Category: music review


Image courtesy of Erika Tooker PR.

“You’re a young one, why are you here?” That was the question the increasingly-drunk lady behind me asked me midway through a Midge Ure concert Friday night. In many respects, it was a fair question; I was a millennial amongst a sea of Gen X-ers and boomers. Then again, why can’t younger people be musically cultured? To be fair though, I look anywhere from five to ten years younger than I actually am. The truth is, I was long familiar with Midge Ure – his stage name being a phonetic reversal of Jim – and a vague knowledge of Ultravox and Thin Lizzy, and knew that he was a co-founder of Live Aid, but I would have been hard pressed to name an actual song of his.

The show in question was different then most I have attended in the past. The venue – Hugh’s Room Live – finds that delicate balance between classy and pretentious – and on this night, played host to a solo acoustic show from Midge, interspersed with an audience Q&A. I had been to exactly one of these before – Randy Bachman in Vancouver – that was a bit more raucous, mainly because of the crowd and venue. I was a little unsure of the show at first; not all aging rockers have maintained their voices 40 years into a career, and there were times where I could sense Ure straining a little bit. With his typical self-deprecating, dark Glaswegian humour, a Brexit joke and reference to Doctor Who, Ure quickly won me over.

The audience “questions” largely consisted of song requests (hello “Vienna” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”, which Ure finally admitted may be a love song), to Thin Lizzy Memories, and his favourite ever collaboration – it’s Kate Bush. Inevitably, Live Aid was brought up and, after a bit of prodding, Ure relented and crooned “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. While that means he technically played a Christmas song in January, I’ll give him a pass this time around. 

While there were other great moments – his memories of Visage – his rendition of “Fade To Grey” which had most of the audience in unison during the chorus, stands out as a particular highlight for its simple yet powerful beauty. It had an almost anthemic quality to it. What I appreciated most about Ure, was that he didn’t come with a prepared set-list; he chose what to play based on the audiences desires and feedback. That’s how I knew it was entirely an exercise in vanity, and he truly was doing it for the fans.

In his memoir, Bruce Springsteen noted that if was going to become a true rockstar, it would be because of songwriting rather than his voice or guitar skills. I feel the same way about Midge Ure. His voice, while certainly not terrible, is not what makes Ure memorable. As I never got to see him during his new wave or rock days, it is difficult to musicianship on an acoustic instrument from the back of a crowded jazz club. I have to hand to him though, he played solo after his multi-instrumentalist back-up musician pulled out hours before they were scheduled to leave the U.K. due to illness. At the end of the day, it was the way he used his words to navigate a story and re-capture the joy so many of us seek. In a world dominated by derision and decision, it felt nice to be united, however briefly, with the lovely group of people I was surrounded by. Except for you drunk lady, except. Music often brings strangers together; Midge Ure certainly did that. – DM

Alexz Johnson’s “A Stranger Time” A Subtle And Mature Evolution

One would be hard-pressed to find an artist as successfully independent as Alexz Johnson. If that name sounds familiar, you are not alone. Although Johnson got her TV with lead roles in “So Weird” and “Instant Star” and films such as “Final Destination 3”, music has always been first love; after seeing her show on Thursday night it’s easy to see why.

This was my second time seeing Johnson perform, the first was back in 2012 in Vancouver following the release of her EP “Skipping Stone”. While stylistically the albums are similar, Johnson has refined and updated both her sound and personal style and has turned down the pop overtones and increased the rock influences. Evidence of that fact lies in the very track “Breathe”. It would probably surprise folks to find out that that track was inspired by Prince; although isn’t nearly as outrageous as a tune from The Man In Purple, Johnson states that she was “delving into his work” explaining how “music is so personal” and that she likes to pull nuances from a lot of different artists. Let’s be real though, it is probably easier to find to find a group of artists that haven’t been influenced by Prince, versus those who have. His legend and reach was quite wide-ranging.

“Breathe” itself is a great lead-off track, an upbeat riff with poignant, accurate lyrics in which Johnson acknowledges that she has to “walk this path alone”, no doubt a nod to being fiercely independent and doing nearly everything herself. (Indeed, when I sent an email asking for an interview, I did not get a reply from a publicist or a label representative; I heard from Johnson herself).

If “Breathe” is an appropriate lead-off than “Say Goodbye” is equally a fantastic closer. The song also comes with an interesting, if sombre anecdote. Johnson and her crew were in the studio getting ready to record the song and when her sound engineer was just about to hit the red button to initiate recording, they received word that Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen had passed away. They subsequently did the song in one take. The song is not about Cohen per se, rather it is an ode to saying goodbye and how we all must and need to move on, however tough it may be.

Two other songs of note are “Right Now”, the fourth track which inspired the album’s title “A Stranger Time”. Although not a political person – Johnson flatly states that she “makes music” – she does admit and acknowledge that we are in strange times and “Right Now” is a literal music manifestation of the times today. As Johnson explained, she avoided specificity as everyone has their own version.

Even with all that taken into consideration, Johnson says her personal favourite track is the album’s third entitled “Aftermath”. In a way, it also touches on the overall theme of “A Stranger Time”, that of time. Johnson freely acknowledges that it is a bit of a darker song that touches on regret. It “doesn’t shine a big happy light” she says, and goes to lament how some artists, in fact people in general, are in ways afraid to write and talk about regret and the pain that we go through, even though that is what shapes us in many respects.

To sum up the album, well I’ll leave to Alexz herself “A Stranger Time is a live-off-the-floor experience, it’s not hyper-produced, hyper-electronic, it’s just very raw”. Amen to that. There is such beauty in simplicity.

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