt it might be nice to capture this again with just a little bit more time. ‘Dislocation’ was done as a last track out of necessity for ‘Systems’. I’m a 120% kind of person and I have to love what I do and I always did, but even at that point – because I felt that John was hanging on to things a bit too much there – I didn’t do as much co-writing as I wanted to. Frustration was creeping in because I wanted to be a developing writer. To give credit to John, he let me in more than the other guys.”
So, did John write most of Ultravox’s material?
BC: “Most of the stuff, yeah, and it was always originated from John which frustrated me. The one where we did collaborate, like ‘Dislocation’, I had to be dragged out of bed to do it because I’d got a little bit like, ‘We’re finished. This band is going to be dropped’. I’d dropped into a bit of depression.”
BC: “Yeah. And I was in the room smoking a big weenie with Robin Simon and John burst in with his SS sidekick Warren [Cann] and demanded that I get down there and write the next track which, in some ways, was really good. Of course, I was very kind of angry about it because it was a bit like, ‘Well, if you want me to write this track, why didn’t you let me help you more when we were doing the album?’ I haven’t actually spoken much about this, especially this, because it was a bit of a special time because, earlier on in the summer of ’78, I took a Revox home from Island Music. They were just opposite us in the rehearsal place – it was all a very cosy left-field feeling to it. It was quite nice atmosphere. Too cosy sometimes with the rush matting and everything; quite trendy for the time. Anyway, as I said, I took a Revox home and composed five tracks, played them to the band in the hope that John would pick up on the fact that I’m actually wanting to collaborate. He didn’t take up that option.”
Did those five songs you wrote survive in another album?
BC: “No. I actually lost the tape. I was fast moving at the time. I might have subconsciously used them for the Visage album, but I can’t remember. I think there was one that I sort of…yes, actually, no…one very arty piece that I did. I was getting into textural rotation stuff; it became the intro to ‘Mind of a Toy’ by Visage. Yes, that was one of the tracks which I presented. Yes, that was one of them. I have to rattle my brains a bit. I’m saying no, but in fact I did! And I think I used a couple more on the first Visage album because the first Visage album came at a point of continuing frustration for me of really wanting to be a writer.”
You were the main song writer for Visage, weren’t you?
BC: “Yes, I came up with the music. I’m not actually a song writer. My position is that I’ll write the music and if I can work with songwriters like Midge Ure who can put a vocal part on top of my music, I’m happy. John didn’t work like that, but that’s fair enough. Each to their own. John came in with the song and I helped it. John accommodated and trusted me after working together for quite a while. For example, he’d say, could you write some music for this bit like ‘I Want To Be A Machine’. I came in with a piece of music once there was a complete section and John said, ‘Oh look, I’ve written this song. Why don’t you put your piece music at the end?’ like on ‘Slip Away’. We did work well together, but the point I’m making is that we didn’t really collaborate.”
So did Chris and Warren not have much of an input into the music of Ultravox during Foxx’s tenure in the band?
BC: “Chris [Cross] did. He was quite quirky. He did have some input into the music. You could do things like I was doing, playing around with the form: the middle and the top. I used to be into the form. But, if it doesn’t sound right on a bass, you’re fucked, you know. So, quite often, he’d play through these things and actually make it work.”
What was Chris like?
BC: “He was a kind of a light person even though he played a bass. He was a real funny mixture.”
He played the Minimoog as well, didn’t he?
BC: “The Minimoog was introduced when Midge joined. Before then he bought what was called an EMS suitcase synthesizer which was all buttons and putting in little coloured things. It was a very off the wall thing which Brian Eno talked about when we did the album in ’76 and Chris just went out and bought one. So, he was doing some very weird things when we were doing the ‘Systems of Romance’ album like on the beginning of ‘Slow Motion’ – that lovely beginning to the song is Chris; that was the only high bit he did, though. The rest would be bass. That was the beginnings of synthesizer as a bass part. As a piece of technology it was very unreliable. It was analogue and the two oscillators used to drift massively. It was something you experimented with in your electronics workshop. It could just go mad. But when we went to America in early ’79 we used to use it deliberately. We used to start pieces off with it just going berserk. The Minimoog thing – to clarify that – was played by Chris with the ‘80s line-up.”
I’ll come back to’ 80s Ultravox in a moment, but I’d like to turn to ’93 where you took part in a German film project which was dedicated to Conny Plank. Can you tell me more about that and weren’t Kraftwerk involved?
BC: “Yes, in reference to Kraftwerk, it was the percussion bloke.”
BC: “I can’t remember his name. It’s the guy who does a lot of touring by himself. Yes, maybe it was Wolfgang Flur. I did meet him. I can’t remember thinking, ‘That’s him!’ because there were a lot of people around. There was a guy from Cluster…”
BC: “Yes, Can. There were a lot of people involved. It was a bit mad all that, really. It was slightly tinged with the fact that Conny’s wife was against it. She felt that all the musicians were cashing in and I felt that was going against her slightly. And this event I saw as a celebratory thing, but it was tinged with the fact that she didn’t give a thumbs up and the main guy from Can who played the French horn – he didn’t turn up. My friend Geordie from Killing Joke was there and the lead singer from the band [Jaz Coleman] – I didn’t know him but we got on quite well. Peter Hook was there from New Order. Yet, I ended up not working with them. They all did something together which was more conventional, more of a song to go with the film – it was all for a film. I ended up doing a big jam in a circle with all these people. So, it was good but pretty off the wall. I must admit, I was a little bit strange at that time. It wasn’t a good time for me. But the film did come out. The highlight was that I tried to get the violin player from TuxedoMoon – Blaine Reininger – to come along to do a violin and viola thing. Funnily enough, I did end up working with him in Brussels three years later and me and him went around promoting this film around Germany in 1996 in cinemas. The film was so badly promoted it just wasn’t funny. We had to laugh. Some places there were some audiences, but I remember playing in Stuttgart and I think there was about five people there.”
