I was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England, 1950. My full name is William Lee Currie. At a very early age I sang a lot, becoming aware that I had a keen ear for music. My cousin bought me a guitar when I was ten and it "blew my mind" to see that the melodies, I was singing, could be played by changing the length of a string with my fingers!
1961 was the year that I took up the Violin at school. I also sang in the choir performing with the "Huddersfield Choral Society". (Before my voice broke!) The following year I was in the school orchestra, and as I did so well, I was informed that there was a chance for me to get a place at the Huddersfield School of Music. This was a chance I would die for, so it only seemed a minor setback to be told that I would have to change over to the Viola. I had extra lessons at the weekend and had to forfeit my position of captain for the school football team!
Changing over was quite confusing, because of the different Clefs, but I made the grade and secured a place at the Music College in 1965. The course was to prepare me to become an orchestral player (I had started too late to do it on the Violin) with the piano as my second instrument. Composition and Harmony was also taught.
Playing the Viola had it's perks, it meant that I was invited to play in the best string Quartets!, led the Viola section in the orchestra and performed in a Viola, Clarinet and Piano trio with a friend. I loved the unique sound. In the second year the Music College moved to a new and fantastically well equipped building. This had a lot to do with the government of the day's priorities and good funding ("Harold Wilson" the Prime Minister of the time was a Huddersfield born man). This place had a large record collection and listening rooms which I used so much that I was eventually banned from! It was incredibly exciting to discover composers like Bartok, Schoenburg, Honegger, Varese (both Honegger and Varese used electronic sounds).
I thought it was very radical, back then, when I heard the last movement of the Bartok fifth quartet. Bartok starts up a southern American style, down home, hillbilly type country vibe which deliberately goes way out of tune just before the end of the piece. He also belts out a blues riff like a rock band.
This was a very full and stimulating time of my life! The orchestra played a lot of concerts, I was studying art and even had singing lessons (which had to be abandoned because of acute Tonsillitis). Herbert Whone, my Viola teacher was also a painter. Being more used to string playing it wasn't a natural, immediate affinity with the keyboard. Playing the piano started me off composing though. It was an interesting and elevating position to view things from. At this time (1967) I was becoming more and more interested in rock music. What grabbed me was the fact that some musicians, playing together in bands, were composing and creating something unique and original together! I found bands like "Spirit" (an American band) really interesting in the way that classical strings were used with a fantastically emotional guitar solo. Beautifully soft, shiny strings with a very intensely improvised metallic electric guitar.
The idea of improvisation amazed me. Orchestral players have to put the sole of the composer into the music at the time of performance. Miles Davis (the jazz trumpeter), on the other hand, was the Composer and performer, giving himself the freedom to explore inspirational moments, and change the form immediately if he felt the need. I noticed that some Rock bands where getting, for themselves, the best of both of these two worlds! It really was the start of fusing different styles of music together and I was totally captivated by the movement!
Moving up to 1969 things became a little intense! I achieved what I was at college to achieve by getting a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, but I decided not to go. The amount of training that a musician goes through to get into a top orchestra is phenomenal! If I had gone on to the Royal Academy it would have been an extra five years of training making a total of nine years. I have all the admiration in the world for these amazing musicians but I felt that I just had to break into these other arias of music that were happening at the time.
The crossover music of Terry Riley intrigued me at this point. A drummer friend of mine, from Huddersfield, called Wayne Goddard had been working with "The Graham Bond Organisation" in London and was leaving and setting up a new band! I impulsively joined this band and found myself "getting it together in the country" at a beautiful house in Norfolk. The instrument line- up was Hammond Organ, Guitar, Alto and Soprano Sax, Drums and I played Viola (with an electronic pick - up). This was a Rock Band with strong Jazz and Blues influences! I felt that the Viola and the soprano Sax worked well together especially when improvising. We moved to London, living on Portobello road, and invited into the band an American female singer. We all lived next door to "Skid Row" Gary Moore's (x Thin Lizzy) band! This band had a lot of names but eventually settled on "Company Roadshow". Notable achievements, I remember, were doing music for a T.V programme about Yoga and being able to improvise it all, and jamming with Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) at an open air festival on Eelpie Island, London. The very high point was at Sussex University where we went down a storm!
After I had done a lot of improvising that year I found that I wanted to move on. I had experienced a little of what it could be like to be in a successful band but it wasn't the kind of music I really wanted to make. In 1970 I moved back to Huddersfield and found myself getting involved in a Fringe Theatre Group put together by a drama teacher from the college called Barry Edwards. This was an experiment made up of four musicians and four dancers. Known as "The Ritual Theatre" all the musicians where classically trained but, like me, could improvise. I worked with Flute, Japanese Flute, Cello, Bassoon. The music began very atonal and eventually came to rest on a chanting and celebratory feel. The whole cycle of the ritual was one of reaching out for inspiration and becoming very powerful! Lynsey Cooper from the band "Henry Cow" played bassoon. We were friends with "Henry Cow" and did some gigs together.
This was an occasional project so I went to live in Bristol where I joined a band called "Flash Gordon" The guitarist was the guy who later had some success with "The Only Ones" This was my first disaster! At a gig in Birmingham I got blown of stage. My cheap and lousy Violin (I had moved to Violin) pickup could not compete with this band who thought they were " The Who" and played as loud! This was a big lesson, which stood me in good stead later when I could afford decent equipment!
