OMD’s Andy McCluskey takes time out from an im­promptu spot of bak­ing to tell JOHN MEAGHER how the 1980s hit­mak­ers, now free from strin­gent record la­bel deals, are en­joy­ing a new cre­ative streak

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Andy McCluskey could hardly be in cheerier form. He has spent the day with his son, who’s also a mu­si­cian, but rather than slave away in the stu­dio as they had orig­i­nally planned, the two have re­paired to se­nior’s home for a spot of bak­ing.

It’s an ap­ple-and-black­berry pie that’s just gone into the oven when Re­view calls. “How rock ‘n’ roll is that!” McCluskey quips. “Hope it doesn’t ruin the il­lu­sion.”

It’s a sweet sign of or­di­nar­i­ness for a man whose band made some of the most thrillingly un­or­di­nary mu­sic of the early 1980s — and beyond. Or­ches­tral Ma­noeu­vres in the Dark emerged with two al­bums in 1980 and helped steer the course that pop would fol­low for the re­main­der of that decade.

To­gether with song­writ­ing part­ner Paul Humphreys, McCluskey en­sured OMD were reg­u­lars in the up­per reaches of the charts and synth-pop an­thems like ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Joan of Arc’ were global hits.

Af­ter re­form­ing a decade ago, the pair now find them­selves in some­thing of a cre­ative streak and their ex­cel­lent new al­bum, The Pun­ish­ment of Lux­ury, has ar­rived hot on the heels of the well-re­ceived English Elec­tric.

“We’re in this lovely po­si­tion now,” McCluskey says, “where there’s no rea­son for us to make al­bums other than for our own en­joy­ment. We can take time to make the mu­sic we want to make and no­body is putting dead­lines on us. That hasn’t al­ways been the case in the past, es­pe­cially when you con­sider the kind of record-com­pany trou­bles we had.”

De­spite be­ing one of the best­selling Bri­tish bands of their day, OMD were crip­pled by debts, some­thing McCluskey at­tributes to the sort of “ter­ri­ble” con­tracts so many bands un­wit­tingly signed at the time.

“In 1989, we had sold 20 mil­lion sin­gles, 10 mil­lion al­bums and owed £1m to Virgin. How can that hap­pen? It’s not like we were liv­ing in cas­tles. We did en­joy our­selves — don’t get me wrong — but we weren’t flush­ing it all down the drain.”

Such wor­ries are long be­hind him although so, too, are the days where OMD were vy­ing for the num­ber-one spot. “Look, noth­ing is go­ing to dis­lodge the Ed Sheer­ans of this world,” he says, “and I’m okay with that. As long as I’m con­fi­dent that the mu­sic we’re re­leas­ing now is as good as it can be, chart grat­i­fi­ca­tion isn’t im­por­tant although — and, I won’t lie about this — it would be nice.”

The grat­i­fi­ca­tion McCluskey and Humphreys en­joy now comes with tak­ing their show on the road and they call to Dublin’s Vicar Street on Mon­day week.

“We al­ways try to get the bal­ance right,” he says. “There’s go­ing to be songs from the new al­bum, some rare stuff for the hardcore fan and, of course, the hits that peo­ple have loved over the years.”

Not for him the idea of eschew­ing the em­blem­atic songs in the man­ner in which some her­itage acts do. “I’ve never un­der­stood why any­one would do that,” he says. “Those songs have been very good to us and there’s an ex­pec­ta­tion that we’ll play them. I think it would be dis­re­spect­ful to those pay­ing their money not to do so and, any­way, as the artist you can rein­vent them a lit­tle if need be.”

McCluskey is now 58 and was still in his teens when he founded Or­ches­tral Sev­eral defin­ing songs of the early 1980s tack­led big themes, in­clud­ing one of OMD’s most em­blem­atic songs. Ma­noeu­vres in the Dark (he chooses not to ab­bre­vi­ate the name in this in­ter­view) with fel­low Merseysider Humphreys in 1978. “We put ev­ery­thing into those first cou­ple of al­bums,” he says, “and sort of hit the ground run­ning.”

He says the songs didn’t come eas­ily — and still don’t. “I think there’s two sorts of artists in the world: ge­niuses, and those who work their ar­ses off to do good work. I def­i­nitely fall into the lat­ter cat­e­gory. So, to­day, if I’m work­ing on some­thing and I get a bit stuck, I don’t think, ‘I’m the guy who wrote ‘Enola Gay’, I’ll be able to get through this’, I think ‘I wrote Enola Gay af­ter hours and hours of f ***ing hard work and if I work re­ally hard again, I might be able to get this new song done to my sat­is­fac­tion’.”

For many OMD fans, their third al­bum, 1981’s Ar­chi­tec­ture & Moral­ity , is their crown­ing glory — and one of the very great al­bums to have emerged from the new wave move­ment — but it is also pos­si­ble to ar­gue that their ca­reer never prop­erly re­cov­ered af­ter the re­lease of the deeply ex­per­i­men­tal fol­low-up al­bum Daz­zle Ships. It sold only a 10th of what its pre­de­ces­sor did thanks to the wil­fully in­ac­ces­si­ble elec­tron­ics and sub­ject mat­ter cen­tred on the Cold War and the then East­ern Block.

“Oh, there’s no doubt that it was a com­mer­cial dis­as­ter,” McCluskey says cheer­ily. “But now you’ve got peo­ple say­ing it’s our mas­ter­piece. Maybe it was ahead of its time, maybe it was a bit too out there — but it is part of our story and we were de­lighted to play it in full at [Lon­don’s] Royal Al­bert Hall, along­side Ar­chi­tec­ture & Moral­ity.”

Be­sides OMD, McCluskey will be for­ever as­so­ci­ated with a far less loved cre­ation. It was he who foisted girl­band Atomic Kit­ten on to the world. “In the mid-90s, I wasn’t in the charts any more but felt I could still write pop songs that would be. I just needed oth­ers to sing them. And it was [for­mer Kraftwerk mem­ber] Karl Bar­tos who sug­gested that I should cre­ate my own band to sing them. I’ve al­ways thought a three-piece girl group was the very best you could have for pop and so Atomic Kit­ten were born.”

He fell out with their record com­pany from the sec­ond al­bum on, but says he is proud to stand over the work. “The first al­bum has some bloody good songs on it — even if I do say so my­self!”

The Pun­ish­ment of Lux­ury is out now. OMD play Vicar Street, Dublin, on Oc­to­ber 23

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