Does this film still exist out there now?
BC: “Yes, it does. It’s out there.”
Do you ever visit YouTube because there’s a fascinating Ultravox concert from ’83 in Germany?
BC: “Yes, I’ve seen it. There was one in YouTube which showed Ultravox’s special guest slot at Reading Festival in 1978 which I’ve never seen before, so that was bizarre and to think we’d actually never seen that footage. That was a very sad end to what I’d thought was a bad time because we did that and I got problems with my electric piano: it got picked up by the lights, so I had a terrible noise all the way through. Yet, when I listen to it on YouTube, I thought it didn’t sound too bad.”
Weren’t the Jam playing at that same Festival?
BC: “Yes, they were top of the bill. Paul Weller was a fan of Ultravox. He used to always be backstage in the tiny little dressing room at the Marquee Club. He was always a fan, always quiet and just hanging out. He is a really nice guy. It was just amazing to have a fan, actually.”
BC: “Yes, at that time from other musicians. People used to want to usually punch the crap out of us, after all this was the punk time.”
So, to move on a little, after Reading, after ‘Systems’, John Foxx left. It’s fascinating to ponder what the next Ultravox album would have sounded like if he’d stayed. What did you make of Foxx’s first solo album, ‘Metamatic’, when that came out in 1980. It’s an interesting album because a couple of tracks were, apparently, rehearsed by Ultravox.
BC: “Yes, ‘He’s a Liquid’ and ‘Touch and Go’. They were not only rehearsed, we performed them on the American tour. It was frustrating really because we were working as a unit and, yet, we knew he was leaving so it was a bit odd. We were going over playing tracks and trying them out pre-recording them; so it had an extraordinary brutish feel about it for the fact that he was just leaving. We weren’t happy that he’d recorded those tracks.”
None of you are credited on those tracks on the ‘Metamatic’ album.
Did you co-write those tracks?
BC: “Yes. I did my usual bits that I did with John for ‘He’s a Liquid’. I wrote the music section which rises which he still kept in his version, but he changed it slightly which is cheeky, but I let it go. It rises to a certain key where you play the melody in a different way in an instrumental break. Instead of the melody going down the notes stay the same, so you get this major discord which was great to play live and he kept that. In 1979 I met Midge in the studio and I said, ‘Right, we’re doing this track and it’s in C’ and it was quite similar to a track me and John wrote together, but you know, so what? What was he going to do about it?! I started it in C and it really had a very similar atmosphere to ‘Just For A Moment’ which John and I wrote together. That became ‘Vienna’. After ‘Systems’ we just left each other alone. Of course we would have influences coming from each other and it’s good that we didn’t end up in court, really because that could have been awful. It was only slight areas. For example, the melody from ‘Touch and Go’ ended up cropping up in Ultravox’s ‘Mr X’ on the ‘Vienna’ album.”
What was it like working with John Foxx?
BC: “I enjoyed working with him because he had some original ideas, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed for six years. To work with John was like, ‘Ah, I’ve found something really interesting’. Also, he was a Northerner and he was still at Art College, although he played that down. But I’d just turned down a place at the Royal Academy of Music, but mostly because I was kind of a confused teenager. I was up to here with it all. It was only ‘A’ levels – ‘A’ level art and ‘A’ level music and they were all getting a bit much and I was doing a lot of music outside. Typical teenager, doing drugs, acid and I thought, ‘Fuck it, I’m off’. I get offered a job in a really good band, so I just buggered off. So, me and John had something in common there.”
When Midge Ure took over from John Foxx, why did the band very quickly stop playing any of the Foxx-era material?
BC: “The idea was to play the band live before we went and made a record [‘Vienna’]. So, we couldn’t just write twelve or thirteen or fourteen tracks – it was just out of necessity. And when we came up with ideas of what to play, Midge played and sang them very proficiently, you know, and we knew he was capable of doing it live, so that was good. To be honest, I didn’t particularly like doing those songs at all. I’m very much like that. I am a sort of black and white person. I would have loved if, in a week, we could have written a whole new set, but it’s just out of necessity; whereas Midge Ure’s quite a practical person. I’m quite unpractical in some ways. So, that was quite a good combination for a bit – for about a week, no sorry! I didn’t particularly like it to be honest that much. When we were doing the ‘Vienna’ tour, ‘Quiet Man’ was still in there and even ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’. It was nice to play them in front of a big audience like at the Hammersmith Odeon. That was very satisfying.”
I’ve never heard any recordings of Midge Ure singing those versions. It would be interesting to hear.
BC: “Yeah. When we did a thing for the BBC at the Paris Theatre in London – a live album [‘Ultravox: Live in Concert’, 1981] – I don’t think there are any of those tracks on that even though we were doing some. We deliberately kept them out. They only exist on bootlegs.”
There must be loads of unreleased recordings of Ultravox in concert.
BC: “Well, we have at the CMO management office. We’ve just got them out of a cage that Ultravox Limited – the company, the ‘80s line-up – has being paying for for about twenty years. We’re all too proud to say, ‘What are we paying for this for? Why are we paying for it and not using it?’ I don’t know whether it was me – it might not have been – but me and the accountant down at CMO just recently decided to do something about it. So, we got the tapes out of there and they’re now sat down at CMO if there’s any thief listening. I just can’t be arsed to go down there. I mean, I can. It’s not like I can’t be arsed, it’s just that the onus seems to get dropped on me – this is how suspicious we are about each other. If we can’t have a meeting about this, then I just can’t do it.”
Well, you’re obviously no longer talking to Midge, I understand that.
BC: “I’m not talking to any of them.”
You’re not talking to Chris or Warren?
