Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark have weathered everything that has been thrown at them.
From shifts in style and technology through to internal disruption, the UK electronic pioneers recently celebrated their 40th anniversary.
Issuing a lavish box set, the synth pairing leafed back through their archives, producing a treasure trove for fans.
Set to hit the road this Autumn, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark have constructed a huge UK tour, complete with performances that draw on the full power of their catalogue.
Clash sat down with co-founder Andy McCluskey for Seven Tracks, looking back through the group's various chapters to locate the essence of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark...
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‘Electricity’ was the first real song that Paul and I wrote at 16 years old when he finally got some keyboards rather than some machines that just made noises that he’d made out of his aunt’s radio circuits.
There was nothing more amazing than the feeling of holding in your hand a piece of vinyl that had songs on it that you’d written as kids. Amazingly, it sold out in a week and got us a major record deal, but it never got higher than 90 something in the chart.
Now it seems to be a hit and we are delighted because it should have been. I guess it proves that Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark came fully formed out of the box, as our first single is still considered to be a classic.
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‘Messages’ was our first hit single, but the ‘Messages’ that got to number 30 in the charts was a re-record. Nobody in their right mind these days would give two teenagers and their mate £30,000 to go and build a studio and record an album without sending anybody down there to check on the quality of it.
The recordings on the first album were definitely the sound of kids making garage synth-punk – it’s pretty ropey. It has a naïve charm now but we decided we had to re-record ‘Messages’. We went into our own studio with Mike Howell and Malcom Holmes. We made him play his bass drum and the snare drum and his high hat in separate takes because we didn’t want rock ’n’ roll spill all over the drum kit.
It remarkably ended up being our first hit single - a track that has three separate bass guitar parts on!
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‘Enola Gay’ was our first big international hit song about the airplane that dropped the atom bomb. Our fascination with warfare is not because we love it, but because we are amazed at the inversion of most moral codes when “thou shalt not kill” becomes “thou shalt kill”.
There’s no greater moral dilemma to me than the dropping of the atom bomb. Paul Tibbet who is the pilot, who named the plane after his mother which was pretty bizarre, killed 200,000 people but thought he saved 5,000,000.
Maybe he did, so that was his moral dilemma and he made his choice. We made a song out of it.
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‘Souvenir’ was the first song that Paul wrote that was a single all on its own.
He made it out of these beautiful tape loops which was brought into the studio by Dave Hughes who used to play keyboards with us. They have this charming wobbly flutter because they recorded these loops off of a quarter inch with pencils and various things around the room to stretch them out to make them play indefinitely. And so they have this shifting quality because they’re not playing properly. That’s what gives the song its charm.
It was the first single with Paul singing and I tried so hard to make the bass-line industrial and punk and thank god it didn’t work - we left it as a beautiful melancholic piece of music.
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‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’: the first song that I did on my own when the band had split up.
I created this kind of Glitter Band style thumping drum sound, and Stuart Curshaw who was writing with me just happened to walk into my programming room and I said, “Great. I want to sing along here what shall I do next?” and he just walked up to the keyboard and went “go” and played the piano melody.
I said “Okay, now what do I do? I want to do a chorus.” He said: “Well what key are you in?” he said “okay, we’ll do duh duh duh duh” put it in the computer and walked out.
I was terrified being Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark on my own without Paul, I’d only ever worked with Paul since I was sixteen. It was really nerve wracking so when ‘...Seven Seas’ went to number three on the charts, it was just such a huge relief to me. It meant that I could carry on.
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I think I’d next pick a track from English Electric called ‘Metroland’. Paul Humphries came up with it on the train to Liverpool, programming using his laptop and pro-tools.
We used to write in his mothers back room with crappy vox jaguar organs and pianos that cost us a few quid and a synthesiser that we bought off of my mother’s mail order catalogue. But now he can sit on the train with his laptop and more musical power at his fingertips than we ever could have dreamt.
He got to my house and he downloaded the file onto my computer and waded through. Typical Humphries couldn’t make his mind up, there was about ten different sequencer tracks variations on it. After a lot of back and forth we finally found a lead melody – we just had no idea what to call it.
In the end it turned out to be appropriate that he’d written it on a train because after a visit to the Transport Museum in Covent Garden I saw a fabulous poster that said, “come and live in Metroland.” I immediately knew that was going to be the title of the song and it was a really great long song, about eight minutes. Probably the longest song we’ve ever written.
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Finally, I’ll go for the ‘Punishment Of Luxury’, the title track of the last new album we did.
The melody had actually been around for about fifteen years. Paul and I always salvage and recycle and we did it again with the ‘Punishment of Luxury’. We really wanted to change the drums sound and we went for a kind of glitchy distorted crunchy drum, which gave it a huge energy.
Actually, it captured the kind of noise that we would make live. It went really well with the great rotor scope video that we were really excited about.
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Catch Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark at the following shows:
23 Belfast Ulster Hall
26 Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
27 York Barbican
28 Hull Arena
30 Gateshead Sage
31 Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
1 Manchester O2 Apollo
3 Sheffield City Hall
4 Liverpool Empire
5 Birmingham Symphony Hall
7 Leicester De Montfort Hall
8 Bath Pavilion
9 Oxford New Theatre
11 Guildford G Live
12 Portsmouth Guildhall
13 Watford Colosseum
15 Cambridge Corn Exchange
16 Ipswich Regent Theatre
17 Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion
19 Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre
20 London Eventim Apollo
Photo Credit: Alex Lake
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