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The Billy Currie Interview

"The violin, viola, synthesizer and piano genius for Ultravox and Visage, speaks to 2-UpTop's Jim Powell"

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The Billy Currie Interview:


 

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Billy Currie has been in a few incarnations of Ultravox with the likes Chris Cross, Warren Cann, John Foxx, Robin Simon and Midge Ure.

With Ultravox Billy has worked with legendary producers of the ilk of Brian Eno, Steve Lillywhite, Conny Plank and George Martin.

He toured with Tubeway Army/Gary Numan and was in the electro supergroup Visage with Ure, Steve Strange, Rusty Egan and the trio from Magazine, John McGeogh, Barry Adamson and Dave Formula.

Billy has also released many well received solo albums, aswell as collaborating with Phil Lynott, and also with Steve Howe on the Transportation album.

 


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Can you remember the moment when you first wanted to be a musician?

When I was 13.

I was playing the Violin quite well & so the Huddersfield Music College offered me free Viola lessons at the weekend.

I got a place there as a Viola player 2 years later.



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What did you learn to play first: the violin, viola or piano?

Violin



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Can you remember the first time you came across a synthesizer?

Ultravox were doing demos with Steve Lillywhite in Polygram Studios. Stanhope Place. This was 1974-5. I remember only having a dodgy Crumer piano at the time so I had to hire in. The String Synth called the Elka was the first I liked & used. A full on Synth I didn't get to use till 1976 when I played Eno's Mini Moog on the first Ultravox album.



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Who were your main influences for your playing style when you were first starting out?

Piano was my 2nd instrument at Music College. I just messed around having fun really. Probably because the Viola was so intense.

I was mostly listening to Classical Composers and trying to compose my own music on the piano.

At 19 I worked in a band that had a Hammond Organ. Didn't really feel that was me though so I kept off it myself.


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Keyboard players like Rick Wright and Terry Riley had an influence on me.



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Do you think back with some relief that you changed the band name from Tiger Lily to Ultravox!?

We all knew we were going to drop Tiger Lily. When we signed to Island it was time to move on.



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Why the exclamation mark after the name Ultravox! and then why did you drop it??

The name was like a product e.g. Magnavox etc.

The exclamation mark just seemed to help this further. I thought it was quite an original idea at the time!

We dropped it at the end of he decade because it didn't seem to fit.

It looked a bit punky by then. It helped draw a line between the two line- ups as well.



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What bands did you support when you were Ultravox! and starting out?

Eddie and the Hot Rods. A couple more but can't remember their names.



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Were you fearful for Ultravox's future when lead singer John Foxx left, and what were your thoughts at this stage??

I did not know what would happen.

I knew I was skint though and had to get a place in another band.



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How did Gary Numan approach you to play on his debut album ‘The Pleasure Principle' and tour with his band, and how much did you enjoy that tour??

I had joined Visage very early in 1979 and it was while I was checking out Magazine at Drury Lane Theatre that Gary came up to me in the bar to ask if I would be interested in gigging with Tubeway Army.

I was up for it. That changed dramatically when he released Are Friends Electric right n the middle of the rehearsals for what was going to be a short tour at the club level. It was exiting having a taste of success! Even though it wasn't mine.



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How did you get involved in the Visage project?

The seventies line-up of Ultravox did our last UK gig at the Marquee club in late December 1979. Just after Christmas day. Robin Simon and I were just sitting in the dressing room and Rust Egan came marching in.

He told us about his club around the corner called "Billy's".


img3  He said we have to come round and party.

He was playing music from our "Systems of Romance" album.

It was a boost to see a new scene starting up!

He introduced me to Midge the second time I went. Midge was DJ'ing.

I liked the Music they were playing at the Club like Telex. Fun Electronic Dance music!

We decided to get a new band together.    



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This is where you met with Midge Ure and presumably enjoyed working with him. How long did it take for you to make your mind up to get him involved with Ultravox?

