OMD have been a recording unit for 40 years and The Electricity Club has been attending their gigs for 39 of them!
A recent cartoon meme went “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things” and that sums up OMD in a nutshell.
The subjects in Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys’ music have included the suicide of a charismatic musician, the suicide of a woman who worked as a stripper because she had no other means of supporting herself, the racially motivated massacre of five innocent demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan, the death of over 100,000 people by nuclear attack and most notably on two hit singles, the brutal execution of a teenage girl!
It’s been a glorious achievement so to celebrate their four decade anniversary, OMD have issued their ‘Souvenir’, a lavish deluxe boxed set containing 5CDs, 2 DVDs, a hardback book, a fold-out poster and a set of quality 10 inch silver-on-black art card reproductions of sleeves such as ‘Electricity’ and ‘Telegraph’.
However, for the more cautious consumer, the set is also available as a truncated 2CD 40 track singles collection concluding with the brilliant new song ‘Don’t Go’; a great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ refined for BBC Radio2 airplay, it captures the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal.
With crystalline melodies from Paul Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from Andy McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, it is a better career spanning trailer than ‘Dreaming’ was for 1988’s first greatest hits ‘The Best of OMD’.
As a definitive singles anthology, also included are the superior single mix of ‘Shame’ produced by Rhett Davies, the under rated wintery soundscape of ‘Never Turn Away’ and the pretty ‘Pachelbel’s Canon tribute ‘La Femme Accident’. However, the inclusion of everything means that although OMD released that sublime singles series of ‘Messages’, ‘Enola Gay’, ‘Souvenir’, ‘Joan Of Arc’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’, they were also capable of total stinkers like ‘Stand Above Me’ and ‘If You Want It’!
While the singles are known by many, when assisting with the remastering of the first four OMD albums at Abbey Road, a visit by Paul Humphreys to the huge EMI tape archive near Heathrow to check and annotate the correct versions, uncovered a treasure trove of shelved recordings and demos.
The reels of vintage tapes were then baked to minimise risk of breakage and after some thoughtful listening and reminiscing, he compiled and painstakingly mixed a selection of unreleased songs and ideas to become ‘Unreleased Archive Vol1’
Paul Humphreys told The Electricity Club: “I found 22 tracks, some of which are full songs and some are just experiments that were never developed, but I had great fun mixing them. I mixed them only using FX and E’s that we would have used at the period, spring reverbs, crappy delays and Eventide Harmonisers. I had so much fun doing them and there are a couple of absolute gems in there! The big take away for me in this whole exercise was to see how we used to work, pre-computers.”
Although it was known that OMD had a number of unreleased songs in the vaults and several featured on the 2014 reissue of ‘Junk Culture’, the revelation that there was enough material to make up a 56 minute CD was a surprise.
“We basically used to lay down 5 minutes of one idea, then when we wanted a change of chord, we’d drop in the new section on different tracks, so on the desk we’d have to hand mute the first idea so they wouldn’t play together.” elaborated Humphreys, “But of course I can’t remember where to mute things now as I barely even remember the songs themselves, never mind what our vision was at the time, so I was left with a giant puzzle working out what tracks have to be on or off at certain points of the song…”
It all begins with the wonderful ‘Brand New Science’ recorded in 1981, a gloriously haunting and minimal slice of synthpop. The lyrics “there’s a brand new science, for a brand new world, with no moral codes and no big words…” actually appeared in the ‘Dazzle Ships’ tour programme of 1983, which begs the question as to how a recording of such quality was left off the parent album? However, a bizarre interview by McCluskey and Humphreys for BBC Radio1 with Richard Skinner from the period highlighted that other distractions may have come into play.
Although Andy McCluskey states in the accompanying notes that “it didn’t work”, ‘Dumbomb’ from 1986 with its wordplay, symphonic synthetic strings and Shakuhachi samples coupled to a rousing chorus is actually very charming, despite obviously needing more work.
Born to hand jive, the superb 1985 vintage of ‘Liberator’ sees OMD doing electro rock ‘n’ roll with a rhythmic backbone like a collaboration with BOW WOW WOW! It is certainly better than ‘Maria Gallante’ which was released from the same sessions as a B-side to ‘So In Love’ and beats hands down most of the contents on the eventual 1993 McCluskey steered long player that was actually called ‘Liberator’.
Fully formed songs from ‘The Pacific Age’ era such as ‘Cut Me Down’ and ‘Cajun Moon’ reveal their Fairlighted origins and a mish-mash of styles; the former features an oddball mix of LA DÜSSELDORF and jazz, while the latter showcases a love of PRINCE but oddly sounds like DURAN DURAN offshoot ARCADIA and their ‘Say The Word’, a song that appeared in the film ‘Playing For Keeps’ to which OMD also contributed an early version of ‘We Love You’.
From the musique concrète inspired experiments of the ‘Dazzle Ships’ period, ‘Radio Swiss International’ (affectionately referred to by OMD drummer Mal Holmes as “the ice cream song”) is coldly eerie with drifting synth drones and signal interference alongside the station call sign. Meanwhile of the earliest recordings from 1980, ‘Organ Ditty’ is just that, while ‘Ambient 1’ has the ringing melodic bones of 2013’s ‘Our System’ and the speedy ‘Unused 1’ was probably not developed due to its inherent similarity to the theme from ‘Stanlow’.
Fairlight driven demos from the ‘Crush’ and ‘The Pacific Age’ make up the majority of the actual songs on ‘Unreleased Archive Vol1’ and ‘Weekend’ shows potential; on closer scrutiny, it is actually not that dissimilar to ‘Final Song’ from 2013’s ‘English Electric’.
Understandably, not all the material is of such high quality but most of it is at least interesting. The motorik ‘Untitled 2’ from 1981 is undoubtedly a blueprint for ‘Genetic Engineering’, a song that itself influenced by Brian Eno’s ‘China My China’.
But the kosmische template is taken further on ‘Guitar Thrash’ from 1982 which sees OMD emulating NEU! in a more blatant manner. Continuing the Brian Eno connection, ‘Violin Piece’ is a 1982 recording of yes, Andy McCluskey trying to master a violin that comes over like an audition for THE PORTSMOUTH SINFONIA.
1990’s ‘American Venus’ from when Humphreys and McCluskey were drifting apart musically sees the front man playing around with vocoder dressing, which is at least closer to what could be considered as sounding more like OMD than the Latin brass-assisted romp of ‘Dynamo Children’ which sees them amusingly mutate into MODERN ROMANCE! Then there’s also the 1990 waltz of ‘Flamenco’ laced with its Spanish and blues guitar samples.
The bones of a percussive sketch come with 1984’s ‘Flutey’ before ‘Unreleased Archive Vol1’ closes with ‘Nice Ending’ which does exactly what it says on the tin with a choral typewriter collage constructed in 1981.