BC: “No. It’s not a case of me not talking to them. We’re not talking to each other. Going back to those tapes, I think they are all remixes. I said, ‘Look, if you get them out, I’ll come down and help. I’ll come down to CMO’ – and they were like ‘shock, horror’ thinking, ‘How can we get out of this one!’ There are no never before released tracks, so I’m not very interested because I am quite a black and white person. I was never that bothered about remixes. Once you’ve found the mix – maybe I’m a bit narrow minded – I mean if I went down there and listened to them, I might be blown away and think, ‘Why didn’t we use that?’ But I don’t really want to get right back into it. I’m not really that interested. I do like Ultravox. I don’t want to piss people off. I do appreciate the band, but you’ve got to understand that I’m not all that interested now because it’s been a long time. If there were some never before released tracks, I would go down. In fact, I did speak to Midge Ure last year when he phoned me.”
Why did he ring you?
BC: “Well, he had to phone because I’d threatened to sue his arse. He put out a ‘Trigger Happy’ tour CD and DVD. Two thirds of the tracks were Ultravox tracks from the early ‘80s that I co-wrote and he was not paying writer’s royalties. I wrote to him and he didn’t answer my letter. It was a pain in the arse this. It took about six months to sort out. He ignored my letter so I had to phone this woman who is his manager who got my sympathy by saying he’s an alcoholic. So, I calmed down and, fuck it, he’d got my sympathy. She immediately started to be an absolute smart arse, so I just said, ‘Look, if he doesn’t get in touch with me by a certain time…’ – I didn’t want to go through all the legal stuff – but what else can you do? You’ve got to make a threat. So, I said, ‘If he doesn’t phone me by this date, I’ll have to take legal action’. He waited right up until that deadline. But he was very apologetic.”
How did you both get on?
BC: “It was very…I didn’t really want to get involved. I was pleased he phoned. He’d really come down off his…There was a certain humility, talking about the fact that he’d been dropped, and then absolutely reassured me that he’d get it sorted out. But it was very difficult for him to make me have to phone that woman because she’s an absolute bitch, and she’d inferred that I was actually chasing after him because I wanted to work with him again. I mean, how fucking out of order is that? That’s really out of order.”
With all these ‘80s bands reuniting, I’m presuming then that that would never happen with Ultravox?
BC: “Well, I never say never. But I mean, I just found that so insulting. Then, when Midge phoned me, he was so amenable and chatty and pally and he was waiting for me to say one thing. I put my foot wrong by saying, ‘We sold a lot of records’, you know, when he said we’d helped him a lot financially. It meant that’s how we could help him and he goes: ‘I’ve moved on now’. Basically, that’s his pride and he didn’t want to talk about it and I think he might have taken it that I was wanting…that he was suggesting some more because I’d said, ‘We’d sold a lot of records’. He thought that I was saying that we should do some more and I wasn’t saying that! He’s a very proud man. I was thinking, ‘Shit, why did I say that!’ But I didn’t rise to it. I didn’t start saying, ‘Well, if you’ve moved on, why are you putting out records and DVDs that are two thirds full of early ‘80s Ultravox’. I just thought it was so funny that he, after speaking to his manager – she is his manager – she obviously has put that into his head as well that I was chasing after him. It was quite nice to talk to him again just to talk to him as a person and as a musician. When you are a solo artist, you do feel a bit cut off sometimes. It’s nice to talk to other musicians. So, it was quite nice to see where he was at.”
It would be great to hear some more live Ultravox because there’s been very limited released material in concert. If you look at the live ‘Monument’ EP, there are only six live tracks and it makes you think, ‘Why didn’t they release the whole concert?’ I don’t know why that was.
BC: “Well, we recorded the whole concert at Wembley when we did the U-Vox tour in 1986. I had some tapes of that for ages. I think some people could be interested in it, but it was just the three of us by then and we were definitely going well pear-shaped by then.”
Yeah. We’ll come to that topic later! Critics from ‘Vienna’ onwards have tended to see Ultravox’s musical arrangements as sometimes overblown. What’s your opinion?
BC: “I tended to overblow them a little bit myself. At the end of ‘Cut and Run’ is a perfect example of me completely taking over and trying to fit as many melodies into play at one time together and that’s a little bit like a classical musician having a license to kill, you know. So, I agree, but I still love it. It was in 1982 for the ‘Quartet’ album because I used four different melodies in the track, so I thought, ‘Right, let’s make them all work together’. It’s like being Mozart, you know. I think we could be rightly described as being overblown as soon as we did our second album.”
‘Rage in Eden’.
BC: “Yeah, because what happened was that Midge built up a relationship with Chris and rather dropped me, but I could stand on my own two feet, so that wasn’t a problem.”
Midge dropped you from what?
BC: “Friendship kind of thing. It tended to be those two together.”
Is that when the cracks started to appear in the band?
BC: “Oh yeah.”
BC: “Oh yeah, that early. Me and Midge were friends in Visage, but then he wasn’t the lead singer in Visage. As soon as I invited him into Ultravox and he became the lead singer and we got success, he separated himself a bit and he rushed ahead.”
Why do you think he separated himself?
BC: “Because, basically, he wanted to try and take over. His kick was to take over. That was what he was into. But I could hold my own in music because music was kept first in Ultravox. You had to have to have the music first, but it was stressful from that point. So, when we did ‘Rage in Eden’ they jumped in two feet deep together and came up with ‘The Voice’ and the first bit of ‘We Stand Alone’ which are the first two tracks of the album. I fitted in my bits to finish them off. If I didn’t originate something, then I would finish them off. But anyway, I think we could have been accused of being overblown from ‘The Voice’ because – this is very patronising – it’s two non-classical musicians – Midge with a pop background and Chris with an interesting pop background but not having much of an idea of classical – taking over the reins thinking that they’re dishing back to me what I can do, but doing it like a pop musician would write a classical piece. We were actually finishing that track off when we were putting it down in the studio – that was very clever. Midge was very good at winding people up and I found myself chasing after it. He’s very good at that. He’s got no one do it with now, so that’s why he’s been dead on his arse for so long. So anyway, I responded positively and, of course, Conny knew what was going on. So I finished it off and the way I was finishing it off was a fair deal really; I was writing myself a long solo. This is how bad it got. It was very competitive and, of course, I was getting the daggers looked at me by Warren who didn’t involve himself in writing but, in fact, was taking 25%; we were equal which was fine. So, I remember finishing that track off and Warren got mental at me because I was still writing it. Some people might think, ‘There goes Billy Currie winging again’, but that’s what happened. That’s what happened. It’s not a matter of winging. That was it. I took it on and I made it successful. A lot of other musicians might have said, ‘Fuck off, I don’t like it’.”
