Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are a British new wave group formed in 1978, whose founding members, Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass guitar) and Paul Humphreys(keyboards, vocals), are originally from the Wirral Peninsula, England. The band rose to prominence with their fourth single "Enola Gay", which became a major hit throughout Europe in 1980, and achieved worldwide recognition the following year with their third album Architecture & Morality. Regarded as the band's seminal work, it spawned three international hit singles and propelled McCluskey and Humphreys to pop star status; they were heralded by some as the "Lennon–McCartney of synth-pop". OMD, however, fervently shunned such media hype and strove to present no discernible outward image. The group, whose music often addressed historic subject matter and eschewed traditional pop music arrangements in favour of experimentation, cultivated a distinctive style dubbed "intelligent pop".
UK record sales were damaged by sonically challenging – and retrospectively acclaimed – 1983 album Dazzle Ships, but the band remained popular and tended towards more traditional songwriting as the decade wore on. Concurrently, they reached their US peak and had a series of hits, the most notable being 1986's "If You Leave", written for the film Pretty in Pink. Humphreys departed in 1989 with Malcolm Holmes (drums) and Martin Cooper (various instruments) to form The Listening Pool, leaving McCluskey to lead the outfit. 1991 album Sugar Taxand its initial singles were hits, particularly in the UK, where OMD experienced a commercial renaissance. By 1996, however, electronic music had become unfashionable amid the headyBritpop climate, and McCluskey dissolved the band months after their final hit, "Walking on the Milky Way". Reflecting on the group's recorded legacy to that point, The Quietus magazine editor John Doran remarked: "Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark are not one of the best synth bands ever: they are one of the best bands ever."
McCluskey founded pop group Atomic Kitten in 1998. He, along with Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper, reformed OMD in 2006 and began releasing new material in 2009, with over 40 million records sold worldwide to date. Their unconventional brand of synthpop, however, has not garnered significant rotation in modern times, and McCluskey in 2010 opined that OMD had become "the forgotten band" because of their focus on music over presentation. The group nonetheless maintained a loyal cult following, and their latter studio output, tours and festival appearances have resulted in renewed mainstream attention. OMD have come to be regarded as creative innovators, as well as pioneers of the synthpopgenre. The band have also been cited as an influence, and covered or remixed, by many recording artists.
- 1 Formation[edit source | editbeta]
- 2 Roots[edit source | editbeta]
- 3 The Id[edit source | editbeta]
- 4 Formation and first releases[edit source | editbeta]
- 5 Classic line-up[edit source | editbeta]
- 6 American chart success[edit source | editbeta]
- 7 Classic line-up split – OMD in the 1990s[edit source | editbeta]
- 8 Reformation[edit source | editbeta]
- 9 Legacy[edit source | editbeta]
- 10 Personnel[edit source | editbeta]
- 11 Discography and writing[edit source | editbeta]
Formation[edit source | edit]
The group was founded in 1978 by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys who remain, and were perceived as, the core members. Adding sidemen Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper by the end of 1980, this quartet (with occasional line-up fluctuations) was the live concert line-up until 1989, when Humphreys, Cooper and Holmes all left OMD to found The Listening Pool. McCluskey then retained the OMD name and continued to record and tour as OMD with new line-ups until 1996.
Although McCluskey essentially retired the OMD name in 1996, shortly thereafter Humphreys began playing live shows as OMD with other musicians on an as-needed basis, but without McCluskey. Then in late December 2005, OMD's official website announced a forthcoming reformation of the "classic" 1980s line-up (Humpheys/McCluskey/Cooper/Holmes), both for live performances and for a new studio album. This reformed quartet began touring in 2007, and further successful sold-out tours took place in 2008 and 2009. OMD's most recent studio albumEnglish Electric was released on 8 April 2013.
Roots[edit source | edit]
Founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys met at primary school in Meols on the Wirral Peninsula, in the early 1960s, and in the mid-1970s, as teenagers, they were involved in different local groups but shared a distaste for guitar driven rock with a macho attitude popular among their friends at the time.
By the mid-1970s McCluskey had formed Equinox, as bassist and vocalist, alongside schoolmate Malcolm Holmes on drums, while Humphreys was their roadie. During that time McCluskey and Humphreys discovered their electronic style influenced by Kraftwerk. After Equinox, McCluskey joined Pegasus, and, later, the short-lived Hitlerz Underpantz, alongside Humphreys. McCluskey would usually sing and play bass guitar, whilst electronicsenthusiast Humphreys initially began as a roadie, graduating to keyboards. The pair shared a love of electronic music, particularly Brian Eno and Kraftwerk.