The labelling indicates there will be an ‘Unreleased Archive Vol2’ but what could be included on it? There is a Paul Humphreys song entitled ‘Suspicion’ which was discussed in the 1988 fan club newsletter, while McCluskey’s theme for the Danny Boyle directed political drama ‘For The Greater Good’ has yet to receive a formal release. Then there’s ballads such as ‘Kiss Of Death’ and Twins’ which were left off ‘Liberator’ due to their more introspective outlook.
Meanwhile from the same time as they recorded THE XX’s ‘VCR’ in 2010, there is also known to be a cover of ‘Shelter’ in the can as well. Plus there is a synthpop take on ‘If You’re Still In Love With Me’ which was mooted as a single in 1993 but then re-recorded with a string quartet for 1996’s more organic and traditional ‘Universal’ album and a slowed-down house number called ‘Resist The Sex Act’.
Add in a superb audio document of the 1983 ‘Dazzle Ships’ live presentation (minus ‘Genetic Engineering’ which OMD got badly wrong on that final night of the tour at Hammersmith Odeon), BBC video material like ‘Top Of the Pops’ appearances and the once only broadcasted ‘ORS’ 1985 concert special from Sheffield City Hall plus the documentary ‘Crush The Movie’, ‘Souvenir’ is a worthy manageable package with a wealth of hard-to-get and unreleased material to satisfy OMD enthusiasts.
Yes, OMD have not merely plonked 13 albums into a boxed set… 😉
The ‘Souvenir’ 5CD + 2DVD deluxe boxed set is released by Universal Music
OMD Souvenir 40th Anniversary 2019 – 2020 European + UK Tour, dates include:
Belfast Ulster Hall (23rd October), Dublin Olympia (24th October), Nottingham Royal Concert Hall (26th October), York Barbican (27th October), Hull Arena (28th October), Gateshead Sage (30th October), Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (31st October), Manchester Apollo (1st November), Sheffield City Hall (3rd November), Liverpool Empire (4th November), Birmingham Symphony Hall (5th November), Leicester De Montford Hall (7th November), Bath Pavilion (8th November), Oxford New Theatre (9th November), Guildford G Live (11th November), Portsmouth Guildhall (12th November), Watford Colosseum (13th November), Cambridge Corn Exchange (15th November), Ipswich Regent (16th November), Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion (17th November), Bournemouth Pavilion (19th November), London Hammersmith Apollo (20th November), Rostock Stadthalle (25th November), Dresden Kulturpalast (26th November), Leipzig Haus Auensee (28th November), Berlin Tempodrom (29th November), Hamburg Grosse Freiheit 36 (30th November), Saarbrücken Saarlandhalle (2nd December), Stuttgart Leiderhalle (3rd December), Düsseldorf Mitsubishi Electric-Halle (5th December), Frankfurt Jahrhunderthalle (6th December), Krakow Studio (3rd February), Warsaw Progresja (4th February), Oslo Rockefeller Musichall (7th February), Stockholm Berns (9th February), Malmo KB (10th February), Copenhagen Vega (12th February), Brussels Ancienne Belgique (14th February), Utrecht Tivoli (15th February), Paris La Cigale (16th February)
Celebrating their 40th Anniversary, OMD are one of the acts from the Synth Britannia era whose creative powers now are as strong as their chart heyday.
Setting a high standard of romantic retro-futurism with lyrical gists ranging from technology and war to deceased religious figures and long distance relationships, OMD released their debut single ‘Electricity’ in 1979, a statement about the environment that would have made today’s young campaigner Greta Thunberg proud.
Those who complain that OMD’s music is not dark enough often forget that within their highly melodic songs, subjects have included the suicide of a charismatic musician, the suicide of a woman who worked as a stripper because she had no other means of supporting herself, the racially motivated massacre of five innocent demonstrators by the Ku Klux Klan, the death of over 140,000 people by nuclear attack and most notably on two hit singles, the brutal execution of a teenage girl!
Founder members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys began an impressive run of acclaimed albums and hit singles, starting with the Mike Howlett produced ‘Messages’ in 1980. The huge European popularity of the follow-up ‘Enola Gay’ captured the Cold War angst of the times under the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction, while ‘Maid Of Orleans’ became the biggest selling single of 1982 in West Germany when Der Bundesrepublik was the biggest Western music market after the USA and Japan.
Long-time drummer Mal Holmes and live keyboardist Martin Cooper joined the fray as full band members for 1983’s ‘Dazzle Ships’ album, but things went creatively awry for OMD as McCluskey and Humphreys found themselves in an existential crisis, following journalistic criticism that songs about dead saints were not going to change the world. The more politically charged and experimental album failed to sell, but has since been re-evaluated in the 21st Century as a meisterwerk.
Bruised and under commercial pressure, OMD opted to pursue more conventional ambitions and traditions to stay in the black and scored the Top5 US hit ‘If You Leave’ from the John Hughes movie ‘Pretty In Pink’ in 1986. However a North American tour opening for DEPECHE MODE in 1988 failed to sustain momentum. In the backdrop of the resultant fallout and the inevitable musical differences, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper departed, leaving McCluskey with the OMD brand name.
However, the split precipitated a number of interesting artistic and creative diversions for McCluskey and Humphreys which despite the triumphant reunion of the classic line-up in 2007 and the success of OMD’s most recent album ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’ in 2017 , continue in varying degrees today in parallel with band activities.
In his most recent interview with The Electricity Club, Paul Humphreys said: “I still find it utterly amazing and rather fantastic that after 40 years, OMD is still alive and well, selling out big tours and making what even our harshest critics consider to be relevant new records.”
By way of a Beginner’s Guide to showcase the diverse facets of OMD, The Electricity Club has selected a hefty 25 tracks of interest from their career, although largely eschewing those made famous by singular consumption.
But with so many tracks available and the list already being VERY long, links to the OMD family tree like THE ID as well as contributions to the soundtracks of ‘For The Greater Good’, ‘Eddie The Eagle’ and ‘The D-Train’ (which between them saw McCluskey working with notable names such as Danny Boyle, Gary Barlow, Hugh Jackman and Jack Antonoff) have been omitted.
With a restriction of one track per album project, they highlight how two lads from The Wirral have maintained their standing as a creative and cultural force four decades on, despite their numerous ups and downs.
OMD The Messerschmitt Twins (1980)
With their passion for military aircraft and German music, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys were nicknamed ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’; this mournful Compurhythm driven synth ballad of the same name had mournful if cryptic lyrics which could be seen as the thoughts of aircrew during wartime missions, pondering whether they would return to home. The bleak fatalistic narrative was given further resonance by Andy McCluskey’s resigned vocalisation.
