Early Ultravox! this weekend – led by singer John Foxx, the frontman and the main driving force behind Ultravox. Foxx left the band in March 1979 to embark on a solo career and, following his departure, Midge Ure took over as lead singer, guitarist and frontman in October 1979 after he and keyboardist Billy Currie worked in the studio project Visage. Ure revitalised the band and steered it to commercial chart success lasting until 1988, at which time the group disbanded.
A new line-up, led by Currie, was formed in 1992, but achieved limited success, with two albums failing to chart and one solitary single reaching 90 in the UK Singles Chart.
The band’s best-known line-up of Currie, Ure, bassist Chris Cross and drummer Warren Cann reformed in 2008 and performed a series of reunion shows in 2009 and 2010 before releasing a new studio album, Brill!ant, in May 2012 which reached 21 in the British Album Charts. In November 2013, Ultravox performed as special guests on a four date UK arena tour with Simple Minds. These shows proved to be Ultravox’s last, as in 2017 both Currie and Ure indicated that Ultravox had run its course.
This concert comes literally days before Foxx’s departure, and may in fact be his last performance with the band (clarification from Ultravox experts would be gratefully accepted right now) before taking on a solo career.
On the strength of their live act, the band signed to Island Records in 1976. The group had still not finalized their band name, wanting to make a good and lasting choice. In July 1976, while working on the late stages of their debut album, the band conceived the name Ultravox! (the exclamation mark was a reference to krautrock band Neu!, produced by Conny Plank, who later produced three Ultravox albums). At the same time, Leigh chose John Foxx and Allen chose Chris Cross as their respective stage names. In February 1977, Island released their eponymous debut album, Ultravox!.
Like many other bands that formed Britain’s punk and new wave movements, Ultravox! drew inspiration from the art-school side of glam rock. Musically, Ultravox were heavily influenced by Roxy Music, the New York Dolls, David Bowie and Kraftwerk. Their debut was co-produced by Steve Lillywhite and Brian Eno (who next co-wrote and performed with Bowie on Low). Ultravox!’s sales were disappointing, and neither the album nor the associated single “Dangerous Rhythm” managed to enter the UK charts. Relations within the band were on an occasionally tenuous footing during this time as Foxx declared that he intended to live without emotions, a sentiment he wrote into the début album track “I Want to Be a Machine”.
Ultravox returned later in 1977 with the punkier Ha!-Ha!-Ha!. Sales of both the album and its lead single, “ROckWrok”, were poor, both failing to register on the UK charts. “ROckWrok” had a punk-lyric chorus, with the words “Come on, let’s tangle in the dark/Fuck like a dog, bite like a shark”. (Despite this, it got airplay on BBC Radio 1.) Although Ha!-Ha!-Ha! was dominated by guitars and electric violin, the final track, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, was a prototypical synthpop song. One of the first tracks by a British band to feature a drum machine (a Roland Rhythm 77 with preset patterns), the song signalled a new direction for Ultravox. The energy, anger and popular appeal of punk was fading in 1978, and the more creative UK punk genre talent sought new directions—calling themselves British new wave instead of punk rock artists. “Hiroshima Mon Amour” remains a critics’ and fans’ favorite from the group’s initial period. Ultravox! also performed it on The Old Grey Whistle Test later in 1978.
As a reminder, here is the concert they gave in Boston in March of 1979 – crank it up and enjoy the rest of the weekend.