I moved from Bristol to Bath and started working with a singer who also played guitar. This was in the Tim Buckley and Van Morrison vain. We wrote songs together with me now playing acoustic Piano as well as Viola. We had no group name. This was the first time that I played the piano at gigs. My classical style piano playing worked in a very interesting way with his soulful voice! This guy was called Jeff Starrs, he later recorded an album on Virgin Records with a band called "Interview". Notable achievements were supporting "The Strawbs" when they were number one in the British charts with "Lay Down". I can't remember where this gig was except that it held three thousand people and was near London.
The ability to improvise on the viola led me to work with another singer/guitarist of a more classical/folk nature. I met him in East Grinstead when I had a brief flirtation with the Scientologists. We were called "Wild Oats"(what a name!) and played at their parties, we also supported "Hawkwind" at Bradford St Georges Hall. That was FUN!
In 1972 Ritual Theatre got back together and performed in Holland. We also performed at the Edinburgh Festival, Sheffield Crucible, I.C.A London etc. I was playing music in a very theatrical environment. The expression of the music through my body became a very important part of performing for me. I incorporated this experience, later, into Ultravox.
I remember being in London later that year and we were all waiting nervously to hear whether we had got a grant from the Arts Council. All the money for the study of Ritual went to Peter Brook. This man had been studying Ritual for years and "there it is!" We just weren't credible enough for the Arts Council! I quit the group, deciding to concentrate on music.
One of the dancers/actors (Ed Francis who later put together the acts "Gloria Mundi" and "Eddi and Sunshine") from Ritual Theatre started dancing on stage to the music of a new band from London. This was 1973 and I had, again, moved back to Huddersfield and started working as a paste-up artist. A phone call from Ed made me get my skates on and I moved back down to London.
Ed introduced me to John Foxx the singer of this new band called "Tiger Lily". John and I played together acoustically first (John on guitar and vocals and me on violin) and got on well! The music of the band sounded very refreshing and new! It was tough and stripped down to the bare essentials. There was no improvisation at all, but that was the stance! I felt that this band wanted desperately to close the chapter of the 1960's (that was over staying it's welcome) and start something new!
Tiger Lily gig. Pied Bull, London 1975
One track had a very sensitive feel of classical music. This was a project I could really get to grips with and take part in its development. We worked hard rehearsing four nights a week and all day Sunday. I worked in a warehouse at this time, which was a lousy job, but I new we were going to get somewhere with this new kind of music! At first I just played the Violin. At the rehearsals I stood there doing nothing most of the time. Violin wasn't needed on every track and I agreed with that!
In 1974 we got a chance to do the soundtrack to a soft porn film called "Ain't Misbehavin" This was released as a single and the money went to buying an Electric Piano. Even though it sounded pretty awful I was able to get right into the heart of the writing process which now did include some improvisation.
1975 brought some good luck! We met Steve Lillywhite who worked in Phonogram studios, London. When no one was using the studio he invited us in to lay down our new songs. After a year we had good demos for about twelve songs. This was 1976 and Island Records signed us. As part of the deal Steve came along as house producer. Having had quite a bit of time to develop our sound we had, as well as the tough stripped down tracks, created a more expanding experimental style with European, filmic and anthemic melodies. We changed our name to "Ultravox". The three albums we did for Island were "Ultravox" produced by Brian Eno, Steve Lillywhite and Ultravox - "Ha! Ha! Ha!" Produced by Steve Lillywhite and Ultravox - "Systems of Romance" produced by Conny Plank and Ultravox. These albums came out in 1976 - 1977 - 1978 respectively at a time when Punk Music was dominant. Our music stood outside Punk (even though we were partly originators of it) because we would always experiment. 'Island' was definitely a label for musicians and financed the band to tour, many times, all over Europe.
It took till "Systems of Romance" for our music to really take shape and become more focused. As the album title suggests it was sensitive and electronic at the same time. We had finally found something that we could truly call our own against all the odds. Credit to Island records for sticking with us this far but because of low sales they had to let us go!
1979 started out with our first tour of America. We were getting good responses but all this was overshadowed by the fact that we had no record deal and our vocalist "John Foxx" was going solo on our return to England. I had become a bit of a survivor by now so I put myself about looking for a gig. I met a D.J. called "Rusty Egan" who invited me down to his club called (funny enough) "Billys". He was playing tracks from "System of Romance" especially the synthesiser based dance track - "The Quiet Man" as well as "Bowie, Kraftwerk etc". He asked if I would be interested in joining a band called "Visage" that would make music to fit the scene in his dance-oriented club. This seemed like a fun thing to do so I said " Why not!"
At this time I was also rehearsing with Ian Brodie (Lightening Seeds) who was putting a new band together called "The Original Mirrors". They sounded too much like Ultravox so I passed on this project. I started hanging out with the guys who were to be "Visage" - Rusty Egan, Steve Strange, Midge Ure, Barry Adamson, Dave Formula and John McGeogh. Adamson, Formula and McGeogh were from the band "Magazine" who I had crossed paths with in Europe while on tour with Ultravox. Early that year I went to check them out at the Drury Lane Theatre (London) and bumped into Gary Numan. Gary invited me to play on the British tour he was about to embark on. I was happily surprised how much he was into Synthesisers and how much he was into Ultravox!