The ‘Organisation’ album saw OMD purchase their first polyphonic synthesizer, a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 which allowed Paul Humphreys to explore more haunting gothic timbres away from the cheesier chords of the Vox Jaguar organ. Shaped by eerie choir textures and a repeating two note synthbass motif set to Mal Holmes’ simple marching snare pattern, the beauty of ‘2nd Thought’ echoed the third section of KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ and displayed a maturity in OMD’s developing sound.
Running at almost eight minutes, the nautical adventure of ‘Sealand’ demonstrated OMD’s mastery of the epic, mysteriously beginning with a ghostly collage of melodica and reed horns before sad synths and progressive sweeps made their presence felt. Featuring just a minute of vocals in the sparse middle section, the penultimate movement collapsed into a fit of industrial noise before a slow misty reprise of the main melodic theme, like a lost ship in the fog.
Like ‘Maid Of Orleans’, the harrowing ‘International’ was musically inspired by the skippy waltz of ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’ by Brian Eno. The introductory news report about “a young girl from Nicaragua whose hands had been cut off at the wrists by the former Somoza guards…” acted as one of the fuels for Andy McCluskey to express his anger about economic corruption, political hypocrisy and torture in captivity, all topics which are still sadly relevant today.
THE PARTNERSHIP was an unrealised side project of Peter Saville cohort and ex-SPOONS member Brett Wickens with Roger Humphreys (no relation) who recorded as CERAMIC HELLO. Produced by William Orbit, the pulsatingly uptempo ‘Sampling The Blast Furnace’ featured guest vocals from Andy McCluskey alongside vocodered voices and chants by Martha Ladly. While this version remains unreleased, the slower McCluskey-less demo was on the reissue of CERAMIC HELLO’s only album.
Not officially released, alternate version available on the CERAMIC HELLO album ‘The Absence Of A Canary V1.1’ via Vinyl On Demand
After the critical mauling that ‘Dazzle Ships’ received, OMD were in debt to Virgin Records and realised that they would have to sell more records to survive. The commercial pressure led to a trip to the sunnier climes of AIR Studios in Monserrat and the musically diverse ‘Junk Culture’. A song about McCluskey’s intimate liaison with a local girl, the bizarre mix of carnival whistles, soca, Mellotron choir, rhythm guitar and 808 driven electro came over a bit like AZTEC CAMERA produced by Arthur Baker.
1985’s ‘Crush’ was Stephen Hague’s first full album production and opened the doors for OMD’s ambitions in the US. Following the success of ‘If You Leave’, ‘The Pacific Age’ continued the partnership and was intended to reinforce momentum. The opening song ‘Stay’ threw in the kitchen sink from Mal Holmes’ mighty drums to layers of synthetic strings plus the addition of soulful female backing singers, brass and heavy metal guitar. But the esoteric elements that made OMD so appealing were being wiped away.
The suave and sophisticated Etienne Daho was seen as France’s answer to George Michael. While OMD were in Paris recording ‘The Pacific Age’ at Studio de la Grande Armée, they took part in a ‘Les Enfants Du Rock’ French TV special also which also saw their French label mate interviewing his musical influences like Françoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg. The DAHOMD duet saw Daho and McCluskey low voices blend well over the original Stephen Hague produced single from ‘Crush’.
Available on the ETIENNE DAHO deluxe album ‘Pop Satori’ via Virgin Records
ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES Walkaway (1989)
Producer Arthur Baker gathered a studio collective to make a pop record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop. His first since the fragmentation of OMD, Andy McCuskey contributed lyrics, keyboards and vocals to the electro-reggae of ‘Walkaway’ which threatened to turn into CULTURE CLUB’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’. The vocal cast of the ‘Merge’ album included Al Green, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho.
Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records
Going it alone as OMD, Andy McCluskey became open to collaboration. Meeting Stuart Kershaw and Lloyd Massett from pop rap combo RAW UNLTD, the pair set about modernising the rhythmic elements of McCluskey’s new songs. The ghostly ‘Walking On Air’ referenced ‘Statues’ from ‘Organisation’ while the mechanical bossa nova evoked the mellow moods of Bryan Ferry. Kershaw has since taken over the drum stool from Mal Holmes who left OMD in 2014 for health reasons.
Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records
THE LISTENING POOL Where Do We Go From Here? (1993)
With bursts of sampled choir, electric piano and wah-wah guitar, ‘Where Do We Go From Here?’ came from THE LISTENING POOL’s only album ‘Still Life’ released in 1994. Driven by a gently percolating drum machine programmed by Mal Holmes, the understated air reminiscent of CHINA CRISIS was sweetened by Martin Cooper’s soprano set with Paul Humphreys vocally pondering their creative situation with the threesome having now departed the OMD camp.
Available on the THE LISTENING POOL album ‘Still Life’ via Telegraph Records
Recorded for his ELEKTRIC MUSIC project after leaving KRAFTWERK, Karl Bartos’ collaboration with Andy McCluskey featured one of his best melodies synth melodies. Bartos told The Electricity Club: “He suggested we do something together and I was up for it… We picked some cassettes and finally I found the opening notes of ‘Kissing The Machine’”. With fabulously surreal lyrics about a love affair with a sexy robot, the song was later resurrected with new backing from Paul Humphreys for ‘English Electric’.
Available on the ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’ via SPV Records
On a commercial roll and aiming for a younger pop market, ‘Liberator’ featured lots of busy modern dance effects but saw Andy McCluskey losing his way in the song department. Its confused schizophrenic nature was compounded by the pure genius of darker numbers like ‘King Of Stone’ and ‘Christine’. The symphonic string laden ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’ was another of the better tracks, borrowing its solemn topline from ‘Spanish Harlem’, a song made famous by Ben E King.
Available on the OMD album ‘Liberator’ via Virgin Records
After the muted reception for 1993’s painfully poppy ‘Liberator’, Andy McCluskey brought in a more conventional rock sound for 1996’s ‘Universal’. However, the OASIS sounding ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ failed to get major traction. One of its B-sides ‘The New Dark Age’ gave a haunting nod to ‘Statues’ using the auto-accompaniment on the Elgam Symphony organ and was the last great synth song of the solo era as the OMD vehicle was quietly retired by McCluskey… for now!
When Andy McCluskey joined Stuart Kershaw to make some dysfunctional pop for a girl group, most thought he had lost his marbles. The original project HONEYHEAD was stillborn, but when three girls from Liverpool were recruited to form ATOMIC KITTEN, it eventually led to a UK No1 single with ‘Whole Again’. However, the demo of the first single ‘Right Now’ sounded like disco evergreen ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ arranged like ‘Sugar Tax’ era OMD, but with female vocals!
Available on the ATOMIC KITTEN single ‘Right Now’ via Innocent Records
Having been ousted from Team AK by coup d’état, Andy McCluskey licked his wounds and recruited another three local girls to form THE GENIE QUEEN. Featuring soon-to-be WAG / top model Abbey Clancy and future TV presenter Anna Ord, ‘What A Girl Goes Through’ was an appealing pop R ’n’ B number based around samples of ‘Souvenir’. The project disbanded without being signed, but a track intended for THE GENIE QUEEN called ‘Pulse’ appeared on ‘History Of Modern’ featuring the girls.
Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken released their only album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion and which had also been co-written with Andy McCluskey. The pretty ringing melodies and elegiac atmospheres were very reminiscent of classic OMD. But the collaboration had been unusual as at the time of the song’s conception, as Humphreys had not yet committed to rejoining McCluskey in his old band.
BLANK & JONES featuring BERNARD SUMNER Miracle Cure – Paul Humphreys Onetwo remix (2008)
Having worked with THE CURE’s Robert Smith, trance duo Piet Blank and Jaspa Jones had Bernard Sumner of NEW ORDER high on their list of vocalists for their album ‘The Logic Of Pleasure’, which also featured Claudia Brücken. The German duo remixed ONETWO’s ‘Kein Anschluß’, so naturally the gesture was reciprocated when Paul Humphreys offered his smooth offbeat atmospheric rework of ‘Miracle Cure’ in what could be seen as the nearest thing to a NEW ORDER vs OMD collaboration.
Of this ‘History Of Modern’ highlight, Paul Humphreys told The Electricity Club: “It was a song Andy did many, many years ago with Stuart and I think it was done in the 90s. He played it to me and it sounded a bit like a rock ballad. I said ‘I think the vocal tune’s great, but everything else has to go. Give me the vocal stem and I’ll do a whole new track for it’, so I came to my studio and completely reworked it.” – the result was mesmerising and even dropped in ROXY MUSIC’s ‘If There Is Something’ at the close.
Mal Holmes once said that “MIRRORS do OMD better than OMD do OMD!”… originally a ten minute epic split into three movements, ‘Secrets’ closed MIRRORS’ outstanding ‘Lights & Offerings’ long player, driven by an intense percussive tattoo and a shifting octave bass riff that was pure Klingklang. While pushing forward the synthetic claps, Andy McCluskey stripped down and the backing and shortened proceedings, making it much less claustrophobic and militaristic than the original.
Originally on the MIRRORS deluxe album ‘Lights & Offerings’ via Undo Records, currently unavailable
PAUL HUMPHREYS & DOUGLAS COUPLAND Electric Ikebana (2012)
A collaboration between ‘Generation X’ author Douglas Coupland, and Paul Humphreys, ‘Electric Ikebana’ was an audio visual installation to act as the voice of the network for French telecoms company Alcatel-Lucent. The beautiful piece had conceptual hints of KRAFTWERK’s ‘The Voice Of Energy’ while there was also a charming mathematical formula recital “x = [-b +- √(b² -4ac)] / 2a” to the tune of the nursery rhyme ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ which recalled ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ from ‘Dazzle Ships’.
Of ‘Helen Of Troy’, Andy McCluskey said to The Electricity Club: “George Geranios and Nick Bitzenis of FOTONOVELA were our label bosses in Greece via their Undo Records and they sent me this track…the demo had Nick going “Helen Of Troy – Helen Of Troy” so I took his vocal off as you do, chopped it all up and rearranged it… it’s gorgeous! I have used some of Nick’s backing vocals… I love it to bits! And ‘Helen Of Troy’ is much more of a metaphor than either of the ‘Joan Of Arcs’ were.”
Andy Bell’s debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’ had been produced by ONETWO’s backing band THE MANHATTAN CLIQUE and featured two duets with Claudia Brücken. ‘The Violet Flame’ album saw ERASURE express an infectious zest for the future with songs beginning as pre-recorded dance grooves from Vince Clarke. But the best number from the sessions was ‘Be The One’ remixed by Paul Humphreys who added some of the beautiful Synthwerk magic that characterised ‘English Electric’.
The avant pop approach of VILE ELECTRODES is reminiscent of early OMD, with ‘Deep Red’ capturing Andy McCluskey’s interest enough to invite the duo to support the German leg of the ‘English Electric’ tour. With its potent drama, ‘The Vanished Past’ came complete with a mighty drum climax like ‘Navigation’. Bleak and wonderful, “not everything is as it seems” as a forlorn stranger joins in after five minutes. As the adventure unfolds like a lost OMD epic, that stranger reveals himself to be Mr McCluskey!
OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, have come full circle. A great grandchild of Klingklang and cousin of ‘Metroland’ from ‘English Electric’ but refined for BBC Radio 2 airplay, ‘Don’t Go’ captures the essence of OMD’s enduring electronic appeal. With crystalline synth melodies from Humphreys and a spirited vocal delivery from McCluskey attached to a hypnotic Synthanorma backdrop, OMD continue to produce quality avant pop tunes.
William Mark Wainwright got his affectionate nickname Orbit from his friends who considered him to be something of a “space cadet”.
As William Orbit, the Hackney born musician and composer became one of the most revered producers, winning Grammys, Ivor Novellos and several other music industry awards.
Despite being a competent guitarist, Orbit considered himself unable to play keyboards well and admitted that it was the advent computers in music that allowed him to fully realise his creative potential.
His portfolio has ranged from electronic acts like KRAFTWERK, OMD, CAMOUFLAGE, ERASURE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, NITZER EBB and DEPECHE MODE to rock bands like QUEEN, U2 and BLUR.
However, it was within dance-oriented pop that Orbit made his fortune through productions characterised by his trancey soundscapes, sparing fretwork and understated rhythmic construction. He even had a Top5 hit bearing his own name, albeit with a radically different trance remix by Ferry Corsten of ‘Adagio For Strings’ in 2000.
Brought up in a classical music loving family, Orbit shocked his teacher parents by dropping out of school to pursue his more creative inclinations, having tried a synth for the first time at the age of sixteen.
Things came to came to fruition when a friend wanted to start a recording studio. That venture eventually became Guerilla Studios which has now been based in various locations over the past three and a half decades.
These days, Orbit is a very content man, hosting a classical music show on Scala Radio as well as curating occasional lecture and multimedia art events.
Showing little concern for the financial aspects of the music industry, his two most recent albums ‘Orbit Symphonic’ and ‘Strange Cargo 5’ were given away as free downloads on Soundcloud in 2014.
With such a vast and varied career, it would be quite tricky to compile eighteen tracks involving Orbit’s magic touch, but The Electricity Club will attempt to do that with the restriction of one track per album project. So presented in chronological order, here is a Beginner’s Guide to William Orbit.
TORCH SONG Prepare To Energise (1983)
Comprising Orbit, Laurie Mayer, Grant Gilbert and latterly Rico Conning who subsequently worked with Martin Gore on the ‘Counterfeit’ collection, TORCH SONG were signed by music entrepreneur by Miles Copeland; the advance allowed for Orbit to build up his Guerilla Studios. ‘Prepare To Energise’ is probably still their best known tune, a pulsating cosmic club favourite with robotic voices and synthesized textures which featured in the film ‘Bachelor Party’ that was maybe ahead of its time.
