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OMD: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Maid of Orleans, Louise Brooks, Pandora’s Box and More…

Exclusive interview by Karen Beishuizen
Photo Credit: Alex Lake and Mark McNaulty

British band OMD: we all grew up with their music in the 80s and 90s. Who does not remember the video of Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc)? Or the great song “Pandora’s Box” about silent movie star Louise Brooks? Last month they performed at The Royal Albert Hall in London and are now heading to America where their first gig starts on 22 April in Orlando, Florida.

KB: OMD was formed in Wirral, Merseyside and first gained popularity with the songs “Enola Gay “: It is an anti-war song? What is the story behind it?

I am a geek and was always building model airplanes when I was a kid. I also have a fascination regarding the inversion of normal morals at time of war. If you like planes and are interested in moral dilemmas in warfare you must come to Enola Gay. That is the name of the B29 Superfortress that dropped the atom bomb on the city of Hiroshima. Until he died, the pilot Captain Paul Tibbets always believed that by killing 150,000 people he saved the lives of 5 million and shortened WWII. The plane was named after his mother. Hence the lyric “is mother proud of Little Boy today?” has a triple meaning as the bomb was code named Little Boy! The song is really an exploration of the act. I wish that it had never happened, but I understand why it did.

KB: How did you come up with the band’s name: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark?

Paul Humphreys and I had known each other at school since we were seven years old. We started writing music together at 16 inspired by German electronic music. Our friends didn’t really understand what we were doing so we never played live until three years later when we basically dared ourselves to do one gig. We borrowed a mate’s tape recorder as no-one else wanted to play with us and used the craziest name that we could think of to let people know that this was going to be something rather different. It was originally an idea for a song title that I found written on my bedroom wall where I used to write notes and ideas. Now here we are over 43 years later with the same name that was only to be for one night!

KB: Maid of Orleans is a classic: The story about Joan of Arc: What inspired you to write this song?

When we toured in France in 1981 after Enola Gay had been number one for 3 months in that country, it was pointed out to me that we were performing in many cities historical associated with Joan of Arc. Being fascinated by history this intrigued me and I went to research Joan when I returned home to the UK. The more that I learned the more difficult it seemed to really understand her story. There is very little definitive accurate information, and each historian comes to Joan’s story with their own agenda. I became fascinated and so I wrote the song Maid of Orleans. However, I did not feel initially that it was really working, so I wrote another song about Joan of Arc. When we went into the studio to make the album the rest of the band persuaded me that we should try it again. It worked brilliantly and that is why there are two songs about Joan on the same album.

KB: The song ” Pandora’s Box ” is from the album “Sugar Tax” (I adore this song): the story about silent film star Louise Brooks: What inspired you to write about her?

The song began with me adoring the way the Louise Brooks looked. I collected postcards and prints of her. She looked incredibly modern and sharp even a hundred years ago. Once again, I researched her life story and just felt that I had to write a song. She burned so brightly so young, but then turned her back on stardom and lived as a recluse for much of her life.

KB: In late 1996 you retired the name OMD? Why? This must have been a hard decision?

In the mid-1990s after Grunge and Brit pop had arrived, the press and radio felt that a synth band was out of fashion. To be honest, I was struggling to know if I should change the musical style or not. I released the song Walking on the Milky Way as a single, but it didn’t do very well despite me feeling that it was one of the best songs that I had written. My son had been born and I could see that the band was going to struggle, so I took the difficult decision to stop performing as OMD and stay at home to see my kids grow up.

KB: In 2018 you published an autobiography called “Pretending to See the Future”: why was it written in the first person and how long did it take you to write it? How did you come up with the title?

We had been approached by the people behind a series of books called This Day in Music. We liked the idea of fans telling their own stories of connection to the band, the music, and the concerts that they had attended. As OMD’s 40th anniversary was approaching we decided to use the opportunity to create a book that followed our four decades through the eyes of the people who had made our career by their amazing support for all that we have done. We added our own memories and tied the stories together with some background information and analysis. The title is taken from the song of the same name on our first album. The lyrics are about getting a record deal and the fear and excitement that we felt!

KB: What are you up to now? Anything new planned like a new album or gigs?

We hope that there will be a new album released in early 2023 as right now we are playing catch up with all the concerts that had to be rescheduled due to Covid-19. We had two concerts at the famous Royal Albert Hall in London last month, then we head over the Atlantic. We are really looking forward to coming back to do our first headlining tour for four years in North America. Starting in Florida on April 22nd and finishing on May 25th at the Greek Theatre in LA.

KB: The world was in several lock downs for almost 2 years and there was not much you could do that stay at home: How did you spend your time? Did you write new songs? Any hobbies you like?

The song writing was my saving grace. I rediscovered the creative power of total bloody boredom! Ha-ha. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do other than write songs… so I did. I do love walking in the beautiful British countryside but sometimes even that was not allowed in the lockdowns. I am fortunate to have a large garden, so I spent a lot of time tidying the garden and feeding the birds. (My kids call me a bird nerd) I did also paint a picture of my friend’s house as a Christmas present for her. It has been decades since I used oils. It turned out OK, but I realized that painting is not like riding a bike… I had forgotten everything that I knew!

Check out OMD’s website and find out where they perform: HERE