After we had written a few tracks together for Visage. About August of that year.



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Did you have to persuade the other remaining Ultravox members to give Midge a go?

No.



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Visage seemed to be such a mixed collaboration, with real experienced and top-notch musicians, and an inexperienced lead singer, in Steve Strange. How did everyone get on?

It was a laugh for the first album. I used to piss myself mostly from listening to Midge & Rusty wind each other up.

These loud and 'no messing' strong characters were good for me at the time because It made me spring back into life!

Steve and I got on well. I supported his ideas at times when he lacked confidence.



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I don't think Visage ever played live.

Was this because every musician was already too busy with their own bands?

Yes we were very busy. The project was always a studio project.



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Did you and one of Gary Numan's band, Chris Payne, write ‘Fade To Grey' when touring on the road with Numan in 1979, and then what did Midge Ure add to it in the studio??

Yes Chris and I did write the music for Fade To grey in the sound checks on Gary Numans tour. I brought Ced Sharpley & Chris into the Visage studio to record it. I did nothing with it until Visage were short of tracks for our first album.

I gave Midge the music on cassette tape and he wrote the Vocal part.



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At what point did you realise that you had made classic albums with that Visage debut release and ‘Vienna' with Ultravox?

Early 1981.

It was a very big surprise really. It was like we had got the timing right!!!!

In the 70,s it always felt like we were out of synch with everything else.



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Did Warren Cann write the lyrics for 'Mr X'?

Yes



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Did you ever meet Joe Dolce and did you want to punch him and tell him to shut up his the face??

The charts are like doing coke. It is a bit dangerous to not be happy with the success you get and just keep wanting more.

I did not mind that much that Vienna was not number one. Honest!



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I've always been amazed how you manage to come off the piano, for your violin solo, then back to the piano, always on time when playing ‘Vienna' live. It's similar to U2's The Edge with piano and guitar solo in ‘New Years Day'. Have you ever missed your timing?

On the last tour in August my tech guy gave me the Violin not switched on.

That was good! Usually it's fine.



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‘Rage In Eden' and ‘Quartet' further installed Ultravox's standing amongst the elite of the 80's electro bands. Was it hard work to keep coming up with such high quality albums, or was it all coming naturally and easily for the band?

 

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During that Quartet tour, the four of you ended ‘The Voice' song and the gig, by all playing the drums. Myself and two friends (who were brothers) spent one Saturday morning listening to ‘Monument' in their bedroom, and decided to do the same, but using our hands on the leather seats of some kitchen stools. When the song had finished we were dripping with sweat and grinning like Cheshire Cats, only to find their dad stood by the doorway, just staring at us and shaking his head in bewilderment, before leaving the room.

Was it as much fun as it looks?

Yes! And more!



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Ultravox always wrote quality b-sides.

Do you think its a shame bands these days don't have the need for them?

Thanks! Its not really a shame. Things have moved on.

We used to be so pleased to be on record, in any way, so we worked hard on doing good b-sides.

It was a bit of an oddity though because most artists knew that the fans really wanted the A-side. It was tempting for artists to just put something quick and rubbish on to get it done. That could then piss the fans off!

I remember buying Roxy Music,s single "Love Is A Drug" way back in 1975 ish and put on the b-side called "Sarabande". I liked the title so I had expectations. It was 3 minutes of jammed, knocked together rubbish. It put me off the band because I thought it was a bit mercenary the way they had done that.!



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You stopped contributing to Visage around this time. What was the reason for that?

Midge quit. We were all arguing.



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Did Midge Ure's dedicated work for Band Aid and Live Aid, put any strain on Ultravox, or do you think it helped the band's profile even more?

It put strain on Ultravox.



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Was it nerve-wracking playing at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium?

Certainly was!



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How pleased were you with the ‘Lament' album and ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes' getting so high in the UK singles chart?

Chuffed! Surprised and Relieved.