Originally available on the TORCH SONG ‘Wish Thing’ via IRS Records, currently unavailable
THE PARTNERSHIP was an unrealised side project comprising of Peter Saville cohort and ex-SPOONS member Brett Wickens with Roger Humphreys who together recorded as CERAMIC HELLO. Produced by Orbit and heavily influenced by KRAFTWERK, the uptempo ‘Sampling The Blast Furnace’ featured lead vocals by Andy McCluskey of OMD alongside vocodered voices and chants by Martha Ladly. The slower McCluskey-less demo was a bonus on the reissue of CERAMIC HELLO’s only album.
Having artists from Mute Records and their dance subsidiary Rhythm King who included S-EXPRESS being remixed at Guerilla Studios gave Daniel Miller first-hand exposure to William Orbit’s capabilities. So who better to ask to house-up ERASURE’s cover version of Cerrone’s electronic disco landmark? The end result was suitably vibrant while still importantly retaining the core of the tune amongst all the fascinating dance rhythms and interplanetary effects.
From THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s final Virgin album, ‘The Stars Are Going Out’ was a good tune from Oakey and Co that was one of four mixed by William Orbit in a bitty collection that also contained two songs produced by Martin Rushent and one by ex-ZTT cohort Bob Kraushaar. Strangely though, there appeared to be little of Orbit’s distinctive magic audible in the end result. It had been an unhappy time, as Orbit preferred to work without any of the band present, something they had not been prepared for.
Available on THE HUMAN LEAGUE album ‘Romantic?’ via Virgin Records
Combining modern developments in house music and dub with the feel of SOUL II SOUL, Orbit slotted right into the zeitgeist with ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ featuring vocalist Sharon Musgrave and rapper MC Inna One Step with an uplifting club friendly number that had “pulsating action” and was “breaking into heaven”. BASSOMATIC lasted for just two albums but it cemented Orbit’s position as a studio wizard who understood sound as well as the dancefloor.
KRAFTWERK Radioactivity – William Orbit 12″ Remix (1991)
‘The Mix’ was actually supervised by KRAFTWERK themselves, with the most significant makeover being ‘Radioactivity’ and its additional unsettling machine chant of “TSCHERNOBYL – HARRISBURGH – SELLAFIELD – HIROSHIMA” for an anti-nuclear message highlighting recent atomic catastrophes. For the single release, remixes were farmed out externally and Orbit’s version offered a more preferable electro enhancement than François Kevorkian’s house laden rework.
Originally available on the KRAFTWERK single ‘Radioactivity’ via EMI Records, currently unavailable
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring BETH ORTON Water From A Vine Leaf (1993)
If there was a track that could be considered the root of the recognised Orbit signature sound, it probably has to be ‘Water From A Vine Leaf’, his first collaboration with kooky folktronica maiden Beth Orton. Having met at a party and beginning a relationship shortly after, he asked her to contribute spoken word phrases and singing for the third in his ‘Strange Cargo’ series over some looping rhythms, hypnotic bass and chill-out vibes. Orton went on to have a solo career and work with THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS.
Orbit’s concept of adapting classical works came about because he wanted to make a chill-out album that had some good tunes. In his first attempt using a pseudonym, one of the key tracks was ‘Fratres’ by 20th Century Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Comprising of a six-bar theme, Orbit gave his electronic arrangement a sublime haunting stillness that explored the piece’s rich harmonic space via a slow meditative tempo. However, Pärt objected to its copyright infringement and the album was quickly withdrawn.
Originally on THE ELECTRIC CHAMBER album ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ via N-Gram Recordings, currently unavailable
With Orbit having remixed ‘Erotica’ in 1992, Ms Ciccone was keen to work with the Englishmen, spending four and a half months at Larrabee Studios in Hollywood. ‘Ray Of Light’ was an interpolation of a little known 1971 song ‘Sepheryn’ by the British folk duo of Dave Curtiss and Clive Maldoon. Despite its frantic pace, Orbit ensured that the rhythmic elements were subtle in their make up to procure an earthy rave quality that was the antithesis of most dance music of the era.
With his new found fame via MADONNA, Orbit was given the opportunity to reissue ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ and included several new recordings, one of which was Ludwig Van Beethoven’s lesser known ‘Triple Concerto’. With synthetic bells and glistening pentatonics reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamoto added for a soothing lullaby effect, use was also made of the metallic percussive loop that had been part of his version of Arvo Pärt’s ‘Cantus’ from the original withdrawn album… waste not, want not!
Following MADONNA’s success, next in line for the Orbit treatment were London girl group ALL SAINTS. Having scored a No1 with the sublime ‘Pure Shores’ from ‘The Beach’ soundtrack, the combination did it again with ‘Black Coffee’. Orbit’s dreamy electronic aesthetics, spacey effects and minimal textural guitar worked perfectly for the soulful quartet to produce something that was commercial and accessible yet otherworldly and unconventional.
With his high-public profile thanks to MADONNA and ALL SAINTS, it was no big surprise when U2 came calling. With a suitably airy beginning and heavy on acoustic guitar for the more esoteric sound that the Dubliners had been peddling since working with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, in the end ‘Electrical Storm’ just built up to sound just like U2, albeit with occasionally prominent windy electronic textures. There was also a second Orbit produced tune in ‘The Hands That Built America’.
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring SUGABABES & KENNA Spiral (2006)
Continuing his flirtation with out-and-out pop, Orbit teamed up with the UK pop’s answer to Charlie’s Angels SUGABABES and US/Ethopian artist Kenna on this slice of ambient electro R’n’B. Continuing to collaborate with TORCH SONG bandmates Laurie Mayer and Rico Conning, while the ‘Hello Waveforms’ album continued in the chill-out vein of ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ and even included ‘The Humming Chorus’ by Puccini, prominent vocals were in the mix as well as real strings and brass.
By the mid-noughties, Robbie Williams was the biggest popstar in the world but strange things were happening in the wake of his split with hit collaborator Guy Chambers. Finding a new collaborator in Stephen ‘Tin Tin’ Duffy, he belatedly went electroclash with their first fruit of labour ‘Radio’. He then went all Synth Britannia on ‘Rudebox’, working with PET SHOP BOYS but also covering his new writing partner’s ‘Kiss Me’ and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s ‘Louise’ which Orbit produced…
Available on the ROBBIE WILLIAMS album ‘Rudebox’ via EMI Records
WILLIAM ORBIT featuring SARAH BLACKWOOD White Night (2010)
During the CLIENT hiatus, Sarah Blackwood took time out to work on ‘White Night’, a Rico Conning penned track for Orbit’s ‘My Oracle Lives Uptown’ album which dated back to their TORCH SONG days. Although her version did not appear on the final tracklisting, her take was offered as a free download. More accessible than some of CLIENT’s offerings but more purely electronic than DUBSTAR, this was a priceless pop gem which lyrically expressed her pain during that period.
