Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
|Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark|
OMD performing in Berlin, July 2010
|Also known as||OMD|
|Origin||Meols, Wirral, Merseyside, England|
|Genres||Electronic, synthpop, new wave, experimental, post-punk|
|Years active||1978–1996, 2006–present|
|Labels||100%, Virgin, Dindisc, Factory, Bright Antenna|
|Associated acts||The Id, Dalek I Love You, Godot, The Listening Pool, Atomic Kitten, Onetwo|
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) are an English electronic music band formed in Wirral, Merseyside in 1978. Spawned by earlier group The Id, the outfit was founded by Andy McCluskey (vocals, bass guitar) and Paul Humphreys (keyboards, vocals); amid rotating line-ups, Martin Cooper (various instruments) and Malcolm Holmes (drums) are the longest-serving additional members. OMD released their influential debut single, "Electricity", in 1979, and gained popularity throughout Europe with the 1980 anti-war song "Enola Gay". The band achieved broader recognition via their seminal album Architecture & Morality (1981) and its three singles, all of which were international hits. Steadily resistant to celebrity status, the group earned acclaim for their adventurous recordings, which combined sonic experimentation and atypical subject matter with musical hooks.
Although retrospectively described as a challenging masterpiece, the avant-garde Dazzle Ships (1983) eroded European support: the band embraced a more straightforward pop sound on Junk Culture (1984), while continuing to experiment via newly acquired digital samplers. This change in direction led to greater success in the United States, and yielded the 1986 hit, "If You Leave". A year after the release of The Best of OMD (1988), creative differences rendered McCluskey the only remaining member of the group as Humphreys formed spin-off band The Listening Pool. OMD would return with a new line-up and explore the dance-pop genre: Sugar Tax (1991) and its initial singles were sizeable hits in Europe. By the mid 1990s, however, electronic music had been supplanted by alternative rock, and both OMD and The Listening Pool disbanded in 1996. McCluskey went on to found, and write multiple hits for girl group Atomic Kitten, while Humphreys performed as half of the duo Onetwo.
In 2006, the outfit reformed with Humphreys back in the fold, and began to work on material more akin to their early output. The band re-established themselves as a chart act in Europe, while enjoying a growing international fanbase and a legacy as innovators within popular music. An influence on many artists in diverse genres, their songs have been covered, remixed and sampled by numerous chart musicians, and the group are the subject of two tribute albums. The Oxford Times described OMD as being "among the most important bands Britain has ever produced".
Roots and early years (1975–1978)
Founders Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys met at primary school in Meols in the early 1960s, and in the mid-1970s, as teenagers, they were involved in different local groups but shared a distaste for guitar driven rock with a macho attitude popular among their friends at the time.
By the mid-1970s McCluskey had formed Equinox, as bassist and vocalist, alongside schoolmate Malcolm Holmes on drums, while Humphreys was their roadie. During that time McCluskey and Humphreys discovered their electronic style influenced by Kraftwerk. After Equinox, McCluskey joined Pegasus, and, later, the short-lived Hitlerz Underpantz, alongside Humphreys. 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.
In September 1977, McCluskey and Humphreys put together the seven-piece (three singers, two guitarists, bassist, drummer, and keyboard player) Wirral group 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 and 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 and McCluskey collaborated on a side-project called VCL XI (named after a misreading of a valve from the diagram on the back cover of Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity album; the name of valve is actually written with Arabic numbers, VCL 11, and not Roman numerals). This side-project allowed them to pursue their more bizarre electronic experiments, often working with tape collages, home-made kit-built synthesisers, and circuit-bent radios.
In August 1978, The Id split due to musical differences. The same month, McCluskey joined Wirral electronic outfit Dalek I Love You as their lead singer, but quit in September.
Formation and first releases (1978–1979)
In September 1978, the same month he left Dalek I Love You, McCluskey rejoined Humphreys and their VCL XI project was renamed Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The name was gleaned from a list of song lyrics and ideas that were written on McCluskey's bedroom wall; the name was chosen so as not to be mistaken for a punk band. OMD began to gig regularly as a duo, performing to backing tracks played from a Teac 4 track tape-recorder christened "Winston" (after the antihero of George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four). Their debut performance was in October 1978 at Eric's Club in Liverpool. Finding themselves on the cusp of an electronic new wave in British pop-music, they released a one-off single, "Electricity", with celebrated independent label Factory Records. The track was supposed to be produced by the legendary Factory Records producer Martin Hannett. In fact, the A-side was the band's original demo produced by their friend, owner of Winston and soon to be manager, Paul Collister under the pseudonym Chester Valentino (taken from a nightclub called Valentino's in the nearby city of Chester). The single's sleeve was designed by Peter Saville, whose distinctive graphics provided OMD's public image well into the mid-1980s. The unusual graphics that feature on the sleeve were partially inspired by Andy and Paul's original musical notation style. Unable to read or write music, they adapted a series of symbols, each one representing different instruments.
