Andy McCluskey of OMD: ‘We can still deliver a really enjoyable show’
Probably best known for their anti-war song Enola Gay, released way back in 1980, masters of the three-minute pop song, OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) are also a stunning live act, pleasantly surprising many concert-goers when they see this seemingly mild-mannered quartet perform on stage for the first time.
Part of what makes the experience so rewarding is the sheer exuberance of Wirral-born singer Andy McCluskey’s unrestrained – and now legendary – dancing. He successfully works the crowd up into a frenzy each time.
Certainly the band always goes down extremely well at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, thanks to Andy’s awe-inspiring moves, displaying a breathtaking energy that defies his 61 years.
As has been the case for so many people, recent plans have had to be put on hold due to the pandemic, but the group – Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Stuart Kershaw – are hopeful that their ‘Architecture and More’ arena tour scheduled for November can go ahead. If it does, then OMD will be back at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Sunday, November 7.
A scheduled online benefit gig for roadies last autumn had to be postponed after Andy tested positive for Covid-19. How is he now? “Well I had Covid in October but I was fortunate that it was fairly mild compared to other people,” he says. "So I’m through the other side of it and I’ve had my first jab and I’m waiting for my second, and just waiting to plod on.”
Andy shares that he suffered from fatigue for “about five weeks” after contracting the virus. “It was all done by the middle of November,” he notes. “Obviously the shame was that we were supposed to be doing a charity gig for our crew, and it coincided with my Covid and Liverpool being in Tier 3 lockdown.
“We rescheduled till March and now we’ve rescheduled again to June, and hopefully we’ll be able to do it this time – and we hope we’re going to be able to do the full British tour in November.”
Fans who had donated to the online benefit concert kindly told the band to keep the money, anticipating that the gig will go ahead at some point.
“So we were actually able to give our crew some much-needed money before Christmas,” says Andy, “because those people have fallen through the gaps in all of the government schemes and the furlough payments, being self-employed and independent.
“The music industry has really, really suffered – particularly the crew people. Bands go through phases of being on the road and coming off the road, but crew go from one tour to the next. That’s how they pay their bills, and there’s just been nothing.”
Andy, who carried on as OMD by himself for a time after the others had left, calling it quits in 1996 before later reforming with the original line-up, is pleased to announce that there will be a new OMD album “in the not too distant future”, adding: “I’ve been locking myself away in my programming room because there was frankly nothing else to do.”
He continues: “Prior to Covid, we’d been touring almost consistently for two years and when I did get home, I’d just go, ‘The muse is not upon me, I’m tired, I don’t want to write anything, I’ve got nothing to sing about’.
"But obviously 14 months of lockdown has changed that and there’s basically a new album that just needs to be mixed now – when Paul [Humphreys] can get round to mixing it.”
The album, which Andy hopes will be released in 2022, was recorded remotely, with each band member independent of each other. “What we used to do is Paul would come up to my house and we’d swap ideas,” explains the engaging and talkative musician, whose style of dancing while playing the bass guitar went on to influence ZZ Top.
“The best creative spark is when you’re in the room together with each other – nothing can really match that. But we haven’t been able to do that and actually Paul moved to France at the end of last year and has an 11-week-old baby – he just became a dad again at the age of 61.
“So we’ve had to go back to sending things online, which is not ideal, but we’ve managed and we would never release anything if we didn’t feel it was strong enough, and I think we feel we’ve got a very strong collection of songs.”
On how the new songs sound, Andy, who is also a trustee of the National Museums Liverpool, says: “Anything that we write is always going to sound like OMD; we have a distinctive way of writing and we have a distinctive sound palette.
“The last few albums we’ve changed them sonically. You don’t want to sound like the 1980s anymore, things sound different now – they’re cleaner, they’re punchier, and I think a lot of people said particularly about our last album, Punishment of Luxury (2017), that it was distinctively OMD but completely contemporary. I mean it charted at number four, which wasn’t too bad really for a bunch of old guys.”
The upcoming tour marks 40 years since the release of Architecture & Morality, which is considered one of OMD’s finest works, and indeed one of the most iconic albums of the 1980s.
“It’s going to be a busy few years for us but we’re looking forward to it,” admits Andy, who says an American tour is planned for next year, while the group’s 2021 summer festival appearances have now been postponed until 2022. “I’ve been at home long enough now and I’m sure most people can understand that feeling.”
In order to ensure that he maintains his stunning energy levels on stage, Andy works hard to keep himself in shape. His OMD colleague Paul Humphreys told the Cambridge Independent in 2019 that his friend and collaborator cycles regularly as part of his fitness regime.
“I’ve been doing a lot of walking actually,” says Andy of his outdoor activities this past year, “and a year off playing concerts, my left knee – which has no cartilage in it whatsoever – is being very quiet and hasn’t required any cortisone injections, so that’s been another positive.
“Yes, I do a lot of cycling but sadly at the moment the bike repair shops are closed and both of my bicycles are off the road, so I’m just doing a lot of walking. But once the gyms open, I’ll be back down the gym. To perform in the manner to which I am accustomed in my kind of crazy way, I do have to be fit.”
It turns out there was a reason behind Andy’s decision early on to truly ‘let himself go’ on stage. “As Paul says, I’ve now spent 42 years over-compensating for his static performance!” he laughs, adding: “It started out that way, right back in 1978.
"I think we felt consciously that people were going to go, ‘Oh, synthesiser music, it’ll be boring’ so I was determined to disprove the fact that you can’t dance to it, and that it would be full of energy. So I think that’s where it came from.
"When the band reformed [in 2006], I was still only in my mid-40s and I thought, ‘I’m going to perform with a dignity becoming my age’. I got out on stage with a live audience and went straight back to doing what I always do – can’t help it.”
Andy still gets a great buzz from recording and performing. “I think what really amazes me is that 40 years later we’re still doing it,” he says. “We’re still selling out gigs and people are still really enjoying the shows. They’re not coming along out of sympathy for us; we can still sing, we can still play, we can still deliver a really enjoyable show.”
Andy adds that OMD are “still a bit of a secret band” and also remain a popular live draw “because we put energy in, because we care – we’re not just there to top up our pensions”.
It will therefore come as no surprise that Andy has his fingers crossed that the gigs in November can take place without any limitations or restrictions. “I know there are some people saying ‘We don’t want vaccine passports, it’s going to create a two-tier social system’,” he says, “but if you’re going to get together and you don’t want to have to wear a face mask...
“I don’t want to do socially distanced gigs, I don’t want to play the Corn Exchange to 400 people – I want it rammed. There’s going to be no vibe if you can’t all mosh and dance and sing and clap together. I want it to be a real gig so let’s hope that in eight months’ time we are through this.
“And if it takes having to have an app on your phone that goes, ‘Ping, I’ve had my jabs, let me in. I feel safe and I’ll take responsibility for myself’, then I’m all for that.”
Andy adds that he’s “quietly optimistic” that the shows will go ahead.
OMD are scheduled to be appearing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Sunday, November 7 at 7.30pm. Tickets: £38-£48 from cornex.co.uk.
For more on OMD, visit omd.uk.com.