Tag: Arthur Baker

Substance: The Legacy of NEW ORDER

Photo by Anton Corbijn

What began as a request by Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson to play NEW ORDER’s singles on the CD player that came with his brand new Jaguar XJ6 Coupé led to what was to become the band’s biggest selling album.

Originally released in Autumn 1987, ‘Substance’ was a compilation of NEW ORDER’s 12” singles to date and it is to finally get the reissue treatment. Although at the time, NEW ORDER had already released four albums ‘Movement’, Power, Corruption & Lies’, ‘Low-life’ and ‘Brotherhood’, the Manchester quartet comprising of Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert could often be better represented by their singles rather than their albums, as many were standalone non-album releases and quite different in musical style, being often more electronic and danceable.

‘Substance’ was issued in a variety of formats including double vinyl, cassette, DAT and CD, the latter three variants made use of the extra playing time available and included bonuses such as B-sides, tracks only previously issued in Belgium, instrumental versions and those rarely essential dub experiments. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, despite its flaws with re-recordings, edits and omissions, it went on to sell around a million copies worldwide as many fans’ entry point into NEW ORDER.

The new deluxe 4CD reissue includes a live disc of the band performing the entire ‘Substance’ album at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre in California and a bonus disc of tracks omitted from the original edition of ‘Substance’ such as the superior original hit version of ‘Ceremony’ and the mournful if excellent B-side ‘Mesh’, as well as the original 12” versions of ‘Temptation’ and ‘Confusion’.

The world knows what happened on 18th May 1980 and with the tragic passing of charismatic front man Ian Curtis, the end of JOY DIVISION led to the formation of NEW ORDER. Produced by Martin Hannett who had produced most of JOY DIVISION’s recorded portfolio, the guitar driven first single ‘Ceremony’ was one of the last songs written with Curtis and a magnificent start. But as the first purely NEW ORDER material was being written, the former members of JOY DIVISION were struggling to escape the shadow of their previous incarnation.

Although the often forgotten second single ‘Procession’ showed progression with a greater use of synth and backing vocals from Gillian Gilbert, it paled next to ‘Ceremony’. The fraught debut NEW ORDER long player ‘Movement’ was underwhelming, confused and perhaps too close to ‘Closer’, the final JOY DIVISION opus. Among the reasons were ongoing tensions in the studio with Hannett and the internal dilemma as to who was to take over the mantle of front man from the dearly departed Ian Curtis.

While Stephen Morris was originally mooted to become lead vocalist, Bernard Sumner was eventually settled into the role at the behest of manager Rob Gretton. Having already sung on the JOY DIVISION track ‘Interzone’, Peter Hook tried out for the role and provided lead vocals on two of the best ‘Movement’ tracks; the solemn ‘Doubts Even Here’ also included a stark Bible reading by Gillian Gilbert while much more spritely, ‘Dreams Never End’ was later appropriated by THE CURE for ‘In Between Days’.

But the pointer to the future of NEW ORDER was not on the album but the ‘Procession’ B-side ‘Everything’s Gone Green’. Introduced to European electronic dance music like Giorgio Moroder by his friend Mark Reeder, Sumner had become more interested in synthesizers and sequencers. Meanwhile, as Stephen Morris had used Synares and early Simmons drum synthesizers in JOY DIVISION, his progression into the purchase of a Boss DR55 Doctor Rhythm was only natural.

Using the Doctor Rhythm to pulse sections of their new ARP Quadra synth which replaced their stolen ARP Omni, the throbbing sequencer-like backbone on ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ was a pointer to an exciting new direction. Stephen Morris told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK in 2011: “With ‘Everything’s Gone Green’, you had a Moog Source doing a 1/16th pulse and the Quadra doing the ‘da-dah, da-da-dah’. Then what you’d do is take the ‘CV’ out of the Quadra and take that into the Moog so that the Moog is playing a different rhythm but following the pitch of the other thing. That’s what we used for ‘Temptation’ as well.”

A self-produced electronic breakthrough away from the haunting legacy of JOY DIVISION, ‘Temptation’ was NEW ORDER’s only single of 1982. The recording itself was marvelously flawed, with Stephen Morris’ overdriven Simmons snare panned too far to the right while band members could also be heard calling instructions and tutting. The pulsing hypnotism of the triggered electronics and the iconic “oooh-oo-ooh” vocal refrain made ‘Temptation’ joyous and magical.

There was further trailblazing with an actual sequencer on the ‘Temptation’ B-side ‘Hurt’ as NEW ORDER grappled with a Powertran 1024 Note Composer. Home-built from a kit by Bernard Sumner, it was customised by the band’s electronic boffin Martin Usher to expand its memory. However, it was cumbersome to use and had to be programmed in hexadecimal! Around this time, NEW ORDER recorded a self-produced John Peel radio session that showcased the band’s transitioning sound with the throbbing sequences of ‘586’ highlighting a proto-dance direction.

Also part of the session, ‘Turn The Heater On’ was a cover of the Keith Hudson reggae song in tribute to Ian Curtis and ‘We All Stand’ which had avant jazz overtones. But ‘Too Late’ was significant, sounding like it could have come off ‘Movement’ with its lingering gothic doom, but later discarded as if a relic from another era; it was to remain unreleased until 1986 and never to actually appear on a NEW ORDER album or single…

Things were changing in the drum department too as Stephen Morris saw Stevie Wonder demonstrate the Linn Drum Computer on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’. Eventually plumping for the slightly cheaper Oberheim DMX, programming it was like Morse code; The Human Drum Machine later quipped in his 2020 autobiography ‘Fast Forward: Confessions Of A Post-Punk Percussionist – Volume II’: “I always found the record and erase buttons a little too close together for comfort!”.

With NEW ORDER making use of the solid bass possibilities of the Moog Source and expanding their synth armoury to include an E-mu Systems Emulator, Pro-One and several Prophet 5s, in tandem with the Oberheim DMX, they put together ‘Blue Monday’ to help discover how all this equipment worked! Originally conceived as a cheeky self-playing jape on the audience who were complaining that the band did not do encores after their 10 song gigs, this 7 and a half minute slice of doom disco was a combination of several key pieces of music.

The ‘Blue Monday’ bassline and chord structure came from ‘Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’, the frantic drum attack was inspired by Donna Summer’s Giorgio Moroder-produced ‘Our Love’ and the groove off Klein & MBO ‘Dirty Talk’. Meanwhile the ominous bass guitar motif was based on an acoustic six string line off ‘Paying Off Old Scores’ from the Ennio Morricone-composed soundtrack to ‘For A Few Dollars More’. More obliquely, KRAFTWERK made an appearance via a choir sample taken from ‘Uranium’, an interlude art piece on their ‘Radio-Activity’ album.