In 1979 they were asked to support Gary Numan on his first major British tour. They were always grateful to Numan for his help and support. He let them travel on his bus and use his trucks to transport their gear. They returned the favour some 13 years later when they asked Numan to support them on their arena tour in the mid-1990s.
Classic line-up (1980–1989)
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 Malcolm 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. Dave Hughes, a founder member of Dalek I Love You who joined OMD in early 1980, is featured in the "Messages" video.
A tour followed, Winston the tape recorder was augmented with live drums from Malcolm Holmes, and Dalek I Love You's Dave Hughes on synths. Hughes then left OMD in November 1980, replaced by Martin Cooper.
The second album Organisation (a reference to the band which preceded Kraftwerk, founded by Kraftwerk's original members Florian Schneider-Esleben and Ralf Hütter) followed later that year, recorded as a three-piece with Humphreys, McCluskey and Holmes. It was again produced by Howlett, and had a rather moodier, dark feel. The album spawned the hit single "Enola Gay", named after the plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. The song was intended to be included on the debut album, but was left out at the final selection. The tour for this album had a 4-piece band line-up, with saxophonist Martin Cooper (another Dalek I Love You alumnus) recruited for keyboard duties. In early 1981, Record Mirror named OMD as the fourth-best band of 1980; NME and Sounds both named the group as one of the 10 best new acts of that year.
Howlett then presided over the recording of a further hit single, "Souvenir", co-written by Cooper & Humphreys. It ushered in a lush choral electronic sound. The song also became OMD's biggest UK hit to date. In November 1981, their most commercially successful album was released in the UK and Europe – Architecture & Morality. The group went into the studio with Richard Mainwaring producing. Cooper then temporarily dropped out and was replaced by Mike Douglas, but this change was reversed by the time the album was released and a tour embarked upon. The album's 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. Two more hit singles "Joan of Arc" and "Maid of Orleans" (which became the biggest-selling single of 1982 in Germany) were taken from the album. "Joan of Arc" and "Maid of Orleans" were originally both titled "Joan of Arc"; the name of the latter single was changed at the insistence of the publishers and to avoid confusion. It became "Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)" and later simply "Maid of Orleans".
In 1983 the band lost commercial momentum somewhat, with the release of their more experimental Dazzle Ships album, which mixed melancholy synth ballads and uptempo synthpop with musique concrète and short wave radio tape collages. It was recorded by the 4-piece Humphreys/Holmes/Cooper/McCluskey line-up, and produced by Rhett Davies. Its relative commercial failure caused a crisis of confidence for Humphreys and McCluskey and brought about a deliberate move towards the mainstream.
Pop-oriented recordings (1984–1988)
1984's Junk Culture was a shift to a pop-style sound and the band used digital sampling keyboards such as the Fairlight CMI and the E-mu Emulator. The album was a success, reassuring the group about their new direction. The "Locomotion" single returned the group to the top five in the UK and was a good indicator of the group's new found sound, notably the adoption of a classic verse–chorus form, which is something the group had often previously avoided. In 1985, the band expanded to a sextet, featuring new band members Graham Weir (guitar, keyboards, trombone) and Neil Weir (trumpet, bass guitar), and released Crush, produced by Stephen Hague in Paris and New York. The success of the single "So in Love" in the US Billboard Hot 100 also led to some success for the LP which entered the American Top 40, establishing the group in the US and making Stephen Hague a sought-after producer.
Later in 1985 the band was asked to write a song for the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink. They selected "Goddess of Love". The ending of the film was re shot. After the song received a negative reaction from test groups, OMD wrote "If You Leave" in less than 24 hours and it became a huge hit in Australia, the US and Canada where it reached the Top 5. The same six piece line-up also released The Pacific Age in 1986, but the band began to see their critical and public popularity wane in the UK while they failed to capitalise upon their breakthrough in the US market. The Pacific Age contained the UK No. 11 hit single, "(Forever) Live & Die" and other notable single releases, "Shame" and "We Love You". The success of "If You Leave" has concealed from US audiences the group's history of making innovative music.
Split and McCluskey-led OMD (1989–1996)
During 1988 the band appeared poised to consolidate their US success, with a support slot for Depeche Mode's 101 tour at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California on 18 June 1988, a top 20 US hit with "Dreaming" and a successful "Best of" album. However, it was at this point when OMD broke in two. Graham and Neil Weir left at the end of the 1989 US tour and co-founder Paul Humphreys subsequently called it a day, unhappy with the band's commercial orientation. Finally, Cooper and Holmes left OMD to join Humphreys in founding a new band called The Listening Pool.