The Id[edit source | edit]
Main article: The Id
In September 1977, McCluskey and Humphreys put together the seven-piece (three singers, two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and keyboard player) Wirral 'supergroup' The Id, whose line-up included drummer Malcolm Holmes and McCluskey's girlfriend Julia Kneale on vocals. The group began to gig regularly in the Merseyside area, performing original material (largely written by McCluskey and Humphreys). They had quite a following on the scene, and one of their tracks ("Julia's Song") was included on a compilation record of local bands called Street to Street. Meanwhile, Humphreys & McCluskey collaborated on a side-project called VCL XI (named after a misreading of a valve from the diagram on the back cover of Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity album; the name of valve is actually written with Arabic numbers, VCL 11, and not Roman numerals). This side-project allowed them to pursue their more bizarre electronic experiments, often working with tape collages, home-made kit-built synthesisers, and circuit-bent radios.
Formation and first releases[edit source | edit]
In September 1978, the same month he left Dalek I Love You, McCluskey rejoined Humphreys and their VCL XI project was renamed Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The name was gleaned from a list of song lyrics and ideas that were written on McCluskey's bedroom wall. They began to gig regularly as a duo, performing to backing tracks played from a Teac 4 track tape-recorder christened "Winston" (after the antihero of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-four). Their debut performance was in October 1978 at Eric's Club in Liverpool. Finding themselves on the cusp of an electronic new wave in British pop-music, they released a one-off single, "Electricity", with celebrated independent label Factory Records. The track was supposed to be produced by the legendary Factory Records producer Martin Hannett. In fact, the A-side was the band's original demo produced by their friend, owner of Winston and soon to be manager, Paul Collister under the pseudonym Chester Valentino (taken from a nightclub called Valentino's in the nearby city of Chester). The single's sleeve was designed by Peter Saville, whose distinctive graphics provided OMD's public image well into the mid-1980s. The unusual graphics that feature on the sleeve were partially inspired by Andy and Paul's original musical notation style. Unable to read or write music, they adapted a series of symbols, each one representing different instruments.
In 1979 they were asked to support Gary Numan on his first major British tour. They were always grateful to Numan for his help and support. He let them travel on his bus and use his trucks to transport their gear. They returned the favour some 13 years later when they asked Numan to support them on their arena tour in the mid-1990s.
Classic line-up[edit source | edit]
The eponymous first album (1980) showcased the band's live set at the time, and was basically recorded by the Humphreys/McCluskey duo, although included some guest drums from Id drummer Malcolm Holmes, and saxophone from Wirral musician Martin Cooper. It had a simple, raw, poppy, melodic synthpop sound. Dindisc arranged for the song "Messages" to be re-recorded (produced by Gong bassist Mike Howlett) and released as a single (right) – this gave the band their first hit. Dave Hughes, a founder member of Dalek I Love You who joined OMD in early 1980, is featured in the "Messages" video.
A tour followed, Winston the tape recorder was augmented with live drums from Malcolm Holmes, and Dalek I Love You's Dave Hughes on synths. Hughes then left OMD in November 1980, replaced by Martin Cooper.
The second album Organisation (perhaps a reference to the band which preceded Kraftwerk, founded by Kraftwerk's original members Florian Schneider-Esleben and Ralf Hütter) followed later that year, recorded as a three-piece with Humphreys, McCluskey and Holmes. It was again produced by Howlett, and had a rather moodier, dark feel. The album spawned the hit single "Enola Gay", named after the plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The song was intended to be included on the debut album, but was left out at the final selection, which may explain why the song is somewhat at odds with the darker feel of the second album. The tour for this album had a 4-piece band line-up, with saxophonist Martin Cooper (another Dalek I Love You alumnus) recruited for keyboard duties. Howlett then presided over the recording of a further hit single, "Souvenir", co-written by Cooper & Humphreys. It ushered in a lush choral electronic sound. The song also became OMD's biggest hit to date.
In November 1981, their most commercially successful album was released in the UK and Europe – Architecture & Morality (which was also a success in Canada). The group went into the studio with Richard Mainwaring producing. Cooper then temporarily dropped out and was replaced by Mike Douglas, but this change was reversed by the time the album was released and a tour embarked upon. The album's sound saw OMD's original synth-pop sound augmented by the Mellotron, an instrument previously associated with prog rock bands. They used it to add very atmospheric swatches of string, choir and other sounds to their palette. Two more hit singles "Joan of Arc" and "Maid of Orleans" (which became the most successful single of 1982 in Germany) were taken from the album, which eventually sold more than 3 million copies. "Joan of Arc" and "Maid of Orleans" were originally both titled "Joan of Arc"; the name of the latter single was changed at the insistence of the publishers and to avoid confusion. It became "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)" and later simply "Maid of Orleans".