The backing track for the Visage single "Fade to Grey" was written, while on tour with Gary, by me and Chris Pain (keyboards) during the sound checks. I took Chris and Ced Sharpley (Drum Machine and Drums) into Martin Rushents Studio (where the first tracks of the Visage album were being recorded) and put down the master backing track for "Fade To Grey". I suggested using it when Visage, at mix stage, realised that we were short of tracks for the first album. Midge put the vocal part on top. After the tour I continued making the album with Visage and later invited Midge Ure into Ultravox so at the beginning of 1980 I was in the amazingly productive position of finishing off two albums!
These albums - Vienna by Ultravox (produced by Conny Plank and Ultravox) and Visage by Visage (produced by Visage and Midge Ure) were very successful throughout the world! Ultravox signed to Chrysalis records U.K. and Visage to Polydor (New York).
1981 - Visage released the album The Anvil. Ultravox released the album Rage in Eden produced by Conny Plank and Ultravox.
1982 - Ultravox release Quartet produced by Sir George Martin
1983 - Ultravox release Monument - The Sound Track Produced by Ultravox.
1984 - Ultravox release Lament produced by Ultravox.
1985 - Ultravox perform at Live Aid Wembley Stadium London.
1986 - Ultravox release Uvox.
1988 - I release Transportation produced by myself.
1989 - Steve Howe recorded his "Turbulence" album in my Studio. I contribute Viola & Keyboards. Bill Bruford on Drums. I put together a new band called "Humania" no record release. Ray Weston plays drums.
1990 - I work on Stand up and Walk.
1991 - I release Stand up and Walk produced by myself.
1992 - Recorded the Ultravox album "Revelation."
1993 - I take part in a German film project dedicated to the late producer Conny Plank. I improvise with various musicians (that Conny worked with) from Can, Kraftwerk, D.A.F, Cluster, New Order etc.
1994 - Recorded the Ultravox album "Ingenuity"
1995 - Worked mostly on my own this year. I also travelled to Brussels to work with the violinist Blaine.L.Reininger from the (late seventies - early eighties) American band Tuxedo Moon.
1996 - Early this year I toured Germany performing the music I had written with the Tuxedo Moon Violinist. I concentrate mostly on Viola. We also did one gig at the "Garage" in London.
1997 - After soaking up the experiences of the last few years I felt the strong urge to start writing another solo album. So I moved into a West London Studio to make a start on what was to become Unearthed.
1998 - Unearthed was completed. Did two gigs in London performing “Unearthed” with a string section. I conducted and played Viola and Keyboards (Not at the same time).
Started writing new material with newly acquired digital recording equipment.
1999 - Continued writing new material. Started work on the music for a short film called "The Fragile Skin".
2000 - I put together an album called "Keys and the Fiddle" which contains the completed soundtrack to "The Fragile Skin" & my new Tracks plus some music I wrote and recorded for a Solo album in 1983 with Steve Howe & Hazel O'Connor. Also "Tekapo Blue" the lost track from "Transportation."
2001 - The release of "Transportation", "Stand up and Walk", "Unearthed", "Keys and the Fiddle" on my own label. PUZZLE. Continuing work on a new album.
2002 - My album "PUSH" is completed and released in October. I perform with Optik in London.
2003 - The release of my first Puzzle compilation album “Pieces of the Puzzle.”
2004 - My album "Still Movement" is completed and released in November.
2005 - The putting together of the Humania album “Sinews of the Soul”.
2006 – The CD release of the Humania album. I write sleeve notes about that time. I complete my album “Accidental Poetry of the Structure’ and release it as a download in July.
CD Release in November of Accidental Poetry of the Structure with new photos & 8 page colour booklet.
2007 – Start work on New Album.
2008 - Ultravox reform.
2009 - Release my album Refine. Ultravox perform the Return To Eden Tour in the UK.
2010 - Ultravox start work on a new album in Canada.
Ultravox perform Return to Eden pt 2 in England, Scandinavia & Europe.
2011 - Ultravox work In LA, Canada, Bath and London. The album is finished in November.
2012 - I start work on a new album.
The Ultravox album Brilliant is released in May.
Ultravox tour the Brilliant tour in Britain, Europe & Scandinavia.
2013 - I complete my ninth album Balletic Transcend. It is released as a download & CD in November.
My Refine album gets a CD release.
2014 - Start work on my 10th album.
2015 - Complete the writing and recording in October.
2016 - It is the 40th anniversary of the release of Ultravox! the first album by the band.
Ultravox! Ha! Ha! Ha! & Systems of Romance are re released as a boxset.
After 43 loyal years I decide to draw a line under it.
I mix & master my new album Doppel at Music Box 3, London, with Peter Dudley.
Doppel is released in May.
