We arrive to a rammed Manchester Academy, as we await ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK (OMD) aka the original lineup of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, and Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes.
The Mancunians have always had a lot of love for this band, and the die-hard fans are already at the merch stand stocking up on their memorabilia. Ambient music fills the venue as the fans get ready to greet their synthpop heroes. They can’t see anything beyond the massive curtain that veils the onstage preps, but we’re pretty sure that it hides a pretty 80s-style setup. I mean – why not?
A woman behind us is getting frustrated with the sea of tall balding guys dominating the first few rows: “Anyone over 5 foot 6 needs to go the back…” she grumbles. We relate, but to be fair, there are a nice smattering of female fans also clustered towards the front. OMD seems to have done a good job of attracting people of both genders to their music over the years.
The curtain is finally pulled down, and cheers give way to a digitized voice which asks for our attention and to remain seated – this is off “Please Remain Seated” the opening track of recently released album “English Electric.”
Three raised mini-stages are revealed, hosting the keyboards and drumkit. And here come the band, Cheshire Cat grins revealing their joy at seeing the sea of faces before them. Andy emerges to huge applause, decked out in a spanking white shirt, dancing to the beats with his back to us, facing drummer Malcolm, and proving that he’s still got the 80s moves down.
We’re straight into the new “Metroland” as Andy walks from side to side of the stage to wave to the audience – he’s already having a good time. Shouting out to the fans, “Good evening! It’s nice to be back in Manchester. Come on!” he gets them all clapping along. He’s out on the front edge of the stage already, reaching out his arm as if he wants to shake every hand in the crowd. Thunderous applause rings out at the end, a sign of the worshipping of a band that touched many lives back in the day, and still does. We are now in the church of OMD.
“I get the feeling that you’re up for it!” Andy responds. He picks up his guitar and sings 1980 track “Messages,” their first top 40 single. He closes with a finger punch in the air in triumph.
Laughing out loud, he says, “We now know it’s gonna be a fantastic evening, but we’ll still earn it, alright?” The crowd seems more than satisfied with that deal, with the band speeding into “Tesla Girls.” Andy ends with a guitar kick this time and warns, “Don’t tire yourselves out – we’ve got a long way to go!”
He announces new single “Dresden” which is a little bit too pop-sweet for my liking, but is greeted well. An item of clothing is thrown onto the stage which puts an even bigger smile on Andy’s face. He thanks the girls who have brought massive blow-up saxophones which they have been swinging in time to the music on the front rows, and introduces some fans who have impressively travelled all the way from Dallas.
He then introduces “Electricity,” their first single released 34 years ago through long-defunct Factory records, and threatens us with “Until you buy the frickin’ album, we’ll keep releasing singles!” which goes down well. We’re treated to more new tracks, and some of the oldies. It’s a moving moment to hear “Enola Gay” – the disarmingly synthpoppy nuclear holocaust song about the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, written now into music history thanks to their geeky fascination for aeroplanes and mechanics.
OMD are back and producing, reminding the UK that politics and music are one and the same and that bands who love performing live are much more likely to survive the dramatic transitions in the music industry that are already upon us.