My chat with… OMD’s Andy McCluskey

OMD, Mark McNulty, Katy Pearson interview
Coming to Southend: OMD (c) Mark McNulty

OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) have more than been around the music block.

With their 13th album just out, the Synth-pop pioneers have been at it since 1978 – with seven top 10 hits to show for it – and too many tours to mention.

Now back in the road again – and heading to Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion on November 1 – the band’s singer and bass guitarist Andy McCluskey was on bitingly good form and feeling a little philosophical when we chatted.

“Regrets? Oh God, yeh I’ve got regrets,” he groaned. “How long have you got? Listen we did everything we did for what appeared to be the right reason at the time. We made an album called Dazzle Ships which now is heralded as our masterpiece, a slightly fracture piece of genius music, but it destroyed our career. “We’d got bigger and bigger and bigger over our first three albums and the record company basically said, oh this is it now, you’ve got your formula just repeat. We’d had a massive album Architecture and Morality and it was like all you need now is Architecture and Morality number two.

“Well, that was the wrong thing to say to a spikey, pretentious 22-year-old Andy McCluskey. He was like hell no. I’m not going to repeat a formula, I’m not going to do what you want me to do, I’m going to do the absolute opposite. So yeh, we did an album that now is well loved by our fans, but at the time we went from selling four million globally to selling less than 400,000.”

How have things changed since those early days?

“First and foremost a band like ourselves wouldn’t even have got a deal now,” he states, baldly.

“We started out as a two-piece with a tape recorder because even our friends thought our music was rubbish. A little label took a chance on us because they were interested in the idea of new music, different music, interesting music and then a big label took a chance on us. They don’t make the profits now to take a chance on anything. They’re very, very conservative. They follow their focus groups and their marketing and their formulas so it’s a different world. We wouldn’t even have got a record contract now. No one would have taken a chance on us.”

But after all these years on the road, does he still actually enjoy it?

“It’s wonderful if you’ve been lucky enough to sell lots and lots of records, but you’re never in the shop when people buy it, you’re never in their house when they’re listening to it on their Walkman or whatever, their iPod.

“So, it’s the one chance that you get for the artist and the audience to share the celebrated enjoyment of the music. They get to see you play it live and you get to see their response. And it’s brilliant. I love it. And that’s why we continue to enjoy touring.

“I’m certainly not tired of it. I think the important thing is that you do it because you love it and we love the energy. Let’s be honest, there are people of a certain age who are addicted to the lifestyle or to the money they can generate and the reality is they don’t seem to have anything left to say. They just need a new brand for the name of the tour or a new T-shirt logo to sell, because their manager has told them it’s time to go back out there and earn again if you want your pension topped up.

“That’s okay, but I just think that if that’s the case you shouldn’t be making a new album because you’re probably just going to make a lazy pastiche of your own sound and then you’re going to go on tour and go through the motions.

“We go out there and we feel blessed that every single person in the audience has seen fit to want to buy a ticket and we intend to give them absolute value for money.”

And just what can we expect from OMD – The Punishment of Luxury Tour?

“Those who have seen us before will understand that we confound the stereotypical expectation of a synthesiser band,” he extolled.

“We are loud and punchy and energetic and we kick arse. And I still, in my dotage, refuse to stand still. I don’t exhibit the dignity of a man of my years! We will be mixing some of the new material because we enjoy making new songs and our quality control is good. People do not go to the bathroom or the bar when we’re on the new songs which is a good sign.”

Surely after all this time, nerves are a thing of the past?

“I used to be a bag of nerves. I’m a little bit more relaxed now. I say to myself, I’ve managed to convince myself that if people have bought a ticket they probably want to see us!”

And does he have any pre-gig rituals?

“The main one is, I insist on shaking hands in a clockwise order with the other three members of the band [Paul Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Stuart Kershaw] and then I turn a full circle and we always say the same thing, have a good one, have a good one, have a good one, kick arse, see you on the other side. It has evolved. I wouldn’t call it a superstition, but it’s a little moment where you all pull yourselves together and you go right we are now not in the dressing room, we are not in the hotel we are not on the tour bus we are about to go out and do what we do best… mayhem. Go.”

The Cliffs is the fifth gig on their 20-date show. How does he feel about this seaside corner of Essex? Turns out he’s rather fond of it!

“The greatest video I ever made, which is for the song Walking on the Milky Way was filmed in and around Southend.

“It was just the most wonderful experience. And we managed to make Southend look all sorts of different ways. Some of it was on Canvey Island, but a lot of it was Southend, the pier. It was a wonderful two days and we have a beautiful, beautiful video for posterity. To shout the praises of Southend.

“I have a rather one-dimensional view. I’m on stage singing my songs so it’s a rather strange and specific interaction with other human beings. But I do recall from playing the Cliffs seven years ago that there was just a great vibe, honest, unpretentious energy to people in the audience. Which was wonderful. Just a great play. I’m looking forward to playing there again.”

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury Tour is at the Cliffs Pavilion, Station Road, Southend, on Wednesday November 1, 7pm. For tickets, £40, call the box office on 01702 351135.

This feature was first published in the Echo newspaper on Wednesday, October 25, 2017:

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