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"When we were teenagers, we hated pretty everything we heard on the radio, disliking most of music... We were looking for an alternative". - OMD

Posted: March 15, 2024
In 1989, creative differences saw Humphreys and other members form the spin-off band the Listening Pool, leaving McCluskey the only remaining member of OMD. The group returned with a new line-up and explored the dance-pop genre: Sugar Tax (1991) and its initial singles were hits in Europe. OMD then began to flounder amid the guitar-oriented grunge and Britpop movements, eventually disbanding in 1996.

Photos credit: Cormac Figgis 

The second British Invasion - The Second British Invasion was a sharp increase in the popularity of British synth-pop and new pop artists in the United States. It began in the summer of 1982, peaked in 1983, and continued throughout much of the 1980s. MTV began in 1981. Its popularity was the main catalyst for the second British Invasion.

Who could forget the first one? The first British invasion continues to have an impact on artists today. However, as I grew up during the 80’s there was no other period of music, that impacted my life more. While, I am influenced by the older generation of artists, I bleed the music of the 80’s. I don’t take them for granted, as it influenced everything about my choice in music.

Agreed, that there will be people that just don’t get it. They don’t get the connection that the 2nd British Invasion brought. There were some elements of that period that are forgettable. The glitz and glam for instance. The drugs, and Club life among them. Each decade brough about shameless fashion and lifestyles. However, we are here to talk about the music. Side by side comparisons of bands and music from the 80s will always overshadow the accomplishments of bands from any other decade. Anyone reading this article, will have to be truthful without bias.

The second British Invasion brought some heavy hitters. Unforgettable talent, that will never be duplicated. The talent and authenticity of these bands were bigger than life itself. I don’t know how to describe it. Me, a person of many words, is often stumped defining the nostalgic music references from the 80s.

One of my favorite bands is OMD. Do I really need to spell out the acronym? Not if you know, any of the bands from this stellar decade of music. Thankfully, we have an opportunity to speak to the band. Here is just a refresher of what OMD achieved.

ABOUT OMD

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are an English electronic band formed in Wirral, Merseyside, in 1978. The group consists of founding duo and principal songwriters Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass guitar) and Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals), along with Martin Cooper (keyboards, saxophone) and Stuart Kershaw (drums). Regarded as pioneers of electronic music, OMD combined an experimental, minimalist ethos with pop sensibilities, becoming key figures in the emergence of synth-pop; McCluskey and Humphreys also introduced the "synth duo" format to British popular music. In the United States, the band were an early presence in the MTV-driven Second British Invasion.

McCluskey and Humphreys led precursor group the Id from 1977 to 1978 and re-recorded their track "Electricity" as OMD's debut single in 1979. Weathering an "uncool" image and a degree of hostility from music critics, the band achieved popularity throughout Europe with the 1980 anti-war song "Enola Gay” and gained further recognition via Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three hit singles. Although later reappraised, Dazzle Ships (1983) was seen as overly experimental and eroded European support. The group embraced a more radio-friendly sound on Junk Culture (1984); this change in direction led to greater success in the US, and spawned hits including "If You Leave" (from the 1986 film Pretty in Pink).

In 1989, creative differences saw Humphreys and other members form the spin-off band the Listening Pool, leaving McCluskey the only remaining member of OMD. The group returned with a new line-up and explored the dance-pop genre: Sugar Tax (1991) and its initial singles were hits in Europe. OMD then began to flounder amid the guitar-oriented grunge and Britpop movements, eventually disbanding in 1996. McCluskey later founded girl group Atomic Kitten, for whom he served as a principal songwriter and producer, while Humphreys formed the duo Onetwo alongside lead vocalist Claudia Brücken of Propaganda.

In 2006, OMD reformed with McCluskey and Humphreys revisiting the more experimental territory of their early work. The band have achieved 14 top-20 entries on the UK Albums Chart, as well as global sales of 40 million records. Their 20th century output yielded 18 top-40 appearances on the UK Singles Chart, along with four top-40 entries on the US 100Billboard Hot. Described as one of the most influential synth-pop acts in history, OMD have inspired many artists across diverse genres and disciplines.