Despite being effectively an ideas mash-up, ‘Blue Monday’ was to be influential itself with THE CURE playing their tit-for-that game with NEW ORDER with the heavily sequenced ‘The Walk’ while the Bobby Orlando produced ‘Love Reaction’ for Divine was much more blatant. And that was just the start…

For the companion album ‘Power Corruption & Lies’ released in 1983, KRAFTWERK were to have a big influence on the record’s best song ‘Your Silent Face’; with the working title of ‘KW1’, it was the ultimate homage to Kling Klang and the romantic ‘Trans-Europe Express’ era of the Dusseldorf quartett with a replication of the pulsating Synthanorma sequence and Vako Orchestron strings from ‘Franz Schubert’ using a Sequential Polysequencer and Emulator.

‘Power Corruption & Lies’ was not entirely electronic and there were still guitar driven songs such as ARP Quadra assisted ‘Age Of Consent’ and synth-less ‘Leave Me Alone’, as well as hybrids like ‘Ultraviolence’ and ‘The Village’. Speaking of the former in 2023, Peter Hook said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “‘The Village’ has got an amazing sequenced keyboard line by Bernard, he really went to town in programming that! The way the keyboard line builds and the way that it changes over those 4 and a half minutes…”. Not every track was a success and strangely ‘586’ lost its menace in re-recorded form while ‘We All Stand’ laboured when compared to its Peel session premiere.

Although ‘Power Corruption & Lies’ showed NEW ORDER had not left alternative rock music completely and would go on to maintain a balance on their next trio of long players, with an increasing interest in dance music from some members of the band and having opened The Haçienda with Factory Records in the vein of the clubs they had visited with New York, there was collaborative union with electro producer Arthur Baker who had worked with Afrika Bambaataa.

Baker wanted to make ‘Blue Monday’ while NEW ORDER wanted to make ‘Planet Rock’, so the result quite literally was ‘Confusion’! Stephen Morris in particular was frustrated during the sessions as Baker would not let him alter his Roland TR808’s pre-programmed patterns which were a major part of his sound. However, there was plenty of fun had and if you listen carefully, you can hear the band and Baker shouting “W*NKER” as it heads into the final straight.

The 1984 interim non-album single ‘Thieves Like Us’ offered a lusher sounding NEW ORDER that recalled THE HUMAN LEAGUE and a Hooky bassline borrowed from HOT CHOCOLATE’s ‘Emma’. But the third NEW ORDER long player ‘Low-life’ saw for the first time, a single taken from an album as a compromise following a new US deal with Qwest Records, a joint venture between Quincy Jones and Warner Brothers. Opting to replace their Prophet 5s with rack-mounted Octave Plateau Voyetras in their synth armoury, ‘The Perfect Kiss’ came in the usual 12” version as an epic 9 minute sequencer adventure but was sympathetically abridged for album consumption.

‘Low-life’ featured several other highlights and opened with the Country ‘n’ North Western ghost story ‘Love Vigilantes’. The mighty ‘Sunrise’ was another number in the tit-for-that exchange with THE CURE which was clearly influenced by ‘A Forest’ while the brilliant ‘This Time Of Night’ exuded a throbbing post-punk growl to shape one of NEW ORDER’s most underrated songs.

The influence of Enno Morricone returned for the gloriously emotive instrumental ‘Elegia’ while the HI-NRG sex anthem ‘Sub-culture’ provided a potential hit single, although this was not realised despite a club enhanced remix by John Robie featuring additional soulful female backing vocals which dismayed many NEW ORDER fans. However, the dreadful closer ‘Face Up’ proved to be the low-point in an otherwise good record.

The link with Qwest opened up doors to Hollywood and although THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and OMD bookended the 1986 John Hughes teen movie ‘Pretty In Pink’, NEW ORDER contributed three tracks to the soundtrack including a brand new single ‘Shellshock’; produced with John Robie, the 12” version was painfully overlong and while the final mix was also very busy and messy. It would take another year for NEW ORDER to get that mainstream pop hit.

NEW ORDER were gaining momentum and this put them in good stead for their next album. Deciding against the purchase of the very expensive Fairlight, they went for the more cost-effective Yamaha RX11 drum machine and QX1 sequencer combo with Emulator IIs. Although technology was now a major part of their modus operandi, NEW ORDER continued with their original band-oriented sound which could make them quite unique compared with their contemporaries. This existential compromise was made quite explicit in the concept for their fourth LP ‘Brotherhood’.

Divided into distinct rock and electronic halves, although it suffered from comparison with ‘Low-life’, ‘Brotherhood’ contained one of NEW ORDER’s most enduring tunes in ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’; the rugged self-production was a glorious electronic number with a slight mechanical offbeat while providing space for Hooky’s distinctive bass. Here was another potential hit but the version released for single consumption was a frustrating, four-to-the-floor remix by Shep Pettibone which took all the character out of the song with a barrage of overdriven percussive samples. A belated 1988 remix by Stephen Hague which eventually appeared on a free cassette with Select Magazine in 1991 was much better and in slightly reworked form, resurfaced in 1994 for ‘(the best of)’ compilation.

While ‘Brotherhood’ did not consistently reach the heights of ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ or ‘Low-life’, it did feature a number of other brilliant songs; although ‘Paradise’ featured on the rock half, a sequenced bassline provided its hypnotic core thanks to the acquisition of the Roland SPX Sync Box which could clock sequences from a live drum track. On the other side, the beautiful ‘All Day Long’ combined THE VELVET UNDERGROUND with New York electro and soaring classical melodies while the amusing ‘Every Little Counts’ synthetically pastiched Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ at funereal pace with a hilarious scratched vinyl ending.

The inclusion of the pre-album single ‘State Of The Nation’ on the CD edition of ‘Brotherhood’ had signalled how marketing releases with bonus songs was to be a lucrative strategy thanks to the extra playing time accorded by the silver discs. So for the release of the ‘Substance’ compilation, there came a new brand single ‘True Faith’ which proved to be NEW ORDER’s most immediate and accessible pop song yet.

Co-produced by Stephen Hague who had worked with OMD and PET SHOP BOYS, the band were transformed without hindering their ethos. During the recording, Hague insisted that Bernard Sumner laid down his lead vocal early on so that the instrumentation could be built around his voice. The result was that there was a more subtle dynamic space in ‘True Faith’ compared to the occasionally messy wall of sound effect that had been a characteristic of NEW ORDER’s self-produced recordings.

On the B-side was ‘1963’, a song driven by E-mu Systems SP12 sampling drum computer that some reckoned was even better than ‘True Faith’; Stephen Hague felt it should have been an A-side. Much to Hooky’s annoyance, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out, only making a brief appearance at the end. However, the bassist had the last laugh when ‘1963’ was belatedly released as a single in its own right in 1994 as a more Hooky audible rework by Arthur Baker.

Arthur Baker himself had developed an enduring relationship with NEW ORDER, having co-written ‘Confusion’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’ like he was a member of the band. Working as the music supervisor for the movie soundtrack of Beth B’s parody of televangelism ‘Salvation’, he invited NEW ORDER to contribute 5 tracks, the best known of which was ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’; in a sign of the future, its title was inspired by the controversial Argentine footballer Diego Maradona.

