Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or OMD were formed in 1978 by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys who had met at Primary school in the 1960’s.
Both were born on the Wirral near Merseyside and both came to share a passion for electronic music and, as teenagers, were involved in several local groups.
Equinox were one of McCluskey’s early bands in which he played bass and provided vocals. Humphreys was a roadie for Equinox and also for McCluskey’s following bands Pegasus and Hitlerz Underpantz. Humphreys soon became a skilled keyboard player and in 1977 formed a band called The Id.
The Id were a seven piece and McCluskey and Humphreys soon began writing material for the group. The band gained quite a following but McCluskey and Humphreys could not tear themselves away from electronic forms and soon began side project VCL XI experimenting with kit built synthesizers, tape machines and circuit bent radios.
The Id soon split and McCluskey, in August 1978, joined another Wirral group making headway Dalek I Love You, this time as the groups lead singer but quit barely a month later.
The Bands First Gig
After leaving Dalek I Love You McCluskey returned to Paul Humphreys and VCL XI was re-titled Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and began to play together as a duo.
Eric’s club on Matthew Street, Liverpool was the venue for the bands debut performance in October 1978 and the group soon found that they were part of a real ground swell of interest in new-wave electronic music.
The bands first single was released by Manchester based label Factory records in 1979. Called Electricity the single did not initially chart but made the top 100 as a 1980 re-release. 1979 also brought a support slot with Gary Numan on his first major tour of the UK which helped elevate the band.
Numan struck up a genuine personal friendship with the band (a friendship that would be reciprocated in the mid-90’s as the band invited Numan to support them on their own tour).
The bands debut first album (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) was representative of the bands live set and all instruments were recorded by McCluskey and Humphreys (with drums from Id musician Malcolm Holmes and saxophone from fellow Merseysider Martin Cooper).
The bands first single hit came from a song called Messages on the Dindisc label, the song reaching #13 in the UK singles chart.
Another tour followed and Malcolm Holmes joined the band full time providing drums with ex Dalek I Love You musician Dave Hughes on synthesizer. Hughes would leave the band in November 1980 to be replaced by Martin Cooper.
OMD’s second album Organisation was also released in 1980 was a darker affair than the bands first album and contained the smash single Enola Gay which reached #8 in the UK singles chart. However the bands biggest commercial hit to date was the Cooper and Humphreys song Souvenir (#3 UK).
The bands most commercially successful album in the UK as well as Europe was released in November 1981. Architecture & Morality, produced by Richard Mainwaring, featured Mike Douglas after Martin Cooper temporarily dropped out only for him to return by the time the band had finished recording and were to start touring again.
The album spawned the singles Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans which interestingly were both titled Joan of Arc by the band, but at the publishers insistence, had to be renamed in order to save confusion.
The bands fourth album Dazzle Ships was a move away from the previously commercially accessible singles the band had produced. Its relative failure (the album actually charted at a respectable #5 in the UK) led to a return to more of a pop sound for the bands fifth LP Junk Culture (1984) and as a result the album performed well and was critically acclaimed as a return to form.
The album also introduced the UK top five single Locomotion as the band expanded their line-up to become a six piece. Neil (trumpet) and Graham Weir (guitar/ keyboard/ trombone) joined the band in 1985 and recorded a new album, Crush.
The single So in Love enjoyed success on both sides of the Atlantic feeding back into the album sales, particularly in terms of US success where the album made the top 40 helping to establish the group in the USA. More success stateside was to follow when the song If You Leave, featured in the film Pretty in Pink, was released in the US where it made the top 5 in the US singles chart.
However problems were on the horizon for the band as they moved more and more towards an explicitly commercial style. The bands original fan base and the music critics that had mapped the bands progress were becoming disenchanted with the bands changing principles.
The Pacific Age (1987) contained the singles (Forever) Live & Die, Shame and We Love You but a gradual dip in sales suggested that people were becoming less interested in the band as the initial characteristics of OMD’s music were being buried. The band were also sharing this conflict and these disagreements started to create serious problems.
In 1988 the band released a successful Best of album, but just at the point when the band was to strengthen its position in the US, Paul Humphreys who, along with Andy McCluskey, was the founding member of the band, decided to leave.
Humphreys was unhappy with the bands commercial principles and Graham and Neil Weir soon followed. McCluskey was left as the last man standing as Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes left the band in 1990 to join Humphreys in his band The Listening Pool. McCluskey now pressed ahead, effectively as a solo artist under the OMD moniker, and his first album Sugar Tax reached #3 in the UK.
Another album was released in 1993 Liberator followed by 1996’s Universal which was significant because Paul Humphreys returned as a songwriter on the album although he was not a performer.
Universal gave the band a top twenty hit with the song Walking on the Milky Way but McCluskey decided to leave the OMD name behind towards the end of 1996 with the wave of guitar based Britpop bands on the ascendancy.
1998 brought a new singles compilation and remixes of their old material by new acts such as Moby. McCluskey meanwhile began to focus on management and song writing, providing material for Atomic Kitten amongst others while Paul Humphreys began to tour under the OMD name again.
In January 2006 McCluskey announced the reformation of the band with Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper also reinstated. The band initially wanted to tour Architecture and Morality and then release an album of new material in 2007.
However 2007 brought the remaster of Architecture and Morality on CD as well as the staging of the Architecture and Morality album. The band have since released a DVD and CD of the band performing the album at London’s Hammersmith Apollo and in 2009 played with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra.
The bands eleventh studio album History of Modern was released in September 2010 with the album charting at #28 and the album receiving modest critical acclaim. The band is currently on tour supporting the album.