The Messengers [ULTRAVOX Support]:
Colin King: Lead Vocals, Guitar
Daniel Mitchell: Synthesizers, Backing Vocals
CD: "...Its been twenty five years, let´s try turning up the volume...", 2004
Colin Midge Danny
Interview with Danny Mitchell of Messengers
May 16, 2010 by bulegila711
Danny Mitchell is the multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of Messengers along with vocalist Colin King. Although never signing a record deal, this duo did release three singles during the 80′s all produced by Midge Ure. The music of Messengers has endured and these guys have a dedicated and loyal following to this day – yours truly included. Much interest has been recirculated that a new CD has emerged as well as live shows. Recently I asked Danny a few questions.
In what city in Scotland did you grow up? How was your childhood?
I was born and grew up in an district of Glasgow known as Govan. In an archetypal tenement slum with one room accommodation, colloquially called a ‘Single End’ with an outside, common, toilet shared between six households.
At the age of five, my family emmigrated to Canada, to a small town named Collingwood on the periphery of Toronto, but after eighteen months we returned to Glasgow due to my father’s enduring homesickness.
We moved in with my paternal Grandmother, who had decamped from decaying Govan to a new housing development called Drumchapel, on the north western outskirts of the city. Our new tenement flat looked onto open fields and a woodland and beyond that, unpopulated moorlands and hills where my friends and I would roam free.
I had a very happy childhood, spent there, during the late fifties into the early sixties. Glasgow was coming out of the austerity of the war years; there was plenty of employment and an enormous sense of community. The Golden Years, indeed.
Do you recall your first 45 or LP you purchased? What were some of your early influences?
My first recorded purchase was Chubby Checker’s version of Hank Ballard’s ‘The Twist’, made in 1960. This accompanied me to various ‘record sessions’, where I’d amaze and excite the girls with my fabulous gyrations, at least, that was the plan.
My earliest influences would be found amongst the saccharine pop music of the fifties. I was particularly drawn to the yodeling styles of Karl Denver and Frank Ifield, whom I was to, later, accompany as a member of a house band in a ‘chicken-in-a-basket’ cabaret club, but that’s another story.
Another, huge and formative influence was an elder cousin who was a black belt, eighth dan, Hank Williams aficionado, who I would try to mimic on an untuned ukulele.
Later on, I was carried along on the surging wave of the sixties ‘beat boom’, where the Rolling Stones led to the Blues which led to Jazz which led to me wanting to be John McLaughlin, an aspiration I abandoned after appreciating how many hours would have to be spent on this endeavour.
Other random influences over the years would include; Wendy Carlos’ sixties Switched On Bach, Art Blakey’s Burundi influenced album, the name of which escapes me, Captain Beefheart, Steve Wonder’s early albums, Kraut Rock, The Walker Brothers, especially from the Night Flight E.P. period on(Scott Walker’s continuing progress never fails to astound me) writers like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. All in all, a mixed bag.
What was the first instrument you learned to play?
The aforementioned untuned ukulele was the first thing I toyed with. Concentrating on one string and working out riffs or melodies, not unlike Seasick Steve, whose currently enjoying some well deserved recognition here in the U.K. Then a short spell of oboe in the school orchestra, which sadly, I gave up because the kind of girls I was attracted to were not attracted to oboe players. In those hormonally fuelled days I mistakenly blamed the oboe, whereas the problem was with the player.
I messed about with acoustic guitar throughout my late teens and went electric and got serious at twenty one. In my late twenties I would become proficient on the two fingered synth and now, what with computer technology, I can orchestrate a legion of virtual musicians at my whim.
When did you and Colin meet? How did you come up with the name “Messengers”?
Colin and I met at first, in the summer of ’76, and when I returned from living in England, later in that year, I joined his ‘covers’ band, playing in the local pub circuit. He was the drummer and I joined as rhythm guitarist. This led to us forming Modern Man, being ‘discovered’ by Midge Ure in a Glasgow bar on the world renowned Sauchiehall Street, going on to record and tour and sadly, split up. From this, Colin and I started working as a duo. Colin abandoned the drums and took up lead vocal duties and I abandoned guitar and took up two fingered synthesizer.
We were actually called The Furious Monkeys but Midge, our Label master (MusicFest), producer, benefactor and all round mentor, felt it was too flippant, and being obliging types we were happy to accede. After going through a cornucopia of adjectives (stick anything in front of it, we probably tried it) we settled on the unadorned noun, ‘Messengers’.
Describe how you came to work with Midge Ure. The “I Turn In (To You)” single really has that almost trademark Ultravox sound, even the vocals. Were you looking for that feel when recording that song?