TRANSPORTATION - 1988
with guest Steve Howe
4. Rakaia River
6. Perfect Flight
8. English Home
STAND UP AND WALK - 1991
1. Change Of Heart
2. French Viola
4. Ritual Bliss
5. Stand Up And Walk
10. Hatchback Mania
11. Santa Claus
12. Irish Widdershins
All Tracks written by Billy Currie
UNEARTHED - 2001
1. Change Of Heart
2. French Viola
4. Ritual Bliss
5. Stand Up And Walk
10. Hatchback Mania
11. Santa Claus
12. Irish Widdershins
All Tracks written by Billy Currie
KEYS AND THE FIDDLE - 2001
1. Memories Don't Go
3. Tekapo Blue
4. Sisters And Brothers
6. Metronomic And Rising
8. Passage To Possession
10. Break Down My Door
11. Riding White Horses
12. Happy Valley
13. Spirit Of Her Spirit
14. Quiet Words
15. Clean Stones
All Tracks written by Billy Currie
PUSH - 2002
1. Stand Like a Balance
2. Step Forward
3. Swimming in Air
4. Kissing the Shame
5. High Climb
6. Into The Space
7. Why Do You Hang On Me
8. The True Transmission
10. Cross Hands
All Tracks written by Billy Currie
STILL MOVEMENT - 2005
1. Waving Hands in Clouds
5. The Waves Look Sleepy
6. Standing Still
8. The Other World
10. Deflect Downward
11. Step Forward To Seven Stars
All Tracks written by Billy Currie
ACCIDENTAL POETRY OF
THE STRUCTURE - 2006
1. Accidental Poetry of the Structure
2. Williams Mix
3. Skips of a Chopped Head
5. Idee Fixe Movement Three
6. Matsang River
7. Hall of Impressions
8. Folly Brook
10. Listening to Strength
All Tracks written by Billy Currie
REFINE - 2009
3. Supporting The Sky With Both Hands
4. Empty Stage Mantra
5. Beyond Our Own Skin
6. People Came And Laughed
7. Martyr Points
8. Bend The Bow
9. Love Signs And Triangles
10. Cycle There
Mixed and Produced by Billy Currie and Peter Dudley
All Tracks written by Billy Currie
Recorded at Cloudy Hands Studio London
BALLETIC TRANSCEND - 2013
1. Balletic Transcend
2. Springboard Activist
4. Pothole Pirouette
6. Back to the Head
7. Jump Spin
9. A Feint Idea
All tracks written by Billy Currie
Mixed and Mastered by Billy Currie and Peter Dudley
DOPPEL - 2016
1. Neoteric Slip
3. Tremolo Shudder
4. Silver Tongued
6. In Full Cry
8. Viola Reach
All tracks written & recorded by Billy Currie
at Cloudy Hands Studio London.
Mixed & Mastered by Billy Currie & Peter Dudley at Music Box 3 London.
9 - 10
2 - 3
30 - 30
13 - 13
15 - 15
53 - 53
71 - 71
PHOTOS FROM SCOOL AND COLLEGE
THE POLYCHORDIA QUARTET
This is a photo of the first String Quartet I joined. I was 13. 1963. We were called The Polychordia Quartet. The photo is from the Huddersfield Examiner. We had just won a music competition. The two guys are brothers. I met Rayford, the one on the left, again in a bar at a Belfast hotel while on tour with Ultravox. Early eighties. It was great to see him again! He was playing Cello with the Halle Orchestra. His brother, a Violinist, became a Vet. I lost touch with Megan.
I was very lucky to work with these excellent musicians.
It happened because I moved on to the Viola from the Violin.
THE SECOND QUARTET
This is a photo of the second Quartet I joined. I was 14. 1964. I cannot remember what we were called. The photo is from a newspaper in Harrogate. We were still winning music competitions. I was with the Violinist Megan, we stuck together, and we had Helen on Cello. I have forgotten the name of the first Violinist.
THE COLLEGE ORCHESTRA
This is taken in the Orchestra Rehearsal hall 1966. I am in there somewhere. The guy with the short fringe. I was a bit of a Mod at the time. I was in my second year at the Huddersfield Music College. We had just moved into a new building. This rehearsal hall was Hexagonal shaped. A fantastic place to practise in. The sound was excellent! I led the Viola section from 1965 to 1969.
ME AND MUM
This a shot of me and my mum. Taken in 1978 outside our front door in Huddersfield. It was August and I had lots to say as so much was happening for me at that time. My Mum and Dad were always very supportive and very interested in what I was up to in the Music world. I lived in London and I think I had not been home for a while. I remember telling my Mum and Dad about working with Gary Numan, about the Visage album coming along nicely and especially about Midge Ure. I had just invited Midge into Ultravox. I brought him to meet Chris and Warren in a pub at Turnham Green, West London.
COLLEGE ORCHESTRA - LEADING THE VIOLA SECTION
This is a photo from way back in 1968. I am in there leading the Viola section, with the long hair. When I was at the Huddersfield Music College we did lots of concerts around the Yorkshire area. Not sure where this is though. The Bruch Violin Concerto is being performed here. My viola teacher is playing the solo violin part. This is a very emotional piece. We all had our hearts on our sleeves. If you look at my teacher, Herbert Whone, you will see his fantastic technique.
The bowing arm is producing power and pressure on the string without tension. You can actually see that from the photo! I spent four years trying to learn that from him.
Many a time I would be playing the music for him in my lesson and he would just suddenly grab my arm to demonstrate how tense I was. Being left handed my fingering hand was light years ahead of my right handed bowing arm.
If I had gone on to the London Royal Academy, where I managed to get a place, I am sure I would have got quite close to accomplishing this technique through the oncoming five years there. It was not to be!
I have a different type of technique now after playing in Performance Art groups and Bands for many years. I learned how to apply the bow, with pressure, near the bridge when I needed high harmonics and sometimes a screaming sound. It has become my electric violin style. An electric violin sends out these harmonics in a much more powerful way! It is an exciting journey which I am still on.
SCHOOL ORCHESTRA - 1964
This is a photo of the school orchestra. It is 1964 and the school is Mount Pleasant in Huddersfield. I was 14. I think we must have been rehearsing with the choir here. When we performed to an audience the choir would be up in the gallery stage left. I am up there on the left of the conductor in the deputy leader place. A few weeks after this shot I would start having Viola lessons to prepare myself for Music College to start the following year.