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Warren Cann was let go for the making of the U-Vox album. Was this and the subsequent outcome of U-Vox, a real low point for Ultravox?

Very Low.



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Did all three of you decide the time was right to go your separate ways?

We never discussed it. It just happened.



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You made two more albums under the banner of Ultravox in 92' and 96', though you were the only original member left. Whose decision was that to still use the name Ultravox?

Mine.



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Your keyboard soloing style, using analogue synths like the ARP Odyssey, is a ‘Billy Currie' trademark'. Ever though of patenting it....it might have stopped John Foxx nicking the sound for his early 80's solo stuff?

Thank you!

No I haven't really



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Who made the first move to get the four of you back talking again?

Chris O"Donnell !!!!

We used to have two managers from 1979. Chris Morrison & Chris O"Donnell. Chris O"Donnell left early in our 80,s success. About 1982.

Chris O"Donnell got back in touch with us all again. Back in 2008.



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What were the motives for getting back together again in 2009, and why was ‘Rage In Eden' chosen as the album to come back with and play live in its entirety?

We missed each other and wanted to play our music LIVE gain!

Rage In Eden was chosen because it is generally our fans favorite album.



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How much have you enjoyed being back playing live together again, and has there been any plans to tour another Ultravox album and write any new material together??

We have enjoyed it very much. We are discussing the idea of new material now.

I think it would be very exciting to do that. Ultravox out next year touring and playing tracks from a new album. Yes!



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What are the your career highlights so far?

The whole of the Rage In Eden tour.

Japan, Australia, UK, Germany etc.



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What tracks are you most proud of your playing on: one for keyboards etc / one for violin/viola ??

Keyboards  - Astradyne / Violin - The Ascent



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First single ever bought?

Cliff Richard - Please Don't Tease



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First album ever bought?

The first Stones Album.



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Last album bought?

David Sylvian - Manafon



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Are you a vinyl, CD, iTunes or mp3 man?

iTunes



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What are your five favorite albums you have played on?

1 - Vienna

2 - Visage

3 - Rage In Eden

4 - Transportation

5 - Accidental Poetry of the Structure



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Desert Island/Isle Of Mann Discs - What 5 albums would you take, that you weren't involved with?

1 - Low -  Bowie

2 - Looking for Saint-Tropez - Telex

3 - In a gadda da vida - Iron Butterfly

4 - Italian Symphony - Mendelssohn

5 - Closer - Joy Division



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Hero in music?

Jeff Beck



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What state do you think the music business will be in, in ten years time?

It is constantly changing. Haven't a clue!

It is still exciting!



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First gig attended?

"Free" - Manchester Uni. 1969

I knew this DJ called Simon Stable. He was able to get me up and on stage behind the Marshall Amps.

It was amazing to see a great band like that working so well together through the gig!

Learnt so much about gigging from that experience.

Paul Kossoff was such a brilliant Guitarist. Good left hand fingering style.



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First gig played and its abiding memory?

Brighton Uni. 1969,

First band called "Springbirth".

Going down great. Playing a fluid Viola solo. I also played six string bass. That was a laugh! Kept getting told to stop playing too many notes.

We had a beautiful American singer. She was tall with long blonde hair.



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Best gig played?

Vienna tour in Glasgow. 1980.

Weirdly perfect.

Some of Simple Minds were there.



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Favourite gig venue?

Marquee.



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Favourite Radio Show?

Virgin now Absolute



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Favourite tour cuisine?

Curry.


Favourite tour drinks?

Was Rum Orange & Pineapple. Now Still Water.



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Favourite Cities?

Berlin

Amsterdam

Milan

Chicago

LA

Sydney

Tokyo



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What football team do you follow?

I will go with my sons choice, Arsenal



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Who would you consider ‘playing away' from the missus with? (hopefully with her consent):

Scarlet Johansson



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Who would you consider turning gay with? (hopefully with their consent):

Rhod Gilbert



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Heroes in Life:

Bowie

Bela Bartok