Midge had more or less discovered our previous band, Modern Man, and obtained demo time, got us signed and produced our album. Sadly, the band split and after a brief hiatus Colin and I started putting together songs on a four track recorder. We sent the results to Midge and around eighteen months later, out of the blue, he called and asked if we’d care to augment and support Ultravox on their ‘Monument’ world tour. Also, being a sound business type, he thought it made good sense to have something to promote. So, hastily signed us to his nascent label Musicfest and booked two days at the illustrious Mayfair Studios, were he set about producing our debut single.
I think the similarity of the sounds would be down to sound engineer extraordinaire John Hudson who was Midge’s first choice in those days and Warren Cann’s Linndrum and, of course, Midge’s guiding hand. The other ingredients were a heavily compressed vintage Steinway, a trusty Yamaha string machine and my duophonic Yamaha synth, As for the vocals, they were painstakingly put together almost word by word, much to Colin’s frustration in a technique that Midge favoured.
We were extremely pleased with the results even though it was a more polished and lusher sound than we had ever imagined.
How was touring with Ultravox?
Travelling the world? Top flight hotels? Record company treats at the best restaurants in town? Having our humble songs aired in front of a hall filled with eager Ultravox fans? Getting paid? Yes, it was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
Ultravox travelled in two camps, Billy Currie and Warren Cann, and Chris Cross and Midge Ure, because of our connection with Midge we travelled with the latter. Chris and Midge were seasoned tourers and, I think they enjoyed showing us newbies the ropes. I look back on this period as an absolute high point.
What are some of your favorite venues/concerts you’ve played?
The Glasgow Apollo was very special gig. Getting to play in front of friends and family and a world famous, ‘up for it’, audience. Although it held over two thousand it felt like a club gig because of the close proximity of the fans. It had a very high stage towering over the stalls and looking onto the first circle and above this was the steeply banked ‘Gods’, which would visibly bounce when the place was rocking. I could rhyme off lists of venues, all great in their own way. Even the vast cowshed known as Sheppton Mallet was memorable because we had to play our set twice, as Ultravox had been delayed whilst travelling down from a television appearance on Top Of The Pops, in London. Yet another, was Clermont Ferrand were Colin fell from our perch high on the stage set and broke his arm. This occurred at the beginning of the Ultravox set and he was whisked off to hospital for treatment, leaving me to hold the fort as best I could. Colin was the eminent backing vocalist and I was tolerated. At the end of the show Midge called out, whilst turning to face our perch, ‘Our special guests Messngers’. With a combined look of confusion, puzzlement and anger he mouthed to me, ‘Where the f**k is Colin?’ Meanwhile, Colin was having his wedding ring surgically removed by bemused French medical staff, who, due to language difficulties, had concluded that he had fallen from a trapeze. They had arrived at this scenario, because of his appearance (stage gear and makeup), well, it was the eighties.
More recently we had the very great pleasure to appear at the 100 Club in London thanks to the kindness and generosity of Cerise, Rob and Paul from the Ultravox fan forum, EV. They had organised a pre gig party there, before Ultravox’s Hammersmith Odeon show. We got to perform for an hour and were absolutely amazed that people were singing along to our twenty eight year old tunes! Remarkable!
Why was no album ever released of your earlier material?
Midge’s label Musicfest was licensed through Chrysalis, who were only willing to put up a three single deal and no one else came forward to promote our wares.
Some 20 years later you have an album out appropriately titled “It’s Been Twenty Years, Let’s Try Turning Up The Volume”. Are you pleased with the album? So these are all new compositions – except the 6 bonus tracks, correct?
Very pleased, and no, there are only three new compositions, all the other tracks were poised in the wings, waiting to appear on the album that (almost) never was. (Did) You Take Me For A Ride, Send That Letter Home and The Reformation Waltz, were the new additions. The rest are twenty, or more, year old chestnuts.
Tell me about your family and what interests you have outside music.
Annette and I have two grown up sons who are embroilled in further education and who we look on as our finest work.
Music is all encompassing for me, if I’m not working at some aspect of it, I’m listening to it or I’m practising it. Over the years I’ve become, probably, the foremost exponent of Bluegrass mandolin in Hillington East and have recently purchased a pedal steel guitar; with the pedals, levers and volume controls it’s a form of musical Sudoku.
Any groups or artists you’re listening to these days?
This changes weekly; LCD Sounsystem, Muse, Band Of Horses, Lady GaGa, Monsters of Folk and the persistent and Godlike, Scott Walker, and, thanks for asking. Danny.