Not featuring on ‘Substance’ but mixed by Baker for single release to coincide with a three date European tour in late 1987 that included the band’s biggest headlining UK concert to date at Wembley Arena, ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’ was another of NEW ORDER’s more underrated singles. With a synth riff borrowed from Shannon’s ‘Let The Music Play’, it successfully combined some gritty rock energy to a solid Italo disco backbone featuring a great sequenced bassline.

Meanwhile, ‘Blue Monday’ got a second life and an edit in a remix supervised by Quincy Jones, but by the end of 1988, the world was gripped by acid house with The Haçienda becoming its UK Mecca. NEW ORDER decided to record their next album on the sunny Balearic party island of Ibiza. But with its various hedonistic distractions, the band got very little done apart from a couple of drum tracks! So recording began in earnest at Real World Studio in Box near Bath, the renowned state-of-the-art and pricey studio complex owned by Peter Gabriel.

A sly send-up of the acid house scene, one track inspired by all the partying was ‘Fine Time’. Utilising Akai 900s samplers, it featured a pitch shifted vocal sounding like an inebriate jackmaster impersonating Barry White, while the untidy backing track was complimented by some bleating sheep. Bernard Sumner admitted ‘Fine Time’ was “a novelty record” to Melody Maker and luckily the single edit was one and a half minutes shorter than the album version, which with its overlong bass drum breakdown, spoilt the start of what was an otherwise excellent album in 1989’s ‘Technique’.

With its combination of alternative rock, electronic and hybrid tracks mixed with greater clarity by Alan Meyerson, there was a sunny vibe, even on the melancholic glory of ‘Vanishing Point’ which appeared in instrumental form as the end credits theme to the BBC comedy drama ‘Making Out’. ‘All The Way’ was another tit-for-tat jibe at THE CURE resembling ‘Just Like Heaven’ while the wonderful countrified ‘Run’ was similar enough to ‘Leaving On A Jet Plane’ that John Denver sued the band successfully to bag a cut of the publishing.

A development of ‘Paradise’ from ‘Brotherhood’, ‘Dream Attack’ was an ecstasy song but with acoustic guitars syncopating off the deep synthesized bass although in a sign of developing tensions, Peter Hook’s sliding melodic bass could barely be heard. Among the other highlights of ‘Technique’ were ‘Mr Disco’ and ‘Round & Round’ which saw NEW ORDER in their glitterball disco prime; there were tongue-in-cheek holiday romance lyrics and syndrums on the former while on the latter, its orchestral stab-laden Europop prowess made ‘True Faith’ sound like ‘Atrocity Exhibition’, especially in its later Stephen Hague produced single mix.

However, some of the band’s hardcore following were dismayed these songs’ sonic affinity with PET SHOP BOYS. With NEW ORDER in hiatus after an appearance at the 1989 Reading Festival where he announced that the band were not splitting up, Barnard Sumner did a whole album of electronic disco with Johnny Marr in ELECTRONIC, aided and abetted by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe!

Dismayed, Peter Hook formed the appropriately named but less well-received REVENGE, supposedly a statement for “real guitar music” as a reaction, according to Stephen Morris, to NEW ORDER’s “synthesized sequenced sh*t” but ended up using “synthesized sequenced sh*t”! Meanwhile, Morris himself and Gillian Gilbert settled into domestic bliss on a farm near Macclesfield with a home studio, doing TV soundtrack work and their own pop project THE OTHER TWO.

But during this break, NEW ORDER reconvened temporarily having been commissioned by the Football Association to record a song in support of the England World Cup team for Italia ’90. Based on a theme that Gillian Gilbert had composed for the BBC Youth TV magazine show ‘Reportage’, ‘World In Motion’ was released 4 days after the 10th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ passing and hit No1. Sumner told NME at the time that ‘World In Motion’ would be “the last straw for JOY DIVISION fans”. Meanwhile, in another end-of-an-era moment that was not apparent at the time, ‘World In Motion’ was to be the final NEW ORDER release to have a Factory Records catalogue number, although MCA handled the wider manufacturing and distribution responsibilities on behalf of the FA.

By the time of the next album ‘Republic’ where NEW ORDER were persuaded to make a new record to recoup some of the money that Factory Records still owed them for the success of ‘Substance’. Much of the cash had been syphoned off to fund the label’s less viable acts, The Haçienda and a lavish new HQ in Manchester’s trendy Charles Street while the band were still kept on a modest wage.

Although an attempt was made to start recording the album with Pascal Gabriel, Stephen Hague was brought in to helm the ‘Republic’ sessions at Real World. However, with the various band members not speaking to each other, the American producer (who was also an accomplished musician) took control to get ‘Republic’ finished on time and within budget. Two notable session musicians, David Rhodes on guitar and Andy Duncan on percussion were even brought in. Hague would later lament that ‘Republic’ featured too much of him and not enough of NEW ORDER.

However, it was all too late for Factory Records which collapsed towards the end of 1992. Released in 1993 on London Records, while it was to become a highest charting album in America, ‘Republic’ was a lukewarm record although there were some high points. The bittersweet first single ‘Regret’ sampled ‘Atmosphere’ for its intro and was a fabulous band centric opening track that had haunting echoes of ‘Ceremony’. ‘World’ though could have been ELECTRONIC and was notable for its absence of Hooky’s bass, while the serene ‘Ruined In A Day’ took Ennio Morricone’s influence on the band to its zenith despite also not featuring the bassist.

Actually featuring Hooky, ‘Young Offender’ was one of the album’s few non-single highlights, but the troubled atmosphere and financial turmoil that was lingering could be sensed lyrically on songs like ‘Times Change’ and especially ‘Chemical’. While ‘Liar’ was possibly a scathing attack on Tony Wilson, the song itself was poor while ‘Special’ was an attempt at MASSIVE ATTACK’s ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ but less successfully realised.

An indicator of how different ‘Republic’ could have turned out was when ‘Spooky’ was released as a single. Underwhelming as an album track, it was remixed by house dance trio FLUKE who provided a more spacious rhythmic backdrop, with the song-based ‘Minimix’ allowing the best elements to shine.

NEW ORDER went into a second lengthier hiatus after another Reading Festival appearance in Summer 1993 but they had already made their mark on popular music. They had been at the forefront of adopting early affordable programmable technology in music. During a period when bands like OMD, SOFT CELL, DEPECHE MODE and YAZOO used backing tapes, NEW ORDER risked all by taking this equipment, complete with their mini data cassette dumps, out on the road and using it on stage! They had furthered the cause of electronic dance music by introducing the sound of New York electro and Italo disco to UK audiences from within their own work. They even made a football record that was actually very good and captured the zeitgeist.

But while NEW ORDER remained credible thanks to their independent Northern English bloody mindedness and not playing the game, with the reality of having to pay the bills, they eventually headed for London. Against the odds, NEW ORDER were reunited in 1998 at the instigation of Rob Gretton after a headlining offer was made by the promoters of the Phoenix Festival. Although that event later collapsed, there were triumphant shows at Manchester Apollo and another Reading Festival that summer. However, the quartet were less impressive at Manchester Arena for the ‘Temptation’ dance event before New Year’s Eve.