These lessons were on saturday morning so I had to miss football. That was tough because I was the joint captain for the under 15's. The games were played on saturday morning. I still had my Violin lessons during the week so for a while I did not know what day it was! The Viola was in the Alto Clef and the Violin was in the Treble clef. Very confusing. I got there eventually and moved to Viola in the orchestra at the start of the second term. I had just managed a distinction for my Grade 5 Violin exam and now had to get a distinction mark for Grade 6 Viola to receive a place at the Music College. That really was a massive amount of work to do in such a short time. Four months. In April 1965 I achieved that mark. I was very happy. Music was the only thing I wanted to do with my life so it was do or die!
I also loved art. I studied art at college with music as my main subject!
Just to go back a bit to give a clearer view of how I got to this position. The moment on this photo.
When I was very young, like five, I remember my dad singing. He had a great voice. He also played the mouth organ brilliantly. I could never never play that! I cannot remember what he sang and played but I do remember a very Scottish element to his performances. His dad was scottish. He moved to Yorkshire to work on the huge reservoirs. He was a foreman on the Digley reservoir near Huddersfield. My mum was very interested in music. She played classical orientated songs from musicals like "The King and I". She loved singers. She was from Lancashire and often told me that one of her cousins played in the Halle Orchestra. He played a brass instrument. It was only when I got to about nine that things started happening for me. A friend of my dads, from the war, used to come and visit. Maybe once a month. He was older than my dad. I was amazed when he started bringing a Violin. He played it for us and even let me have a go. This lovely fellow kept telling my mum and dad to get me started with violin lessons. Obviously that was an unaffordable dream. Unfortunately!
My dad had loads of brothers and one, which I named my son after, was called Tom. He lived in Stockport. His son, called David, used to come to visit bringing loads of records. These were all from his generation, not mine, but I picked up on his enthusiasm. Singers like Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis. He then bought me a guitar and started to teach me how to play the vocal melodies. This then got me into starting a group with a couple of my schoolmates.
We sang songs like Poison Ivy. This was before the Stones though. We performed at the end of term school concerts.
I sang and played guitar. One of the guys sang with me and the other banged drums or anything really. I can't remember the other songs we chose now. I think an Elvis song and a more meaty Cliff Richards song like Dynamite or Hi class Baby. When we all left our junior school, with me going to Mount Pleasant, we still stuck together and put on two concerts. Our old junior school had a lock-up garage that stored chairs. They let us turn it into a gig. We made a stage and put out all the chairs for the audience. We performed two nights as "The Moonlight Brothers".
Great fun! This was the first time that I experienced the music press. My mum phoned the local Examiner paper and the reporter came up to my house to interview me. He did not actually come to the gigs though. It was fantastic to get the feature but frustrating to see him get quite a few of the facts wrong. He said the concerts were held in my house! A bit of an early lesson here. I had just started at my new school and my new friends now thought I was rich AND precocious. LOL
The first year at Mount Pleasant gave me a chance to sing in the choir as a soprano. In 1961 the Liverpool Philharmonic came to play at the Town Hall.They were performing Benjamin Brittens Spring Symphony. They needed a boy soprano choir for this piece. They chose us to do it!
To be sitting in the middle of the Liverpool Philharmonic was amazing. The bit we did was quite small but I really enjoyed doing it. I can still remember some of the lyrics. "When does the rye reach to the chin and chop cherry chop cherry ripe within"
When an orchestra came to our school to play for us, offering free Violin lessons, I jumped at the chance. My parents still had to buy the Violin though. A small amount a week could be paid until it was paid off!. My dad took some convincing! My mum was just well up for it!!!!!!
I have fantastic memories of listening to classical music with my mum. When I got going on the violin our favourite music we listened to was Tchaikovsky violin concerto and Mendelssohn Italian Symphony.
I was also mad on the Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds, Soul music. This was an amazing time for music!
Jumping forward to 1965 when I had secured my place at the Huddersfield Music school. Before I left Mount Pleasant I was asked to play for the whole school in the chapel where the school orchestra played every morning for the school assembly. It had a balcony all around. Definitely looked like some of the gigs I did later with Ultravox!
Good practice for being in front of an audience.
There was no getting out of this!
My teacher, Mr Bentley, was a lovely man who put so much effort into helping me. We chose a piece that highlighted the Violas contrast of the mellow low C and G strings with the high cutting A string. I had just started playing in the higher fifth position that made the high A string very cutting. I demonstrated that.
It went well! I remember being very nervous. I owed so much to my school. It was now time to move on.
SOLO VIOLA - 1965
This is a photo taken at school just before I left to go to the Music College in Huddersfield 1965.
It is taken just before I played solo Viola, with piano accompaniment, in front of the whole school at Mount Pleasant.
I look nervous but it went very well!
MOUNT PLEASANT SCHOOL ORCHESTRA - 1963
This is a more close up shot of the Mount Pleasant school orchestra. 1963. The leader is on my left. I can't remember his name now but we got on in a fairly jokey but competitive way. He started the violin at the age of nine whereas I started at the age of eleven so there was a little resentment. I just wish my parents could have afforded to let me have lessons earlier.
I understood why though. The expense!!!!
