*He helped mastermind Live Aid and was a star in the 1980s with Ultravox.
*During a long career Midge Ure also played in Visage and Thin Lizzy.
*The Scotman is touring America and is heading to Europe to perform soon.
*Despite still working today, the 62-year-old is battling his failing hearing.
He helped mastermind Live Aid, Band Aid and the second biggest-selling single in British history with Do They Know It’s Christmas? And the songs he wrote for his bands Ultravox and Visage made them chart stars in the 1980s. He also played guitar for rockers Thin Lizzy. Today, Midge Ure is still very much a working musician, currently on a solo tour of America with European dates planned later in the year before heading back to the States, and then on to Australia in 2017. For a man who so clearly loves music, it seems particularly cruel, then, that he is losing his hearing.
Scotsman Midge, 62, who lives in Bath with second wife, Empire Of The Sun actress Sheridan Forbes, 50, and their three daughters Kitty, 22, Ruby, 19, and Flossie, 17, says he feels ‘lucky to have good health’ despite the decades of rock ’n’ roll excesses. But the years spent playing arenas at deafening volumes have taken their toll.
Midge also suffers from tinnitus. Though he doesn’t wear a conventional hearing aid, he uses custom-made ear-plugs while performing that help protect his ears and still allow him to follow the music. He knows the damage cannot be undone, saying: ‘I have a constant ringing in my ears. If I think about it, I can hear it and sometimes I can hear it more than others.’
His deafness affects him most in places where there is a lot of background noise. ‘I find it hard to sit in noisy restaurants, where the acoustics are bad and I struggle to distinguish the difference between the human voice and background noise. ‘I do find myself lip-reading, trying to work out what people are saying, and I have been uncomfortable in really loud places trying to talk to people. The voice just blends in with the background as opposed to being in the foreground.’ While the cause of his hearing loss might be unusual, Midge is far from alone in his plight.
HEALTH COMMENT – BY DR ELLIE CANNON
Hearing loss can start insidiously, so it can take time for sufferers to really notice there is a big problem.
I often find that patients have gradually turned up their TV or their phone so are inadvertently compensating.
It is only when these adjustments no longer help that people really become aware of their condition.Yet hearing tests are easy to arrange, via a GP or in a hearing aid center. Of course, wearing a hearing aid can be a visible treatment and I can understand a reticence.But it’s far more doddery to be subjecting your nearest and dearest to deafeningly loud TV and radio, and constantly asking them to repeat what they say.
“I can’t think of a single patient who has grasped the straw and got help, who didn’t tell me it was well worth it”.
There are more than 11 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss – that’s one in six of the population – and about one in every ten UK adults has tinnitus. Research into hearing loss in the latest Health Survey for England found that one in six women and almost one in four men over 55 reported no hearing difficulties, but were subsequently found to have some hearing loss.
It’s not a surprise since, on average, it takes ten years for people to address their problem. Midge, who also has an elder daughter, Molly, 29, with his first wife, actress Annabel Giles, says: ‘I noticed the tinnitus first when we were doing the Ultravox album six years ago, when the band got back together.
‘There was no loud explosion or anything I remember that caused it. We were in the studio recording and I just became aware of this tone and it never went away.
‘I have been standing on stage in front of speakers for years and it has taken its toll.’
Tinnitus is a medical term to describe the perception of noise either in one ear, in both ears or in the head, when there is no corresponding external sound. Most people with tinnitus describe it as a ringing sound, but others talk about buzzing, whistling, humming, whooshing and hissing.
Midge tells me: ‘I can hear the ringing when it is silent, when I am not listening to music. There is this high-pitched, constant tone – I can hear it now as we are chatting. ‘I think it must be dreadful for some people because it can drive them absolutely crazy.’ He adds: ‘I could wear a hearing aid but I don’t have one. For the past ten years, I’ve had an earpiece that is specifically made for me that provides ultra-high definition – meaning what I hear is what I need to hear.’
Loudness of a sound is measured in decibels (dB). Normal conversation is about 60dB, while a lawnmower is about 90dB and a loud rock concert about 120dB. As a comparison, a military jet taking off will generate around 130dB of noise, while a riveting machine will manage a mere 110dB. In general, sounds above 85dB can be harmful to the delicate structures responsible for hearing inside the ear, depending on duration and how often a person is exposed to them.
Some earplugs – those worn by industrial workers or bikers, for instance – work by simply blocking all sounds entering the ear. However, modern earplugs for musicians (or music fans) can filter out or ‘occlude’ certain tones that cause damage while still allowing the user to hear and enjoy music.
Midge says: ‘Maybe you don’t need to hear the full orchestra or the full band, but just the drums and the guitar, and you can hear your voice. It means you are still in control.’
Midge’s audiologist-made earplugs are moulded to fit his ear exactly.
On coping with his tinnitus, he says: ‘I try not to think about it too much. Some days it will seem louder than others, but maybe that is because I am more aware of it or it is quieter or I am tired.’
About one per cent of adults (some 600,000 people) in the UK have tinnitus that affects their quality of life. There is no cure, and treatment tends to focus on helping patients manage the condition.
Hearing loss is not the only health issue Midge has had to face up to. He quit alcohol with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous in 2005, and sees this as a turning point in terms of his wellbeing. His drinking turned into an addiction after the death of his father in 2001, and he has since spoken out against the easy availability of beer and spirits from corner shops to supermarkets. He says: ‘Our image of alcoholics is people sitting on park benches. But in reality they are parents at school and bankers and from all walks of life.’
On his friend David Bowie’s death earlier this year, he says: ‘It made me feel vulnerable. He wasn’t that much older than I am, and it all becomes a bit too close for comfort.’
He admits he is aware that he could do more yet to improve his health. ‘Someone posted a picture of me from the Rich Kids [the band he was part of in the 1970s] which was taken nearly 40 years ago and I look like a matchstick. ‘I had a 20in waist and I was really skinny. I have no idea what I weigh now. I could do with losing a few pounds, I think. I generally keep fit by being on the go and performing. But I am going to India this year with my wife, who is a yoga teacher. She goes once a year for three weeks and has talked me into it.’
And as for letting his hearing problems get in the way of his seemingly endless musical ambitions, he adds: ‘As long as good health prevails, I won’t retire. I still have a passion for music but if I woke up tomorrow and thought this has become a bit of a grind, then I would stop doing it. But not until then….’
YOU CAN RETRAIN THE BRAIN TO ALLEVIATE TINNITUS
Tinnitus is not classed as an illness in itself, but a symptom of a hearing problem.
It is believed the auditory cortex – the part of the brain where sound is processed – malfunctions, causing the person to hear a noise that does not have an external source.
Tinnitus is more common in the over-65s and hearing loss is the most common trigger.
It’s thought that the less sound a person hears, the more they focus on perceived noises.
The auditory nerves can be damaged by exposure to a loud noise or an ear infection.
One treatment is called tinnitus retraining therapy, through which a sufferer learns mental tricks to ‘filter out’ unwanted sounds.
Source: THE DAILY MAIL UK.(By Olivia Buxton For The Mail )
Image credit: Midge Ure with his family, collecting his OBE award in 2005, for his services to music and charity.
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