August 1980.   Ultravox finally enjoy a hit single.

mp3: Ultravox – Sleepwalk

It was hardly an overnight success.  The band had been in existence since 1975, initially going by the name of Tiger Lily, changing it to Ultravox! in 1976, with the exclamation mark being dropped in 1978.

They were initially signed to Island Records, for whom they recorded three albums and released six singles without getting close to the charts.  They were originally seen as part of the dying punk/emerging new wave movement in the UK, as can be seen from their place in the line-up of the opening day of the Reading Festival in 1978 alongside the likes of The Jam, Penetration and Sham 69.

There was a change in sound with the third album, Systems of Romance, which was released in September 1978, thanks to a greater use of synths.   It’s an album that wasn’t well received at the time, but has since been re-assessed by many critics as one of the records which helped define the electro sounds that began to take root at the end of the decade and into the 80s.

Island Records dropped the group on 31 December 1978 (I’m assuming this was something to do with dates of contracts).  Ultravox managed to self-fund a short tour of America in the early months of 1979, during which more tensions surfaced.  Lead singer John Foxx took his leave of the band in March 1979, as too did guitarist Robin Simon.  To all intent and purposes, it looked to be all over.

Chris Cross, Warren Cann and Billy Currie still had belief that success could be achieved, buoyed partly by the fact that Gary Numan, the newly emerged superstar of synth-pop, was a fan of the band and had recruited Currie to play on his records and as part of the touring band.

Currie was also involved with Visage, through which he met and worked alongside Midge Ure. One thing led to another, and Ure accepted the offer to become lead vocalist and guitarist with a slimmed-down Ultravox.

Record companies were desperate to sign any group that had potential to ride the wave of the new electro sounds, and Ultravox were soon attracting all sorts of A&R reps to their live shows in London.  Chrysalis Records put forward an attractive offer, but it was dependent on the label bosses being convinced there were hit singles in the offing.  The group decided to take a demo of a new song that had been recorded in London across to the Cologne studio of producer Conny Plank.  Some magic was worked and the ‘finished’ version of Sleepwalk was presented to Chrysalis, after which the contract was signed.

Sleepwalk was issued as the band’s debut single for the new label in June 1980.  It proved to be something of a slow burner, taking four weeks to crack the Top 40 where it kicked around for almost two months, defying the normal gravity of chart singles with its weekly positions being 39, 34, 33, 29, 31, 29, 30, indicating a consistent level of sales on a weekly basis without ever really taking off.

The follow-up single, Passing Strangers, turned out to be a disappointing flop, and it took until January 1981, and the release of the title track from the album Vienna, before Ultravox became everything that its members had always believed they could be.

Here’s the b-side to the first hit single.

mp3: Ultravox – Waiting

It’s quite different in tone and style. It’s certainly not easy to dance to.




It really is strange how the human brain works.

I was finishing off yesterday’s piece on Funeral Pyre by The Jam when for some unfathomable reason my memory recalled the fact that on the day I had bought that particular single from Tam Russell’s Record Store in Shettleston Road in Glasgow I had also bought a single by Ultravox.

Now I was certain that the single in question was Sleepwalk but then when I checked the discography of the band it became clear that the single in question was All Stood Still as it was released a week or so before Funeral Pyre.

It’s a song I hadn’t thought about in what must be over 30 years.  It’s a 45 I no longer have although it is a track on the LP Vienna which sits in the cupboard unplayed for probably the same period.  I recall the single being on clear vinyl and sure enough, a check up on Discogs revealed this to be the case.  The single went to #8 in the charts – it was a slightly shorter version than the album version, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I’ve been able to track down said version:-

mp3 : Ultravox – All Stood Still

The b-side, again from memory, was an instrumental that I was sure was quite hypnotic and very similar to the sort of pre-fame Simple Minds material.  I tracked down a copy of that too and again my memory hadn’t tricked me:-

mp3 : Ultravox – Alles Klar

Neither song has really dated all that well and indeed the 45 sort of sounds a bit ridiculous in places, but hey. I’m not ashamed whatsoever of the purchase.  It kind of typified the fact that my tastes were now splitting 50-50 between post-punk guitarmusic and the increasing popularity of synyth-pop.