Ultravox's Midge Ure on his short-lived time in Thin Lizzy: "Was it fun? Was it ever!"

Thin Lizzy
(Image credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

When guitarist Gary Moore walked out of Thin Lizzy in the middle of an American tour in the summer of 1979, Phil Lynott drafted in his friend, Ultravox frontman Midge Ure, as an emergency substitute. For the young Scot, it would prove to be an eye-opening experience...

Louder line break

"I first met Phil Lynott in Glasgow around 1975," says Ure. "I was playing with a band called Slik at the time, and I was driving our transit van when I saw Phil walking along the street on his own, so I pulled the van over, and introduced myself.

"I’d seen the original Eric Bell line-up of Thin Lizzy when I was about 16 and I thought they were fantastic. Phil was just cool, with those songs and lyrics and that magnetic presence and power. On this particular afternoon, he was out looking for somewhere to eat and have a smoke, so I invited him back to my parents’ house and my mum made him egg and chips and we talked about music.

"About a year later, Slik were playing the New Victoria Theatre in London, and Phil was ill, but he sent Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson along to the gig with a signed book of his poetry for me, which I thought was incredibly nice of him. The following year, 1977, I moved down to London and joined Rich Kids [formed by ex-Sex Pistol bassist Glen Matlock] and I happened to see Phil at a tube station and we reconnected and started hanging out from then on, through the demise of Rich Kids and on through my time in Visage and Ultravox.

"Phil gave me a co-write on Get Out Of Here on Black Rose: A Rock Legend, but to be honest I think he was being over-generous, because I just happened to be around his flat when he was jamming on the song, and I was just strumming along. I’d never co-written anything in my life! So again, that was a nice touch."

In July 1979 I was working on the first Ultravox record when I got a phone call asking if I’d fly out to America to help Lizzy finish their tour with Journey after Gary Moore walked out. This was the tail end of the ’70s rock excess era, and it was just as ridiculous and mad and amazing as I thought touring at that level would be.

The Boys Are Back In Town had been massive over there, and so Lizzy got a great response everywhere, and Phil really took me under his wing, like a big brother. I later heard from Scott that he’d convinced the band that I knew all the songs, which I didn’t at all, but I worked hard to slot in. Was it fun? Oh God, was it ever!

When we came back to London, Lizzy temporarily recruited Dave Flett [from Manfred Mann’s Earth Band] on guitar for shows in Ireland and Japan, but Phil asked me to stay around to play keyboards, and I guess as a safety measure in case Dave didn’t work out. Philip was a bit of a magpie, he didn’t want to miss out on musical trends, and I think he thought that maybe he could incorporate keyboards into Thin Lizzy, which he never really did on any level. No-one could ever hear my keyboards, but I was happy to go to Japan if they wanted me.

Lizzy 79

(Image credit: Jürgen & Thomas/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

"Japan was an amazing experience. My very first memory was the look of horror on Phil’s face when we walked into the first hotel and all the girls were screaming “Midge!” The Rich Kids had never been to Japan, but we were big in the pin-up magazines, because we were quite pretty boys, and so all these kids recognised me. I think Phil was a bit miffed by it! 

"The whole trip was equally bizarre. The first thing, which I know all bands comment on, was the audience reaction. You’d get this explosion of applause and then after about three seconds it’d just cut straight off, and the audience would just sit looking at you, awaiting the next song. No-one in Lizzy could get used to that. 

"I remember turning up for one soundcheck and the promoter told Phil that there was only one lighting truss, instead of two. The promoter was all apologies, but he said that because there were a lot of tours out at the time, there were no other trusses in Japan. And Phil just exploded, completely lost it. He stormed out and said, ‘I’m off, I’m going to the airport.’ I was quite taken aback, because he was always a softly-spoken guy, so when I got in the car with him I said, Phil, are you alright? He turned around and smiled and said, ‘That truss will be there in an hour.’ And it was. I remember thinking, He’s got it sussed, he knows what he’s doing. That mock tantrum got us what we wanted.

"It was a fun trip. [Music writer] Harry Doherty was with us, and [photographer] Chalkie Davies, and everything seemed like a moment, everything was documented. When Phil went to do radio station interviews he’d drag me along, and halfway through he’d say, ‘Right, now you tell them about Ultravox’, so I was getting all this publicity for my own band.

"And then we’d end up in clubs most evenings, because that’s where all the models were. There was always a wealth of gorgeous young ladies hanging out to keep us entertained. And there was plenty of alcohol floating about, because in Japan it was difficult to get any stronger substances.

"I think Phil felt a bit out of place at times. He didn’t like eating foreign food and I remember the promoter taking us to some really good Japanese restaurants where we had to sit on the floor cross-legged, but Phil couldn’t do it, so he just sat there with his long legs sticking straight out, picking at the food. But for me, that whole trip was a schoolboy’s dream. I’d gone to see early Thin Lizzy, and fallen in love with them, and within a handful of years I’m standing alongside Phil playing The Boys Are Back In Town in Tokyo and Osaka. Life doesn’t get much cooler than that!"

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.