Tag: Mal Holmes

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 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.

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 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

https://www.studiobrettwickens.com/


OMD Apollo (1984)

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.

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. 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.

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 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

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: “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

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 solemn 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 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!

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 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

https://www.atomickitten.com/


THE GENIE QUEEN What A Girl Goes Through (2005)

Having been ousted from Team AK by a 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.

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 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.

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’ in what could be seen as the nearest thing to a NEW ORDER vs OMD collaboration.

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 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

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’ from ‘Dazzle Ships’.

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’ 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’.

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 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!

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, 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.

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

2nd Thought: The Legacy of OMD

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 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.


‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’, ‘Organisation’, ‘Architecture & Morality’ and ‘Dazzle Ships’ are released as Half Speed Abbey Road vinyl remasters by Universal Music on 2nd November 2018

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th September 2018

OMD Synthetic Engineering

OMD’s existing performance set-up with two Roland Fantom X8 workstations actually has its roots in the 1983 ‘Dazzle Ships’ Live Presentation.

Some of the more purist observers complain about the lack of analogue instruments in the current live shows but Andy McCluskey said recently: “Who says that digital can’t be a beautiful as analogue?”

Even in the pioneering days, OMD were thinking carefully about how best technologically to present themselves in a live context to an audience that was still growing accustomed to electronic based music.

It is well documented that the success of ‘Architecture & Morality’ tour had taken its toll on the band emotionally and functionally. Extended touring had robbed the band of time in their studio The Gramophone Suite to compose new material. As Andy once remarked: “you can’t sit up the back of a tour bus and strum your synthesizer…”. But there was also their reliance on the equipment they took out on the road. Paul Humphreys had his ever faithful Korg Micro-Preset but also the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5 first used on the single version of ‘Messages’ and the subsequent ‘Organisation’ campaign.

In addition, there was the hefty sky blue Elgam Symphony dual action organ and the huge, even more cumbersome Novatron which was an updated version of the Streetly Mellotron M400 that had been during the recording of the album. “We used a Mellotron Mk1 on ‘Architecture & Morality’ but were advised that if we were going on the road to get a Novatron.” said Andy, “The Mk1 had a very bad whine created by the power supply. Streetly told us it was a design fault.”

The Mellotron aka Novatron was an electro-mechanical keyboard that played tape loops of sounds such as choirs, strings and brass.

The name Novatron was adopted for instruments produced after 1976 due to a legal blunder which meant the name Mellotron could not be used.

It was the dominant texture of ‘Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)’ as well as several other tracks on ‘Architecture & Morality’ so was considered a necessity on tour sonically. But it was extremely heavy, weighing in at 55 kg and due to its delicate systems, was vulnerable to malfunction under the heat of stage lights.

But there were also power supply issues as Andy recalled from a gig in Italy: “All the power was from a small generator and every time the lights got really bright on stage, the power supply to equipment reduced making the Novatron flywheel slow down so the notes went very flat. Once our lighting guy realised the problem, we did the rest of the show with reduced lights to keep the Novatron in tune.”

Meanwhile, the Prophet 5 had been a godsend as one of the first programmable polyphonic synths and used integrated circuits to make it more compact and versatile compared with say, a Polymoog or Yamaha CS50. It played an important role in the pioneering OMD sound as much as the Mellotron, with tracks such as ‘Romance Of The Telescope’. “’Romance…’ is actually a Prophet 5 factory preset for the out of tune brass sound but the choir is Mellotron” remembered Andy.

Previously, cheaper synths either had presets like Paul’s little Korg which restricted the number of sounds they could make, or they would have no memory like their Korg MS20. Synths like the latter were largely impractical for live use as a keyboard although Mal Holmes had the MS20 to generate fixed sounds for percussive effects triggered by his drum pads. But now with a programmable synth and patch memories at their disposal, a sound could be created or found, stored and then recalled for its corresponding song at a touch of a button.

However, it was still early days for developments in chip based technology and while the Prophet 5 was invaluable for studio work, the oscillators which generated the sound source would destabilise over the time it was switched on, thus causing tuning difficulties. Also the precious memories could be scrambled due to voltage spikes. To add an extra headache, the Prophet 5 had a reputation for reliability issues which necessitated two examples being taken out on the road.

Martin Cooper’s set-up included Roland SH09 and SH2 monosynths for basslines and melodies plus a Vox Jaguar organ for chords.