But the untimely death of Rob Gretton in 1999 and the departure of Gillian Gilbert latterly from the band for family reasons changed the dynamic of the band considerably. Ultimately, it left a power struggle between Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook to fester, with Stephen Morris stuck in the middle and unable to referee.

As their imperial phase proved, despite all the creative and personal tensions, the band were better together than torn apart. But as Peter Hook remarked in his 2016 ‘Substance: Inside NEW ORDER’ memoir, “chemistry is combustible”. A second more joyless division was on the horizon, but that is another story…


‘Substance’ is reissued on 10 November 2023 as an expanded 4CD set as well as double CD, blue + red double vinyl LP and double cassette formats by Rhino

http://www.neworder.com/

https://www.facebook.com/NewOrderOfficial

https://twitter.com/neworder

https://www.instagram.com/neworderofficial/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
31 October 2023

ABC Interview

A No1 album in 1982, ‘The Lexicon of Love’ was ABC’s debut album which many have said defined a decade.

Produced by Trevor Horn, it was a widescreen mix of soul, funk, disco, new wave and electronic pop that spawned the hit singles ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘The Look Of Love’ and ‘All Of My Heart’. Featuring the classic ABC line-up pf Martin Fry, Mark White, Stephen Singleton and David Palmer, among the studio team were keyboardist and arranger Anne Dudley, engineer Gary Langan and Fairlight programmer JJ Jeczalik who would go on to become THE ART OF NOISE.

Remaining founder member and ABC frontman Martin Fry toured ‘The Lexicon of Love’ in 2022 with a full symphonic orchestra conducted by Anne Dudley to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release. The home town gig at Sheffield City Hall was recorded for the imminent release of ‘The Lexicon of Love Live’.

Martin Fry spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK via Zoom from Barbados about the making of ‘The Lexicon Of Love’, the various changes in direction of ABC, the good times, the bad times and living in the here and now…

Did you think you’d still be performing ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ 40 years after it was released?

I never thought I’d be performing 15 minutes later! Andy Warhol said 15 minutes was a long time in fame, I dunno… four decades on! *laughs*

Originally all those years ago, The Lexicon Of Love’ came out and on it was ‘Poison Arrow’, ‘The Look Of Love’ and ‘All Of My Heart’; we did have a good run for our money, it was on the charts for pretty much a year and we continued to have pop hits throughout the 80s but there’s a spell where it all goes quiet isn’t there? I’ve realised subsequently that’s what happens to Mick Jagger and Elton John… anybody that’s going to have a long career, there’s a downtime.

I remember in the Britpop days thinking “ABC in the shiny tuxedos? NO!”, there’s THE PRODIGY, there’s SUEDE, there’s OASIS, we were from a different era. But in 1998, I was asked to do a tour with CULTURE CLUB and THE HUMAN LEAGUE, so ABC took to the road and we played in sold out arenas! We realised there was a public thirst and hunger for the 80s pop again. So I’ve never really looked back.

About 10 years ago, we started playing shows with the full orchestra and Anne Dudley conducting, those shows really went well. it’s nice to play with a band, it’s nice to play track dates but it’s great to play with the orchestra. That generated a whole new career, people would come to the shows and that’s why we recorded the live album from Sheffield, it was a gig we about 12 months ago now to celebrate that fact. So it has been a long and winding road.

Fame’s a fleeting thing anyway, there are many different types of fame and I kind of like it the way it is now, it’s a great honour and a great privilege to stand on stage under the spotlight to sing those songs.

You did the ‘Steel City’ tour in 2008 with THE HUMAN LEAGUE and HEAVEN 17 as part of a package, but was there a moment when you realised ABC could headline again?

Yeah, I liked playing on those festivals but in 2001, I did this thing in Germany called ‘Night Of The Proms’ and it was with a big orchestra and choir.

They had Chris De Burgh and Meat Loaf and you all live in a hotel, it was one of the first things I did where I was part of the scenery, just a small part of the show, it was like joining the circus, and it felt good. So from that, I learnt that when it came to the orchestra, ABC could be the headline act and play for 2 hours. We played the hits, had an intermission and played ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ so it all grew out of that.

Did you take a look at Trevor Horn’s memoir and in particular about the making of ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘The Look Of Love’ in particular?

I’ve not read Trevor’s book, I saw him about 12 months ago when we played a cruise ship in Florida. It was great to go for dinner with him. We worked together long time ago but I’ve run into him a lot through the years. I should read his book, but in a way I’m a little bit scared to because we had a great time making ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ and I would like the memory to remain like that.

What I found interesting about Trevor’s account of making ‘The Lexicon Of Love’ was how he used his tracing method…

Yes, making the record was 50% us, 50% Trevor. We didn’t want to make a record where you made 28 takes and picked the 28th take and put it out. No, we loved KRAFTWERKVICE VERSA was the band we were in before ABC with three synthesizers and because we were grew up in Sheffield, it was in the outré of THE HUMAN LEAGUE and CABARET VOLTAIRE, we’d have a little 2 track machine and overdubbed different parts. So when it came to working with Trevor, we said “how come these dance records we are listening to like Quincy Jones productions on Michael Jackson solo stuff and Grace Jones with Sly and Robbie, how do they sound so good?”, the timing was very different to raw sound of a lot of English records at the time.

So the tracing method he refers to, our drummer at the time David Palmer who plays with Rod Stewart, he was really good at programming drum machines and this would make the kick drum and snare very precise. Trevor would add a programmed bass and then we would play along to this. So it was like tracing really and it gave a very modern sound to ‘Poison Arrow’ and ‘The Look Of Love’. We were into the electronic side of things and it was a lot of fun.

What are your favourite memories?

After we had a couple of hit records, the label said we were allowed to have some strings on our record. So we went to Abbey Road and that was an incredible day standing in the room, feeling the orchestra play ‘All Of My Heart’. Another time was we went to Dean Street Studio which Tony Visconti owned and David Bowie walked in and hung out for a couple of hours.

He sat in on the sessions, making suggestions at the back, having a cup of tea. At the time, we were blown away by that, we loved Bowie. So I think he put a bit of his magic dust on those sessions.

One of the things Trevor Horn mentions in his book is that Bowie had an idea to put the end of ‘The Look Of Love’?

Yeah, as I remember it, we were adamant that we didn’t want a guitar solo, so there was an eight bar section, then third chorus, an eight bar space and then there’s another chorus ramping it up to the end of ‘The Look Of Love’… so Bowie was interested in the idea of leaving messages on an answering machine for somebody that is never going to reply, he thought that would be a great pathos and a funny thing to put on. We did try an answering machine but in the end, I just did that mad freeform mumble that “maybe one day you’ll find true love” which was inspired by Iggy Pop and the song ‘Turn Blue’ which was on the album ‘Lust For Life’ which Bowie produced. Iggy would always speak to himself like James Brown, I love it when singers just start rambling on their own records, Lou Reed does it as well.

Were you channelling your inner Tom Jones on ‘The Look Of Love’?

