How we made Ultravox’s Vienna

From the Guardian

‘We were extremely arrogant and a bit too prog rock. We wanted to sound like Elgar and Grieg’

‘Afterwards everyone wanted us to write a song called Berlin or Paris’ … from left, Warren Cann, Midge Ure, Chris Cross and Billy Currie. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

Midge Ure, singer

First and foremost, we weren’t trying to create a hit song, just an interesting piece of music. Ultravox had been dropped by their label, our management had disappeared and we had to scrape around for money just to get into a rehearsal studio. It was cold and miserable, as all these studios are, with sticky carpets and a smell. And that’s where we wrote Vienna.

The song had the feel of a haunting mid-European classic, thanks to our keyboard player Billy Currie’s classical training. The cinematic aspect was high on our agenda: every track was for a movie that didn’t exist. I remember going into the studio with just a line in my head: “The feeling is gone, this means nothing to me – oh Vienna!” That was all I had.

A lot of what Ultravox did back in the day was soundbites. Vienna was a love song to an imaginary girl. You’ve gone to this beautiful place, met someone and vowed it is going to continue – and, of course, it doesn’t. Why Vienna? There was a decaying elegance about it. In such a crumbling environment, you could easily fall in love. Then you go back to your cold, grey, miserable life in Chiswick.

We were absolutely skint. Everything I wore in the video was from thrift shops. The only thing that cost money was the Burberry raincoat, because I’d always wanted one. It was about £300, which was a substantial amount of money for someone who normally only bought stuff from Save the Children.

The label didn’t want to put Vienna out. It was too slow, too long and there was a violin solo – the antithesis of a commercial single. Then, the moment it became huge, the pressure on us to surpass it with a follow-up was incredible. Everyone wanted us to write a track called Berlin or Paris.

Billy Currie, keyboards

Vienna came together in January 1980. Ultravox had just hooked up with Midge Ure, who’d replaced John Foxx, and I wanted to use my classical training. I said to the guys I was keen to do something that sounded like the late-19th-century romantics, like Grieg and Elgar. We were extremely arrogant back then and probably too prog-rocky. We did do some fairly long tracks. Midge stood at the mic and came up with the lyrics almost straightaway: “Walked in the cold air, freezing breath on the window pane …”

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