Picture the scene… It’s 1984. There’s a distinct crackle as the needle lowers onto the old record deck in a dark living room at 63 Haddon Road. Strange, whirring, clicking noises come out of the small speakers. Is it broken? Suddenly a relentless bassline punches forward for a few bars, before the upbeat chorus launches: “Dancing, with tears in my eyes…”
The record player belonged to my Dad, the vinyl belonged to my older brother. It was The Collection, Ultravox’s greatest hits album. My brother was a huge synth pop fan. As well as Ultravox records, he had a whole host of OMD too. He played them all the time, so I heard them all the time. And I loved them. Not just because of my brother; one of my earliest musical memories is being utterly mesmorised by the video to Human League‘s Don’t You Want Me Baby – that bassline still sends a chill down my spine.
That was 1981. That same year, another music video caught my attention. Full of moody smoke and shadows, shot in black and white, and with a slow, sparse, pulsing drum rhythm. Oh, Vienna. Top of the Pops was an important part of my education.
Fast forward to 2018. I’m sat in a studio, somewhere in the depths of the Oxfordshire countryside. It’s a beautiful warm day, made all the warmer by being surrounded by fabulous analogue synths. And blasting out of the monitors are those familiar words: “Dancing, with tears in my eyes…”
This time, however, alongside those very familiar vocals is a strident and lush orchestra. I’m listening to Midge Ure: Orchestrated, a collection of classic Ultravox and solo songs, that have been re-made and re-recorded for orchestra by my good friend, Ty Unwin. They sound absolutely amazing. These are songs that have been with me since I was a little boy and now they sound brand new.
Unlike the originals, there’s little room for synths on these versions. It’s predominantly strings, piano and Midge’s fabulous voice. But, there are a few sneaky little synth noises and atmospheres, and Ty assures me that many of them are mine. This is a proud moment for me.
That little 80s kid could not have possibly imagined that one day his very own synth noises would accompany some of the finest moments in British synth music history. Well, neither can the 42 year old version of that kid!