Andy McCluskey, (seen here on the right), lead vocalist and bass guitarist with Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark chats with Kevin Cooper about his attempts to get electronic music accepted by the media, where ZZ Top got their dance moves from, OMD’s new album The Punishment Of Luxury and headlining the Flashpoint and Flashback Festivals.

Andy McCluskey, lead vocalist and bass guitarist with Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, an English electronic music band formed in the Wirral, Merseyside in 1978. Formed with keyboard player Paul Humphreys other band members include Martin Cooper and Stuart Kershaw on drums who replaced Malcolm Holmes in 2013 when he was taken ill on stage.

In 1979 they released their influential single Electricity and gained popularity throughout Europe with their 1980 anti war song, Enola Gay. The band achieved broader recognition via their seminal album Architecture & Morality and its three singles, all of which were international hits.

By the mid 90s the electronic music scene had been supplanted by alternative rock and the band disbanded in 1996. McCluskey went on to write multiple hits for girl band Atomic Kitten, while Humphreys performed as half of the duo Onetwo.

In 2006 they reformed with Humphreys back in the fold and began to work on material more akin to their early output. The band re-established themselves as a chart act in Europe, while enjoying a growing international fan base and a legacy as innovators within popular music. After collapsing at a show in Toronto due to heart failure, Malcolm Holmes retired from OMD in 2014, and is now making music on his own. OMD are now touring with former drummer Stuart Kershaw.

Whilst preparing for the summer festival season Andy McCluskey took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he has to say.

Hi Andy how are you?

Hey Kevin I’m good thanks how are you?

I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

You are most welcome.

And just how is life treating you?

Well actually despite the lovely weather that we are currently having, I have been really ill for the past week or so. I have not been able to make the most of the lovely weather as I have had a really horrible cold. It has been very frustrating because I was meant to be getting ready to start gigging so I am not as fit as I want to be, but at least now I am over it. We are about to start rehearsals with the band and at least I should be able to sing. So that has been a little frustrating but otherwise we have got a very exciting year ahead and I am really looking forward to it.

I have been looking at your tour schedule and it looks as though you are going to be really busy this year.

Yes we are, in fact we have more shows scheduled that you probably don’t even know about at this moment in time actually. After we have played the summer festivals we will be releasing our latest album in September which is called The Punishment Of Luxury and touring in November to promote the album including sunny Nottingham (laughter). We love playing the Royal Concert Hall and always try to ensure that it is on our places to play whenever we tour the UK.

I was lucky enough to photograph you the last time that you played here in Nottingham and I have to say that you blew me away.

Thank you that is so kind. We love touring and I think that it is important to deliver a show that is full of energy, passion and try to make sure that we do it properly. We are not simply out there to top up our pensions or bore people to death, so it’s good that you were blown away because that is what we want people to be.

You have mentioned the forthcoming album The Punishment Of Luxury, what can you tell me about it?

Well it has taken four years to write, partly because everything came to a crashing halt four years ago when our drummer had a cardiac arrest on stage in Toronto. Malcolm (Holmes) is now okay but it was terrifying so we stopped everything for a year whilst we gave him the opportunity to get better and see how he was without putting any pressure on him. We were all shaken up by that so for the following year we just stopped; everything came to a complete halt. Unfortunately, Malcolm can’t play with us anymore but we have started touring again along with another drummer Stuart Kershaw, who actually played with me in the 90s in a different version of OMD.

Stuart actually co-wrote some of the songs on the Sugar Tax album with me. So that’s good, we are alive and kicking and the album is quite an interesting mixture of melodies and interesting lyrics. That is our forte, which is what we do, so it has still got all of that. It was ready when it was ready; the management would have liked to have put it out earlier but we said no and told them that it would be ready when it was ready. We weren’t prepared to release the album just so that we would have a new name for a tour, or a new T-shirt to sell. And those who have heard it are actually saying that it is even better than the last album that we did which was apparently the best thing that we had done in thirty years (laughter).

Is it all finished and ready to go?

Yes it’s done, it’s mastered, and it is all ready to go. The official release date is 1st September and we really can’t wait to get it out there.

You said that this year was going to be a busy one for you; you are actually headlining both the Flashback and the Flashpoint Festivals this summer. Are you looking forward to that?

We are very busy this summer playing several festivals (laughter). It’s interesting because a few years ago when OMD reformed we didn’t want to do things that were ‘nostalgia’, we wanted to establish ourselves once again as a standalone touring act who were still interesting and contemporary which I think we have done. So we felt that we could loosen up a little and have some fun. It is like wearing a slightly different hat doing these summer festivals because the people who are going to be there are not just OMD fans. They are not those who will come to a theatre gig to see us doing our own concerts and our new material.