While this organ had been an essential part of the early OMD sound, especially on the first album, it was of 1960s vintage, large and of transistor construction. So again, it was extremely delicate and not suited for the perils of a world tour.

Mal Holmes’ percussion complex consisted of a big Tama bass drum, large Pearl snares and conventional Paiste hi-hat alongside an array of electronic percussion pads triggering the aforementioned Korg MS20 and a pair of Pearl Syncussion units which controlled two percussive timbres each. With minimised microphone spill allowing very loud acoustic drums to combine with the raw electronic noise, these helped give OMD a uniquely crunchy live sound.

But this system was also very fragile due to the exposed ceramic piezoelectric sensors on the pads. Ceramics are not a naturally malleable material so therefore prone to breakage when hit hard. Famously, a home made electronic kit designed by Paul Humphreys and Paul Collister fell to pieces while being used by Mal during OMD’s first show as a live quartet. “I hit the crystal microphone inside the pad and smashed it to bits!” remembered Mal.

The practicalities of a one and a half hour show had shown various shortcomings and provided unnecessarily stress for a group of young musicians still fighting with a music press and audience that didn’t consider synthpop real music and thought synth bands couldn’t play live! So with the future in mind, OMD looked for an instrumental set-up that was more streamlined and practical for live work.

They found it with the E-mu Systems Emulator. Founded in 1971 by Scott Wedge and Dave Rossum, E-mu began making modular synthesizers whose users included jazz virtuoso Herbie Hancock. At a convention, Wedge and Rossum saw the Fairlight CMI, the world’s first computerised digital sampling synthesizer and set about making a less expensive sampler.

The Emulator was released in 1981 at a price of £5000, considerably less than the £20,000 Fairlight.

It was a floppy disk-based keyboard workstation which enabled the recording of any sound to non-volatile media and allowed these samples to be played back as musical notes. As an instrument, the Emulator had no sound of its own.

Each aural palette had to be loaded into its memory separately, whether it was from a factory disk of sounds produced by E-mu themselves like the symphonic strings used on ‘Silent Running’, the sound of OMD’s own synths such as the Prophet 5, the voice of Andy McCluskey crooning “blue” on ‘Dazzle Ships’ or the bugle from the BBC Sound Effects record used on ‘This Is Helena’. But by wanting to make life easier for themselves on the road, OMD also entered the brave new world of sampling and were now able to realise some of their more musique concrete ambitions as was apparent on the ‘Dazzle Ships’ album.

But with regards touring, the Mellotron, Elgam, Vox Jaguar and the Prophet 5 could now be retired and replaced by two of these wonder machines on stage. However, the samples were low resolution and grainy at only 8 bits. While these sounds were suitable for chords and effects, the live punch required from the rhythm section meant that Martin’s Roland SH2 was retained as its phat twin oscillator bass sound was formidable in a live context.

Also kept was the similar looking but single oscillator SH09 which was OMD’s preferred synth bass in the studio. Meanwhile, Paul’s Korg Micro-Preset also remained. This was an important artistic gesture as when layered with suitable effects, it provided a cutting melodic bite that was in keeping with OMD’s original garage band ethos.

In that spirit, a reel-to-reel tape machine containing things such as the sequence of ‘Messages’ and the Speak & Spell Machine on ‘Genetic Engineering’ was still very much part of the line-up although this was upgraded to a new Tascam from the older Revox.

With Andy, there was no equipment change at all with his trusty Fender Jazz bass guitar. Martin however had his own Fender Jaguar bass for use on ‘Julia’s Song’ as Andy’s was strung in an unconventional manner with the lowest string ‘E’ at the bottom due to first learning to play on a left handed Wilson Rapier bass turned upside down!

For Mal, his new toy came with three Simmons SDS-V drum synths. Co-designed by LANDSCAPE’s Richard James Burgess, these replaced two of the pads hooked to one of the Pearl Syncussion units.

The Simmons was very sturdy, having already been road tested on tour by acts such as JAPAN and ULTRAVOX. It was also less of a headache to soundcheck than normal drums.

The SDS-V’s distinctive hexagonal pads were actually made from the same material as police riot sheets.Although he didn’t use the whole Simmons kit, Mal later complained of aching arms. This was from a ‘shock’ that came from hitting the Simmons pads as they did not have the natural give of skinned acoustic drums or even the earlier electronic pads that controlled the Syncussion units and MS20 which to all intents and purposes, were tiny but amplified drums!