Well, it’s certainly interesting to hear your perspective on events especially when compared to Midge Ure’s autobiography. Also it’s interesting about what you’ve just said about your solo in ‘The Voice’ because the live solo for that song – and I’m particularly thinking of the Monument Tour – is probably one of the most electrifying moments in Ultravox. Those noises you produced from your ARP Odyssey are incredible.
BC: “Thank you very much. The verse for ‘The Voice’ was good, don’t get me wrong. I used to wind Midge up saying that he sounded like Gene Pitney. We were just very competitive people and quite nasty as well sometimes. But those chords were good to blow over, to improvise over because it took me right back to when I worked with my first band when I was 19 in 1969; I learnt how to improvise, so I was picking up things from that. But I was very influenced by German bands like Neu! because that solo at the end of ‘The Voice’ live, yes, it did go on quite a bit didn’t it? That going on for a while was quite German. I mean, the second track on my new album is quite German. It’s called ‘William’s Mix’ and you could certainly give a nod to Conny Plank there.”
What was it like working with the producer George Martin on the Ultravox album ‘Quartet’? Wasn’t he a bit deaf by 1982?
BC: “We used to have a right laugh with him! The good thing about Chris Cross was that he had a good sense of humour. Acrid, cockney sense of humour. I remember we were eating there…”
BC: “Yeah, in Montserrat with the Sun coming down at this long table, and he’s sitting there like Prince Charles with his wife and us. I remember his wife saying, ‘I’m off first thing tomorrow’ and Chris Cross saying, ‘Thank god, I’m knackered’. I mean, to actually say that in front of George Martin.”
Midge Ure stated the sounds you produced from synths sounded like an electronic Jimi Hendrix. How did you discover the ARP Odyssey and how did you develop that trademark sound which became the electronic voice of Ultravox?
BC: “That came up through the punk period right in the middle of ’77. Island still backed us financially even though our first album didn’t sell very well; they were still behind us for the second album which was good. They gave us some money and so I bought a fender violin and an ARP Odyssey. The ARP Odyssey was a grand. John pointed out that he bought it for me! I did read that one. That was very nice of him! Anyway it was a grand.”
That was a lot of money at that time.
BC: “Oh yeah. It was a case of bringing the ARP into the music like with ‘Man Who Dies Everyday’ and going mental with it in ‘Artificial Life’. Immediately I started to get total mental sounds. I also started to get a tougher sound from some of the tracks like in ‘Quiet Man’. You can start to feel this style coming through of a stronger sound, but also like in the verses of ‘Man Who Dies Everyday’ there’s a soft sound coming in which is high up and I used to double it with the strings. So there were these things developing. But I must say that John’s song writing had a big influence on me because he was a man that liked the melody and I liked the melody because I’d been brought up on pop music like The Stones – I knew how important pop music was then, but I also knew the importance of classical; for example, Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto and how the big melody comes in the middle. It was interesting for John to anchor me because I’d been through so much improvisation and, before I left music college, I’d been into twelve note stuff like Schoenberg , more modern music, ‘40s stuff, totally dissonant stuff. More recently, for my new album, there’s an influence I mention through the title of my album, a guy called John Cage who did a first tape electronic piece, splicing tape in 1952. The second track on my album is called ‘William’s Mix’ and that’s what that track was called. See, I was just getting into that when I was leaving college. The point I’m making is that as well as me cutting through – a bit like a violin player – it’s a frustration about being able to cut through as a violinist – I could now do it with the synthesizer and really cut through using the vibrato. But there’s also a softer side which is just doing melodies. John Foxx helped me rediscover melody.”
In the early ‘80s in another interview, you commented how while playing the ARP Odyssey for the track ‘All Stood Still’, you’d liked to have fucked the synth because playing it was such a physical thing. Can you explain that?
BC: “Well, it’s just like being a guitarist if you feel like fucking it because you get so much off on it; you’re enjoying so much release, sexual release as well.”
You can see that in your playing. You were always a very physical performer.
BC: “Yeah, it was very much that. It was a great experience. It was revelation not to be stuck behind a big keyboard for a start. It was certainly small enough to feel like you could still be seen by the audience and you were a physical being doing it, not someone hidden, although I don’t like people knocking someone like Keith Emerson because – okay, he had a lot of keyboards but you could still see the guy, couldn’t you? I don’t like it when people knock those guys because they were good. They served their purpose at the time.”
In Ultravox you had a lot of keyboards around you.
BC: “Yes, but I fixed it so when I played a keyboard, people could see me. I wanted to be seen. It was frustration, really because when I played the violin they weren’t advanced enough to have a good sound; there was always a problem, even with the Barcus-Berry transducer mike. But all this frustration I’d had from playing the violin, especially during the punk period, I took it out on the keyboard and I got the nastiest…not necessarily the nastiest, but the loudest cut-through sound I possibly could; it was almost lowest common denominator – it was a bit punk mentality and I was going to take people’s heads off with this.”
Have you ever heard anyone else play the ARP as expressively?