I joined the school orchestra after learning the violin for about a year. I played with the orchestra every school day for the next two and a half years. Up to 1965.
My school days started with my morning paper round. I would then ride on my bike the three miles to school. I had a raleigh blue streak, five gears. Fantastic! It had a frame on the back which held my Violin with straps. I lived up on a hill at a small village called Netherton so it was brilliant to just jump on my bike and go down to the main road past the bus stop that had many school friends waiting and down a mile long hill called Big Valley. Great name that! It was such an exhilarating feeling going very fast so early in the morning. A good start to the day! When I got to school I turned left to the chapel and parked my bike down the steps by the woodwork/metalwork department which was in the basement of the chapel. While my class mates turned right and went to registration I went into the chapel to get ready to play in the school morning assembly with the orchestra. There was an area, behind a curtain ( stage left ), to do this. Getting the fiddle out, putting resin on the bow, changing strings and most of all having a laugh with the other musicians. I had a close friend called Andrew Haigh in the orchestra. I had sang with him in the school choir and he played Oboe in the Orchestra.
We then got up on stage ready to be told what classical piece we would play when the school kids came in and what we would play when School Assembly ended. We sometimes had a quick chance to practise the piece first. We were also given the Hymn to play that the school kids sang. I sometimes had to read from the bible as well! I was a good reader but sort of lost interest in English because I was forced to take it at Music College. They said it would come in useful if I decided to be a teacher. I said "But I don't want to be a teacher I just want to play in an orchestra".
I got used to being in front of an audience and slowly began to realise that I loved it. I did get a bit over confident though. When I changed to Viola I had to sit further away from the kids. In the middle behind the Conductor. I felt like I had been demoted. I knew that changing to the Viola, from the Violin, would get me a place at the Music College though. No mistaking that!
I clearly remember this happening:-
We had been told by Mr Whitehead, the conductor, that we would just play the piece to a certain point because we were running late. I carried on playing past that point, by myself, thinking that I was correct and everyone would then follow me.
Very embarrassing! I was wrong and had to stop playing. That got a few laughs from the kids. The leader, who is in the photo on my left, gave me a smug grin. Classical musicians are just as competitive as the pop/rock/electronic musicians I came to meet and work with a few years later in 1969! LOL
FENDER SOLID VIOLIN - 1977
This is a Fender Solid Violin that I acquired in 1977. Before I talk about this fiddle I will take a quick trip further back to gain more of a perspective.
The Viola I had at Music College was an excellent English Viola, made in High Wycombe (I can't remember who made it). After leaving college in 1969 I played in bands using this fiddle with an electronic pick- up and sometimes acoustically. After a couple of years I eventually sold it for a cherry red fender telecaster guitar. I had always wanted one. This was soon sold because of serious cash problems. Frivolous Man.
I was, for the first time in years, Frivolous, I mean fiddle less, so in 1972 I bought a fifteen-pound copy Strad Violin. It served me well until I sold it in 1981. Unfortunately I don't have a picture of it.
The following year I used this fiddle when I joined the band that became Ultravox. My life became much easier when I fitted it with the Barcus Berry transducer mike for Fiddles. It sounded quite good! Mainly I could now compete, volume wise, without feeding back. Result! When the band (Ultravox) did the all-important demos with Steve Lillywhite, at Phonogram Studios, Stanhope Place, London, I used this fiddle on a midtempo track called WANTS ME WELL. The natural large room was so good for playing Violin and we (Steve and I) managed to get a big backing orchestra vibe tracking up with just this fiddle. Steve was great to work with, he had empathy for the instrument and realised immediately the problems I would have had if the room had been small and dead. This track was a bit too poppy for our first album and got permanently shelved. (Walker Brothers meets The Righteous Brothers meets Wizard meets Tiger Lily meets Ultravox) We were having fun. OK!
I used this fiddle when we recorded the first album at Island Records, St Peters Square, London with BRIAN ENO and STEVE LILLYWHITE. The Basement Studio was small so Steve Lilywhite and I sussed out a room out at the back, which was a fire escape and a place to store the cleaner's gear. This room had a fairly high ceiling and, because of the hard walls, natural ambience. It seemed only right to take off the barcus berry pick-up, again, and use this room for I WANT TO BE A MACHINE. When we layed down the backing track for THE WILD THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED it was best to do it all together, with the band, in the studio. Back to reverb in the headphones. This fiddle worked pretty well on tour that year in 1976.
Here we are in 1977 when I bought, along with my Arp Odyssey Synth, this Fender Solid Violin! (Pictured) I used this fiddle on the Ultravox Album HA! HA! HA! This fiddle had a very cutting sound and I could also get natural distortion from the amp. (At the time I had a Fender Twin with JBL speakers).
FEAR IN THE WESTERN WORLD and ARTIFICIAL LIFE are the tracks I used it on. For LIVE work, that year, it was good for all tracks although quite hard sounding for the slow section of I WANT TO BE A MACHINE. Feedback was a problem but I did use it on purpose to wind the crowd up.
For ARTIFICIAL LIFE I used to turn up the fiddle, get it feeding back so that it would howl like hell and only stop when I actually started the solo. (When the bow hit the string).
We did a FIDDLE, GUITAR, Real DRUMS version of HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR which I have only on Vinyl. (Used for B side of single ROCKWROCK) I will try and get it on a compilation album, it should be heard! I am not belting it out on this track; it is a more textural noise. This fiddle was a bit heavy to hold and far too harsh sounding so next year I went back to the other one.