Although a fuller Simmons kit was used subsequently on the ‘Junk Culture’ tour, it was only later as OMD made in-roads into breaking synthphobic America with the more conventional sounding ‘Crush’ that Mal started to use a full acoustic drum kit and was allowed to have one of the ultimate percussive symbols of rock ‘n’ roll, the cymbal! This would explain why Mal’s early drum kit always looked like it had been raided by thieves between the soundcheck and gig! Mal remembered “So many people like the road crew said ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with your drum kit but it looks really different! NO CYMBALS, THAT’S IT!’”

Although access to digital representations of their old synths and keyboards were now available using the Emulator live, the fledgling technology was prone to reading errors with the then state-of-the-art 5 ¼ floppy disks.

These visually did make interesting artefacts however as Peter Saville found when he saw NEW ORDER’s Emulator and designed the iconic ‘Blue Monday’ sleeve as a coded 12 inch floppy complete with cut-outs!

The Emulator would seem to take forever to load in the context of a show and the setlist needed be arranged to accommodate this. One interesting consequence of the Emulator’s loading time was that Andy’s between song banter increased to cover it up!!!

Later when the band upgraded to the Emulator II with its then innovative hard drive in 1985, Andy would often joke about Paul’s problems with his hard disk!!

Despite the expected glitches with the new Emulators, on the whole they gave the band less to worry about, especially after the difficult gestation of ‘Dazzle Ships’ and the critical mauling it received from the press.

It allowed for the band to deliver a more confident and professional performance that when combined with Ken Kennedy and Peter Saville’s impressive stage set, would later be recognised as their best live tour to date. But that’s another story although strangely, brass sections and America were only just round the corner…


Special thanks to Alex Machairas for his valued help and granting permission for the use of the archive photographs.

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
16th March 2012, updated 17th February 2014

MAL HOLMES Interview

OMD drummer Mal Holmes has been musically associated with founder members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys since THE ID.

The Wirral post-punk band showcased songs such as ‘Electricity’, ‘Red Frame/White Light’, ‘Julia’s Song’, ‘The Misunderstanding’ and ‘Radio Waves’ that were to later become part of synthpop folklore. When THE ID split in 1978, Holmes continued to drum for local bands and worked as burger chef during the day. Meanwhile McCluskey and Humphreys formed OMD, releasing ‘Electricity’ on Factory Records in 1979…the rest is as they say, is history. But it was while supporting Gary Numan as a duo accompanied by Winston the TEAC tape recorder that the limitations of employing such a rigid backing track in live performance became apparent.

So expanding to a quartet for a club tour in early 1980, DALEK I LOVE YOU’s keyboardist Dave Hughes and Mal Holmes were recruited. Almost instantaneously, there was a looser, more frantic feel to OMD’s live sound with Holmes’ crunchy electronic percussion and sparing live drums providing a particularly unique aural framework. Holmes had already guested on the recorded version of ‘Julia’s Song’ from the OMITD album but eventually became a studio regular, contributing to OMD’s first hit ‘Messages’ before playing on the Organisation album featuring ‘Enola Gay’.

Around this time, Dave Hughes left OMD to form GODOT so another guest musician from the debut album, saxophonist Martin Cooper joined to play synthesizers to complete the now classic OMD line-up which later went on to enormous success with the album ‘Architecture & Morality’ in 1981.

Holmes’ sharp, complimentary drumming style which mixed acoustic and electronic percussion over tight pre-programmed rhythms helped the unlikely commercial proposition of Maid Of Orleans become the biggest selling single of 1982 in Germany. Rewarded with equity for his loyal service to OMD from 1983’s ‘Dazzle Ships’, ironically he played on only three of its tracks while the album itself was a commercial flop, only gaining artistic recognition in later years.

Although OMD started to adapt a more conventional sound from 1984 with Holmes having a greater role in the albums ‘Junk Culture’, ‘Crush’ and ‘The Pacific Age’ that followed, strained relations following their American success led to the classic line-up splitting with Holmes joining Humphreys and Cooper in THE LISTENING POOL who released their only album ‘Still Life’ in 1994 and McCluskey continuing solo as OMD.

The classic OMD line-up reunited for a successful tour in 2007 which has led to the release of a new album History Of Modern, supported by an Autumn tour which sees OMD’s position as synthesizer pioneers reinforced by their choice of new OMD influenced acts VILLA NAH and MIRRORS as support.

