Liverpool has undergone a spectacular transformation in the last 20 or so years. As one of the cities built on the back of the Empire, it sunk into despair post-WW2 and was all but abandoned in the 80s by the then-government.
And like Glasgow, Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham, this in turn was a catalyst for an explosion of ideas which created some of the defining bands and music of the decade.
One of the key Liverpool bands of the decade were ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK who brought their previously maligned and now feted 1983 album ‘Dazzle Ships’to the Museum of Liverpool on the Albert Dock for 2 shows at the start of November. The shows were only part of a programme of Dazzle related events which started as an installation on the actual ship docked next to the museum and snowballed from there to include the gig and a programme of related films shown in the museum.
Like most attendees, the day started in the museum where a number of OMD related items were displayed in the foyer. This included posters and flyers for early gigs and releases, sleeves from those same albums / singles and some of the equipment that was integral to that early sound. These included the Korg MicroPreset used on solos of tracks like ‘Electricity’ and ‘Messages’ as well as the CR-78 drum machine, the sound of the intro to ‘Enola Gay’. Missing from the display however was Winston, the 3rd member of the band in those days, but more of him and his whereabouts later…
Appetite suitably whetted, it was off to the Edmund Gardner, a ship dry docked next to the museum which was Dazzled as part of ‘1914-1918 Now’. In the engine room, a short installation of new Dazzle Music from Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey was presented to small groups. These short linked pieces were in the style of ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III + VII)’ from the album, were challenging and then thought provoking, especially in conjunction with the lights and slightly claustrophobic environment.
Emerging back into the light of the Dock, it was back to the Museum for a series of short related films. These had been curated by Andy McCluskey himself and covered the ideas of camouflage, war and the history of the Dazzle Ships. But it was now time for the Museum to close in preparation for the main event itself, the evening’s show. Both gigs sold out in 90 seconds, the audience travelling from across Europe and further afield. By doors opening, the atmosphere was electric with rumours of never before played tracks featuring in the set alongside other performance surprises.
The foyer of the Museum was turned into a performance area for the band and there, centre stage, was Winston. ‘His’ appearance was due to Mal Holmes’ ongoing recovery from his heart attack in 2013 and although the popular drummer wasn’t present, he was very much a part of everyone’s thoughts as the tape rolled at 8:30 sharp and the strains of ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III + VII)’ filled the hall. For the next hour and a half, Humphreys, McCluskey and Martin Cooper ran through old favourites and the aforementioned surprises including the infamous semaphore flag waving mime performance of ‘ABC Auto-Industry’.
Highlights of the evening included an energetic ‘Genetic Engineering’ (“We need to put that back in the set!” said McCluskey), ‘Radio Waves’ and, central to the evening, performances of ‘4-Neu’ and ‘International’ which had never been performed live before. Note should be made of how good Andy McCluskey’s voice was throughout, powerful and emotional, and by the time he was warmed up, even forgetting the lyrics to ‘Metroland’ and ‘Sister Marie Says’ couldn’t dampen both the band’s and the audience’s enthusiasm. The sound and lighting, given the restrictions of the space and the time allowed to mount each night, were excellent and enhanced the performance rather than swamping it.
Post-show Andy and Paul held a Q&A for VIP ticket holders and guests. This was a lively and interesting session which further highlighted the band’s passion for the weekend, demonstrated a wry sense of humour, their friendship for one another and gave some hints as to new material next year.
OMD, alongside ULTRAVOX, are the best band of the Synth Britannia era. At the time, head and shoulders above the likes of DEPECHE MODE, ‘Dazzle Ships’ as an album was and remains a work of bonkers genius. Challenging, haunting and melancholic, it also featured some of the group’s best and purest synthpop songs in ‘Telegraph’ and ‘Radio Waves’ alongside darker material. The lack of commercial success after the monster selling ‘Architecture & Morality’ and associated singles led the band down a label imposed rabbit hole.
The what might have been tantalisingly hinted at by ‘Dazzle Ships’ some 30 years ago has in some way been delivered with 2013’s ‘English Electric’ and this weekend’s events. Those that were in Liverpool at these shows were given a treat they shall remember for a very long time.
‘Dazzle Ships’ is still available on CD via Virgin Records; the new remastered double CD edition of ‘Junk Culture’ is scheduled to be released in 2015
Text and photos by Ian Ferguson
13th November 2014