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Interview: OMD gearing up for Cambridge

The Corn Exchange will host the synth-pop pioneers this Friday (November 15).

OMD (Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey)
OMD (Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey)

Unbelievably, four decades have now passed since electro-pop heavyweights Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released their debut single, Electricity.

As part of their 40th anniversary celebrations, the Merseyside quartet released a career-spanning box set, entitled Souvenir, and a new greatest hits collection on October 4.

The special box set consists of five CDs and two DVDs – which include previously unreleased material and live tracks – as well as a hardback book, poster and a series of 10” prints, while the two-CD and three-LP format is a new greatest hits package spanning the band’s 40-year career, along with their new single, Don’t Go.

OMD, who have sold 25million singles and 15m albums since their self-titled debut LP came out in 1980, have also been on a huge world tour this year.

The current lineup consists of founding members, Andy McCluskey (bass guitar, keyboards, vocals), Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals), augmented by Martin Cooper (keyboards, saxophone) – a member since 1980 – and drummer Stewart Kershaw, who first joined in 1993 before going on to replace original sticksman, Malcolm Holmes, who left for health reasons in 2015.

OMD. Picture: Alex Lake
OMD. Picture: Alex Lake

The Cambridge Independent caught up with Paul Humphreys at his hotel in Tampa, USA, where OMD were on tour with fun-loving Love Shack hitmakers, the B-52s.

“We’re touring with the B-52s because we can sell out big shows on the east and west coasts – places like Chicago and Detroit – but there’s the whole Middle America where we’ve always struggled to sell tickets, really,” explains Paul, who notes that OMD first toured America in 1980.

“So a few years ago, we toured with the Barenaked Ladies because they’ve played a lot in Middle America and it’s really helped our profile so we decided to do it again with the B-52s, who are quite big in Middle America too.”

When Andy McCluskey talked to this paper two years ago, he spoke of OMD’s influence on American icons ZZ Top – both musically and choreographically.

Have the B-52s informed the OMD boys that they’ve influenced them in some way?

“No, not yet,” says Paul, 59, “although we haven’t spoken to them very much because we’re on stage at different times and then we kind of disappear.

"We’re hoping to have dinner with them soon so I’ll see what they say...

“But all bands influence each other in some ways... We’ve just done our 40th anniversary box set and Vince Clarke from Erasure, he got wind of it and wanted to do a remix.

"I asked him what song he wanted to remix and he said, ‘Well it’s obvious, isn’t it? The B-side of Electricity’, which was our first single.

“He said it was because he heard Electricity on the radio, went out and bought it and the B-side, a quite strange electronic track called Almost, really spoke to him.

"He went out and bought a synthesiser when he heard that and it was the first song he learnt to play. Then soon after that, he started Depeche Mode.”

OMD. Picture: Alex Lake
OMD. Picture: Alex Lake

The recently married musician, who cites German outfit Kraftwerk’s 1974 masterpiece Autobahn as the album that most influenced his musical direction, quit OMD – whose most recent studio album, The Punishment of Luxury, came out in 2017 – in 1990, leaving Andy to carry on for a few more years as the sole original member.

The pair got back together, with Martin and Malcolm, in 2005.

Live, Andy McCluskey’s spirited dancing tends to take centre stage, with Paul occasionally stepping out from behind his keyboards to sing lead on songs such as Souvenir, Secret, and (Forever) Live and Die while remaining rather more staid by comparison.

“Andy and I are completely different people,” notes Paul, “but we bring two completely different things to the table, not just in performances but in the studio and in our songwriting.

“We approach music in two completely different ways, and we’ve always complemented each other because we don’t really overlap in what we bring to the table.

"We don’t want to both be lead singers and we don’t want to both be keyboard players.”

Paul reveals that fans in Cambridge can expect “a few surprises,” to tie in with the 40th anniversary – a milestone that the young Andy and Paul would never have thought possible.

When they first started out, it was never the pair’s intention to be ‘pop stars’.

“That was the last thing we wanted to do,” admits Paul. “We never wanted to be famous, we never really wanted to be celebrities, and we never got into it for that.

"The music was our art – it was our way of expressing ourselves.”

Paul was also a “reluctant singer” at first, with Andy handling the majority of vocal duties.

“I kind of add a different texture to the band, I guess,” says Paul of his ability as a singer, “just an extra little dimension to change things up a bit.”

On the fact that it’s now 40 years since they started, Paul says: “We’re constantly amazed...

"I mean for a band that only wanted to do one gig – the first gig we did was a dare – to a 40-year career is pretty insane really.

"But we feel blessed that we can still do it. We still put on a good show, people still want to come and see us – so long may it last.”

OMD will be appearing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange this Friday (November 15) at 7.30pm.

Tickets: £40.50-£48.

All tickets include a £3 booking fee.

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