I didn't use the Fiddle on the next ULTRAVOX album SYSTEMS OF ROMANCE. I did tour a lot in 1978 sticking with the cheap Violin and reliable Barcus Berry pick-up.
In 1979 I used it on the GARY NUMAN tour. I used it on FADE TO GREY - VISAGE. Later that year when the new ULTRAVOX line-up got together I started using this fiddle more. WESTERN PROMISE, MR X, ASTRADYNE.
I'll come to that when I talk about the violin I borrowed to do the VIENNA solo. 1980.
"VIENNA" SOLO FIDDLE
This is the Fiddle that I used for the VIENNA Solo. There is no label or inscription in the instrument. I borrowed it from a friend and liked the emotional sound. The solo starts on the low G string and this fiddle had the intense gutsy classical sound I wanted. (Reminiscent of the first Classical record I bought :- Schaikovsky Violin Concerto) I played the solo in the doorway of RAK Studios in St Johns Wood, London. The doorway entrance had marble walls and this gave natural ambience for the fiddle sound and it was a perfect setting to pull off this almost over emotional solo whilst hearing all the keyboards in the headphones. It's a great lasting memory!
We were happening! So much energy!
I took this fiddle with me the following year (1981) when we went to Conny Planks studio, in Germany, to record the album Rage In Eden. We experimented with the sound by tying a Guitar pick-up under the bridge of the Fiddle. I used it for THE THIN WALL on the Textural Chord build up that starts the track.
I left the fiddle with the Studio Boffins who offered to make a more permanent and usable electronic job on the Fiddle to play live. Unfortunately when I finally received the fiddle they had done a very shoddy job! It just fell to bits leaving bad marks under the bridge where they had tried to stick the pick-up with heavy glue. It was quite ironic that they had written on the preamp NOT MADE IN JAPAN (a little joke). That is why it looks a bit sad with no Bridge or Strings on. I will get it fixed up soon, its a lovely little fiddle. I bought two fiddles that time in Germany and had to give one to my friend as I felt so bad about what happened to hers. It looked like this one so everything worked out in the end.
WOLFF BROTHERS VIOLA
This is a Viola made by the reputable Wolff brothers of Berlin. They have made instruments since 1893 and made this one in 1965. The Viola is tuned a fifth lower than a Violin, it is bigger and sounds more mellow. The top string can be very cutting. The Viola is perfect for getting weird harmonics. (See The Fragile Skin on Keys and the Fiddle.)
I borrowed it from a shop in 1980 in preparation of the upcoming Vienna album. When I went to return it (a little late I must admit), the shop wasn't there. Bonus!! I used it under the Violin solo on Mr.X. I used it again the following year on the track THE ASCENT (Rage In Eden) behind the Violin solo. Both these Viola parts where anchor parts under the Violin solo and also to keep the music moving along while I improvised the Violin solos. I thought of Ultravox as a strange orchestra at these moments. Synthesiser sounds mixing with real strings so you were not always sure what was which. I felt the Viola would work best in its rightful and usual place. In the middle of the orchestra (band).
I have just had some work done on this instrument. New Bridge, Tale-Piece, Chin-Rest, Tuning-Pegs and Sound-Post. It is very comfortable to play because it is not a full size Viola and so it is very easy to hold and keep on top of. It has a good sound.
BARCUSBERRY VIOLIN. American
I bought this fiddle in the middle of the Ultravox Vienna Tour (end of 1980) and used it straight away. The pick up was inside the body under the bridge. It had a volume knob that I used to set near maximum. So I could turn down if I got Feedback and could turn up if I needed more clout! Basic but hi-tech for what was available at the time. Coming off that tour we went straight in to doing the next album back at Conny Planks studio in Cologne, Germany (1981). I used it on “THE THIN WALL” for the solo near the end. Conny and I put a spectrum analyser on this fiddle and found that huge areas of frequencies (mostly lower mid) where missing and so had to be compensated by quite extreme EQ.
Conny always had microphones hanging up all over the place so he could mix ambient and close miking in with the final signal. He did this for this solo.
I used this Fiddle on the next Rage In Eden tour later that year. I bought a MXR transposer that had 4 presets. This was so I could do live what we were doing in the studio. For example on “Mr X” Conny and I used to put a transposer on the Violin or Viola so as to make strange effects, especially if we manually locked it on to an augmented fourth. A transposer changed the pitch of the instrument, done manually in those far off days. We used Octaves and Fifths as well. I did this live on “THE THIN WALL”, “Mr X” and ”Stranger Within”. I always had a shit load of effects on as well like Echo, Flanger, Chorus, Reverb. I had the four transposer presets set to Octave Up, Fifth Up, Augmented Fourth Up and Fourth Down. It was a lot of Fun!
I continued using this Fiddle on the next Ultravox Quartet Tour painting it grey to fit with the stage set (1982-83). I used it on the Lament Tour painting it the black it is now to go with the stage set (1984) but as my second Fiddle and only on one track. The solo on “HEART OF THE COUNTRY” was in E flat so I tuned this fiddle up a semitone so it felt like I was playing in the much easier key of D.