That’s nice of you to say that, we played a show with Tom Jones once on a racetrack in Ireland, it was fantastic. Well, Tom Jones always attacked everything… years later, a guy named David Arnold made this James Bond Themes covers album and asked me to sing ‘Thunderball’ which was originally sung by Tom Jones. It’s a real tough song to sing, Tom just slayed it so maybe there’s some truth in that. But I like always liked the way that at the end of a Tom Jones song, you want to sit down, there’s an energy there, it peaks and you want to take breath.

How did you feel when Trevor Horn recycled a section of ‘Date Stamp’ for FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD’s ‘Relax’?

It’s funny, every time I play ‘Date Stamp’, I always think of ‘Relax’, the bassline! A good bassline is a good bassline! ‘Date Stamp’ was made in May 1982. I’ve got to admit, I loved the Frankies… when we were doing our second album ‘Beauty Stab’, we ran into Paul Rutherford, Holly, Ped, Nash and Mark O’Toole and they sang on it… they were sitting in Sarm West waiting for Trevor to finish ‘Relax’ I suppose looking back on it! *laughs*

‘Beauty Stab’ was considered a disappointment in 1983 when everyone wanted ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’ but you delivered that finally in 2016, did that feel like exorcising a ghost at all?

Yes, absolutely Chi… we had the sophomore jinx, with the ‘Beauty Stab’, we wanted to strip it all back and be raw and authentic. It was successful and ok but not as successful as our first record.

We changed the style of the band each time and with ‘How To Be A Zillionaire’, we wanted to be really electronic. But for years, people would go “I love ‘Poison Arrow’, can you go back to that?”

So playing with the orchestra live really brought it how to me. So with ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’, we decided to make it a very big orchestral album like ‘Viva Love’ and ‘Flames Of Desire’ over-the-top vibe to provide something that looked familiar whilst brand new, but it looks like it should have come out as the sister album to ‘The Lexicon of Love’. It was good way of getting it done and people liked it, I was very relieved.

I tell you what inspired me, Neil Young did a follow-up to ‘Harvest’ and was impressed by how Bowie used on ‘The Next Day’, the old ‘Heroes’ sleeve where he’s recycled his own stuff. So I started to think “Why can’t I do that?”; I mean, when you go to Netflix and there’s a series you like, you’re happy to watch 12 episodes or 6 seasons of something. People are used to things being more elongated now. So that’s while I felt comfortable doing ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’.

Was ‘Singer Not The Song’ from ‘The Lexicon Of Love II’ autobiographical?

Yeah, I want Harry Styles to cover that one! I think he’d do a great job! The lyrics of ‘Singer Not The Song’ are about a lot of things, but people ask me what I do for a living and I’m always a bit embarrassed to say I’m a singer, they kind of think you’re in a choir or something *laughs*

So I thought, the drummer’s got a drumstick, the bass player is over there, what do I do? I’ve usually got a Sharpie and I’m wandering around daydreaming, there’s some humour in that song.

The song ‘How To Be A Millionaire’ was a hit in the US but failed to get in the UK Top40, do you feel it deserved greater recognition at home or had the music scene moved on considerably back home by 1984?

Yeah, the funny thing was after ‘Beauty Stab’, it was all REM and THE SMITHS but by then, we were gone and listening to ‘Let The Music Play’ by Shannon and hearing great dancefloor tunes like ‘encore’ Cheryl Lynn; we approached Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to make this electronic hybrid dance record. We self-produced it in the end and were able to reinvent ourselves as a cartoon group, it was ABC’s most successful record in America.

We go obsessed with doing the long 12 inch mixes and we got to No1 on the Billboard Dance Charts with it and Top 20 in the US charts. ‘Be Near Me’ was a big tune off that album but in England, no… it was popular in the clubs but it didn’t really take off. I think that’s a product of our success, people wanted to see the gold suit and ‘The Lexicon Of Love’!

Of course, you made a great song with the pioneer of New York electro Arthur Baker called ‘Mythical Girl’, what are your recollections of that one-off collaboration with his Backbeat Disciples. That’s like the lost ABC track…

It is in a way… I loved NEW ORDER and the work Arthur Baker did with them as well as Afrika Bambaataa, he looks like a pirate! He showed up in Manchester and we ran into him. He owned a place called ‘The Elbow Room’ in London Westbourne Grove and we’d hang out with Arthur. One day he said he was making a record so me, Mark White and Dave Clayton, we got together one weekend to make that track ‘Mythical Girl’. Then Arthur took it away and it kind of had a cast of thousands and showed up again on his ‘Merge’ album. It was only about 6 hours work but it was so nice to work with him.

You’ve got gigs coming up at Forever Young with BLANCMANGE and CHINA CRISIS as well as Rewind with THE ART OF NOISE, but an interesting one is the Silverstone Festival which is a race meeting featuring vintage F1 cars from the classic ABC era, were you ever into motor racing back then and did you have a favourite driver or team?

No, I’ve never been a major F1 fan. At Silverstone, it’s great though because you show up, go into the centre, you soundcheck and then the cars start tuning up and go around you so you can’t leave… we’re doing the Friday night. It’s insane the number of people that come for the cars, out of which, some of them are music fans… and some of the drivers have got bands of course. It’s always the way, a lot of tennis players want to play guitar! And a lot of musicians want to be tennis players *laughs*

Was tennis your thing or was it another sport?

Football I suppose but I knew from an early age I was never going to make it as a professional player but that would have been fun!

What is next for you?

It’s feels nice to put out the live album from Sheffield as it showcases where ABC are at now. I’m going to Pasadena to play a Festival with Siouxsie and Billy Idol, it’s quite a big one and we’ll be playing some other shows. But it will be nice to make a new record.

We probably will play an orchestra tour in the early part of next year, it will be great to go back out on the road with Anne Dudley again. Other than that, just enjoying life.

Is a book on the horizon ?

Yes, I was talking to a guy called Andrew Harrison about it, we were perhaps going to make a high-end book. It would be nice to trace the story of ABC and my life through the lyrics amongst other things. It’s nice to entertain on different levels when you write a book isn’t it? And I don’t know for how much long I can remember those early 80s! *laughs*


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Martin Fry

Special thanks to Sacha Taylor-Cox at Hush PR

‘The Lexicon Of Love Live’ is released on 19th May 2023 by Live Here Now Recordings as a 2CD, sparkly purple vinyl 3LP + 3CD collector’s edition book, pre-order from https://liveherenow.co.uk/pages/abc

https://www.abcmartinfry.com/

https://www.facebook.com/ABClexicon

https://twitter.com/ABCFRY

https://www.instagram.com/abcmartinfry/


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Richard Price
17th May 2023

A Beginner’s Guide To ARTHUR BAKER

Boston-born Arthur Baker began as a DJ, but aspired to be a producer following taking an engineering course at Intermedia Studios. He wanted to make music, rather than play records.

After some early experiences, Baker became wise to the swindling ways of the music industry. He eventually released his first single ‘Kind of Life (Kind of Love)’ under the name NORTH END in 1979.