Originally available as a free download, currently unavailable
Producing a long awaited follow-up to his original electronic classical collection, ‘Pieces In A Modern Style 2’ continued where its predecessor left off, offering another predominantly chill-out album that had some good tunes. But one of the bonuses was an unexpected novelty in a sparkling technopop version of Georges Bizet’s opera standard ‘Carmen’, complete with stabbing synths and dramatic percussive passages to portray the seductive title character as a kind of Barbarella.
A co-write with the one-time princess of pop, ‘Alien’ highlighted Britney’s feelings of loneliness. However, a vocal warm-up recording without her characteristic electronic treatment was leaked onto the internet, prompting Orbit to say in defence of the starlet: “Whomever put this on the internet must have done so in a spirit of unkindness, but it can in no way detract from the fact that Britney is and always will be beyond stellar! She is magnificent! And that’s that.”
Orbit had discussed how becoming a superstar producer had made him unhappy and how he was pleased to have blown his fortune as all he had done was spend it on first class travel and equipment he never used. So when he recorded ‘Did It For Love’ with actress, artist and performer Triana Terry, the sentiment couldn’t have been more poignant in a feisty oddball mixture of electronic, pop and rock dynamics. Together, Orbit and Terry have presented a number of exhibitions combining paintings and music.
Not officially released, only available on YouTube
It all began with a KRAFTWERK-influenced ditty warning about environmental catastrophe, one that has become poignant again in the 21st Century…
“I became friends with Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos in the 90s, and was invited to Wolfgang’s flat for dinner” said Andy McCluskey at the Electri_City_Conference in 2015, “on the wall was a gold record for ‘Radio-Activity’ which was a hit single in France. I was telling them that ‘Radio-Activity’ was the song that most influenced OMD and told them ‘Electricity’ was just an English punk version of ‘Radio-Activity’. They replied ‘Yes, we know!’… it was that obvious!”
In an accolade already accorded to ENO, JAPAN, SIMPLE MINDS, ABBA and THE POLICE, OMD’s first four landmark long players ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’, ‘Organisation’, ‘Architecture & Morality’ and ‘Dazzle Ships’ are being reissued as Half Speed Abbey Road vinyl remasters. Packaged in reproductions of their original Peter Saville designed sleeves complete with die-cuts where appropriate, these releases from Universal Music reaffirm OMD’s often forgotten role as premier electronic pop pioneers.
Originally released in February 1980 on the Factory Records inspired Virgin subsidiary Dindisc Records, ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’ was a promising debut album from Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, two lads from The Wirral who had finally been able realise their passion for electronic music following the purchase of a Korg M500 Micro-Preset synthesizer paid for in instalments via a mail order catalogue.
Featuring their third released version of ‘Electricity’, the album also included their chanty commentary on the mechanics of war entitled ‘Bunker Soldiers’. Away from these energetic post-punk synth numbers, on the other side of the coin were ‘Almost’ and ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’, two emotive synth ballads that were equal to KRAFTWERK’s ‘Neon Lights’. However, their naivety was exposed by the inclusion of the quirky instrumental ‘Dancing’ which OMD even dared to play live during their BBC TV debut on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’!
Even early on in their career, OMD’s concerns about the music industry machine were looming in ‘Julia’s Song’ and ‘Pretending To See The Future’; the latter was outstripped a few months later by a John Peel session version which formed the basis of the full live band rendition when McCluskey and Humphreys retired Winston, their TEAC A3340S tape recorder which had accompanied them on their breakthrough tour opening for GARY NUMAN in Autumn 1979.
OMD’s debut now comes over like a time capsule; ‘Red Frame / White Light’, a lightweight synthpop tune celebrating the 632 3003 phone box that acted as the band’s office captured an era before mobiles and the internet, while in honour of good old fashioned love letter writing, ‘Messages’ was at this point just a song with potential as a single.
Indeed, it was only when ‘Messages’ was re-recorded, produced by Mike Howlett with Malcolm Holmes adding drums, that led to a No13 hit in June 1980 and ultimately the ‘Organisation’ album which came out in October 1980. More gothic in nature, the album began misleadingly with the melodic Motorik lattice that was ‘Enola Gay’.
With its iconic Roland CR78 Compurhythm pattern and wordplay referring to the horrific bombing of Hiroshima by the Boeing B29 Superfortress flown by Colonel Paul Tibbets named after his mother, ‘Enola Gay’ was a clever observational statement about the first ever operational use of nuclear weapons. Massively popular in France and Italy, it also reached No8 in the UK singles chart.
But alongside ‘Enola Gay’ on this much more mature long player, there was also the hypnotic beauty of the often under rated ‘2nd Thought’ and ‘Statues’, the brooding Ian Curtis tribute which was built around an Elgam Symphony organ’s auto-accompaniment. With the purchase of a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Humphreys began exploring. Often using brassy tones set slightly out of tune for some haunting overtones, it made its presence felt on tracks like ‘The Misunderstanding’ and ‘Stanlow’.
As with the debut, there were a few missteps like the JOY DIVISION aping cover of ‘The More I See You’ which was different if nothing else, while the SPARKS inspired ‘Motion & Heart’ would be improved as a reworked ‘Amazon Version’ for an abandoned follow-up 45 to ‘Enola Gay’.
With two albums released in nine months, their first Top 10 hit and the biggest record sales of 1980 in the Virgin Records group, a triumphant concert at Hammersmith Odeon that December which concluded with an unexpected massed stage invasion, ended a brilliant year for OMD. But McCluskey and Humphreys could not have foreseen that 1981 would see them get even bigger.
Although Mike Howlett worked on the ethereal tape choir centred ‘Souvenir’, which was co-written by live keyboardist Martin Cooper and became OMD’s first Top 3 in September 1981, scheduling issues meant Humphreys and McCluskey self-produced what would become ‘Architecture & Morality’ with engineer Richard Manwaring, released in November 1981.
Featuring two spirited songs about ‘Joan Of Arc’, these were to become another pair of UK Top 5 hits with the ‘Maid of Orleans’ variant also becoming 1982’s biggest selling single in West Germany when Der Bundesrepublik was the biggest Western music market after the USA and Japan.
The big booming ambience of the ‘Architecture & Morality’ album next to big blocks of Mellotron choir gave OMD their masterpiece, tinged more with the spectre of LA DÜSSELDORF rather than KRAFTWERK.
“People always talk to us about KRAFTWERK, and obviously, they were hugely important” said McCluskey, “But there was another element from Düsseldorf that influenced us, and that was the organic side which was firstly NEU! and then LA DÜSSELDORF and Michael Rother’s solo records.”