In 1983 the band lost commercial momentum somewhat, with the release of their more experimental Dazzle Ships album, which mixed melancholy synth ballads and uptempo synthpop with musique concrète and short wave radio tape collages. It was recorded by the 4-piece Humphreys/Holmes/Cooper/McCluskey line-up, and produced by Rhett Davies. Its relative commercial failure caused a crisis of confidence for Humphreys and McCluskey and brought about a deliberate move towards the mainstream.
American chart success[edit source | edit]
1984's Junk Culture was a return to a poppier sound and the band used digital sampling keyboards such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-mu Emulator. The album was a success, reassuring the group about their new direction. The "Locomotion" single returned the group to the top five in the UK and was a good indicator of the group's new found sound, notably the adoption of a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, which is something the group had often previously avoided. In 1985, the band expanded to a sextet, featuring new band members Graham Weir (guitar, keyboards, trombone) and Neil Weir (trumpet, bass guitar), and released Crush, produced by Stephen Hague in Paris and New York. The success of the single "So in Love" in the US Hot 100 also led to some success for the LP which entered the American Top 40, establishing the group in the US as well as making Stephen Hague a sought-after producer.
Later in 1985 the band was asked to write a song for the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink. They selected "Goddess of Love". The ending of the flick was re shot. After the song received a negative reaction from test groups OMD wrote "If You Leave" in less than 24 hours  and it became a huge hit in Australia, the US and Canada where it reached the Top 5. The same six piece line-up also released The Pacific Age in 1986, but the band began to see their critical and public popularity wane in the UK while they failed to capitalise upon their breakthrough in the US market. The Pacific Age contained the UK No. 11 hit single, "(Forever) Live & Die" and other notable single releases, "Shame" and "We Love You". The success of "If You Leave" has concealed the group's history of making innovative music.
Classic line-up split – OMD in the 1990s[edit source | edit]
During 1988 the band appeared poised to consolidate their US success, with a support slot for Depeche Mode's 101 tour at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on 18 June 1988, a top 20 US hit with "Dreaming" and a successful "Best of" album. However, it was at this point when OMD broke in two. Graham and Neil Weir left at the end of the 1989 US tour and co-founder Paul Humphreys subsequently called it a day, unhappy with the band's commercial orientation. Finally, Cooper, and Holmes left OMD by 1990 to join Humphreys in founding a new band called The Listening Pool.
This left only McCluskey to carry on, essentially becoming a solo artist working under the OMD banner. McCluskey's first album from the new OMD was Sugar Tax LP in 1991, which charted at No. 3 in the UK. McCluskey recruited Liverpool musicians Lloyd Massett and Stuart Kershaw as collaborators on Sugar Tax, though not as full-fledged group members — writing credits carefully distinguished between songs written by OMD (i.e., McCluskey) and songs written by OMD/Kershaw/Massett. This iteration of the group was initially successful with hits like "Sailing on the Seven Seas" and "Pandora's Box", with lesser success on fellow chart entries, "Call My Name" and "Then You Turn Away".
McCluskey worked with keyboardists Nigel Ipinson and Phil Coxon for the album Liberator (1993). Liberator's 5th track "Dream Of Me" was built around a sample from "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra, a track which was written and produced by Barry White. In order to release the "Dream of Me" track as an OMD single, however, McCluskey had to agree that the single release of the track would remove the actual "Love's Theme" sample, but still be officially titled "Dream of Me (Based on Love's Theme)", and furthermore would still give sole writing credit to White.
McCluskey returned with a rotating cast of musicians for the 1996 album Universal. For this last album, Humphreys returned as a co-writer of a few songs, though not as a performer or group member.
Though both Liberator and Universal produced minor hits and the latter also spawned their first Top 20 hit in five years with "Walking On The Milky Way", McCluskey retired the OMD name in late 1996, due to waning public interest. A second singles album was released in 1998, and an EP of remixed material by such acts as Sash! and Moby.
Post-1996, McCluskey decided to focus on songwriting for such Liverpool based acts as Atomic Kitten and The Genie Queen, and trying to develop new Merseyside artists from his Motor Museum recording studio. With McCluskey focusing his talents elsewhere, Humphreys decided to work with his new musical partner Claudia Brücken, of the ZTT bands Propaganda and Act, as Onetwo. He also undertook a US live tour under the banner Paul Humphreys from OMD.
Reformation[edit source | edit]
An unexpected request to perform from a German Television show and McCluskey's divorce led the group to reform. On 1 January 2006, Andy McCluskey announced plans to reform OMD with the McCluskey, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper line-up. The original plan was to tour the album Architecture & Morality and other pre-1983 material, then record a new album set for release in 2007.
