Ipswich Regent needs bigger backstage sofas laughs OMD’s Andy McCluskey ahead of return visit
- Credit: Archant
Synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark are back with their 13th studio album, The Punishment of Luxury. We caught up with Andy McCluskey ahead of their Southend, Ipswich and Cambridge gigs.
Q: What are you up to today...
I’ve spent most of the day looking at films as I’m going to be judging at Athens Film Festival at the weekend. I’ve pulled the long straw on this one. Paul Humphreys is going to be programming the keyboards and the computers for the tour and I’m skiving off to Athens to judge a film festival – result (laughs). I don’t live the decadent pop star lifestyle too often actually. Elton John is not always knocking on my door inviting me to parties so I’m going to take this one.
Q: You’re back on tour...
Playing live is the best buzz you can get because even if you have a successful record and it sells thousands or even millions, you never participate with the people who are listening to it. You’re not in their lounge or their car or inside their headphones so being live in the same place on the same day is the moment where you all get to share and that’s the best thing, it never ceases to be the best thing, we love it.
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It’s the biggest British tour we’ve done in more than 30 years so we’re still doing something right. As usual we’ve demanded our promoter put the Ipswich Regent on the tour because we love coming to that place, although I’m still inclined to call it the Gaumont, showing my age (laughs).
Q: What’s so special about the theatre...
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The vibe is always so good. The energy of the crowd is just brilliant. The great thing is because it’s not a massive theatre even the people on the back row, the people who bought the very last tickets, still feel part of the show. You’re not two miles away looking through binoculars. It’s got a great intimacy from front to back.
It was one of the very first theatres we ever played at... we supported Gary Numan there in 1979 when it was the Gaumont. I remember the last time we played there I wasn’t feeling very well and it took me some time to come out. We always try to sign things at the stage door - I’m going to get myself in lumber here, there’ll be 500 people at the stage door now - it was so wet and I remember there were still about five people there who looked like they’d just been in a bath. I felt so sorry for them, I had to apologise.
The only downside is there are such tiny dressing rooms backstage... because I wasn’t feeling well I just wanted a nap before I went on stage but I couldn’t find any chairs or a couch long enough to lay down on (laughs). I had to be half on a couch, half on a stool...
Q: Synth-pop, electronic music seems to be enjoying a resurgence, Marc Almond recently played here and Gary Numan performed in Norwich...
I think there’s a number of factors, some of them are personal to OMD and some are generalised. We definitely live in a post-modern era where there’s nothing new, everything is now acceptable and it’s in fashion if it’s deemed to have a quality and a creditability. The people you just named have great songs and can still play them live. Gary’s just got a new album out, we’ve just got a new album out.
Our new album went to number four in the charts, I was like ‘wow’. Speaking personally I think people know we can deliver, they know we still play well live, we have an energy and mix our set well; it’s not just going to be the new material. We know we have some hits, well quite a few hits, fortunately, and we respect the audience so we will play those hits as people remember them and we’ll mix them in with the best of some of the new album which will be seamless. We know it works because the audience don’t all go to the loo or the bar when they hear a new song played.
Q: In the current climate of streaming and downloads, how did you feel when the album did so well...
It was great... you can only swim in the current sea and it is what it is. What’s noticeable is we were higher for most of the week but on Thursday, just before the chart is announced, suddenly the streams are counted and Ed Sheeran blows everybody out of the water because he streams so relentlessly. That’s the reality we have to live with, you don’t make very much money from streaming... you have to get streamed thousands of times to make £1.
Everybody loves music but music doesn’t seem to have a value, it’s quite strange... when we first started 40 years ago, a concert ticket was £4 and an album was £4. An album now is really no more than twice that, but a standard concert ticket is 10 times and that’s not to see Elton John at an arena. Live music has followed inflation but purchasing music hasn’t, so it’s hardly surprising you’re seeing a lot of bands on the road (laughs).