Always a favourite of the fans, a banner at a gig once proclaimed “MAL IS GOD!”  – just before the soundcheck for the opening show in Brighton, Mal Holmes spoke to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK to give an interesting insight into being a drummer in an electronic pop band and the artistic conundrums that it throws up…

On the earlier OMD tours, you played what always looked like a drum kit that had bits of it nicked on the way to the gig. How into the electronic ethos were you, especially as Paul and Andy wanted their percussive framework to be as anti-rock as possible?

I was playing before with them in THE ID as your regular rock drummer.

I was really a drummer’s drummer at that time; I loved Billy Cobham, Phil Collins in GENESIS, Richie Hayward out of LITTLE FEAT. So when I first joined OMD, I’d been coming from THE ID so we were playing Electricity and some of those early songs on a regular kit which my bother bought me when I was 16, this Tama kit. THE ID spilt up, OMD get together and it must have been about 6-10 months before I came back in.

It was clear they were into that KRAFTWERK electronic vibe. Paul Collister, the manager was an electronics boffin with Paul Humphreys being at Riversdale College in Liverpool doing it as well. The idea was we wouldn’t have a regular drum kit, we would have an electronic drum kit but you couldn’t go to the shop and buy one, there was nothing around.

So I was really excited I was going to have a new kit that nobody would have seen built by Paul Collister and Paul Humphreys.

I remember I was a roadie for the band before I joined and I was hanging out with them with the view of going on the road with this new electronic drum kit.

This drum kit never took shape basically, I remember pushing Paul Collister saying “you’re building this thing, so what is it?” and he’d go “oh, I’ve got to get the circuit boards, I’ve got to the get transistors, I’ve got to get the pads…” – so eventually, a couple of days before we go on the road, Paul Collister comes up with this electronic drum kit that he’s made which is a couple of practice pads with crystal microphones inside and leads to circuit boards for snare and hi-hat etc.

There was a kick drum that was hacked together which was like an ‘on-off’ switch and a foot pedal!! So we rehearsed and we took it out for the first show and it was clear that it wasn’t going to work… everything was moving round the stage!! I’d press the kick drum and before I knew it, it was two yards in front of me! I’d hit the snare drum and it wasn’t triggering!! I hit the crystal microphone inside the pad and smashed it to bits, it just wasn’t going to work! *laughs*

So what happened next?

What had to be done was I needed to bring in from my old kit, the kick drum, the snare drum and the hi-hat. That then became the basis of my kit to this day actually! The other stuff like the ‘white noise’ pads stayed with us because they weren’t being used so much through the set and they couldn’t stick constant hitting like the real hi-hat could do. I just complimented what was going on with the ’white noise’.

I did embrace the electronic kit, I loved the idea of playing that but the functionality of it and playing it, the original one we had in OMD just couldn’t handle what was going to happen when we were taking it on the road. So two or three days into the tour, that’s when it became a hybrid. But I wasn’t allowed cymbals, they were a complete no-no! We didn’t use any cymbals until ‘Crush’! So many people like the road crew said “I don’t know what’s wrong with your drum kit but it looks really different! NO CYMBALS, THAT’S IT!”

How did you respond to the challenge of playing along to pre-programmed backing tracks as opposed to going first and leading a song the way a traditional drummer does?

It didn’t bother me, I embraced it more than anything else because around that time just after THE ID, DALEK I LOVE YOU were coming up on the scene and I did a few sessions with them.

It was clear that the beatbox started being a major part of what was going on musically with drummers in the North where I was anyway. I didn’t batter an eyelid, I thought it was natural progression as to where we were going to be going.

I just fell into that path really and it set me off in a different direction. If I hadn’t taken that path, with the electronics and the drum machines, and being a real drummer’s drummer lover, I would have gone in a completely different direction with the way I play. Now, I’m pretty happy with what I do, I’ve got my own style. The electronic side has laid down the foundations of what I actually became as a drummer.

In the early days, it was Andy and Paul who did the rhythm programming. When did you first actually get to do drum machine programming on an OMD recording?

I didn’t do a lot of programming of drum machines really. First time anything was written in the drum department was in THE ID so the first time ‘Electricity’ was ever played to my knowledge, it was me playing it on a kit when we came in as a seven piece. And the same for some of the songs that went onto the first album.

