- 04 Apr 23
Ahead of their set with fellow synth-pop '80s icons Soft Cell, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Heaven 17 at St Anne's Park on Saturday, June 3rd, one-half of OMD sat down with Hot Press to divulge all the details. Andy McCluskey lived in Dublin in the '90s, so rest assured he's got a few stories up his sleeve...
Emerging from the same fertile early ‘80s Liverpool scene as Echo And The Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and Dead Or Alive, synth-pop merchants OMD’s vast back catalogue includes ‘Electricity’ ‘Souvenir’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ and the timeless ‘Enola Gay'. Still going strong decades later, Andy McCluskey’s crew remain a vital and exciting live act.
English singer-songwriter, musician and record producer McCluskey is best known as lead singer and bass guitarist of the electronic band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), which he founded alongside keyboard player Paul Humphreys in 1978. The duo initially met as kids at Great Meols Primary School.
We sat down with Andy to touch base ahead of their St Anne's Park show with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Heaven 17 and Soft Cell in June, during OMD's 45th anniversary year. Pulled over in his car en route to speak with a lighting designer in Stoke about their screen graphics, McCluskey's rearing for the summer to begin when I nab a phone call with the Atomic Kitten brainchild.
"We’re going to be busy boys. I think we’ve got 15 or 16 festivals lined up, so it’s going to keep us in mischief," Andy tells me, sounding energised. Last July, Hot Press were front row watching himself and Paul Humphries perform at Forever Young Festival in Kildare. How do they approach revivalist shows, as opposed to an outdoor billing like St Anne's Park?
“When you’re doing a retro festival, you just go out there, play your hits and have a party. Bang bang bang!" he laughs. "You generally know everyone on the bill. It’s going to be the same actually when we come to Dublin in June because I know Marc [Almond], I’ve met Dave Ball from Soft Cell. I met Heaven 17 last year when we did a charity gig. It’s going to be a fun day!”
“We were staying in Dublin when we played the Forever Young Festival," he notes. "I came in early because I have friends living there. I had dinner with them before the show, which was really nice. I was hoping to catch up with them again, but the bastards are busy!”
We know plenty of other Irish people that would be happy to spend time with the pair.
“I used to live in Dublin way back in 1994," McCluckey nods. "Obviously, I’ve got connections with quite a few people who I’d still love to see when I get the chance. But they’re media people so occasionally they have to work on the weekends as well. Still, I’m looking forward to coming back. Prior to that we played at the Olympia Theatre. I love playing in Dublin. It’s always great. I’m looking forward to this festival though.”
“Dublin in the ‘90s was bathing in Euro books," he grins. "The Celtic Tiger was roaring! I think you've built more miles of motorway in years than anybody has done. All I can say is that I wish I kept the bloody house I had back then in Sandymount. I think I could have stuck a zero on it by now. The value has gone way up.
“I wasn't too far away from Lansdowne Road. You could get yourself in and out of town very easily. I absolutely loved Ireland. I’m kind of glad I left it in the end because I think my liver was taking a beating. It was all drowned in pubs. The biggest difference between Irish and English people is that the Irish take pride in getting their round. English people go, ‘No no, I’ve already gotten to the last round. With Irish people you’d be like, ‘I’ve already got four pints on the go, slow down!’”
OMD will have stayed in the game for a hugely impressive 45 years when October 2023 rolls around.
"That's scary," Andy reacts. "We’ve done documentaries and a book for the 40th anniversary that was quite interesting. It also made me realise that my memory was out of sorts. It’s been a 44 year rolling accidental career, I ain't complaining.”
Is there still a competition with artists you used to fight against for chart positions?
“I get why Soft Cell are headlining. That’s not going to be a big issue," the 63-year-old Wirral native says. "That means we only have to play for an hour or so. Listen, we will just go out there, play 14 hit singles, have a party and kick ass. We’ll walk off stage to the drum machine playing and we’ll say, ‘Follow that lads!’
“Funnily enough, this is the 40th anniversary of the release of our Dazzle Ships album, and we’ve got a new version of it out at the end of this month with some new singles attached," Andy declares, when quizzed on hits that could have been. "We don’t often play ‘Genetic Engineering’ or ‘Telegraphs’, which were the two singles off that album which I think should have been bigger. We play ‘Walking on the Milky Way’ sometimes. That was the last top 20 hit we had in the UK because basically BBC Radio 1 wouldn’t play it. It managed to get to 17 with both hands tied behind its back, which was amazing. We’re fortunate. There are a lot of other bands with bigger names who actually have less hits and can’t fill an hour. So we are happy that we can get out there and play everything we’ve got.”