This is several thousand people in a field who have come to have a good time and to a large degree celebrate the soundtrack to the landmark years of their lives. We have a responsibility therefore not to get up and play all of our favourite B-Sides, album tracks and be self-indulgent. We are fortunate enough to have enough hits to fill up a complete hour and smack people right between the eyes and that is what we will do.

Having said that and with the forthcoming album in mind, will you be testing out any of the new songs?

Possibly not. However, we always play one track which is from the History Of Modern album because it sounds so much like a classic OMD single and it is so bouncy; I insist that the whole audience bounce up and down. And at the end of the song you can see everyone turn to each other saying “we must have been on holiday when that was released because I don’t remember that one but what a great song” (laughter).

I have to choose my words wisely regarding the Flashback and Flashpoint festivals because I recently mentioned the word ‘retro’ to a well known keyboard player from Sheffield who shall remain nameless and he really tore a strip off me. He said that he wasn’t a retro artist and pointed out to me that he still writes and records new albums. He wasn’t a happy bunny.

The thing is that you have to understand that if you have been fortunate enough to have had a long career then it is not baggage that you are carrying. You are carrying with you your badges of honour as your greatest achievements and should always remember that people would like to join with you in celebrating those things. So I personally have no truck for people who go on stage and say “I am bored of playing that one” or the ones who simply play an acoustic medley of their hits. I feel that they should have some respect for their songs and for the audience. When we play our own solo gigs we will play for around ninety minutes; we will still play fourteen hit singles because we feel that we have a responsibility to keep the audiences interested but then we can mix it up.

We will play a couple of classic album tracks for the hard-core fans, and we will play some of the new stuff which fortunately is good enough not to drive people to the bar. That is when you can do your own thing. I understand that people feel that they want to be creative artists and that they want people to come on the journey with them, and maybe their new direction doesn’t sound like the old direction but after a while you should be able to celebrate your own rich tapestry and weave it all together again.

Going back to the Flashback and Flashpoint festivals, is there anyone in particular that you are excited about seeing perform?

Unfortunately I will not be at Flashpoint on the Saturday therefore I won’t see Marc (Almond) or Deacon Blue. However, on the Sunday, apart from the fact that it looks a little like a Liverpool gig with The Lightning Seeds and The Christians, I am quite looking forward to actually seeing Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. When I was a young teenager I had a scrapbook of Steve Harley. I was really excited and that was for me really important. It was really fantastic. When I was very young I wanted to play something different so when Steve released Judy Teen and Mr Soft, for me that was brilliant.

Looking at the line-up for Flashback Kim Wilde is brilliant, she really does kick ass once she gets out there on stage. Heaven 17 are totally wonderful and on the Sunday you have got The Human League headlining who are my synth heroes from Sheffield. So there is going to be an entire weekend at both events that are basically an opportunity for people to celebrate a whole day full of their favourite songs.

You have mentioned the Liverpool connection. We here in the Midlands are in a mish mash of Nottingham, Derby, Leicester and Stoke. We do not have an identity, you simply drive through the Midlands to get from A to B. Does the comradery and a sense of belonging up in Liverpool give you something extra when it comes to writing songs?

(Hysterical laughter) oh really, I doubt that very much (laughter). I think that the interesting thing is that maybe it is the fact that we here in Liverpool are on a river or are on the sea. We are all condensed into the one area. You can only get into Liverpool from a couple of directions (laughter). So there is a sense that maybe there is something that binds us together. Although I have to be honest with you and tell you that I used to come into Liverpool from the wrong direction because Paul (Humphreys) and I are actually known as Woolly Backs, which means that we are not from Liverpool city centre. We are actually from the other side of the river. We had to sneak through the tunnel under the Mersey (laughter).

So actually we were part of the upstairs at Eric’s gang with bands like The Teardrop Explodes, Echo And The Bunnymen, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Wah!, A Flock of Seagulls, but we were from the other side of the river so we were slightly outsiders. We were all in the same place; we were all in the audience watching everyone playing on stage. Eric’s was one of those places where there were far more musicians in the crowd than there ever were on stage. So yes, I would have to agree with you and say that there is a certain comradery. We were all in the same place at the same time but there was also a fiercely independent attitude amongst all of the other musicians.

Why do you think that the media in general still refuse to accept electronic music as real music and electronic musicians as true artists?