But his breakthrough as a producer came after he moved to New York in 1981. Working for urban label Tommy Boy Records, where he met engineer and keyboard player John Robie, they came up with ‘Planet Rock’.

Utilising the-then new Roland TR808 Rhythm Composer, in particular its distinctive analogue cowbell, rimshot and snare sounds, its lasting effect on the future of music came about more by chance. Baker wanted to employ a more mechanised electronic aesthetic in the vein of KRAFTWERK and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA to the output of Tommy Boy.

He saw an advert in The Village Voice: “Man with drum machine, $20 a session”… the rest is history. But the programmer of the track’s iconic 808 beat pattern remained unknown, thanks insisting on cash for his services, having declined a cheque.

‘Planet Rock’ featured sampling without a sampler, its ‘Trans Europe Express’ synth parts manually recreated by Robie. Although Baker did use a Fairlight CMI for the orchestra hits, he considered it “a $100,000 waste of space”.

Released in 1982, ‘Planet Rock’ put electro, as it came to be known, on the map. Never one to waste a good thing, Baker produced ‘Play at Your Own Risk’ for PLANET PATROL, taking unused recorded parts from ‘Planet Rock’. His midas touch continued with the similar sounding ‘IOU’ for FREEEZ, once again maximising the rigid character of the 808.

Always in touch with what was going on at street level, Baker often tried out his rough mixes at clubs like Paradise Garage, The Danceteria and The Fun House. Although missing out on THE BEASTIE BOYS, Baker achieved major worldwide success when he signed NEW EDITION to his Streetwise Records. The label also released Eartha Kitt’s Boystown favourite ’Where Is My Man?’ , while other artists on the roster included Colonel Abrams, Cuba Gooding and Loleatta Holloway.

In 1989 with THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES, Baker gathered a diverse all-star cast of Al Green, Andy McCuskey, Martin Fry, Jimmy Somerville and Etienne Daho to sing on the ‘Merge’ album, a pop hybrid record tracing his love of soul, synthpop, disco, HI-NRG and Europop.

Reflecting his trailblazing reputation in dance music with an ear for a good tune, Baker was commissioned to provide remixes for a wide range of mainstream artists including Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen, Neneh Cherry and Tina Turner, as well as more middle of the road acts like FLEETWOOD MAC, HALL & OATES and WET WET WET.

Baker’s varispeeded treatment of ‘Spaceman’ by BABYLON ZOO was used in the 1995 Levi’s TV commercial ‘Planet’, but many were disappointed to be met with the dirge rock original when the track was released as a single.

Now based between London, Miami and Ibiza, Baker continues to DJ while he notably co-produced and appeared in the 2015 documentary film ‘808’ directed by Alexander Dunn about the machine which he helped turn into a cultural icon.

Featuring reminisces by Phil Collins, Jori Hulkkonen, Felix Da Housecat, Richie Hawtin, Rick Rubin and Norman Cook among many, Baker himself interviewed the late Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi who had deliberately purchased faulty transistors to create the machine’s distinctive sizzling sound. Continuing his interest in documentaries, Baker is currently making one about NEW ORDER.

With such a varied career, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK presents a Beginner’s Guide to Arthur Baker featuring 18 tracks that cover the breadth of his influential music portfolio.


AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE Planet Rock (1982)

Recorded by Baker at Intergalactic Studios, the ‘Planet Rock’ synth leadline interpolated KRAFTWERK’s ‘Trans Europe Express’ while the Roland TR-808 drum machine mimicked ‘Numbers’; the track even included a chant of its Japanese count. But where there’s a hit, there’s a writ so when Baker later had to pay up for using elements of KRAFTWERK, he just put up the price of the record to fund the settlement. ‘Planet Rock’ eventually sold one million copies and paid for its debt.

Available on the AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE album ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat 1980 -1985’ via Tommy Boy Records

https://www.facebook.com/ArthurBakerDJ/


PLANET PATROL Play At Your Own Risk (1982)

More in the vein of classic soul groups like THE TEMPTATIONS, PLANET PATROL offered an electro twist on that five way vocal template and even featured a member named Melvin Franklin! ‘Play At Your Own Risk’ was made from recorded parts that did not make the final version of ‘Planet Rock’, with Baker even saying that both came from the same multitrack. Listening back, it was also the blueprint for Baker’s ‘IOU’ which became a huge hit for FREEEZ.

Available on the PLANET PATROL album ‘Planet Patrol’ via Tommy Boy Records

http://www.roland.co.uk/blog/arthur-baker/


ROCKERS REVENGE featuring DONNIE CALVIN Walking On Sunshine (1982)

Mechanising Eddie Grant’s funky favourite in the sparkly pulsing vein of D-TRAIN, Baker’s cover of ‘Walking On Sunshine’ was specifically made for the Paradise Garage. Baker assembled ROCKERS REVENGE as a studio project with vocalists Donnie Calvin, Dwight Hawkes and Baker’s wife Tina B. While there an electronic feel, its looseness pioneered a more freestyle form that would later emerge in its own right. Continuing the covers theme, a version of Jimmy Cliff’s ‘The Harder They Come’ came out in 1983.

Available on the ROCKERS REVENGE album ‘Walking On Sunshine’ via Acrobat

https://www.facebook.com/RockersRevengeOfficial/


AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE Looking For The Perfect Beat (1983)

With a funky urban twist over colder European electronics, ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat’ with its freestyling and mighty breakbeats took hip-hop up to the next level. With its self-prophesising title, it was far more complex and varied than ‘Planet Rock’, with nearly a year taken in the making. It showed ‘Planet Rock’ was no fluke, but Baker later remarked that the track was motivated as a taunt at Tommy Boy’s rivals and pioneers of rap, Sugar Hill Records. “Beat Dis”!

Available on the AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE album ‘Looking For The Perfect Beat 1980 -1985’ via Tommy Boy Records

https://www.facebook.com/808themovie


FREEEZ IOU (1983)

Originally a jazz funk combo, FREEEZ had fragmented to the duo of John Rocca and Peter Maas when they became fascinated by ‘Planet Rock’. Meeting Baker in New York, he suggested recording his self-penned ‘IOU’. While there was a appearance from the ubiquitous Roland TR808, an Emulator was used for the staccato voice passages but key to the song’s appeal was Rocca’s falsetto. It was co-mixed by John Jellybean Benitez, the DJ at The Funhouse who later worked with Madonna and had a solo career.

Available on the FREEEZ album ‘Gonna Get You’ via Cherry Red

https://www.discogs.com/artist/8670-Freeez


NEW EDITION Candy Girl (1983)

Signing what was effectively the modern electro incarnation of JACKSON 5 to his Streetwise label, Baker hit paydirt with NEW EDITION and their sweet worldwide No1 ‘Candy Girl’. With the tune’s writers Maurice Starr and Michael Jonzun working in the studio with the young quintet, Baker was executive producer and did the final mix with Starr. Unusually for a boy band, Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe all went on to have successful careers after the group.