MITTENWALD VIOLIN 1964 German
I bought this fiddle in Cologne, Germany, while making the Ultravox Rage In Eden album (1981). We had just had a big hit called “VIENNA”. I wrote in a Violin solo deliberately playing it in a very classical way so I was well into fiddles at this time. I always loved the look of this fiddle. It had a bright, crunchy sound. I used it immediately on “NAME THAT SIN”. This fiddle was perfect for “ THE ASCENT” solo where I was looking for a classical sound. No effects, just good microphones and natural ambience which was much available in Conny,s studio. That’s what he was into Man!
“THE ASCENT” was the last Track to be Mixed on the album. Conny and I mixed it while friends where arriving in the studio for an “End of Album” party. We were looking through the glass window at them while we were mixing this. I remember Conny’s face when I pointed out a very slight feedback against the reverb, just before the fiddle solo came in. He looked like he had been pushed to the limit by us and wanted me to give him a break. So I let it go. See if you can hear it. Its very slight. He did a GREAT job!
We had a good party with Cologne musos from Can, Cluster, DAF, La Düsseldorf and lots of other weirdo's.
I used this fiddle on my solo album “Keys and The Fiddle” On tracks “SPIRIT OF HER SPIRIT” and “PLAYGROUND”.
I recently took this fiddle to a fiddle specialist who said that the bridge was too low. He said that it was probably made by a student who screwed up. Charming I thought. I got the neck pulled back and the finger board lifted. That process took weeks as they have to clamp it in a vice gradually moving it. It feels much better now with a higher bridge. I am using it on my 6th album. The one I am currently working on.
SECOND BARCUSBERRY VIOLIN. American
I bought this in L.A on the American leg of the Ultravox Quartet tour (1983). I preferred this one to the other and used this on the rest of the tour through and on to Japan. “I played the solo on “HEART OF THE COUNTRY” (Lament Album) with this Violin”. Yes I did do it in E flat! This was the fiddle I used for the remaining life of the eighties Ultravox line up. The Lament Tour (1984) and the Uvox tour (1986-87).
It was a slightly bigger Violin and felt comfortable for me, someone used to playing a Viola. The sound was much better as well! All the Violin on my solo album “STAND UP AND WALK” (1990–91) was done with this fiddle. I could plug it straight into the desk and the sound was good.
I used it on “FRENCH VIOLA” and “LIBERATION”. I also used it on “PUSH”, my recent album, on “INTO THE SPACE”.
This is the violin that I use on the Return To Eden Tour.
FRANK GEORG ROST VIOLA London 1933
I bought this beautiful instrument in 1985. It has a worn red varnish. Looks amazing. The Violin and Viola specialist (at Ealing Strings London) told me that the guy, Frank Georg Rost, (yes Georg is spelt like that) moved from Germany to London then went on to live in New York where he built more Violins and Violas up until he was in his late nineties. This was the year I built my “Hot Food Studio” in the basement of my home. I used it on the track “ALL IN ONE DAY” from the Ultravox album “Uvox” which was recorded in my studio (1985-86). I played it on that Uvox tour.
My first solo album was recorded in “Hotfood Studios” in 1987 –88. I used this fiddle on the track “ENGLISH HOME” using the transposer effects idea.
I used it on Steve Howe's album “TURBULENCE” (1989) which he did in my studio. “STAND UP AND WALK” my 1990-91 solo album was inspired very much by this Viola. I was using a pick-up called the Fishman Pick-Up which worked very well in the studio. It wasn't as hard sounding as a Barcusberry pick-up which was really better for live work. I used it on “CHANGE OF HEART”, “FRENCH VIOLA”. “LIBERATION”.“RITUAL BLISS”, “STAND UP AND WALK”, ”UKRAINE”, “JAMBOREE”,” CRISIS”, “HATCHBACK MANIA” and ”IRISH WIDDERSHINS”. I used this Viola on the Ultravox albums I did in the early nineties also performing live with this fiddle using the Fishman pick-up. In 1996 I played this Viola on a German tour I did with Blaine Reininger, we both used Barcusberry pick-ups. The tour was all Violin and Viola except two tracks with me on keys. For the two “UNEARTHED” gigs I did in London (1998) this was the Viola making those Unearthed sounds like feedback whistling. I used it also on “The Fragile Skin” soundtrack. I had a digital recording setup at that time (1999 – 2000) so I could record the Viola and manipulate small sections, reversing and duplicating like I was some kind of strange Artist (painter), especially on “PASSAGE TO POSSESION”. Good Lark that was. I performed, using this Viola, with Barry Edwards Optik last year (2002) doing 3 gigs at the I.C.A. in London. This brings me right up to when I played this Viola on my album “PUSH”. Making the track “WHY DO YOU HANG ON ME” was a real high point of my experiences with the Viola. I am playing this Viola on my 6th album. I am working on this now.
The ARP Odyssey was an analog synthesizer introduced in 1972. Responding to pressure from Moog Music to create a portable, affordable (the Minimoog was US$1,495 upon release) "performance" synthesizer, ARP scaled down its popular 2600 synthesizer and created the Odyssey, which became the best-selling synthesizer they made.
The Odyssey is a two-oscillator analog synth (the Minimoog has 3 oscillators and its sound is considered "fatter"). The Odyssey was the one of the first synthesizers with duophonic capabilities (the ability to play two notes at the same time). One potential appeal of the Odyssey is the fact that all parameters, including a resonant low-pass filter, a non-resonant high-pass filter, ADSR and AR envelopes, triangle (not sine) and square wave LFO, and a sample-and-hold function are editable with sliders and buttons on the front panel.
There were many versions of the Odyssey over the years.
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