Q: Acts used to say there’s no money in touring...
You used to lose money on tour. Nowadays, because ticket prices have gone up, if you’re careful you can make a profit, not millions and millions; and making records doesn’t really make you money. Our album went to number four... it will not sell millions, it will pay for itself which is fine. We didn’t make it to make money, we made it because we felt the need to write some songs.
The music industry is a completely different world to the one we joined, we wouldn’t get signed now... there’s not enough profit in record companies for them to take chances, that’s why music is changing so very, very slowly now because nobody’s prepared to take a chance on something new.
Also, in this post-modern era there’s not much new any way. Two guys playing synth called Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, who were at the height of punk were influenced by Germany electronic music wouldn’t have seemed like a particularly good idea for a million-selling band would it?
Q: Did you think you’d still be doing this 40 years on...
Hell no (laughs). This is a hobby that got out of hand, a 40-year accident. Paul and I, even before punk, we found our alternative in electronic music. Our friends were all into like Genesis, The Eagles, Pink Floyd... they thought the weird noises we were making in the back room at his mum’s house on a Saturday afternoon were not music. Even when Tony Wilson offered to sign us to Factory Records, he said ‘you are the future of pop’ and I think we used the word beginning with F to say ‘we’re not pop, we’re experimental’. Fortunately he turned out to be right and we were wrong (laughs).
To be honest. we’ve always been experimental, we always try to do something different but our musicality leads it to be palatable. We’re not interested in experiments for their own sake but we do still make records that will ask a question of ourselves and the listener but also we want it to be listenable. We have a DNA, a musical style we will never shed and frankly we don’t want to, it’s nice to have a recognisable music style.
Q: You never set out to be synth-pop pioneers...
We really just thought it was a hobby we would keep to ourselves. This is why for three-and-a-half years we just played in Paul’s mum’s house on a Saturday. We were in other bands who played a few of our tunes but in a more rock mode. It was only in October 1978 that we finally went ‘oh s*d it let’s go on stage and do it our way just once’. It was a dare to go on stage at Eric’s Club in Liverpool.
First we were amazed the guys who ran it let us on. Secondly we were amazed they said ‘that was really good, we’ve got some friends in Manchester who have a club called The Factory, do you want to play there, we’ll get you on’. So we said ‘oh, we’ll do two gigs then’.
Q: Your track Enola Gay seems to have an extra resonance at the moment...
We wrote songs about things that weren’t your average ‘I love you baby’ type of lyric. It was about the plane that dropped the first atom bomb. It still had a resonance in the early 1980s because we were still at the height of the cold war. Once again it has a resonance because you have two narcissistic, little pouty children in Mr Trump and Mr Jong-un who are throwing verbal insults.
If they do start throwing their toys at each other the whole world is in trouble. You just have to hope and pray that no matter how bad his (Donald Trum) prostate is one night when he’s in a bad mood on the toilet tweeting that he’s going to actually nuke North Korea that the generals lock the b****y red buttons down and don’t let him do it.
Mr Putin is loving all this. This is why he wanted Trump to be the US president, he knew he’d destabilise the global arms race so they can back to a nice, cosy, cold war. So both of them could sabre rattle, both of them could invest in their military and both of them could convince the electorate ‘you need me to stand up to the bogey man over there’. It’s frightening how easily people are persuaded.
Q: What can concert audiences look forward to...
It will be a mixture of some of the great new songs and the hits. We may even try something crazy, a sort of ‘download the app and vote for one of these songs and we’ll play it for you’ so you can have audience participation when they get to the venue. It will be a choice of a, b or c – we’re not going to learn an entire repertoire of other people’s songs. I’m bad enough remembering the words to my own songs (laughs).
Q: Would you like me to have a word with the Regent about getting a larger couch...
It would be appreciated (laughs)
• See OMD at Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion tonight, the Ipswich Regent tomorrow and Cambridge Corn Exchange Friday.