Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

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Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (always abbreviated to OMD) were a synth pop group from the Wirral, UK, who recorded for Virgin Records (originally for Virgin's DinDisc subsidiary).

The group was founded by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, and they formed the core of the outfit until 1989, when the group split. McCluskey then retained the name and continued to record and tour as OMD with a new line-up.

Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey

Early history

As teenagers, Humphreys and McCluskey were involved in several unsigned Wirral bands, including Equinox, Pegasus, and the short-lived Hitlerz Underpantz. McCluskey would usually sing and play bass guitar, whilst electronics enthusiast Humphreys initially began as a roadie, graduating to keyboards. The pair shared a love of electronic music, particularly Brian Eno and Kraftwerk.

By 1977, McCluskey & Humphreys put together seven-piece (three singers, two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and keyboard player) Wirral 'supergroup' The Id, whose line-up included drummer Malcolm Holmes and McCluskey's girlfriend Julia Kneale on vocals. The group began to gig regularly in the Merseyside area, performing original material (largely written by McCluskey & Humphreys). They had quite a following on the scene, and one of their tracks (Julia's Song) was included on a compilation record of local bands called Street to Street. Meanwhile Humphreys & McCluskey collaborated on a side-project called VCL XI (named after a valve from the diagram on the cover of Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity album), where they pursued their more bizarre electronic experiments, often working with tape collages, home-made kit-built synthesisers, and circuit-bent radios.

In 1978, The Id split due to the traditional musical differences. McCluskey briefly sang with electronic Wirral quartet Dalek I Love You. However, he eventually rejoined Humphreys, and their VCL XI project was renamed Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. They began to gig regularly as a duo, performing to backing tracks played from a Revox tape-recorder they christened "Winston" (after the antihero of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-four). Finding themselves on the cusp of an electronic new wave in British pop-music, they released a one-off single, "Electricity", with celebrated independent label Factory Records (the single sleeve was designed by Peter Saville, whose distinctive graphics provided OMD's public image well into the mid-80s), and were then quickly snapped up by Virgin subsiduary DinDisc.

Classic Line-up

File:OMD - Messages single picture cover.jpg
Original UK 45 rpm single picture cover: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Messages

The eponymous first album (1980) showcased the band's live set at the time, and was basically recorded by the Humphreys/McCluskey duo, although included some guest drums from Id drummer Mal Holmes, and saxophone from Wirral musician Martin Cooper. It had a simple, raw, poppy, melodic synthpop sound. DinDisc arranged for the song Messages to be re-recorded (produced by Gong bassist Mike Howlett) and released as a single (right) - this gave the band their first hit. A tour followed, Winston the tape recorder being ditched for good, and replaced with live drums from Mal Holmes, and Dalek I Love You's Dave Hughes on synths.

The second album Organisation followed later that year, recorded as a 3 piece with Humphreys, McCluskey and Holmes. It was again produced by Howlett, and saw a rather moodier, dark feel. The album spawned the huge hit single Enola Gay, named after the plane which dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. The tour for this album saw a 4-piece band line-up, with saxophonist Martin Cooper (another Dalek I Love You alum) recruited for keyboard duties. Howlett then presided over the recording of a further hit single, Souvenir, co-written by Cooper & Humphreys. It ushered in a striking lush choral electronic sound.

1981 would see the release of what many consider OMD's magnum opus (and it was also the peak of their commercial success in the UK and Europe) - the Architecture & Morality album. The 4-piece went into the studio with Richard Mainwaring producing, Cooper then temporarily dropping out and being replaced by Mike Douglas, but this changed being reversed by the time the album was released and a tour embarked upon. The album's striking sound saw OMD's original synth-pop sound augmented by the mellotron, an instrument previously associated with prog rock bands. They used it to add very atmospheric swatches of string, choir and other sounds to their palette. Hit singles Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans (which became the most successful single of 1982 in Germany) were taken from the album.

1983 saw the band lose commercial momentum somewhat, with the release of their 'difficult' Dazzle Ships albums, which mixed melancholy synth ballads and uptempo synth pop with musique concrete and short wave radio tape collages. It was recorded by the 4-piece Humpreys/Holmes/Cooper/Mcluskey line-up, and produced by Rhett Davies.