In May 2007, the Architecture & Morality remastered CD was re-released together with a DVD featuring the Drury Lane concert from 1981 that had previously been available on VHS. Through May and June, the band toured with the "classic" line up of McCluskey, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper. They began their set with a re-ordered but otherwise complete re-staging of theArchitecture & Morality album. The second half of each concert featured a selection of their best known hits.
In Spring 2008, a live CD and DVD of the 2007 tour, OMD Live: Architecture & Morality & More, recorded at the London Hammersmith Apollo, was released as was a 25th anniversary re-release of Dazzle Ships, including six bonus tracks. At the same time, a brief October 2008 tour was announced, partly to tie-in with the Dazzle Ships album's 25th anniversary. China Crisissupported OMD on this tour.
In June 2009, an orchestral concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was given in Liverpool. A recording of this concert was released on DVD in December 2009. In November and December, the band returned to arena touring as support for Simple Minds. OMD performed with Night of the Proms in December 2006 in Germany and later again in Belgium and the Netherlands in October and November 2009.
OMD were also the headline act at Britain's first Vintage Computer Festival at The National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park, in June 2010. On 9 July 2010, OMD were invited by the German designer Michael Michalsky to perform at his Stylenite event during Berlin Fashion Week.
In March 2011, OMD played their first North American tour as the original line up since 1988. In September 2011, the band appeared at the Electric Picnic 2011 festival in Stradbally, Co Laois, Ireland. In November 2011, OMD announced they were getting back to the studio to start work on their latest album, English Electric.
On 11 February 2013, OMD announced "Metroland" would be the first single from the forthcoming album English Electric. The single was released on 25 March, and includes the B-side "The Great White Silence."
The album English Electric was released in the UK on 8 April and entered the UK album chart at No. 12 and the German chart at No. 10. Reviews for both the album and their concerts have generally been positive.
For Record Store Day 2013, on 20 April, a 500-copy limited edition 10-inch picture disc EP "The Future Will Be Silent" from English Electric was made available, which includes an exclusive non-album track titled "Time Burns".
Legacy[edit source | edit]
In recent years, OMD have been cited as an influence by acts including The Killers, Moby, La Roux, Robyn, Glasvegas, Death Cab for Cutie, The xx, Hurts and LCD Soundsystem; while critics have observed their influence on artists like Depeche Mode, the Pet Shop Boys and Radiohead. The band's work has been covered or remixed by chart musicians such as David Guetta, Moby, Sash!,Good Charlotte, Scooter, Nada Surf, NOFX and 3rd Bass. The 2001 album, Pretending to See the Future: A Tribute to OMD, features covers by various artists, including Mahogany, the Acid House Kings and Majestic.
Personnel[edit source | edit]
- Current members
- Andy McCluskey – vocals, bass guitar, keyboards (1978–1996; 2005–present)
- Paul Humphreys – vocals, keyboards (1978–1989; 2005–present)
- Malcolm Holmes – drums and percussion (1978–1989; 2005–present)
- Martin Cooper – keyboards, saxophone (1980–1989; 2005–present)
- Former members
- Dave Hughes – keyboards (1979–1980)
- Michael Douglas – keyboards (1980–1981)
- Neil Weir – brass, keyboards, bass guitar (1984–1989)
- Graham Weir – guitar, brass, keyboards, writer (1984–1989)
- Abe Juckes – drums (1991–1992)
- Nigel Ipinson – keyboards (1991–1993)
- Phil Coxon – keyboards (1991–1993)
- Stuart Kershaw – drums (1993), piano (2010)
Discography and writing[edit source | edit]
Main article: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark discography;Studio albums
- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1980)
- Organisation (1980)
- Architecture & Morality (1981)
- Dazzle Ships (1983)
- Junk Culture (1984)
- Crush (1985)
- The Pacific Age (1986)
- Sugar Tax (1991)
- Liberator (1993)
- Universal (1996)
- History of Modern (2010)
- English Electric (2013)
- There were several fanzines about the band, including Winston and the successful Telegraph, (which McCluskey was heavily involved in) that were active during the post-split period. Telegraph designed by Paul Browne in partnership with Phillip Marsh folded in 1994 after 5 issues. Browne went on to run the band's website and an official magazine called Messages which is still running. Marsh recently started to run the bands Myspace site.
- The book Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, an unauthorised biography by Mike West, published in 1982.
- The book Messages, written by Johnny Waller and Paul Humphreys' brother Mike Humphreys, details the career of the band up to the time of The Best of OMD.