Available on the NEW EDITION album ‘Candy Girl’ via Streetwise Records

https://www.facebook.com/newedition4life/


NEW ORDER Confusion (1983)

With NEW ORDER’s interest in dance music, having opened the Haçienda with New York clubs in mind, a collaborative union with Baker was inevitable. But Baker wanted to make ‘Blue Monday’ while and the Mancunians wanted to make ‘Planet Rock’, so the result was quite literally ‘Confusion’! Drummer Stephen Morris in particular had admitted frustration during the recording sessions as Baker would not let him alter his Roland TR808’s already-programmed patterns, fearing he would lose his trademark sound.

Edited version available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA

http://www.neworder.com/


ARTHUR BAKER Breaker’s Revenge (1984)

For the film ‘Beat Street’, Baker helped produce its soundtrack and contributed the frantic beat and sample laden instrumental ‘Breakers’ Revenge’ to the score. The movie itself was a based around New York’s hip hop and breakdancing scene, with part of the plot based on the graffiti documentary ‘Style Wars’. Noted figures such as GRANDMASTER MELLE MEL & THE FURIOUS FIVE, THE SYSTEM, DOUG E. FRESH and THE SOULSONIC FORCE all appeared.

Available on the ARTHUR BAKER mix album ‘Breakin’ via Mushroom Records

https://twitter.com/arthurhbaker


ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID ‎ Sun City (1985)

ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID was formed by Steven Van Zandt and Baker to protest against apartheid in South Africa, while drawing parallels with the plight of Native Americans. “A song about change not charity, freedom not famine”, ‘Sun City’ highlighted the hypocrisy of the South African government allowing entertainment there that was banned in the country, with a call to reinforce the international boycott. It featured Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Miles Davis, U2 and RUN DMC.

Originally from the ARTISTS UNITED AGAINST APARTHEID ‎album ‘Sun City’ via Manhattan Records, currently unavailable

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artists_United_Against_Apartheid


FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS Ever Fallen In Love – Club Senseless remix (1986)

‘Ever Fallen in Love’ was a noted song of punk and disaffection written by the late Pete Shelley and performed by his band BUZZCOCKS. But FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS caused  a stir with a dance friendly version co-produced by TALKING HEADS’ Jerry Harrison for the film ‘Something Wild’. With his Club Senseless remix, Baker exploited the track’s funkier possibilities, his theory being “if you had a really groovy bassline, the drums don’t have to be a straight kick, because people dance to the bassline.”

Available on the FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS album ‘The Raw & the Cooked’ via Edsel Records

https://www.facebook.com/RolandGift.Tour/


PET SHOP BOYS In The Night – Arthur Baker remix (1986)

‘In The Night’ was the B-side for the first single version of ‘Opportunities’ and saw PET SHOP BOYS reusing the same chord progression as its A-side. The lyrics referred to Les Zazous, an apolitical group in France during the Second World War who were disliked by the Nazis and the Resistance. Although Phil Harding produced, Baker did a more percussive 12 inch remix which opened the ‘Disco’ collection. This was later edited and used as the theme music for the BBC’s ‘The Clothes Show’ between 1986 and 1994.

Available on the PET SHOP BOYS album ‘Disco’ via EMI Records

https://petshopboys.co.uk/


NEW ORDER Touched By The Hand Of God (1987)

Arthur Baker developed an enduring relationship with NEW ORDER, both in the studio and as friends, having co-written ‘Confusion’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’ like he was a member of the band. Working as the music supervisor for the movie soundtrack of Beth B’s parody of televangelism ‘Salvation’, NEW ORDER contributed six tracks. The best known was ‘Touched By The Hand Of God’, its title inspired by the controversial Argentine footballer Diego Maradona and mixed by Baker for singular consumption.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘(The Best Of)’ via London Records

https://newordertracks.wordpress.com/


WILL DOWNING A Love Supreme (1988)

Will Downing had sung with Baker’s project WALLY JUMP JR & THE CRIMINAL ELEMENT on the single ‘Turn Me Loose’ in 1986. So when the New Yorker signed as a solo artist with 4th & Broadway, the US-based subsidiary of Island Records, Baker was a natural choice as producer. A cover of the John Coltrane jazz piece with additional lyrics by Downing, the arrangement made the most of a soulful deep house vibe that was emanating from the US at the time.

Available on the WILL DOWNING album ‘A Love Supreme – The Collection’ via Spectrum

https://www.willdowning.com/


ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES featuring MARTIN FRY Mythical Girl (1989)

A&M Records offered Baker an album deal, but rather than facing the opportunity alone, he recruited a studio collective comprising of John Warren, Tiny Valentine, Mac Quayle, Bobby Khozouri, Philip Damien and Cevin Fisher, several of whom were to become notable in their own right. ‘Merge’ consisted mostly of dance flavoured pop; ‘Mythical Girl’ was an ABC track in all but name, involving not just Martin Fry but musical partner Mark White too, with Baker and his team producing.

Available on the ARTHUR BAKER & THE BACKBEAT DISCIPLES album ‘Merge’ via A&M Records

https://www.abcmartinfry.com/


NEW ORDER 1963 – 95 (1995)

‘1963’ came from the 1987 sessions NEW ORDER had with PET SHOP BOYS producer Stephen Hague that also spawned ‘True Faith’. However, much to the annoyance of Peter Hook, his contributions on ‘1963’ were virtually written out, only making a brief appearance at the end of the original version. Released as a belated A-side in a 1995 remix, Baker took the opportunity to make the bassist’s presence heard throughout the song in this dreamier cinematic reinterpretation.

Available on the NEW ORDER album ‘Singles’ via WEA

https://www.facebook.com/NewOrderOfficial/


TINA TURNER Whatever You Want – Massive Jungle Remix (1996)

Written by Baker with Taylor Dayne and one-time studio associate Fred Zarr who had worked with Baker on several recordings, ‘Whatever You Want’ for Tina Turner was an archetypical production from Trevor Horn in its single variant. Baker’s Massive Jungle Remix though did exactly what it said on the tin, but crucially kept Turner’s mighty vocal while also retaining the key cinematic essence that had made the song appealing within its mainstream context.

Originally from the TINA TURNER 12″ single ‘Whatever You Want (The Arthur Baker Mixes)’ via Parlophone Records, currently unavailable

http://www.tinaturnerofficial.com/


NEW ORDER Behind Closed Doors (2001)

“I listen to The Coors behind closed doors” suggested Bernard Sumner ominously on this 21st Century NEW ORDER B-side produced by Baker. With its dark cinematics, the introspective tone of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ was very different to the more rocky tension of the ‘Get Ready’ comeback album. Sumner’s observations on domestic violence, lack of parental responsibility and chemical dependency coupled with mournful bass from Hooky made for sinister listening.

