Midge Ure, Clare Grogan: Liverpool Philharmonic

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Midge Ure

Midge Ure

As Midge Ure hit the Phil Getintothis’ Gary Aster went on a trip down Memory Lane, even if he wasn’t actually dancing in the aisles.

Tonight was all about 80s nostalgia.

A respectable, but not a sell-out crowd of 40 and 50 somethings has gathered here in the Phil’s relatively plush surroundings to re-live their youth and here we are amongst them all. Unusually for us at a gig, we feel like one of the youngest and not one of the oldest members of the audience, but Getintothis is old enough to remember all (well, nearly all) of these songs, even if we haven’t heard many of them for years.

There were quite a few “oh yeah – I remember this one” moments, when a song would strike up for a few bars and the crowd appeared to be wondering what it was before a familiar moment or melody identified it for them. You could see that moment of recognition spreading around the seated audience.

Altered Images, it has to be admitted, do not have an extensive back catalogue of familiar hit songs that are likely to be well-remembered, even by those who were there at the time. Clare Grogan’s punk-pop, unconventional voice divided public opinion sharply when the band first appeared, but the intervening years have been kind to it. Some of the more Polystyrene-esque idiosyncrasies of her early 80s vocals have been ironed-out, but it’s still unmistakably the same familiar voice.

The band wisely bookend the set with their two most well-known songs beginning and ending the performance and Clare Grogan’s amiable enthusiasm and well-judged interactions with the crowd carries them through. At one point Grogan asks for the lights to be turned on to the audience, and tells us that we’re gorgeous.

It’s obviously pre-arranged, but she manages to pass it off as spontaneous. Her stage banter may be rehearsed but it wins over this crowd well-enough. As ‘Happy Birthday’ begins a few folks rise from their seats and gamely shuffle about. The band receives a warm, though not overly enthusiastic response at its conclusion.

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Midge Ure gets things underway with ‘Yellow Pearl’, an instrumental soft-rock / electro pop crossover he co-wrote with Phil Lynott, and which was used as the theme music for the Top of the Pops chart run-downs throughout most of the 1980s. It’s a tune everyone recognises even if they can’t quite place it.

We look around to see know-it-all musos like us whispering into the ears of the people next to them telling them what it is, and nods of recognition on their companion’s faces. Possibly beginning in this way is a statement of sorts – Midge isn’t just here to play his Ultravox hits.

So it proves, although he does, of course, play plenty Ultravox tunes too. What he doesn’t do however, unlike Clare Grogan, is talk to us very much. Early on Midge and the band manfully soldier-on, hindered to some extent by an initially poor mix which leaves his vocals somewhat buried, although this might also be due to Midge’s habit of leaning back from the microphone.

Is it unkind of us to notice he appears to be doing this when there’s a particularly tricky note to be reached? Ironically, this is most apparent during ‘The Voice’. We’re sorry to report that a few of those sitting near us soon tire of this and leave, and we hear someone saying “I just can’t hear him.”

That’s a shame because things soon improve. Midge introduces a song he wrote but didn’t originally record “millions of years ago” and someone behind us loudly remarks “I didn’t know this was one his” as Visage’sFade to Grey’ begins. It does the trick and a few brave souls dotted about here and there stand up – evidently they came to dance.

But they take their seats again as ‘Vienna’ sends a hushed and appreciative silence amongst the crowd. It’s a brilliant, spine-tingling performance of a classic song and Midge completely wins any remaining doubters over. we wonder if he’s peaked too soon but the hits just keep on coming.

Dancing with Tears in my Eyes’ has quite a number of folks back up on their feet again jigging about, and this emboldens Midge to hold out on the opening lines of ‘Hymn’ expecting us to sing the missing words. “They sang it in Glasgow last night” he tells us, although most don’t at first here in Liverpool tonight.

But soon more people are getting up and clapping along, finally joining in on the vocals for the last chorus as the key changes and the atmosphere takes off.

By the time ‘Love’s Great Adventure’ ends most of those around us are up and out of their seats dancing and clapping, then somewhat disappointed when this proves to be the evening’s final song. A few linger for an encore, but Midge leaves us wanting more. A good show, but not a great one.

Images by Getintothis’ Martin Waters

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