The ENO-esque percussive six string thrash of ‘The New Stone Age’, the bouncy but moody ‘Georgia’ and the guitar assisted choral beauty of ‘The Beginning & The End’ demonstrated OMD’s musical ambition.
Meanwhile, the ringing theme of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Time’ was borrowed for the instrumental title track and the epic overtures of the almost wordless ‘Sealand’ also confirmed Humphreys’ affinity with progressive rock.
Malcolm Holmes was in his element on ‘Architecture & Morality’, thumping stark percussive colours while syncopating off various rhythm machines.
“The majority of the drum programming would always be done by Andy or Paul” he said, “My part would be to lay down on that… My favourite period of OMD musically was ‘Architecture & Morality’ because of my involvement and how creative I was being at the time, using the kit differently.”
”I think ‘Architecture & Morality’ was a complete album, it was just so whole” said Paul Humphreys to The Electricity Club in 2010, “The sound of it was unique, every song… it wasn’t a ‘bitty’ album. A few of our albums are ‘bitty’ but that was where we finally found a sound that was OMD. I think the first two albums were leading to ‘Architecture & Morality’. We were refining our sound and then we found it.”
Meanwhile in ‘She’s Leaving’, there was a big fourth hit single in-waiting from the album characterised by its sweet melodies, forlorn vocals and crunchy electronic percussion; “We got hold of some Pearl syndrums and we were all messing around in the control room with little white noises and stuff like that” Holmes remembered. But thanks to McCluskey’s belligerence in vetoing its UK single release, that hit never happened, something he would later regret as Top 5 hit singles were to become less automatic a year later as OMD hit something of an existential crisis.
One thing successful bands should never do is stray off their vision. But OMD listened to criticisms that their cryptic songs about inanimate objects and deceased historical figures had no relevance in fighting political injustices; of course this view was coming from journalists on a mission, who were rather hypocritically living off expense accounts and sipping cocktails in fancy hotels!
With their label Dindisc also folding, OMD were absorbed into the main Virgin Records group.
A little bit lost, McCluskey and Humphreys returned to the experimental bedroom ethos of their pre-fame VCL XI days and “got angry” with Emulators and a Sony short wave radio; the disillusionment led to the ambitious if flawed ‘Dazzle Ships’ released in March 1983.
A fractured statement on the state of the world with a conceptual approach not dissimilar to KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’, it was characterised by short abstract pieces which over time have mostly proved to have worked. Ironically, one that didn’t work was ‘Time Zones’, a snapshot of the world through telecommunications which outstayed its welcome by at least half a minute.
Although ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ was an amusing novelty piece that needed some accompanying performance art for it to really make sense, the sample heavy ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII)’ captured the tension of an underwater battle while ‘Radio Prague’ symbolised the spectre of The Cold War, a theme that would be explored within a Germanic pop context, crossing NEU! with KRAFTWERK on the magnificent ‘Radio Waves’.
Utilising a similar manic pace, ‘Genetic Engineering’ possessed a fistful of energy and a typewriter in a combination that was first heard on ENO’s ‘China My China’, while ‘Telegraph’ was a far more vicious if metaphoric attack on TV evangelism and religious cults than ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ by DEPECHE MODE ever was…
Salvaged from earlier B-sides, ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’ and ‘Of All The Things We Made’ highlighted the shortfall in material but their inclusion was justified by their serene quality, but they were significantly not the best tracks on ‘Dazzle Ships’.
Echoing the bassline movements of JOY DIVISION’s ‘Atmosphere’ and laced with mournful Emulator strings, the solemn but beautiful ‘Silent Running’ offered a perfect metaphor for misguided neutrality. Most harrowing though was the news report about “a young girl from Nicaragua whose hands had been cut off at the wrists by the former Somoza guards…” that began the waltz-driven ‘International’ with McCluskey’s anger about economic corruption, political hypocrisy and torture in captivity still sadly relevant today.
Although savaged by critics on its initial release and ultimately resetting the course of OMD, this nautical adventure has now been reassessed by many as a lost work of genius. It’s not quite that, but it is certainly a much better album than it was originally perceived to be.
Their Dindisc Records boss Carol Wilson said that McCluskey and Humphreys “didn’t know whether they wanted to be JOY DIVISION or ABBA!”, summing up their awkward but ultimately rewarding musical ethos. However, after the commercial failure of ‘Dazzle Ships’, OMD headed to the Caribbean and then Hollywood which brought them American singular success with ‘If You Leave’ before imploding after a US tour opening for DEPECHE MODE in 1988.
And while McCluskey maintained sporadic success with the OMD brand for a number of years, it would take a reunion with Humphreys and 2013’s ‘English Electric’ to deliver a body of work that was equal to this wonderful quartet of albums.
With regards OMD’s continuing appeal today, Mal Holmes said “The reason why we’re here is because the first three albums were f***ing great”, although he could be forgiven for not being a total fan of ‘Dazzle Ships’ having only played on three of its tracks!
Despite artists as varied as Vince Clarke, Steve Hillage, Moby, Darren Hayes and James Murphy all publically expressing their admiration for OMD over the years and synth riffs from these four classic albums being appropriated by acts as diverse as INXS, LEFTFIELD, LADYTRON and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, some commentators have complained they could not be taken as seriously as say DEPECHE MODE because they were not dark enough.
The death of over 100,000 people by nuclear attack and the brutal execution of a teenage girl can hardly be considered lightweight; now there are not many artists that can claim to have had worldwide hit singles about those very topics!
OMD’s ultimate legacy was to successfully combine warm catchy synth melodies and infectious technologically framed rhythms with harsh subject matter in a manner that worked on many levels. Beyond any standard pop convention, this was something that was and still is quite unique.
With the release of her debut EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’, ANI GLASS has added a gorgeous ethnic resonance to the aesthetics of modern synthpop.
The stage persona of Cardiff-based musician, photographer and artist Ani Saunders, she sings in her native languages of Welsh and Cornish to provide a politically charged soundtrack for the times.
Having served her apprenticeship as a member of the Andy McCluskey managed GENIE QUEEN and then THE PIPETTES with her older sister Gwenno under the production guidance of the late Martin Rushent, she became a member of indie band THE LOVELY WARS before eventually releasing her first solo single ‘Ffôl’ (‘Foolish’) in 2015.
But it was her follow-up single ‘Y Ddawns’ (‘The Dance’) that made its presence felt as a wonderfully exhilarating pop art adventure, swathed in synths and emblazoned with hope.
A new single ‘Generaduron’ (‘Generators’) has just been unleashed and with the recording of a full-length album currently in progress, ANI GLASS kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about her artistic ethos and musical journey…
The new single ‘Generaduron’ is quite different from the material on your debut EP ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’, what was the inspiration and why the ‘new direction’?