Some newer acts that have sampled your music, Kid Cudi being one that jumps out. Are there any other artists right now that you would like to make use of your music?
“Oh my gosh! I’m a big fan of quite a few. I like the Swedish artist, Robin," he offers, pausing to think. "I don’t know about sampling, but I think there’s going to be a new OMD studio album at the end of this year, which will probably be the last one. I have this idea that I'd like to do this album where I’m working with other artists. That might be a great opportunity to work with people that I’m really a fan of.”
We demand names, of course.
“Gary Newman, Robin, Hot Chip, Billy Gibbons.”
The guy from ZZ Top that took your dance moves?
“Oh, you know about that? I was amazed when I found out," McCluskey laughs. "Not only did they steal the base swaying move, but that’s when they went electronic.”
The rumour mills have oft-spoken of Franz Ferdinand and The 1975 finding influence from OMD, though neither band have been open about their inspirations.
“That is interesting actually because you just have to look at them to realise that they were probably influenced by us. They look like we did in our Dazzle Ships area. The 1975 actually recorded their first album in my studio in Liverpool. I was amazed when they said they’re huge fans of ‘If You Leave’ from Pretty in Pink. I’d love our first album to sound like that’. I was like, ‘Really!?’ A lot of people think that was one of the most uncool things we ever did. That would be quite cool actually.”
Given the astonishing changes in the music industry in the 45 years since OMD began, I question whether today's contemporary artists have an understanding - and respect - for the acts that paved the way long before social media.
“Listen Kate, I’m just really happy that I don’t have to pander to a TikTok generation to get my songs heard," Andy sighs. "I’m also glad that I didn’t have to go through the demonstration to record companies that I have enough followers on TikTok, Bandcamp or Soundcloud. These days you don’t get a deal unless you’ve already got an audience. You have to demonstrate that you’ve made the fire and then the record companies may come along and add more fuel to it. In that respect, I’m glad I started when I did. In the last 15 years, I see a lot more people name checking us. I see a lot more respectful quotes of what people think about us and what we’ve done - probably because we were largely successful on our own terms.
“We wrote some pretty weird songs that were actually big hits much to everybody’s surprise. I think we get credit for the most part," the singer and bassist shrugs. "Obviously, there’s a lot of kids out there who won’t know us because we weren’t Duran Duran. We didn’t have a high visual profile in the ‘80s, I’ve bumped into a lot of people who bumped into us and said, ‘Did you do ‘Enola Gay’?’ - so we have a calling card!” he laughs.
Future of synth-pop is ever-evolving, blended into numerous albums of 2022 and 2023 thus far. The unmistakable soundscapes of electronic flourishes and warm synths are sprinkled into the tones of Georgia, SG Lewis, Biig Piig, Carly Rae Jepsen, CHVRCHES, Tegan and Sara, Dayglow, M83, LANY and more.
“I’ve been so immersed in making a new OMD album during lockdown that I haven’t heard a lot of new stuff that really floats my boat," the frontman responds. "There are things that I like, but I think to be honest, I’d probably need to go out and find these artists. We live in this kind of atomised, postmodern era where all popular culture is eating its own history. You know, that’s film, fashion, art, architecture. You can listen to everything now. Younger people will happily listen to the 1975, the Weeknd, OMD, Led Zeppelin, Sam Cooke, as long as it’s considered quality within its genre. Everything is acceptable.”
What was the strangest thing that happened in the last 45 years of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark?
“Probably meeting ZZ Top and I treated them like a bunch of beady old has-beens," he remarks, with his usual frank sincerity. "They obviously were impressed by us and they went electric. They used to play our first album between bands when they were on tour and they robbed my move with the bass so that’s pretty surreal. Playing in front of 250,000 in Barcelona on June 20th 1984 was pretty surreal—the biggest gig we’ve ever played. It was a city festival of San Juan and there were 250,000 people watching us as far as you can see beyond the plaza that we were playing on.”
“Professor Brian Cox is actually an OMD fan. His first single was ‘Messages’ and he bought all the albums," he grins. "He wrote the preface to our 40th anniversary book, and asked if I'd come and play at his charity event 'Brian and Robin's Compendium of Reason'. I said yes, but only if he played keyboard in it! Brian and I got to play ‘Enola Gay’. That was pretty surreal to turn around and say, “Bloody hell, it’s Brian Cox playing keys’.” We found the clip on YouTube (and we're not even trained investigative journalists...), check it out below.
Catch OMD, Soft Cell and Heaven 17 at St Anne’s Park on June 3rd.
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