BC: “People were playing it differently. I saw the band Magazine because I worked with Dave Formula in Visage and I liked the way he played his ARP. I saw them play at Drury Lane where I met Gary Numan, and he asked me to work with him. He was quite subtle, Dave Formula, but it was great working with him in the first Visage album. He used to do some farty sounds and – I shouldn’t put myself down – but he was quite subtle whereas, with me, I used to do the soft sound, say at the beginning of ‘Fade to Grey’, or the loud sound! That was it, you know.”
Yet fans loved the much harder sounds which you generated from the ARP.
BC: “I was battling with putting the synth on in ‘Ha!Ha!Ha!’ It could really put a massive chip on your shoulder being in a group like Ultravox playing the violin and keyboards. It says a lot to the other guys because they knew that I was a fairly sensitive soul, but they didn’t actually screw me which is quite good; they let me have a chance. When I listen to ‘Ha!Ha!Ha!’, the ARP work is quite mild. The ARP wasn’t used much for the next album. Robin [Simons] influenced me to use guitar pedals. I tell you what, there’s one thing that I’m most proud of on ‘Systems of Romance’ because we moved away from just hitting people between the eyes on that album. There’s a track called ‘Someone Else’s Clothes’; when John sings ‘Ah ah oh’, and what comes in is not a guitar – it’s me playing the ARP. It’s just me playing three or four separate notes (I didn’t play duophonic because it went out of tune with those two oscillators); so, I had to take it about four times – these are separate notes, but they’re treated with guitar effects and I’m most proud of that as a sound because it’s like, ‘Fucking hell, what the hell is that?’ But that was Robin Simon who helped me get that. It wasn’t just me in the room going, ‘Fuck, let’s try this and that’. I’d got a like a pal in there helping me who was a guitarist who, instead of thinking, ‘Well, there’s the keyboardist and I’m the guitarist’.”
The solo in ‘Man Who Dies Everyday’ is one of the most exciting sounds you produced in early Ultravox.
BC: “I feel it’s a bit timid myself, but I think they’ve cranked it up a little bit on the new master. I got the benefit of playing live a lot by the time we did the ‘Vienna’ album. I think that’s absolutely crucial to the development of my style of ARP playing because you’ve just made me realise how little I did of that kind of style on ‘Systems of Romance’, but I was still out there touring and experimenting.”
John Foxx has commented that with the ARP, you produced a language that was taken up by others. Do you hear your influence in other artists?
BC: “Not so much by that kind of lead sound. I think that’s kind of out on its own isn’t it, really? People have got into the melody thing. People who I used to like at the time – Psychedelic Furs – have been influenced by Ultravox – and Talk Talk. At the time he was in this mod style band with a mod style name, and he had his ear to the rehearsal studio wall when we were doing ‘Systems of Romance’!”
You mean Mark Hollis?
BC: “Yeah. When we finished ‘Systems of Romance’ we heard his music and thought, ‘Hang on, that sounds familiar!’ No, but I used to like Talk Talk. I haven’t heard people using the synth like I did. I think there are some people who have used it with a lot of welly in the dance genre like using nice cheap sounding synths which I really relate to; but they’re not so free because they are being triggered, but I’m quite into dance stuff. I don’t care if they’re triggered or not. You hear some dance tracks and think, ‘Yeah, fucking right!’ I like dance stuff and Ultravox was influenced a lot by dance music.”
BC: “Yes. And I got to see that thing as well from YouTube of that concert you mentioned from 1983 and that’s when we were probably at our fucking maddest. It was all saying ‘Technology, technology, technology’ – it was extremely heavy, energetic, but quite hyped up. We were innovative in that we used to make our own electronic systems to run them; I know that Human League did as well.”
What do you mean by your own electronic systems?
BC: “Well, in those days you would have an internal clock and you used to keep quiet how you did things. We used to have a constant clock going and the drummer would be playing along with it but, to play along with it, you’d have it in his headphones so it was all very, very uptight. Occasionally it would trigger through a CV gate and that is a very powerful sound – that would trigger the mini-Moog in a very powerful way. It’s more powerful than Midi, so these dance guys use Midi; mind you, not all of them do. Some of them buy equipment that’s relative to the old analogue which we were using because it zaps it more so. I mean, I’m not that technical. When we did ‘Dislocation’ that was done very old school – it was quite modern at the time. When I was dragged out of my bed with a huge joint in my mouth, it was like, ‘You are writing this track’ and I was angry as hell, but then I was like, ‘Alright then, the onus is on me. They’ve finally realised that I can write!’ And I plugged in my sequencer and basically…actually, Warren Cann’s being going on about this on the recent sleeve notes to the released albums and he’s gone on and on about the rhythm which is fantastic but, he seems to have omitted the fact that it was originated from my synthesizer part that I wrote.”
Maybe that’s an example of why you should all speak to each other!
BC: “Yes, we should speak to each other. But it doesn’t matter because the rhythm track was very important.”
Midge Ure paints you as not only wild on stage when you played your ARP, but also being somewhat wild with your off-stage antics. For example, in his autobiography he tells the story of you being chased through a hotel by a chef with a meat cleaver. How sex, drugs and rock n’ roll were Ultravox?
BC: “A lot, but we were too cool to let on. We would have been more interesting. I think we had three guys who were a little bit scared of the world seeing it. We were too scared to show it and when I was chased and put in jail, it was just one old photograph on the ‘Daily Mirror’ and it was an old shot as well. I was disgusted! It was from 1977. I was just made to feel like a crook, but there was nothing funny about it. I mean, it was funny, really. I didn’t do any harm, yet the other three guys were really disapproving. I was literally brought out of jail. I had no shoes on. I’d got a white suit on – very ’84 or ’83, whenever it was – actually ’82, sorry. I’d been dragged in there; I’d been made to sit with criminals who stunk of shit.”
Which jail was this?
