Ultravox Biography

The initial premise of Ultravox came from the 70s school of electro rock represented by pioneers Kraftwerk and the glam rock of Brian Eno and Roxy Music. Formed in 1974, initially as Tiger Lily, the early line-up comprised Royal College Of Art student John Foxx (Dennis Leigh, Chorley, Lancashire, England; vocals), Steve Shears (guitar), Warren Cann (b. 20 May 1952, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; drums), Chris Cross (b. Christopher Allen, 14 July 1952, London, England; bass) and Billy Currie (b. William Lee Currie, 1 April 1950, Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England; keyboards, synthesizer, violin). Their rise coincided with the ascendancy of the new wave although they were for the most part ignored by a rock press more concerned with the activities of the burgeoning punk scene and consequently live gigs were frequently met with indifference. Signed to Island Records in 1976, their albums made little impact on the record buying public, despite the endorsement of Brian Eno who produced their first album. However, Ultravox’s influence on a growing movement of British synthesizer music, in particular Gary Numan, was later acknowledged. Shears was replaced by Robin Simon in 1978, but after Systems Of Romance had garnered disappointing sales, Island dropped the act, with both Simon and Foxx (who many felt was the main creative force behind the band) leaving to pursue solo careers.

Ultravox was put on hold while the remaining members took stock. On a sojourn with Visage, Currie met Midge Ure (b. James Ure, 10 October 1953, Cambuslang, Lanarkshire, Scotland; lead vocals, guitar), a former member of Slik and the Rich Kids. The duo found a compatibility of ideas and decided to revive Ultravox as a more pop-orientated quartet with Cross and Currie. Having departed from Island, the band signed to Chrysalis Records. Their new direction brought minor chart success with ‘Sleepwalk’ and ‘Passing Strangers’. It was not until the magnificent ‘Vienna’ was released that Ultravox found the success that had eluded them for so long. Held at the UK number 2 spot in January and February of 1981 by Joe Dolce’s inane ‘Shaddap You Face’ and hits from the recently murdered John Lennon, the song’s moody and eerie atmosphere was enhanced by an enigmatic video that paid homage to Carol Reed’s The Third Man. A string of UK hits followed during the next three years, including ‘All Stood Still’, ‘The Thin Wall’ and ‘The Voice’ (1981), ‘Reap The Wild Wind’ and ‘Hymn’ (1982), ‘Visions In Blue’ and ‘We Came To Dance’ (1983), ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ and ‘Love’s Great Adventure’ (1984). Ure’s anguished, melodramatic style blended well with the high-energy pop of their contemporaries, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, the leaders of the UK’s New Romantic scene.

The band enjoyed success throughout Europe, but never quite achieved a breakthrough in the USA. While Ure’s simultaneous solo work proved, for a short time, successful, the group projects became less cohesive as their vocalist achieved greater fame. Cann was replaced by Big Country’s Mark Brzezicki on 1986’s U-Vox, but by the following year Ultravox had disbanded. Billy Currie carried on with U-Vox, featuring original guitarist Simon, which faded away following another name change (to Humania). Currie eventually won a legal battle to use the Ultravox name in 1991. Cann and Cross had lost interest by this point, however, so the band was resurrected as a duo with singer Tony Fennell, releasing the poorly received Revelation in 1992. The follow-up Ingenuity featured yet another line-up, with Currie joined by Sam Blue (vocals), Vinny Burns (guitar), Gary Williams (bass), and Tony Holmes (drums). Currie has since resumed his solo career.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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