For ‘Organisation’ on ‘Enola Gay’, it was me playing on top of Andy’s beatbox and then we moved onto ‘Architecture and Morality’, the guys had The Gramophone Suite studio. I was listening to BRIAN ENO so the likes of ‘Maid Of Orleans’ came about because of a track that Phil Collins played on in this little skippy 6/8 beat, it’s really light!

Yes, Back In Judy’s Jungle from ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’? The song’s got also that almost pentatonic instrumental line that has a similar feel to ‘Maid Of Orleans’… it’s from a Korean folk song!

There you go! That’s where my original idea for it came from. With ‘She’s Leaving’, 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. The majority of the drum programming would always be done by Andy or Paul. My part would be to lay down on that. I did some Linn Drum programming on ‘Junk Culture’ but it was mostly playing on top of the Fairlight and the Linn Drum.

You’re credited with ‘bass synthesizer’ on ‘Architecture & Morality’, can you remember what you did?

Really? I think I did and I think it was… God, there you go! *laughs*

I think it was something incredibly simple, a bass drone or something like that! It was on a Roland SH2 and I wouldn’t have a clue what track it was! I know it’s a really small part and I said something like “C’mon, I want to play keyboards on this”, and Andy or Paul would’ve said “PRESS THAT!” and so I did! It wouldn’t have been a bass part, it would have been the simplest thing!

I heard a story about you learning to play bass, did you ever get into any other instruments?

No, not really. It’s taken me until the explosion in MIDI and computer technology for me to get involved with programming. If anything now, I know my way around a keyboard and pretty hot on Pro-Tools and Logic and all that. But I just stuck with doing what I did with OMD in the drum department.

Did you ever have any dilemmas in the studio as to when the drums should be live or programmed? Were there any intense discussions that you can remember?

No, not at all. It would be what Andy, Paul or the producer wanted but I would throw ideas into the pot.

At the time, the drum machines could only do what drum machines were doing, they were squared off and put into a corner, you knew what you’re going to get out of it, a TR-909 or a CR-78 or whatever.

It was putting the other colours on top of that if we needed a particular beat or whatever.

I had a whole array of different bass and snare drums, and different toms and percussion stuff so we had a host of different colours to choose from in the studio. So I always saw the kit and what I was putting on top as more colouring than being a traditional drummer.

Whenever we did drum sessions, generally everything would be put down individually. So the kick drum would be put down by itself, the snare drum would be put down by itself etc. Sonically, it was going to sound better because you’ve not got any spill going on. And easy really… it was a lot easier for me to do at the time because it took us hours to get hooked up in the studio anyway with SMPTE time code and CV clocks to have everything running. I don’t even remember playing to a click-track because they didn’t really exist in those days. I was playing along to the actual beatbox. It was technically easier to actually put down everything individually on top.

It gave OMD a really unique, clean sound…

It is unique because when you put drums down individually, it stops you playing what a drummer would play…you can’t naturally play a part, come off, do a snare drum fill, the hi-hat stops, the kick drum plays something natural and then you do a fill onto a cymbal. That doesn’t happen because you are just concentrating on one foot or one hand. And you play something completely different. Plus the fact the OMD stuff was so rigid, there’s no give away, there’s no groove tempo where things are a little bit behind the beat or a bit in front of the beat to give a feel…that didn’t exist. It was completely ‘on-the-beat’! You can’t do a fill that is ’off-the-beat’ because you will really notice it’s out of time. That inherently changes the sound and changed the nature of how a drummer would play on top of it.

What did you think of first commercially available electronic drum kits like the Simmons SDSV which was co-designed by Richard James Burgess? Did you use that on the ‘Dazzle Ships’ tour?

Yes I did. But again, I stuck to a real kick, snare and hat, and used Simmons toms. I thought it was a great, fantastic piece of kit when it came out because we’d failed to make our own.

This was just a whole new world to me, so I really embraced that. I thought it was a bit limiting, I was expecting a little bit more out of it, but it was great and really the start of the electronic drum kit thing. I loved the SDSV and the SDSVII which had an EPROM blower which could blew my own sounds onto the chips.

Any physical side effects from hitting that riot shield material on the Simmons?

It was difficult to play because you’d really feel a shock in your arm when you were hitting it and you’d feel that after the show.

What’s your live set-up now? What would you say are the advantages of an electronic kit live as opposed to an acoustic one?