I have to be honest with you and say that from my own personal experiences touring throughout the world that attitude is global. I think that the reality is that an awful lot of people are conservative and they are stuck in a loop of ‘this is rock music; this is the way that it is supposed to be made and this is what it is supposed to sound like. It is supposed to have guitars, it is supposed to have drums, and if it doesn’t then it is not real music’. And as I say I think that attitude towards electronic music is global to be honest. I think that there are still, even decades and decades after electronic music came along, there are still people who think that it’s not real, it’s not sweaty, it’s not manly, whatever it is but they are stuck in this clichéd one dimensional view of the way that music should be made and played.

I can remember watching Top of The Pops back in 1972 and hearing Son Of My Father by Chicory Tip which was, I believe, the first record to feature a synthesizer.

Yes it was, that’s right. What you have to remember is that synthesizers have been around for quite a while and initially you started to hear them as the lead melody line on certain songs, like you said Chicory Tip followed by Nutbush City Limits by Ike & Tina Turner but then gradually making music electronically became the standard way of doing it. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that when you see a band performing live and guys standing there playing keyboards obviously can’t run around waving their six stringed phallic symbols at the audience. There is a certain primitive urge to see somebody actually hitting something in order to make the beat, I get that. But there are lots of different ways of doing it.

How was your recent experience of working with PledgeMuisc, have you enjoyed that?

Yes it has been an interesting new way of allowing people to have access to lots of different and varied things. The music industry is still looking for a functioning business model since the internet came along and pulled the rug out from underneath it. So all in all working with PledgeMusic has actually been a positive step in the right direction for us.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

The thing that really makes my day is when somebody has the courage to come up to me and say “I am sorry to bother you but I really love your music and I just want you to know that your song, whatever it might be, was played at my daughter’s wedding or my brothers funeral, or listening to this album got me through a really bad time in my life”, and that is when you realise that maybe you didn’t change the entire world but something that you did that lasts a few minutes still has an important place in somebody else’s world. That is really beautiful when people share those moments with you.

They say that you should never believe your own press but when somebody like Vince Clarke cites you and OMD as being the reason why he got into the music business that surely must make you feel a little warm inside?

Yes it does and yes it’s true. Vince has actually spoken to us personally and reiterated that story. It’s quite remarkable that you do get people saying that you have been an influence upon them. That was lovely and I have to say that I think that Vince is a genius so we are honoured to have been part of his musical journey.

Didn’t a certain Mr Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame also credit you for their dance?

Yes that right and just how much more a bizarre and obtuse an inspiration can you get than that. I bumped into Billy in an elevator in a hotel in Paris back in the 90s and I reintroduced myself to him as I had originally met him in 1980 and he looked at me and said “Andy you must come and meet Dusty (Hill)”. When we got to their room he said to Dusty “this is the guy from Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Can you remember when we did that TV show, The Old Grey Whistle Test with them over in London in 1980”. He then said “I’ve got to tell you Andy do you remember the synth records that we recorded back in the 80s it was your music that inspired us to go electro and the way that you dance with the bass guitar is where we got our moves from for the Eliminator videos” (laughter).

You have quite clearly inspired these people but who has inspired you?

That is the easiest question for me to answer that you have asked me all day, it was Kraftwerk who have been the biggest inspiration in my life. I went along to see them on 11th September 1975 at The Liverpool Empire and I sat in seat Q36. I remember it clearly because it was literally the first day of the rest of my life. I had just turned sixteen years old and they changed my life. I saw them and immediately thought that I wanted to do something like that.

Will you be able to see them this year when they tour the UK?

I’m not sure that I will be able to catch them this time; in fact I think that I am going to be busy. Strangely enough when they are playing here in Liverpool I will be in Germany doing some advance press for the new album.

What was the first record that you bought?

The first album that I bought was The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by the late David Bowie, and the first single was actually Without You by Harry Nilsson.

Who did you first see performing live in concert?

Now then, let me think. I think that the first gig that I ever went to see was Camel play The Snow Goose at the Liverpool Stadium.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

I was recently listening to a song that meant a lot to me and somebody else. It was, for lack of a better description ‘our song’. It was a piece of classical music and I hadn’t heard it for a little while and music has this immense power where you can hang a myriad of different memories upon a piece of music, and they all come flooding back; they are triggered by it when you hear it. So when I heard this Vaughan Williams piece I felt very emotional because it reminded me of somebody that I loved, who I don’t see anymore.

On that note Andy let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you later.

Thank you very much Kevin and I hope that you will come along and see us when we play in the summer together with our solo tour in the autumn. Bye for now and make sure that you come and say hi.