Available on the NEW ORDER single ‘Crystal’ via WEA

https://twitter.com/neworder


HURTS Wonderful Life – Arthur Baker remix (2010)

‘Wonderful Life’ had an epic cinematic backdrop with noirish synths and brooding woodwinds that saw singer Theo Hutchcraft telling the story of a suicidal man saved by love at first sight. The sub-six minute Arthur Baker remix took away the big compressed drums and replaced them with the tight electro snap of an 808. Adding a squelchy bassline sequence reminiscent of a 303, Baker kept the song intact and satisfied those who felt HURTS were nothing more than TAKE THAT dressed like ULTRAVOX.

Available on the HURTS single ‘Wonderful Life’ via RCA Records

https://www.informationhurts.com/home/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
14th September 2019

A Beginner’s Guide To OMD

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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, 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, a hefty 25 tracks of interest have been selected 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 work with MARSHEAUX and 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.

Available on the OMD album ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’ via Virgin Records

http://www.omd.uk.com/


OMD 2nd Thought (1980)

The ‘Organisation’ album saw OMD purchase their first polysynth, a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 which allowed Paul Humphreys to explore more haunting gothic timbres away from the cheesier  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.

Available on the OMD album ‘Organisation’ via Virgin Records

https://www.facebook.com/omdofficial/


OMD Sealand (1981)

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.

Available on the OMD album ‘Architecture & Morality’ via Virgin Records

https://twitter.com/OfficialOMD


OMD International (1983)

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.

Available on the OMD album ‘Dazzle Ships’ via Virgin Records

https://www.instagram.com/omdhq/


THE PARTNERSHIP Sampling The Blast Furnace (1984)

THE PARTNERSHIP was an unrealised 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 vocals from Andy McCluskey alongside vocodered voices and chants by Martha Ladly. While this remains unreleased, the 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

https://www.studiobrettwickens.com/


OMD Apollo (1984)

After the critical mauling ‘Dazzle Ships’ received, OMD were in debt to Virgin Records and had 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.

Available on the OMD album ‘Junk Culture’ via Universal Music

https://www.last.fm/music/Orchestral+Manoeuvres+in+the+Dark


OMD Stay (1986)

1985’s ‘Crush’ was Stephen Hague’s first full album production and opened the doors for OMD’s ambitions in the US. ‘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.

Available on the OMD album ‘The Pacific Age’ via Virgin Records

https://www.setlist.fm/setlists/orchestral-manoeuvres-in-the-dark-73d6ba31.html


ETIENNE DAHO & OMD So In Love (1986)

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’s 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

https://dahofficial.com/

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 recording 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

https://twitter.com/arthurhbaker


OMD Walking On Air (1991)

Going it alone, Andy McCluskey became open to collaboration. Meeting Stuart Kershaw and Lloyd Massett from pop rap combo RAW UNLTD, they set about modernising the rhythmic elements of McCluskey’s new OMD songs. The ghostly ‘Walking On Air’ referenced ‘Statues’ while the bossa nova evoked the mellow moods of Bryan Ferry. Kershaw took over the drums from Mal Holmes who left OMD in 2014 for health reasons.

Available on the OMD album ‘Sugar Tax’ via Virgin Records

https://www.youtube.com/user/OMDenglishelectric


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 sax 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

https://malholmes.com/the-listening-pool/


ELEKTRIC MUSIC Kissing The Machine (1993)

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 ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “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

http://www.karlbartos.com/


OMD Best Years Of Our Lives (1993)

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 sad topline from ‘Spanish Harlem’, a song made famous by Ben E King.

Available on the OMD album ‘Liberator’ via Virgin Records

https://www.youtube.com/user/OMDVEVO/videos


OMD The New Dark Age (1996)

After the muted reception for 1993’s painfully poppy ‘Liberator’, Andy McCluskey brought in a conventional rock sound for 1996’s ‘Universal’ but the OASIS sounding ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ failed to get traction. One of its B-sides ‘The New Dark Age’ gave a haunting salute 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…

Available on the OMD single ‘Walking On The Milky Way’ via Virgin Records

https://www.discogs.com/artist/9462-Orchestral-Manoeuvres-In-The-Dark


ATOMIC KITTEN Right Now – Demo version (2000)

When Andy McCluskey joined Stuart Kershaw to write songs for a girl group, most thought he had lost his marbles. When three girls from Liverpool were recruited to form ATOMIC KITTEN, it eventually led to a UK No1 ‘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

https://www.atomickitten.com/


THE GENIE QUEEN What A Girl Goes Through (2005)

Ousted from Team AK by a coup d’état, Andy McCluskey licked his wounds and formed another girl trio 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 called ‘Pulse’ on ‘History Of Modern’ featured the girls.

Never officially released

https://twitter.com/anna_ord


ONETWO Anonymous (2007)

Paul Humphreys and Claudia Brücken released their only album as ONETWO in 2007 and from it was ‘Anonymous’, a song co-written with Andy McCluskey that began life as a demo from the aborted PROPAGANDA reunion. 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.

Available on the ONETWO album ‘Instead’ via https://theremusic.bandcamp.com/album/instead

http://www.claudiabrucken.co.uk/


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’.

Available on the BLANK & JONES single ‘Miracle Cure’ via Soulfood

http://www.blankandjones.com/


OMD Green (2010)

Of this ‘History Of Modern’ highlight, Paul Humphreys said: “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.

Available on the OMD album ‘History Of Modern’ via Blue Noise

https://twitter.com/stukershaw


MIRRORS Secrets – Andy McCluskey remix (2011)

Mal Holmes said “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 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

https://www.facebook.com/theworldofmirrors/


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’.

Not officially released

https://www.coupland.com/


OMD Helen Of Troy (2013)

Of ‘Helen Of Troy’, Andy McCluskey said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “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.”

Available on the OMD album ‘English Electric’ via BMG

https://www.facebook.com/undofotonovela/


ERASURE Be The One – Paul Humphreys remix (2014)

Andy Bell’s debut solo album ‘Electric Blue’ was 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 the beautiful Synthwerk magic that characterised ‘English Electric’.

Available on the compilation album ‘The Electricity Club’ (V/A) via Amour Records

http://www.erasureinfo.com


VILE ELECTRODES The Vanished Past (2016)

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 bleak potent drama, ‘The Vanished Past’ came with a mighty drum climax like ‘Navigation’. “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!

Available on the VILE ELECTRODES album ‘In the Shadows of Monuments’ via https://vileelectrodes.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-shadows-of-monuments

http://www.vileelectrodes.com/


OMD Don’t Go (2019)

OMD began their recorded career with a KRAFTWERK homage and four decades on, came 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.

Available on the OMD album ‘Souvenir: The Singles Collection 1979 – 2019’ via Universal Music

https://open.spotify.com/artist/7wJ9NwdRWtN92NunmXuwBk


The ‘Souvenir’ 5CD + 2DVD deluxe boxed set is released on 4th October 2019 by Universal Music

OMD Souvenir 40th Anniversary 2019 – 2020 European + UK Tour, dates include:

Lisbon Aula Magna (15th October), Porto Casa da Musica (16th October), Madrid Riviera (19th October), Barcelona Apolo (21st October), 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), Berlin Tempodrom (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)


Text by Chi Ming Lai
29th August 2019, updated 19th April 2021