I’m now using a Roland TD-20 for the electronic toms and the cymbals. As I said, I still have the same set-up because with a real bass drum and real snare drum, the physics of what happens when you hit a drum is you are physically moving air into a microphone diaphragm down wires into a PA speaker. That for me is the only way I’d want to play because I can throw all my weight into it. The same with the snare drum and the hi-hat, I can physically really hit them as hard as I can. The drums I use are really big drums. The bigger and longer the drum, the more air it’s going to move.

But the rest of the stuff: the toms, the cymbals and the white noise things; again, clarity of sound from my point of view is really important. I wouldn’t want to use acoustic toms because you need microphones and then I’ve got more spill, I’ve got the spill of the snare drums going down the tom microphones on stage. If I’m using real cymbals, I’ve got overhead mics and we have more spill. So the definition of the kit just starts to deteriorate all the time. But if I have a real kick, snare and hat and everything else is electronic, you can really turn the kick and snare drum really loud and you’ve not got the spill of everything else coming through there. With regard to the toms, I’m not a big tom player so they just have to capture what song I’m playing.

‘Crush’ and ‘The Pacific Age’ were probably the two albums where you had the greatest physical part in. What was your favourite period of OMD musically?

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 love to play regular pub drummer type of stuff but I’d rather try different things, sounds and colours and see what sound I can get on a kit.

I think you can really notice on an album… if I try tuning a snare drum, putting it in a different room, put different mics in, then no-one has heard that sound before. And in a very subtle way on an album, that works rather than going to a generic CD and getting another 808 snare on it.

What are your favourite songs to play live, past or present?

We’re doing ‘Bunker Soldiers’ and I love it! It’s just so great to play, it’s so simple and I enjoy playing that. So on this tour, my favourite to play is ‘Bunker Soldiers’, me and Martin have got a great groove going on, it’s really sweet! ‘Maid Of Orleans’ is good to play but even now, when I hear that click track, I concentrate so hard for that song because it’s so bloody simple and it’s so easy just to go and make a mess of it!

What was the motivation to play a song like ‘Bunker Soldiers’ from the first album on this tour? How did the idea come about?

When we first went to rehearsals in 2007, we didn’t really know what we were going to be playing although we knew we were going to be doing the hits thing and all the rest of it.

But Martin and I were saying “the reason why we’re here is because the first three albums were f***ing great, so why don’t we revisit some of the old stuff?” I remember saying in the rehearsal room to Andy “listen, what about ‘Bunker Soldiers’?” and him saying to me “No, we don’t want to do that!”  – so three years on, Andy comes up to us and goes “Paul and I are thinking of doing ‘Bunker Soldiers’” *laughs*

The motivation was just to have fun, it wasn’t really “let’s go and hit up the back catalogue”. It wasn’t a particularly heavy song to programme. Because bearing in mind when we go into these rehearsals, the keyboard programming’s got to be done, the old tapes have got to be revisited for Pro-Tools and it’s a big technical thing to get everything right for it, it takes a long time.

Whereas ‘Bunker Soldiers’, it’s basically Andy – bass guitar; Martin – bass synth, Paul – melody, me – kick, snare and white noise; so it’s a very easy thing for us to do. In rehearsals, we literally just went through it in one go and Martin knew what the bass was, his old settings and stuff like that; Paul redid the high end sequence part that we put onto Pro-Tools and that was it. It was a very simple song to put together but I really love it.

You once remarked how you loathed ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’… so how do you psych yourself up to get through a song that you’re not that into?

I did, yeah! It’s strange because there’s a lot of songs I could say that about. I’m not too big on playing the second part of OMD, the 90s songs. But they’re good songs, ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’ is a great thing to play as a drummer.

When I started to play it, it became something else to me. I really enjoyed playing it so I don’t really see the song as how I did in those days because now, I’m so involved in performing it. I look at the song slightly differently. Particularly live to the record, they’re always different in the drum world with OMD.

How do you approach some of the new material from ‘History Of Modern’ that you’re playing live on this tour?

It was the same with ‘Sister Marie Says’. I listened to it on the album and thought it was pretty standard stuff and the same with ‘New Babies:New Toys’.