BC: “Southampton. I was brought out by the tour manager and pretty much taken straight to the gig. And I had these three women, Les Dawson types, saying, ‘God, how terrible’. But the type I am, again, I just got on with it. I did the gig and when the gig was finished we forgot about it. The next day, where were we? It was a bloody seven month tour, so I just didn’t care. If I was the type who was really nit-picking, the band could have broken up very early, but I wasn’t. It was like, ‘Fuck it’, the music’s important. Even when things were going bad and I could see that Ure was trying to take over with the help of Chris Cross which was fucking disgusting, you know, doing things behind your back, it was the music that was important to me.”
Going back to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, didn’t the others get up to various things off-stage?
BC: “Of course. I mean Midge, fucking hell, how many girls did he shag in one night? But it was all done behind closed doors. Midge didn’t like drugs. He was always lecturing about people and drugs.”
But he was drinking heavily, wasn’t he?
BC: “Yes, and yet he was drinking like a fish. My technical bloke who did all this custom built technical stuff – he was a friend of mine from Huddersfield – he was always telling me how Midge was telling him to stop smoking; or my keyboard roadie gets a slap on the wrist from him and Midge goes back and swigs another bottle of Jack Daniels. It was very good at hiding it the next day or giving the impression that you’re the problem, not him.”
Did you know he had a drink problem at the time?
BC: “No, I was too concerned with my problems, I think. We knew he was drinking a lot. When we did the last tour – V-Vox – and it was just me, Chris and him, Chris didn’t drink at all and I became a bit aware of it then. He was dragging these people who were working with us. Danny Mitchell , who wrote ‘If I Was’, would be roped into a drinking session and I used to see how much they drank. Danny used to be like, ‘Fucking no way!’ the next day because he tried to get him to drink before we were going on stage again and Midge could. Sometimes I saw Midge and Chris pissed on stage and I got very pissed off with them.”
They played pissed?
BC: “Not very often, but they were good at hiding it. Just occasionally they would show it. I never did anything before I went on stage, but I used to do it all after so, by the time I had to go on stage again, I got used to my mental state and I used to work it out on stage. I used to feel like shit all day sometimes, but I used to work it out on stage which is really bad for you. So, by the time I’d finished, I felt high as a kite again and it was like, ‘Where’s the party?!’ And that is a very serious cycle to get into. I was living in a different time zone. I still looked like I was about ten years younger and you just knew, because the skin was nice – I had this special kind of skin; I had better skin than the rest of the guys. Midge would be all creased fore head and hair falling out. Then, vwoooom! Like clockwork – I think it must have been early 1985 – I just fell to fucking bits.”
That’s interesting stuff because it’s the one side of Ultravox which has remained hidden.
BC: “We used to look at Midge and take the piss. We used to have a right laugh. I don’t know why they shouldn’t come out and say so. I’m not going to insult the rest of the guys, but I find them really boring. I’m more interested in John Foxx. It’s nice to hear that he’s doing some touring, but I find the others really boring. They’re just very ungiving and they’ve rolled up the drawbridge. I did read Midge’s autobiography; I had to, you know.”
What did you make of it?
BC: “Well, it wasn’t written by him, was it? The chap who wrote it makes him seem like a really clever guy! I thought the bit about the stuff we were doing in my studio in 1985/86 before Warren got thrown out. He stayed away for a couple of weeks and ended up staying away for six weeks so, he took that as an opportunity to say we were a spent force. I thought that was all really fucking disgusting, very out of order.”
That sort of erosion in the band was visible when Midge and Chris were seen in the studio session for Band Aid, but you and Warren weren’t there. Why was that?
BC: “No, we weren’t there because what a great opportunity to eclipse the other two.”
Ultravox’s performance at Live Aid was rather bizarre too. It was quite a disappointing set which seemed a little lacklustre.
BC: “We were sort of in the middle of a year off and Midge was just concentrating on his solo album. We were very fragmented and we only had a few days rehearsal. There was no interest in getting the two guys – Danny Mitchell and Colin King [The Messengers] backing us, and Midge didn’t fucking turn up either sometimes. I remember him turning up four hours late and I was saying, ‘Where the fuck have you been?’ and he says, ‘I’ve just been mixing my album’. But he could say that because he was so in control at the time. You give someone like him too much power which charity gave him, you’re really up for a problem, aren’t you?”
A review of the ‘U-Vox’ album in Q music magazine back in 1986 and it was a pretty disappointed review and said something along the lines of, ‘Why are they producing a half-baked album when the door has been opened for them to be even more successful?’
BC: “Midge had another motive, another agenda. We were getting really big but, by the ‘Lament’ album he wanted to…He couldn’t hack it himself in the group. He couldn’t hack it because of all the things of being in a group. He was the one who couldn’t hack it so he set about muddying the waters and started rubbishing the group during the making of the ‘Lament’ album. That was going on all the way through that. I should have quit really, but I’m not that type.”
That’s rather ironic because ‘Lament’ is a strong album.
BC: “I realised that it was the wrong time to start getting paranoid and, in some ways, I was the one that was a stabiliser at that point and brought in quite standard Ultravox tracks. I wrote in my home the chords and the melody for ‘Dancing with Tears In My Eyes’ which is very Neu! influenced and German influenced, but it was a hit.”
That was your biggest hit since ‘Vienna’.
BC: “Yeah. So I stabilised it, but he was saying that we were getting boring and slagging us off, yet not coming up with any interesting stuff, although one or two things were interesting but I was a little bit out of it then. It was all to do with him thinking that Ultravox were no longer cutting edge. He was just building himself up to go solo.”
It’s somewhat ironic that his solo career hasn’t been very successful.
BC: “No it hasn’t. And he did a very clear, quite light-weight pop album, very Scottish influenced. He didn’t have enough guts to leave the group and he didn’t want to do the ‘U-Vox’ album, and I hadn’t got enough guts to throw him out.”
Do you regret that it was Warren kicked out of the band and not Midge?
