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Matt Jacobson interviews Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

A special exhibition celebrating the 40th anniversary of Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (OMD) is now on display at the British Music Experience (BME), Cunard Building Liverpool. It is a tribute to the legacy of the Wirral synth-pop pioneers who sold an impressive 25 million singles and 15 million albums. Entitled Souvenir: 40 Years of OMD includes the band’s instruments, stage outfits, prints, posters as well as Andy McCluskey’s personal binders full of ideas, photos and press cuttings.

I met band founder members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys to discuss their 40th anniversary, touring and memorabilia.

Congratulations on your 40 year anniversary as a band, does it feel like it’s been 40 years?

PH: Thank you. It does and it doesn’t. When I look at see some of the items in our exhibition, on display here at the BME, I think, wow, it’s been a long time since I saw Andy in that sweater!

AM: It’s the photographs that make me think, oh my God! that’s who we used to be.

PH: Yes, all that long hair!

So it’s been a quick, and not so quick 40 years?

AM: Some of it yes, some of it has and some feels like a life gone by. If I think of – how we used to think 40 years ago, our mindset is quite different. So, it’s been a long journey of growing up and changing.

PH: We started incredibly young. We had to deal with a lot of things when growing up. We were making our 4th album when we were 23. It seemed like we were quite old. Architecture and Morality was a success when we were 21. And, you know, when you are growing up you are thinking I’m 21, I’m really old, but we were on our 3rd album, then – its mind blowing. So it did affect us quite a bit quite early on.

You have just finished a tour with The B52s and Berlin, they were also celebrating their 40th Anniversary.

AM: Yes – there was 120 years of music on stage!!

So, more like the Jurassic Park tour? (all laughing) , So on tour, is it still rock and roll, or is it more ……coffee and bed?

AM: Just coffee and bed!!

PH: (laughing) .There is a pile of drugs on our tour bus, but they are basically to keep us alive!

AM: There’s tons of painkillers!

Over the 40 years, has the music industry changed, if so has it changed for the better?

PH: The industry is unrecognisable now from when we started.

AM: Nowadays, nobody would sign two kids with bad hair, called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, doing music their mates thought was s##t. Nobody would give them a contract. That’s the difference!

PH: Everything is safe now, it would be too weird.

AM: Understandably, in many ways, there was a lot more profit being made those days. Major record labels were making huge profits, so they were prepared to invest in the next talent, because they could also afford a few failures. The big successes made them millions, especially when they signed 19 year olds like us to terrible deals. They made millions and we made……minus pennies.

The box set has 22 previously unreleased songs, did you have more than 22 and how did you select the 22?

PH: The thing is, pretty much all our early days stuff, is stored in EMI archives down by Heathrow, so I went down and rifled through the archives. The problem I had was, we were terrible at naming and labelling songs. So, I couldn’t work out what was unreleased and what was just wrongly named, or bad labelling. Also, the tapes of the ‘80’s used synthetic glue, the glue comes off, so you couldn’t play them, you basically have to cook them – which is a long and expensive process to see what’s recorded on them.

AM: The whale glue is much better, but just not moral! Paul was in the tape store, like a kid at Christmas, phoning me and saying, do you remember this song?  I would say no, we must have it! But then he would also say, I’ve found the 50th song called untitled 1.

So, you could one day you could have an album full of songs called Untitled 1?!

AM: (laughs) Yes, it was just a long process but worthwhile!

I spent some time looking at the charts from 40 years ago and many bands are not around these days. What is your drive to continue, I know you have a dedicated fan base, is that the inspiration?

 AM: The journey has changed since we reformed. When we got back together about 12 years ago, it was to play concerts, we missed playing live. And you know, we grew up together. Paul and I have known each since we were 7, Malcolm since we were 14 and we went to school with Martin. We were a gang, so it was great to come back together again.  And after two years, we thought are we going to be a tribute act to ourselves, is this it? We then decided to make new music and that was the best decision we made.

PH: It was and especially as the last few albums have been received so well, critically and by the fans.

AM: It cuts both ways though, if they say the last three albums are as good as the first three, you think well what about the 35 years in between!!

You are here tonight at the BME, the home of memorabilia, I have also had my items of memorabilia on display here, including my favourite item, Morrissey’s shirt, a shirt I caught at a gig at the Liverpool Empire. What is your favourite item, but it must be a none OMD item?

AM: I have a rose pressed in a book from a night I went to the Philharmonic Hall to see The Scaffold and Deaf School and Bette Bright threw the Rose to the crowd and I still have it!

It must have been 1975 – something like that. In fact Malcolm still has some drumsticks he nicked from the townhouse from Alan White – there was loads of boxes, he thought he wouldn’t miss them! 

In my series “On the Streets I Ran”, I ask artists and creatives to name 3 Liverpool Streets that mean the most to them and why? Can you name three please?

PH: Mathew St, because of Eric’s.

AM: Button Street, because it’s where we made our first albums, and Lime Street, because I have some lovely memories of playing great gigs at the Empire!

Thank you and from myself and all at Explore Liverpool, thank you and best wishes.

PH/AM: Thank you, thanks so much.

Matt Jacobson

Photo credit: Michelle Marshall

READ MORE: Liverpool Music Festivals 2020

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