But you take the album drums away and you put me there to do it… although Andy will always keep on at me with “WHY DON’T YOU PLAY THE KICK DRUM LIKE THE ALBUM, WHY DON’T YOU etc etc?”… he’s on at me all the time! And he quietens down and I’ll go back to the way I play it *laughs*

I changed the parts on some of them so ‘Sister Marie Says’ now, it chugs and trashes along but it’s just different for me now that because I’m playing it… not so much that I’m part of it but I think I make it work more musically. I think that’s probably something I became with OMD is a musical drummer, a very simple drummer but a very musical drummer. I listen to what the melody is, I won’t say a statement on the kit until it needs to say something before the chorus that’s coming. I won’t over play, I’ll under play. I compliment it.

This album, I didn’t have too much to do with the drums or programming on it. But now we’ve moved into taking it out on the road live, I play what is completely natural for me which is musical. And after Andy stops giving me ear ache about it, he just sits back and goes “that sounds really good doesn’t it?” and I’m thinking “yes, it sounds really good… but I’m playing something really different!” *laughs*

Did it take you long to learn ‘If You Want It’?

No, it didn’t take me long to learn any of them to tell you the truth! *laughs*

I did pfaff around with the bass drum of ‘If You Want It’ actually, it’s a slightly different part that I’m playing. It’s quite a nice thing to play. I would have like to have been more involved in the album, I think I could have made things a little bit more musical in the drum department.

Was there any reason why you weren’t really involved in the album?

Things have moved so quickly since we got back together in 2007, we all wanted to do it and loved it. Commercially it’s completely different to how it was when we were on Virgin. And deadlines and the way the album was put together, it’s just been a natural progression. I don’t think there’s any bad reason why I wasn’t involved. A lot of the songs were written before we got back together in 2007 so those parts were already down, the drum parts were already programmed on Pro-Tools and stuff like that. And you know for me, a drum part isn’t just like somebody going “there’s a snare drum on a ‘2’ and a ‘4’, there’s a kick drum on a ‘1’ and a ‘3’, 16 notes with a hi-hat etc etc”. I don’t go with that sort of idea. But the momentum just moved on so quickly.

What about what you’re doing next? Will there be more releases on your label Finmusic?

Finmusic has become more of a digital aggregator in the sense that I’m putting stuff on-line for whoever really. Running it as a label was difficult because it was unfair to artists as I didn’t have the marketing budget. If you’re going to be a record label, you’re going to need marketing budgets. But I’m a label in the sense that I’m registered, I’ve got ISRC, bar codes and accounts with all the digital dealers etc.

It’s also a bit of a headache dealing with artists… I’m an artist myself so I know what it’s like to be in that seat but just to keep them happy and spend enough money and try to take them to where they are! Anyone that’s ever come to me, I’ve always tried to help and put them in the right direction.

And I’ve done that with many people who you wouldn’t really know but they’ve had successful careers writing music for Simon Cowell programmes or they’ve been on the road here and there. So Finmusic exists so that if someone wants to get their music on iTunes, they can come to me. It’s not going to cost them any money and I’ll sort it out but we’ll take a commission for doing it. So I have a few hundred tracks out there now.

After I was ill with my heart attack and got back together with the band, ever since advances in technology with programmes on the Mac and stuff like that, I’ve wanted to do some music myself. So the last 18 months, I’ve been coming up with some crazy ambient things and I’ve got half a dozen pieces that I’d really like to get out on my own merit, but not on the back of OMD or the Mal Holmes name either.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to MAL HOMES

OMD’s ‘History Of Modern’ tour includes:

UK – special guests VILLA NAH
Nottingham Royal Centre (Nov 1), Glasgow Concert Hall (Nov 2), Liverpool Arena (Nov 4), Ipswich Regent (Nov 5), London Hammersmith Apollo (Nov 7), Birmingham Symphony Hall (Nov 8)

Europe – special guests MIRRORS
Cologne E-Werk (Nov 11), Hannover Capitol (Nov. 12), Leipzig Haus Auensee (Nov 13), Stuttgart Theaterhaus (Nov 15), Munich Tonhalle (Nov 16), Berlin Tempodrom (Nov 18), Hamburg Docks (Nov 19), Luxembourg Den Atelier (Nov 21), Brussels Ancienne Belgique (Nov 22), Amsterdam Paradiso (Nov 23), Le Casino De Paris (Nov 25)

http://www.omd.uk.com

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

https://www.malholmes.com/


Text and Inteview by Chi Ming Lai
31st October 2010, updated 23rd October 2017