Until relatively recently, production was something that I always appreciated and admired but wasn’t something I thought I could do or wanted to do for that matter. I felt it was always attached to people, or dare I say men, who were far more technical or interested in the process than I was and so for years it didn’t even cross my mind. However, from my experience, when you get a bit older you lose a bit of that self-consciousness and self-doubt that you drag around during your early twenties and I just thought to myself “What the hell, I want to make my own record and I know how I want it to sound” … and so here I am. ‘Generaduron’ (‘Generators’) is me at the start of my journey.
It’s a taster for your debut long player, do you have a theme or concept for it yet? How’s it coming along?
I’ve recently embarked on a Masters course at Cardiff University studying Urban and Regional Development, and as a result, reading the works of people such as Jane Jacobs and Jan Gehl has really impacted on the way I view city and urban living which in turn has had an impact on my approach to music. A lot of us live in cities now and although we live in different places, many of our experiences are the same. In short, my album has a very loose concept about a day in the life of a city girl and all that comes with it. It will have all that you expect from a busy city – fast-paced, slow, abrupt, noisy, happy, joyful, sad, chaotic and peaceful. I have a fair amount of work yet to do but it’s well on its way.
Do you think the album still has a place in modern music consumption?
Absolutely. There’s a strong sense in society that we’re all searching for somewhere or something to belong to. I don’t think it’s a new thing, perhaps it’s just become a bit more prominent in recent times. But as a result, I think music has a strong role to play in helping people to feel like they’re a part of something, that they belong or that they’re understood and so that’s where I think the album comes in. The way I see it, a good single or a song is like a holiday but a great album is like a home and we all need one of those.
The ‘Ffrwydrad Tawel’ EP took a while to come together, how do you look back on it and what it achieved for you artistically?
It was really important for me to create and present a solid body of work on which to build on and working with producer Haydon Hughes (W H Dyfodol) was a brilliant experience, especially with regard to creating a sonic statement.
I’m ever so pleased with how it turned out, there will always be parts I would want to change or improve but I don’t see that as a weakness, it’s an important part of developing as an artist.
‘Y Ddawns’ was a fine statement of hope, but also had a great rousing tune?
I wrote ‘Y Ddawns’ (‘The Dance’) after reading ‘We’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin. It was a dystopian vision of the future created partly in response to my experience in THE PIPETTES – it was, in essence, my version of a space-age pop tune. My favourite songwriter of all time is Paul McCartney – he was the reason I picked up the bass and started writing music. His wonderful ability to take melodies to places you don’t quite expect is always something I try to aspire to and it was certainly something I had in mind when writing ‘Y Ddawns’.
The pulsating ‘Geiriau’ recalled Moroder–era SPARKS but was about reconnecting with your Welsh and Cornish heritage?
Although ‘Geiriau’ (‘Words’) is about by personal journey of moving to England, questioning my identity only to return and re-connect to my Welsh and Cornish roots, I feel that it’s also symptomatic of what is happening to us all. It feels as though the whole world is going through some sort of an identity crisis and some of the results of this are quite frightening (Brexit, Trump etc).
My personal and political reaction to this has been to delve into my cultural heritage – to gain a deeper understanding of my past, to learn to appreciate the value of language and culture in order to take ownership of my identity. This journey has not been about looking inward or become insular, but understanding myself and my place within a culture in order to best placed to understand others. The UK has a terrible reputation for its weak linguistic skills, the numbers studying foreign languages is decreasing year upon year and so we’re losing our ability to understand the value of ‘other’ and so it can’t be a coincidence that as globalisation grows and language skills decline, tension is increasing.
Had you found yourself becoming detached as you immersed yourself in the pop world when you were in GENIE QUEEN working with Andy McCluskey and THE PIPETTES working with Martin Rushent? Is it like living in a bubble?
Quite possibly, although it didn’t feel like that at the time.
I absolutely love pop music, and although I don’t like a lot of chart music at the moment, I will always defend it.
The dynamics of GENIE QUEEN was what you would consider ‘traditional’ for a pop band – very little creative involvement and input from the artist themselves whilst THE PIPETTES was the exact opposite; complete artistic control.
Those experiences were invaluable but although they perhaps existed within their own bubbles, I think I’m probably in as much of a bubble now. My motivations and perspective may differ but my commitment is still unwavering and I’m conscious that I will have to remain vigilant to ensure that my focus does not encourage a blinkered vision.
I use my Chinese name Chi Ming Lai rather than anglicising myself and taking a Western first name, to preserve my cultural heritage. So was singing in Welsh always going to be an essential component of ANI GLASS? What does it mean for you?
I think it was an essential. When you consider the slow decline of your native language, you begin to question your role in either helping to reverse or speed up this process. I’ve always felt that learning the language is important, however if there is no living culture to talk about, then what is the language for? There is no question that understanding the past is important but the present is equally as important if not more so. It was with this in mind that I decided that Welsh and Cornish would have to be my focus – I wanted to contribute to these living cultures, to add an extra voice and narrative. Although it is entirely possible, I think it would be very difficult to be a Welsh or Cornish language musician or artist and for it not to be a political act.
Photo by Rhodri Brooks
More artists are starting to sing in their native languages again, do people just need to get a bit braver?
I’m not sure if it’s about being brave, it’s more about recognising what you’re really in it for.
Of course, if you sing in Welsh as opposed to English, your potential reach is considerably smaller but on the other hand you also have a much smaller chance of being drowned out in a sea of noise.
A lot of modern Welsh music is still predominantly male rock and guitar focussed (though this is slowly changing) and so any diversion from this does tend to raise a few eyebrows which of course I love! I think the main thing is being true to yourself and if that means singing in a language that fewer people understand, then so be it.
Patriarchy is a theme you have dealt with in your songs. With all the recent stories of abuse and harassment in the entertainment world, what do you think needs to be done within the music industry to provide a safe comfortable environment for women to work in as equals?
I think there needs to be a more honest and open discussion within the industry with both women and men leading discussions. Most of what I’ve personally encountered is (or was) so normalised that you would be made to feel that any reaction, other than to brush it off or worse still, to laugh along, would be seen as disproportionate. I think these are some of the most difficult things to address and recognise because it is so ingrained in our culture, it involves everybody, our whole dynamic system is warped and needs to shift. Women in the industry are not ‘women musicians’ or ‘girls in tech’, we’re just musicians and technicians. That’s the equality we must strive for.
Apart from finishing your debut album, what’s next for ANI GLASS?
I’m really excited about curating the presentation of this album; conceptually and visually. I have a lot of ideas about how I might involve and engage with people who may not be instinctively interested in Welsh electronic music.
It’s quite an exciting time to be making music in Wales – something is afoot; I couldn’t tell you what it is but I think it’s going to be exciting and I really want to be a part of it.
‘Generaduron’ is released as a download single by Recordiau Neb