No other band in the select coterie of the New Romantics expanded beyond its initial frontiers as radically as the London-based Ultravox, whose early work bore all the hallmarks of the scene thanks to the synth experimentalist and frontman John Foxx (real name Dennis Leigh).
Formed way back in 1974, Ultravox originally consisted of Foxx plus bassist Chris Cross, keyboard player and violinist Billy Currie, guitarist Steve Shears and Canadian drummer Warren Cann.
Foxx moved to London from Chorley, Lancashire, to study illustration at the Royal College of Art in 1973 and decided to form a band after a seminar discussion on Design For The Real World, which stressed the importance of involvement above theory.
He spent his student grant on a small PA system and the group began rehearsing in the college canteen.
Their Bowie and Roxy Music-influenced sound led to a deal with Island Records at the height of punk, and a major coup was scored when Brian Eno agreed to produce their eponymous debut album (which failed to chart).
When James “Midge” Ure replaced Foxx as singer in 1979 (following a six-week tour of the US), the group had recently been dropped from Island after three unsuccessful albums (Ultravox!, Ha! Ha! Ha! and Systems Of Romance).
Ure’s CV – listing a #1 hit with Slik in 1977 and a tour with Thin Lizzy as a stand-in guitarist – demonstrated the kind of professional nous that might resurrect Ultravox’s career. So it proved when the portentous Vienna reached #2 in January 1981, famously denied the top spot by Joe Dolce’s Shaddap Your Face.
The hits kept coming both for Ultravox (notably the electro-pop melodrama Dancing With Tears In My Eyes) and for Ure the solo artist, who finally bagged a #1 with If I Was in 1985.
Two months later, Live Aid climaxed with Midge and Saint Bob’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?
In October 1986 Ultravox released their final album, U-Vox. The album was a Top 10 hit in the UK but didn’t make a dent in the US charts.
When the downturn came it came quickly and Ultravox finally split in 1987 when Ure decided to turn his full attention to his solo career. The others renamed the band U-Vox for a while, before vanishing, more or less completely.
Dennis ‘John Foxx’ Leigh
Chris Cross (Christopher Allen)
James ‘Midge’ Ure