WHEN teenagers Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys founded Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark they never expected it to
WHEN teenagers Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys founded Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark they never expected it to be a success.
At their first gig in Liverpool in 1978, where they shared the bill with a then-unknown Joy Division, the pair beefed up their sound with a pre-recorded backing track because they couldn’t find anyone else who wanted to perform with them.
McCluskey played bass guitar, while Humphreys, who had not yet raised the money to buy his keyboard, played a series of small, homemade electronic devices which were wired to produce different notes.
Neither believed they would appeal to a mainstream audience but they were persuaded otherwise by alternative music impresario Tony Wilson, who saw the show.
They released their debut single Electricity, written when they were 16, on his record label Factory, and it took off from there.
More than 35 years on, with top 10 singles such as Enola Gay, Joan of Arc and Sailing on the Seven Seas under their belts, the synth-pop band are still touring and recording â?? and on August 22 they’re playing at Rewind festival in Henley.
McCluskey and Humphreys will take to the stage with saxophonist and keyboardist Martin Cooper, who joined in 1980, and McCluskey’s long-standing songwriting partner Stuart Kershaw on drums.
It will be their first appearance at Rewind in Henley since 2012. They were due to appear at its sister event in Scotland the following year but cancelled after Malcolm Holmes, their original drummer, suffered a cardiac arrest.
McCluskey said: “It’s great to have the opportunity to come back. We’re in the fortunate position that many of our songs were hugely successful and are the soundtrack to many people’s formative years but are still seen as seminal and influential by a wider age group.
“We’re playing songs that are still considered cool but they’re kick-a*** party songs too. It’s a way of having your cake and eating it.”
The band are now working on new songs for a follow-up to their 2013 album English Electric but have promised fans they’ll play all the hits.
“We’re doing quite a lot of festivals actually â?? for the most part we’re doing European festivals which aren’t, for want of a better word, nostalgia packages,” said McCluskey.
“You have to be realistic and appreciate that people, even fans, will say to themselves, ‘do I really need a 14th studio album by OMD?’
“And also, to be honest, a lot of people who are making records are â?? how can I put this diplomatically? â?? pastiching themselves and not necessarily with any great confidence or ability.
“But we, of course, are conceited enough to believe we’ve delivered two cracking albums since we got back together in 2007. They were so well reviewed by everybody â?? they said we still sounded like us while creating something new.”
McCluskey said the recent revival of interest in all things Eighties was understandable.
He said: “It was the last time in popular culture when a truly new style emerged. After that we entered a postmodern era where everything had been done before and so pop music began to eat itself creatively.
“We’re at the stage now where people don’t care about that as long as it’s credible music with credible songwriting. But if you’re part of the original movement and can still play your stuff then people will want to hear it.”
He said he and other artists of his generation had no idea how influential they would become.
“It’s been an incredible journey but no one was more surprised than us that we sold lots and lots of records,” he said.
“After our first gig, Tony said to us, ‘you guys are the future of pop’ and we were just like ‘f*** off, we’re experimental!’ but he was right.
“People think I’m joking when I say this but OMD was an artistic concept in the form of a two-piece electronic band. We used to write music at Paul’s mother’s house and there were only two of us because none of our mates liked what we were doing.
“They all liked Seventies prog rock and didn’t even describe what we were doing as music â?? and in those early days, perhaps it wasn’t.
“Paul would play these circuits that he built from diagrams in magazines. You’d press the button and it would make a drone or a buzz at different notes.
“He had to store them in the attic between rehearsals because his mum wouldn’t let him leave them out. Sometimes a component would break so the next time we got them out it wouldn’t even make the same noise!
“It was very hit and miss and lots of fun â?? I’d say it was garage synth-punk. The punks had their three chords and we played our keyboards with one finger. We were totally self-taught and it was very DIY as it came before the era of computers and music software.
“We played all the punk clubs because it was important for people to see you could dance to our music and that it was short, punchy and energetic. Synthesisers had become the domain of people like Keith Wakeman or Tangerine Dream and we were nothing like that.”
Despite their successful first decade, OMD’s fortunes waned in the Nineties and they took a break.
But about a decade ago, with guitar-heavy genres like Britpop long out of favour, they found themselves back in demand.
“In the days of bands like Oasis there was a perception that artists like us were past their sell-by date,” said McCluskey.
“Radio 1 wouldn’t play us so Woolworth’s, which was a big force in music sales back then, wouldn’t stock our singles. We were banging our heads against a wall.
“But you have to go out of fashion for a while before you get re-evaluated by the critics. We got asked to produce a record here and do a gig there and it all took off again.
“We wanted to be a proper band and do the dangerous and stupid thing of writing new music, which people of my age just shouldn’t be allowed to do because they’ve got nothing left to say.
“It’s nice to be able to get out there and do something like Rewind, where you can just have a party and play your hits, but we want to do something different and to be intellectually and conceptually challenging.
“We’re having a great time but we want to be making new music â?? not just sounding like a tribute to our earlier selves.”
Rewind Henley will take place on Temple Island Meadows, near Remenham, from August 21 to 23. Other stars include Hot Chocolate, Kim Wilde, Billy Ocean, Bananarama, The Human League, The Selecter, Midge Ure, T’Pau and former New Order bassist Peter Hook.
For information and tickets, visit www.rewindfestival.com