Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

From Academic Kids

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark or OMD were a synth pop group from the Wirral, UK, who recorded for Virgin Records (originally for Virgin's DinDisc subsidiary).

The group was founded by Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, and they formed the core of the outfit until 1989, when the group split. McCluskey then retained the name and continued to record and tour as OMD with a new line-up.


Early history

As teenagers, Humphreys and McCluskey were involved in several unsigned Wirral bands, including Equinox, Pegasus, and the short-lived Hitlerz Underpantz. McCluskey would usually sing and play bass guitar, whilst electronics enthusiast Humphreys initially began as a roadie, graduating to keyboards. The pair shared a love of electronic music, particularly Brian Eno and Kraftwerk.

By 1977, McCluskey & Humphreys put together 7-piece (3 singers, 2 guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards!) Wirral 'supergroup' The Id, whose line-up included drummer Malcolm Holmes and McCluskey's girlfriend Julia Kneale on vocals. The group began to gig regularly in the Merseyside area, performing original material (largely written by McCluskey & Humphreys). They had quite a following on the scene, and one of their tracks (Julia's Song) was included on a compilation record of local bands called Street to Street. Meanwhile Humphreys & McCluskey collaborated on a side-project called VCL XI (named after a valve from the diagram on the cover of Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity album), where they pursued their more bizarre electronic experiments, often working with tape collages, home-made kit-built synthesiers, and circuit-bent radios.

In 1978, The Id split due to the traditional musical differences. McCluskey briefly sang with electronic Wirral quartet Dalek I Love You, however eventually rejoined Humphreys, and their VCL XI project was rechristened Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. They began to gig regularly as a duo, accompanied on stage by a Revox tape-recorder of backing tracks called "Winston". Finding themselves on the cusp of an electronic new wave in British pop-music, they released a one-off single with legendary independent label Factory Records (the single sleeve was designed by Peter Saville, whose distinctive graphics provided OMD's public image well into the mid-80s), and were then quickly snapped up by Virgin subsiduary DinDisc.

Classic Line-up

Missing image
Original UK 45 rpm single picture cover: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark - Messages

The eponymous first album (1980) showcased the band's live set at the time, and was basically recorded by the Humphreys/McCluskey duo, although included some guest drums from Id drummer Mal Holmes, and saxophone from Wirral musician Martin Cooper. It had a simple, raw, poppy, melodic synthpop sound. DinDisc arranged for the song Messages to be re-recorded (produced by Gong bassist Mike Howlett) and released as a single (right) - this gave the band their first hit. A tour followed, Winston the tape recorder being ditched for good, and replaced with live drums from Mal Holmes, and Dalek I Love You's Dave Hughs on synths.

The second album Organisation followed later that year, recorded as a 3 piece with Humphreys, McCluskey and Holmes. It was again produced by Howlett, and saw a rather moodier, dark feel. The album spawned the huge hit single Enola Gay, named after the plane which dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima. The tour for this album saw a 4-piece band line-up, with saxophonist Martin Cooper recruited for keyboard duties. Howlett then presided over the recording of a further hit single, Souvenir, co-written by Cooper & Humphreys. It ushered in a striking lush choral electronic sound.

1981 would see the release of what many consider OMD's magnum opus (and it was also the peak of their commercial success in the UK and Europe) - the Architecture & Morality album. The 4-piece went into the studio with Richard Mainwaring producing, Cooper then temporarily dropping out and being replaced by Mike Douglas, but this changed being reversed by the time the album was released and a tour embarked upon. The album's striking sound saw OMD's original synth-pop sound augmented by the mellotron, an instrument previously associated with prog rock bands. They used it to add very atmospheric swatches of string, choir and other sounds to their palette. Hit singles Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans were taken from the album.

1983 saw the band lose commercial momentum somewhat, with the release of their 'difficult' Dazzle Ships albums, which mixed melancholy synth ballads and uptempo synth pop with musique concrete and short wave radio tape collages. It was recorded by the 4-piece Humpreys/Holmes/Cooper/Mcluskey line-up, and produced by Rhett Davies.

1984's Junk Culture saw a return to a more poppy sound and saw the band using digital sampling keyboards such as the Fairlight CMI and the Emu Emulator.

Two laserdiscs, Live at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (1982) and Crush the Movie (1985) were released only in Japan.

With the recording of Crush, (1985) Graham and Neil Weir began playing with the group (on guitar and brass), produced by Stephen Hague. This 6 piece line also released The Pacific Age (1986). By now the band were seeing their critical and public popularity wane in the UK, whilst they struggled to break into the US market.

One of OMD's biggest hits, "If You Leave," (1985) was written specifically for the John Hughes movie Pretty in Pink.

Classic line-up split

Though Humphreys left the band after The Best of OMD, he collaborated with McCluskey on the songwriting for Universal, the band's 1996 swan song. McCluskey would continue for another decade, joined by Liverpool musicians Lloyd Massett and Stuart Kershaw.

An album of unreleased material by the band is scheduled to be released in 2005.

There were two official magazines about the band, Telegraph, and, currently, Messages.

The book Messages, written by Johnny Waller and Paul Humphreys' brother Mike Humphreys, details the career of the band up to the time of The Best of OMD.



  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - 1980
  • Organisation - 1980
  • O.M.D. - 1981
  • Architecture & Morality - 1981
  • Dazzle Ships - 1983
  • Junk Culture - 1984 (first copies came with enclosed one-sided 7-inch single, "The Angels Keep Turning (The Wheels of the Universe)")
  • Crush - 1985
  • The Pacific Age - 1986
  • The Best of OMD - 1988
  • Sugar Tax - 1991
  • Liberator - 1993
  • Universal - 1996
  • The OMD Singles - 1998
  • The Peel Sessions -2000
  • Navigation - The OMD B-Sides - 2001


  • "Electricity" - 1979
  • "Red Frame/White Light" - 1980
  • "Messages" - 1980
  • "Enola Gay" - 1980
  • "Souvenir" - 1981
  • "Joan of Arc" - 1981
  • "Maid of Orleans" - 1982
  • "Genetic Engineering" - 1983
  • "Telegraph" - 1983
  • "Locomotion" - 1984
  • "Talking Loud & Clear" - 1984
  • "Tesla Girls" - 1984
  • "Never Turn Away" - 1984
  • "So In Love" - 1985
  • "Secret" - 1985
  • "La Femme Accident" - 1985 (also released as shaped picture disc)
  • "If You Leave" - 1986
  • "(Forever) Live and Die" - 1986 (also released as picture disc)
  • "We Love You" - 1986
  • "Shame" - 1987
  • "Dreaming" - 1988
  • "Sailing on the Seven Seas" - 1991
  • "Pandora's Box" - 1991
  • "The You Turn Away" - 1991
  • "Call My Name" - 1991
  • "Stand Above Me" - 1993
  • "Dream of Me (Based on Love's Theme)" - 1993
  • "Everyday" - 1993
  • "Walking on the Milky Way" - 1996
  • "Universal" - 1996
  • "The OMD Remixes" (5-inch CD single containing remixes of "Enola Gay," "Souvenir" and "Electricity")


  • Live at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane - 1982
  • Crush the Movie - 1985

Videos (VHS)

  • Live at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane - 1982
  • Crush the Movie - 1985
  • The Best of OMD - 1988

External links

fr:Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark nl:Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark fi:Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark


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