During the COVID-19 lockdown imposed in March 2020, McCluskey "rediscovered the creative power of boredom" and began writing material for OMD's next studio album. In October, the band returned to live performance with a limited-capacity gig at London's indigo at The O2, with proceeds going to their road crew; the event was also streamed online. In 2021, the Souvenir box set was nominated for "Best Historical Album" at the Grammy Awards. Also, that year, OMD celebrated the 40th anniversary of 1981's Architecture & Morality with a UK tour and released a triple-vinyl set of the album's singles containing associated B-sides, demo recordings, and live tracks.

In March 2022, a pair of concerts with a heavy emphasis on the group's more experimental work (rescheduled from September 2020), took place at the Royal Albert Hall, with a live album based on the shows released through the OMD store. Another re-issue of 1983's Dazzle Ships, featuring previously unheard recordings, was announced for a March 2023 release. OMD's fourteenth studio album, Bauhaus Staircase, was released on 27 October 2023; it was preceded by a single, the title track, on 22 August. The record debuted at no. 2 on the UK Albums Chart, matching the peak achieved by The Best of OMD (1988). McCluskey has said that Bauhaus Staircase is likely to be the band's final album.

INTERVIEW WITH OMD AND GUITAR THRILLS MAGAZINE

Guitar Thrills: Hello. Thank you for taking time to chat with us today. Especially about a subject that was contributory to an amazing sound in the 80s. It changed the way we would quantify talent moving forward.

Guitar Thrills: Did you hear about the term “2nd British Invasion” in the early 80s? Did it have an impact on your choice on how you would promote OMD?

Paul: Yes, we knew about the ‘2nd British Invasion’. Unfortunately, we were unable to ride that wave. When we signed our original recording contract, we signed to Virgin records for ‘the world’ but Virgin didn’t have their own company set up in America, so they signed a ‘package’ deal with us and several other artists to CBS for American distribution. Unfortunately for us, CBS were channeling almost all their resources (understandably) to Michael Jackson and our first 4 albums only got a contractual obligatory release and suffered greatly from little or no promotion. We tried for years to get out of this deal knowing that A&M records would sign us if we could just be released. We finally made that happen, signed with A&M, and they released Junk Culture (5th Album) which led to our first minor hit with Locomotion, which was the beginning of a great relationship, with much bigger hits to follow.

Guitar Thrills: What was your experience developing a fan base in the U.S?

Paul: Early on, obviously social media didn’t exist, so we relied pretty much exclusively on Collage Radio who were all big supporters of our early music. Also in LA, K-Rock were doing a great deal helping us to fighting our cause. This support enabled us to come to America early in our career to play concerts, but it was quite frustrating as we were playing huge concerts around Europe, carrying big productions, but had to scale back significantly in the US for the small clubs were playing.   Obviously, our audience expanded greatly when A&M managed to get us on Commercial radio.

Guitar Thrills: I first heard of OMD, when one of my friends shared your music with me. She was a die hard OMD fan. I must admit, I was keenly interested as we shared the same taste in music. I was impressed, even though I didn’t give her much feedback. I thought that these guys are extremely talented. Not too many, can hit such high notes. In the 80’s you didn’t have the assistance of Auto Tune. Can you still hit those high notes?

Paul: No we don’t use Autotune. Andy is our main singer, although I also sing a few of our hits, Secret, Souvenir, forever (live & die) but Andy is the lead singer, and he manages to sing all our songs in their original keys without breaking a sweat! He’s singing as good as ever.

Guitar Thrills: What artists or bands were your inspiration early on in your career?

Paul: When we started (teenagers) we hated pretty everything we heard on the radio, disliking most of the rock and pop of the Mid 70’s. We were looking for an alternative music, and on one random day we found it, we heard Autobahn by Kraftwerk on the radio, and it was the first day of the rest of our lives. It sounded like nothing else of that era, and it sounded like the future. We instantly decided, THAT is what we should be doing! We then proceeded to look to Germany where Kraftwerk had evolved from, discovering other bands like NEU! and La Dusseldorf.  We did also like what Bowie was doing and The Velvet Underground in New York. I would say that these artists were by far our main influences. A bit later we also loved Brian Eno, Roxy Music, and the Talking Heads.

Guitar Thrills: Did you ever get a chance to collaborate with your favorite artists? If so, who were they?

Paul: We became friendly with Krafwerk, and in fact, when OMD took a sabbatical in the mid 90’s, Andy did some writing with Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos and wrote a couple of songs together for Karl’s Elektric Music project. One of which, a song called ‘Kissing The Machine’, I liked it so much that decided to re-imagine it for OMD’s English Electric album.

