Andy McCluskey is pushed to pick his highlights from the 40 years of Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (OMD): there have been so many. There’s the time he first held their debut single, Electricity, on Factory Records. There was the first of their staggering 29 Top Of The Pops appearances, when the Wirral electronic giants-to-be were initially so surprised to find themselves on the telly alongside Elton John and Bonnie Langford he mouthed “What are we doing here?!” at synth-playing OMD partner Paul Humphreys. Then there was signing his ever autograph at Liverpool Eric’s; being paid by the venue for the first time (with half a crate of beer), or standing on stage at the Rewind festival in 2018 with “35,000 people going wild”.
Meanwhile, Paul whittles his highpoints down to two most significant achievements: meeting Tony Wilson, who told them he wanted to put out a record, and “every gig now, because it’s such a thrill that we’re still doing it”. However, the pair would be more than entitled to add this month’s triumphant gigs with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, which led the Times to declare: “This was a band rejecting every rock ‘n’ roll cliché going.”
In between are four decades – give or take a decade break – in which Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark have sold an astonishing 25 million singles and 15 million albums, which have established them as electronic synthesizer pioneers and one of Britain’s best-loved pop groups. Their 13 long players include soon-to-be-reissued benchmark-raising classics Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (1980), Organisation (1980), Architecture & Morality (1981) and Dazzle Ships (1983). Three more since their reactivation 12 years ago have culminated in 2017’s The Punishment Of Luxury, which was hailed by fans and critics alike as a return to the shimmering brilliance of classic early singles such as nuclear lament Enola Gay and the plangent Souvenir.
OMD always had a sense of semi-classical grandeur, and the nuances of their music demonstrate how, for all their hits, they have simultaneously remained uncompromising and innovative over successive decades. Once upon a time, Factory boss Wilson told the two teenage Kraftwerk fans, “You are the future of pop music”, and indeed sounds and production techniques which OMD were using way back in 1980 have become part of the fabric of how today’s pop is made.
But while OMD can rightly take their place in the lineage of electronic pop pioneers that stretches from Kraftwerk to Gary Numan, from the Human League to, much later Underworld and Orbital – and a key influence on current acts from the xx to Chvrches – there was always a warmth and wistful emotional quality to their songs that has consistently made them different.
In today’s OMD, Stuart Kershaw (who has worked with the band in various capacities since 1991) replaces long-time drummer Malcolm Holmes, alongside keyboardist/saxophonist Martin Cooper, but throughout their 40 years of OMD, founders Andy and Paul have retained and rekindled the friendship that blossomed as teenagers, and the inspiration that strikes when they’re together.
“Electronic music is our language,” Andy says. “It’s how we talk.”
“We’re at our best when we’re in a room together, working,” Paul adds. “That’s when the sparks and ideas happen. It’s the same now as it ever was.” Here’s to another 40 years.