"You were the glue that held the band together": Ultravox bass player and Vienna co-writer Chris Cross dies aged 71

Chris Cross
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Ultravox bass player and songwriter Chris Cross has passed away aged 71. He was a founder member of the group which started out known as Tiger Lily back in April 1974 with lead singer John Foxx and guitarist Stevie Shears. 

That band became the first incarnation of Ultravox! (with an exclamation mark) in 1976 with Foxx and Cross (then known as Chris Allen and also Chris St. John) joined by Warren Cann on drums, Billie Currie on keyboards and Robin Simon later replacing Shears as the band’s guitarist. 

Ultravox Mk1

The Mk 1 version of Ultravox! with Cross (left) (Image credit: Getty Images)

Over the next three years, this first incarnation of Ultravox! went from glam and art rockers to synth pioneers releasing three albums, Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!-Ha! and Systems of Romance on Island Records. 

While not great sellers, the albums did attract the production talents of Steve Lillywhite, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank, and have since become regarded as landmark recordings. They would go on to influence the likes of Gary Numan, featuring as they did early synth tracks like Slow Motion, My Sex and the fantastic Hiroshima Mon Amour. 

Watch Chris play the driving bass from that track in this rather grainy but rare live clip.

Ultravox would enjoy mainstream success after Foxx departed in 1979, replaced by vocalist Midge Ure. The album Vienna, made with the new lineup of Ure, Cross, Cann and Currie, gave the band its biggest hit with the title track, also co-written by Cross, reaching number two in 1981.  

Further Ultravox albums maintained the band’s run of using prestigious producers, with Plank returning for Vienna and second album Rage in Eden, while George Martin took the reins for the album Quartet, which included the Cross co-written hit Reap the Wild Wind.  

The band enjoyed further success with more singles co-written by Cross including Dancing with Tears in My Eyes and Love's Great Adventure but split up in 1987, with Currie keeping the band name going with a couple of releases during the 1990s. 

However, the classic Ultravox line up of Chris, Midge, Bille and Warren reformed in 2008 for a series of gigs and an album Brilliant in 2012, but the band performed their last ever show at the O2 in London in 2013.

Chris Cross

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Chris passed away on 25th March. There have been many tributes to the Ultravox bassist, with former band mate Billie Currie saying, "so sorry to hear about Chris. Very shocked. We had some amazing times together. Laughing mostly.” 

Midge Ure said on Facebook: “Chris Allen. We worked together, we played together, made music and directed videos together. We were instant friends as well as Ultravox comrades. 

"Even after years apart we managed to pick up where we left off like the years in between never existed. You were the glue that held the band together. You were the logic in the madness and the madness in our lives. It was great to know and grow with you. You are loved and missed old friend.”

Update: John Foxx  recently added this rather lovely post on his Facebook page.

"Very sad to hear about Chris Allen aka Chris Cross. Chris was the first member of the band. He walked into the Royal College of Art where I was holding auditions for what was to become Ultravox. This was early 1974. We had a brief chat and he was in right away. No question. Immediately engaging and mischievous, as well as looking dead right. We auditioned the rest of the band together.

"I loved going around to his place because his entire family were like him - generous, kind, resilient, outgoing, with a down-to-earth sense of humour. His brother Jeff was drummer in another band and their mum guarded her sons like Boadicea, standing at the front door, arms folded and immovable when neighbours tried to protest about the live music belting out from their council house in Tottenham.

"Chris was a solid, agile bass player with a fondness for dub and avant-rock, but much more - he had great curiosity, loved investigating new sounds and technologies and was always out for adventure. When we dived into Electronics he was the first bass player of that era to use a Minimoog synthesiser and he also contributed sonic ideas from his innovative use of an early EMS synthi.

"You could always rely on him to diffuse a difficult situation with humour and was one of the very few completely unmalicious people I’ve ever known. Later, I realised Chris was the only one of us who might be judged properly sane - no surprise he became so central to the next phase of Ultravox.

"Altogether a lovely intuitive man who made it great fun to share the daft adventures of being in a band when British Rock veered into another era. Everyone who knew him will have only good memories. The kind that make you smile."

Chris Cross

(Image credit: Getty Images)
Andy Jones

Andy has been writing about music production and technology for 30 years having started out on Music Technology magazine back in 1992. He has edited the magazines Future Music, Keyboard Review, MusicTech and Computer Music, which he helped launch back in 1998. He owns way too many synthesizers.

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