BC: “Yeah, I do. But Warren was turning up six hours late. The ‘Lament’ album we did in Midge’s studio and so it was now time to do one in my studio. I’d built my studio in the basement of my house. I knew that Midge needed a couple of weeks off and I agreed to that. We started working in my studio. Chris turned up bang on time, but Chris and I had never worked together by ourselves. Warren knew that, but still didn’t turn up till five or six hours late. Then, when he arrived, he was quite happy to sit and twiddle away on the drum machine, putting in a drum machine part to what was written during the day, and I found that really fucking out of order because me and Midge were getting a little bit – him more than me – pissed off about Warren walking away with 25% . And he used to hold us back while he spent hours on his drum part to music that we had written. That used to piss me off, so that hit me right in the face at that time and he was wanting us to let him play guitar as well. I was quite prepared to cope with it, but I didn’t reckon on the fact that Midge then coming in and starting throwing his weight around which suggested throwing him out. I know people can be weird, but we were never really irresponsible, but that was irresponsible. We used to get out of our tree, but we used to still try and do it and Warren pissed me off. So when Midge suggested kicking Warren out, I didn’t say yes, but I wasn’t exactly in favour. But Midge had got too powerful as well because he hadn’t turned up for six weeks.”
Was Warren’s sacking a bolt out of the blue for him?
BC: “Oh yeah, yeah. But of course as he’d gone…I think it was all just a case of getting it out the way and Midge hadn’t got enough guts to sort of say, ‘ I don’t want to do it anymore’. When he did his second album, it bombed because he knew he’d have to do something more defining than his first pop album and he isn’t that kind of a guy. He doesn’t have ideas; he’s not an originator; he’s more someone who can connect to someone like Bob Geldof’s Band Aid, sorry; he can connect to that, he can connect to Ultravox; Visage wasn’t his idea. When I say all that, I’m not knocking him; that’s just the kind of musician he is and there’s a space for that, you know. Going back to Warren, I should have called a meeting. Ultravox never had meetings.”
What was Chris Morrison like as a manager for Ultravox?
BC: “He was good at organising things. I don’t get on with him at all.”
When did he become Ultravox’s manager?
BC: “When we were doing ‘Systems of Romance’, we were being managed by Island Artists which was just ridiculous. We’d been ripped off by one director and I said to John, ‘Well, come on, we’re going to sue the cunt’ and a few weeks later I said, ‘What’s happening’ and John said, ‘He’s going to counter-sue and I’ve backed down’ and I’m like, ‘We need a fucking manager’. So I’d been out looking for managers and if any fans listening to this thinking, ‘Oh here he goes again Billy Currie: me, me, me’, it’s true: I was the doer, really. I did have quite a bit of experience before I joined Ultravox. I’d been with this guy – Geoff Stars – and Mark Plumber from Melody Maker was helping us do stuff and Chris what’s-his-name from Melody Maker. So, I had a bit more touch with the business and stuff. So I thought, ‘Fucking hell, we really do need management’. So, I got this whole list and John didn’t want to know. In fact I mentioned Chris Morisson and John said, ‘You want to be managed by someone who manages Thin Lizzy?’.”
It was a good point!
BC: “Yeah! Anyway, when I brought Midge in we were rehearsing at Island – I won’t go into that story, but they nearly impounded our gear, but Chris Cross had a relationship with a woman who worked at Island, so we managed to wrangle it. Anyway, we were rehearsing with Midge and we came out one time to have a break and I said, ‘I’ve got this list. I’m going to find a fucking a manager’. So I picked up the name Chris Morrison because I’d tried some others that had…I can’t remember this list now because it was so long ago, do you know what I mean, but there were some other ones. And I found Morrison and it just went from there. But it was a bad sign right from the start because Morrison met up in a curry restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush with the three of us and Midge separate. I didn’t like that.”
Why did Morisson do that?
BC: “I don’t know. His excuse was that Midge had legal problems with his other manager. Utter crap, but that was his excuse. Chris Morrison thought from the beginning that I was a bit of an upstart, I could tell. I’d experienced fame with Gary Numan. I’d been on Top of the Pops the other week and I did that biggish tour.”
What was it like working with Gary Numan?
BC: “It was fantastic. Great fun. I did an improvised solo on ‘On Broadway’. We finished off the concert with a version of ‘On Broadway’ which I really liked and Gary gave me a long solo at the end and used to shout my name. It’s on the 1979 live album from the ‘Touring Principle’ tour. I actually listened to it again – I hadn’t listened to it for years- and the melody at the end, I used for the sixth track – ‘Matsang River’ – on my new album. It was such a pleasant surprise to work with Gary. Initially, Gary was pursuing an area like we were and seemed to be getting nowhere. His was more basic kind of music; that’s not a very nice thing to say, but it was still quite guitar orientated, so some of the chord progressions were quite simple; his music was simpler than ours, not as developed. But then he was replacing it with Minimoog.”
And you played the ARP for him?
BC: “Yes, of course, I’d forgotten about that. I did a lot of ARP on that because Gary liked it. That’s what he wanted. So, that’s why, when I got to get Midge later on, that was at the forefront because I did a whole tour in front of a big audience playing ARP.”
Were you ever tempted just to leave Ultravox in 1979 after Foxx’s departure and permanently stay with Gary Numan?
BC: “No, no. I was quite a dedicated guy. I still loved Ultravox and still felt we could do something. Because Gary had changed it from Tubeway Army to the Gary Numan band, that put me off big time. Also, I wasn’t really a session man. I’m not any kind of a musician like that. I’m terrible. I have done some sessions, but for friends, you know? I only do what I want. Gary offered and wanted me in. He was really pissed off that I didn’t stay and do the European tour because it meant he had to rehearse someone else and I can understand that. But, you see, he was offering the other guys – I had to be careful what I said because he was offering guys a percentage of the record royalties – but, really, I knew, I was long in the tooth enough to know that what was the use of those royalties when it was all being spent on stage sets. 10% of what, you know?”