Guitar Thrills: What kind of impact do you believe had on the music industry during the 80s, that has transcended down to this day?

Paul: It’s for other people to judge that one. What I will say is that Andy and I have been at the forefront of the electronic Music revolution as early pioneers of it. The other thing that I would mention is that there are many bands who site our works as extremely influential to them, which is nice and very flattering, it’s not for me to name them though.

Guitar Thrills: People that are uneducated about the 80s, unfortunately. It was immeasurable and unforgettable. How do you feel playing before a crowd now and days? Does it even compare with the early years?

Paul: It’s kind of impossible to compare eras, so much has changed, I could go on and on for pages on that subject. What is very interesting though is that after the millennium, there was a quantum shift in people’s perceptions of popular music, up to that point music was very linear in the sense that a new popular music genre replaced the one before. (we noticed this particularity in the 90’s when Brit Pop, Rock and Grunge took over from electro pop) However, after the turn of the century, we entered a kind of Post-Modern era whereby all genres could co-exist if the music from that genre was good. 80’s music then had a revival which has amazingly continued to this day!

Guitar Thrills: At the time, I thought having your music on a soundtrack was selling out. Especially, when you could carry your own weight in the music industry. “If you leave” was in the movie “Pretty In Pink”. While I didn’t comprehend it at the time, I later learned how important it was to have your music on a soundtrack, or on a movie. Years, later watching the movie it brings back memories of the great bands. However, it did something for the bands that were involved. Promotion, and income. What were your considerations when the idea was proposed to you? Did you get paid well, or was it pitched to you as an opportunity for promoting your song?

Paul: Yep, despite the perceived credibility issue, we understood the value, looking at the bigger picture, of having a song in a big movie. Besides, we’d seen Simple Minds incredible success with their song from The Breakfast Club. Also, the song ‘If you Leave’ wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for that movie. John Hughes asked us to write the main theme for Pretty in Pink, which we did. We arrived in LA with 2 days to mix our song that we’d written, before embarking on a 2-month American tour with the Thompson Twins, only to find a message from John at our hotel when we were checking in after a long flight, that simply said, Urgent, call me! It turned out that he’d changed the end of the film and our song all sudden didn’t work and asked us to immediately write a new one! He said I’ve booked you into LA’s Larrabee Studios, hire whatever you need and good luck!! Unbelievably, and under enormous pressure, Andy and I wrote ‘If you leave’ in 12 hours which turned out to be our biggest hit in the States!!

Guitar Thrills: What is your impression of today’s music? Is there any band that you enjoy listening too?

Paul: There is so much ‘noise’ out there, it’s become increasing difficult to find new and interesting music. However, there are still bands / artists making some brilliant new tracks, too many to mention really. We do use our touring live stage as a showcase for new interesting bands, and we discovered s great band from Scotland called ‘Walt Disco’ so we’ve taken them under our wing for our current European and American tour.

See link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zqVJ4X6xvM

Guitar Thrills: What are doing to continue your creative thought process? Do you still write music, and are you in the studio working to produce another album?

Paul: as you know, our new album ‘Bauhaus Staircase’ was born out of boredom in Lockdown, Andy was more bored than me as I was stuck in the South of France having a great time. Andy just kept texting me, have you got any musical ideas you can send me, so I sent him a bunch of things, and he was in a rich vein of creativity and so he started sending me thing that I thought were great and so work stared and a few years later we released another studio album (Bauhaus Staircase 2023) We have no idea if we will ever make another album, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, this album may not have existed so I’ve learned to never say never…

Guitar Thrills: Do you still tour? Where can fans see you perform live?

Paul: Oh yes, we never stop touring. OMD started out as a live band, and we’ve always stayed true to that. You make music in isolation which makes live performance incredibly important to experience feedback from our audiences worldwide. We are currently on a world tour; we’ve done shows around the whole of Europe and currently on our UK leg and finishing this section of the tour in South Africa in April. We then take a break then continue in Canada and America in the fall, hopefully adding some south American dates at the end. Then, off to Australia and New Zealand…….

Guitar Thrills: We thank you for taking a few moments to answer some lingering questions. I am sure, that we will have more, especially after this interview. Please let us know when you will have some time in your schedule for a follow up chat.

Paul: I’m happy to discuss / Add to my above comments. Let me know.




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