- Mark Radbourne
I'm a former hospital radio/club/mobile DJ, avid record collector and amateur musician (playing guitar, keyboards, recorder, harmonica and percussion.) I've even filled in on bass guitar for a couple of local bands as well (although that was quite a few years ago). Also interested in Motorsports, Wrestling/Mixed Martial Arts and Classic Television and Radio from the 1960s - 1980s.
Why am I on here? Well, I'm just trying to make some sense of life before it's too late...but who cares anyway?
Tuesday, 8 December 2015
OMD - "Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark" (Dindisc) (1980)
That’s what they said when Andy McCluskey & Paul Humphreys, armed with the most rudimentary of electronic instruments (including a cheap synth bought from a mail order catalogue) started out as Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, initially to do the one gig at Eric’s club in Liverpool. Fast forward to February 1980 – the duo by then had signed with Carol Wilson’s Dindisc label, and their self-titled debut LP was in the nation’s record stores. Was Factory Records boss Tony Wilson’s proclamation that Andy and Paul were the future of pop music justified?
The album opens with “Bunker Soldiers”, a mid-tempo, purely electronic number (featuring a drum machine which sounds like one of those rhythm boxes found on those cheap home electronic organs you could get in the 70s) which to me conjures up images of soldiers fighting in the trenches in World War One. The chorus is an interesting effect, merely consisting of the title spelt out as random letters, translated into numbers. It’s best to hear this one on headphones to get the full effect, with the letters on one channel, and the numbers on the other. All in all, a nice way to kick of the LP.
“Almost” is a bit of a low key affair, with a simple backing from bass and organ with a few electronic embellishments. Hard to make out what this one’s about really, but it’s a pleasant enough track. For “Mystereality” it’s time to call in a favour or two as Martin Cooper joins the duo on saxophone for this one. (Cooper would go on to become a full-time member in late 1980.) It’s a bright and breezy affair if I were to be honest about it, as is “Electricity”. The story I often hear about the latter track is that Tony Wilson wasn’t too impressed when he heard it. However, it was his wife who persuaded him to take a chance on the duo which led to the single being released on Factory before Dindisc took them on.
“The Messerschmitt Twins” is another low-key number, the title being inspired by a nickname for McCluskey & Humphreys. It was while Andy was doing research for the track that he came across a reference to the “Enola Gay” aircraft, which gave him the inspiration for their first top ten hit (but more about that in a future instalment…)
Flip over and side 2 begins with “Messages”. This isn’t the single version produced by Mike Howlett, but it sounds as though the bare bones of what would eventually become their first top 20 hit are more or less in place, albeit with a few rough edges. As for that repeating synth pattern? That was basically one key held down, the synthesiser set to arpeggio and Andy sitting there switching octaves on the machine for around 5 minutes. (and everyone thought it was done on sequencers. How wrong they were!)
A lot of the tracks dated back to the duo’s days in The Id. “Julia’s Song” was co-written by Julia Kneale, who was also in The Id at that time, while “Red Frame/White Light paid homage to (of all things) a telephone box near the Railway Inn in Meols, which doubled up as the contact point for the band in the early days. Even now there are stories going round about OMD fans ringing the number quoted on the track (632 3003) hoping to speak to one of the band!
“Dancing” is, to put it bluntly, a weird one. Starting out with brief snatches of an unknown orchestral piece mixed in with a bit from Glenn Miller’s “Sunrise Serenade” – How they got away with that I’ll never know – it’s just a mish-mash of bass, drum machine, a weird synth noise playing a tune I can hardly make out and some electronically treated voices. And to be honest, it’s probably the only duff track on the entire LP.
The LP closes with “Pretending To See The Future”, written about being in the music business in general and specifically about signing a record contract. It’s a bit of a slow burner to start with, but builds up towards the end with the promise that “we’ll see you the same time, same place, next year round, with the same kind of product and a similar sound”, as McCluskey & Humphreys take separate vocal lines which get tangled together so you can’t quite make out what’s happening.
On the whole it’s a pretty solid effort for a debut album. Granted, there are some tracks which seem a bit rough around the edges, and could be better had more time been spent on them, but that’s the beauty of an album like this – it’s the start of a learning curve which would lead them to greater success in the future. As for those who thought that two guys and a synthesiser would never work? They’re probably having second thoughts now!