It was a very elaborate tour.
BC: “Yeah and I had to be careful what I said because I didn’t buy it because I knew that most of the money is through publishing royalties, writer’s royalties and that’s where I was heading. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get that with Gary because I was in the rehearsal studio when he was showing me ‘Cars’, but there wasn’t an opening, just like working with John Foxx. If Gary offered a few openings, I might have been interested, but he was definitely a one-man band, so that’s why I didn’t take the offer up.”
John Foxx recently said that he would like to work with you again if the possibility arose. Would you be tempted to do an album with him?
BC: “I don’t know. I love the idea of being with an audience again. I used to find it very exciting, but surprisingly, I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would. It was always a leveller for me to come out of the studio and do interviews or television – it was such a leveller to come and play to the public. Never say never, but there’s not a lot I can respond to, really.”
Well, you did work with Robin Simons [guitarist on ‘Systems of Romance’] again didn’t you?
BC: “Yes, in the Humania project in 1989 [Because of legal difficulties Currie was forced to call Ultravox’s next incarnation Humania with a proposed album 'Sinews Of The Soul' which never appeared].”
You haven’t worked with him since then?
BC: “No, I tried to get him in when I carried on Ultravox. When I did the ‘Revelation’ album, I tried to get him to come along to be involved with that, but he wasn’t interested and that’s fine [Midge Ure’s tenure with Utravox ended in 1986 with the ‘U-Vox’ album. Currie reformed Ultravox with singer Tony Fenelle for 'Revelation' and later another singer, Sam Blue, for the 1996 album 'Ingenuity']”
Do you look back to ‘Revelation’ and the attempt to continue Ultravox as a pretty bad idea?
BC: “No, it wasn’t a good idea but, in retrospect, it’s always easy to say that.”
Your solo work is much stronger.
BC: “Yes, of course it is. I think I just like the way I still have it on my label. It’s all up there. All my dirty washing’s out for people to see. I think some of the ‘Revelation’ album is absolute crap. It was difficult to try and do something new with a singer and a producer who was more the singer, so this terrible soft soul crept in there. But I do quite like ‘Perfecting the Art of Common Ground’. I started writing lyrics in ‘Revelation’ and ‘Ingenuity’. It was something I had to do. You see, I still loved the project and I had no intention of doing it for Midge Ure, but the fucking arsehole wouldn’t get out the way. So, I did Humania, and then got stuffed: that was meant to be a new Ultravox album. That was stopped so I had to give up. Eventually I got all that sorted out and, by the time I’d sorted it out in 1991, that’s a long time, isn’t it? So, I’d had the wind taken out of me. But that’s what they do. They do that deliberately. Chrysalis would say, ‘Well okay, let him have it, but two and a half years too late’. So, I was fucked. It’s all water under the bridge, really.”
Obviously you’ve been really prolific since the end of Ultravox. The new album is your seventh. Can you tell me something about the album ‘Push’ which is interesting because you see to move into dance territory. I know you said something about this earlier, but is dance music an area you’d like to explore further?
BC: “Yeah. I had a chance to work with a dance artist who was managed by Duran Duran’s management company in 1987/88 when I had my own studio. This guy was absolutely mad, but I liked him. But, to be honest, I’m not sure. I’m quite happy keeping a little bit of my own space because I’ve been so…accommodating is not the right word, but a little bit accommodating as a musician for the first half of my life bearing in the mind that, from the age of eleven and twelve, I was working in quartets – string quartets, so I’ve always been involved with other people. So, I’m quite happy being my own self. But that was interesting getting involved with the dance scene. I quite like the ‘Push’ album. It’s got a bit of grit, hasn’t it?”
Yes it has. Can you tell me something about the new album?
BC: “The title for my new album ‘Accidental Poetry Of The Structure’ came at the end. Actually, ‘The Poetry Of The Structure’ is a quote about one of the first electronic tracks made ever using tapes by John Cage and I just loved it when I heard it. When I listened to it I thought, ‘I can relate to that’. And that track was called ‘William’s Mix’, so I used that for the second track! Basically, he got eight tapes of electronic sounds – New York traffic: the city, country sounds and so on – and he used the I-Ching to get some numbers, and he changed those numbers into measurements; so, he’d have the tape and the I-Ching would dictate where he would splice it and loop it, and I think that’s just so bizarre and so 1950s because those people were into pieces of religion at the time. ‘Accidental Poetry Of The Structure’ means when I get ideas by myself, they only come to life when I start making the structure, and that’s almost by accident.”
What sort of equipment do you use for making music nowadays because all I see here is one keyboard, a mixing desk and a computer?
BC: “Basically what you see here.”
What about your ARP? Where is it?
BC: “When I did ‘Push’, I had the ARP here and I was blasting away.”
When did you start using the Oscar synth?
BC: “1984. I discovered it right at the end of the recording of the ‘Lament’ album
before we started mixing. I just had time to lay it on the track ‘Friend I Call
Desire’. Used it on the solo for ‘Love’s Great Adventure’. I also used it on
the solo for ‘India’ from my solo album ‘Transportation’ and on
’Ukraine’ from my second solo album, ‘Stand Up And Walk’.”
So, is all your synth software on your computer?
BC: “Yes, it’s on there. It’s virtual synths. I programmed 128 sounds. God, it was hard work because I’m not really like that, you know? With ‘Rage in Eden’ I could just use about ten sounds. I can honestly say it was sixteen sounds at the most. Anyway, that’s what I do now. I used to have loads of synths when I lived across the road in around 1999 and I just got rid of them all because of moving to a smaller house. I had a Yamaha CS80 and all these synthesizers.”
So, what equipment’s up in the attic? I’m fascinated to think what might be up there.
BC: “The ARP’s up there.”
Would you ever bring it down again?!
BC: “Yeah, probably, I reckon I would…”