1984's Junk Culture saw a return to a more poppy sound and saw the band using digital sampling keyboards such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-mu_Emulator.

Two laserdiscs, Live at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (1982) and Crush the Movie (1985) were released only in Japan.

With the recording of Crush, (1985) Graham and Neil Weir began playing with the group (on guitar and brass), produced by Stephen Hague. This 6 piece line also released The Pacific Age (1986). By now the band were seeing their critical and public popularity wane in the UK, whilst they struggled to break into the US market.

One of OMD's biggest hits, "If You Leave," (1985) was written specifically for the John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink.

Classic line-up split

Though Humphreys left the band after The Best of OMD, he collaborated with McCluskey on the songwriting for Universal, the band's 1996 swan song. McCluskey would continue for another decade, joined by Liverpool musicians Lloyd Massett and Stuart Kershaw.

An album of unreleased material by the band is scheduled for release in 2005.

There were several fanzines about the band, including Winston and Telegraph, that were active during the post-split period. An official magazine called Messages is still running.

The book Messages, written by Johnny Waller and Paul Humphreys' brother Mike Humphreys, details the career of the band up to the time of The Best of OMD.


Studio Albums

  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - 1980 (UK #27)
  • Organisation - 1980 (UK #6)
  • O.M.D. - 1981
  • Architecture & Morality - 1981 (UK #3, US #144)
  • Dazzle Ships - 1983 (UK #5, US #162)
  • Junk Culture - 1984 (first copies came with enclosed one-sided 7-inch single, "The Angels Keep Turning (The Wheels of the Universe)") (UK #9, US #182)
  • Crush - 1985 (UK #13, US #38)
  • The Pacific Age - 1986 (UK #15, US #47)
  • Sugar Tax - 1991 (UK #3)
  • Liberator - 1993 (UK #14, US #169)
  • Universal - 1996 (UK #24)

Compilation albums

  • The Best of OMD - 1988 (UK #2, US #46)
  • The OMD Singles - 1998 (UK #16)
  • The Peel Sessions -2000 (compilation of tracks recorded for the John Peel show on BBC Radio 1)
  • Navigation - The OMD B-Sides - 2001

Video releases

  • Live at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane - 1982 (laserdisc & VHS)
  • Crush the Movie - 1985 (laserdisc & VHS)
  • The Best of OMD - 1988 (VHS)


Year Title Chart Positions Album
UK Singles Chart US Hot 100 US Modern Rock
1979 "Electricity" #99 - - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
1980 "Red Frame/White Light" #67 - - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
1980 "Messages" #13 - - Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
1980 "Enola Gay" #8 - - Organisation
1981 "Souvenir" #3 - - Architecture & Morality
1981 "Joan of Arc" #5 - - Architecture & Morality
1982 "Maid of Orleans" #4 - - Architecture & Morality
1983 "Genetic Engineering" #20 - - Dazzle Ships
1983 "Telegraph" #42 - - Dazzle Ships
1984 "Locomotion" #5 - - Junk Culture
1984 "Talking Loud and Clear" #11 - - Junk Culture
1984 "Tesla Girls" #21 - - Junk Culture
1984 "Never Turn Away" #70 - - Junk Culture
1985 "So in Love" #27 #26 - Crush
1985 "Secret" #34 #63 - Crush
1985 "La Femme Accident" #42 - - Crush
1986 "If You Leave" #48 #4 - Pretty in Pink [Soundtrack]
1986 "(Forever) Live and Die" #11 #19 - The Pacific Age
1986 "We Love You" #54 - - The Pacific Age
1987 "Shame" #52 - - The Pacific Age
1988 "Dreaming" #50 #16 - The Best of OMD
1991 "Sailing on the Seven Seas" #3 - - Sugar Tax
1991 "Pandora's Box (It's a Long, Long Way)" #7 - #19 Sugar Tax
1991 "Then You Turn Away" #50 - - Sugar Tax
1991 "Call My Name" #50 - - Sugar Tax
1993 "Stand Above Me" #21 - - Liberator
1993 "Dream of Me (Based on Love's Theme)" #24 - - Liberator
1993 "Everyday" #59 - - Liberator
1996 "Walking on the Milky Way" #17 - - Universal
1996 "Universal" #55 - - Universal

External links

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