This left only McCluskey to carry on, essentially becoming a solo artist working under the OMD banner. McCluskey's first album from the new OMD was the Sugar Tax LP in 1991, which charted at No. 3 in the UK. McCluskey recruited Liverpool musicians Lloyd Massett and Stuart Kershaw as collaborators on Sugar Tax, though not as full-fledged group members – writing credits carefully distinguished between songs written by OMD (i.e., McCluskey) and songs written by OMD/Kershaw/Massett. This iteration of the group was initially successful with hits like "Sailing on the Seven Seas" and "Pandora's Box", with lesser success on fellow chart entries, "Call My Name" and "Then You Turn Away". McCluskey worked with keyboardists Nigel Ipinson and Phil Coxon throughout the early 1990s.
The fifth track from Liberator (1993), "Dream of Me", was built around a sample from "Love's Theme" by Love Unlimited Orchestra, a track which was written and produced by Barry White. To release the "Dream of Me" track as an OMD single, however, McCluskey had to agree that the single release of the track would remove the actual "Love's Theme" sample, but still be officially titled "Dream of Me (Based on Love's Theme)", and furthermore would still give a writing credit to White.
McCluskey returned with a rotating cast of musicians for the 1996 album Universal. For this last album, Humphreys returned as a co-writer of a few songs, though not as a performer or group member. The record spawned OMD's first Top 20 hit in five years, "Walking on the Milky Way".
Though both Liberator and Universal produced minor hits, McCluskey retired the OMD name in late 1996, due to waning public interest. A second singles album was released in 1998, along with an EP of remixed material by such acts as Sash! and Moby.
Post-1996, McCluskey decided to focus on songwriting for such Liverpool based acts as Atomic Kitten and The Genie Queen, and trying to develop new Merseyside artists from his Motor Museum recording studio. With McCluskey focusing his talents elsewhere, Humphreys decided to work with his new musical partner Claudia Brücken, of the ZTT bands Propaganda and Act, as Onetwo. He also undertook a US live tour under the banner Paul Humphreys from OMD.
An unexpected request to perform from a German Television show and McCluskey's divorce led the group to reform. On 1 January 2006, Andy McCluskey announced plans to reform OMD with the McCluskey, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper line-up. The original plan was to tour the album Architecture & Morality and other pre-1983 material, then record a new album set for release in 2007.
In May 2007, the Architecture & Morality remastered CD was re-released together with a DVD featuring the Drury Lane concert from 1981 that had previously been available on VHS. Through May and June, the band toured with the "classic" line up of McCluskey, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper. They began their set with a re-ordered but otherwise complete re-staging of the Architecture & Morality album. The second half of each concert featured a selection of their best known hits.
In Spring 2008, a live CD and DVD of the 2007 tour, OMD Live: Architecture & Morality & More, recorded at the London Hammersmith Apollo, was released as was a 25th anniversary re-release of Dazzle Ships, including six bonus tracks. At the same time, a brief October 2008 tour was announced, partly to tie-in with the Dazzle Ships album's 25th anniversary. China Crisis supported OMD on this tour.
In June 2009, an orchestral concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic was given in Liverpool. A recording of this concert was released on DVD in December 2009. In November and December, the band returned to arena touring as support for Simple Minds. OMD performed with Night of the Proms in December 2006 in Germany and later again in Belgium and the Netherlands in October and November 2009.
OMD were also the headline act at Britain's first Vintage Computer Festival at The National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park, in June 2010. On 9 July 2010, OMD were invited by the German designer Michael Michalsky to perform at his Stylenite event during Berlin Fashion Week.
In March 2011, OMD played their first North American tour as the original line up since 1988. In September 2011, the band appeared at the Electric Picnic 2011 festival in Stradbally, Co Laois, Ireland. In November 2011, OMD announced they were getting back to the studio to start work on their latest album, English Electric.
On 11 February 2013, OMD announced "Metroland" would be the first single from the forthcoming album English Electric. The single was released on 25 March, and includes the B-side "The Great White Silence."
The album English Electric was released in the UK on 8 April and entered the UK album chart at No. 12 and the German chart at No. 10. Reviews for both the album and their concerts have generally been positive.
For Record Store Day 2013, on 20 April, a 500-copy limited edition 10-inch picture disc EP "The Future Will Be Silent" from English Electric was made available, which includes an exclusive non-album track titled "Time Burns".
After collapsing at a show in Toronto due to heart failure, Malcolm Holmes retired from OMD in 2014, and is now making music on his own. Following shows as a trio at the Museum of Liverpool, OMD is touring with former drummer Stuart Kershaw.
The band performed a one-off concert at The Royal Albert Hall, London on 9th May 2016 to a sell-out crowd, playing both Architecture & Morality and Dazzle Ships in their entirety, along with other songs that were pre-1983. The only song post 1983 they played was History of a Modern Part 1. The concert was recorded and made available on double CD right after the show. A triple LP vinyl recording of the concert was also made available.
In 2016, OMD collaborated with Gary Barlow, Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman on the song "Thrill Me", co-written by Barlow and McCluskey for the soundtrack of the film Eddie the Eagle. As of October 2016, OMD was working on an as-yet untitled 13th studio album. It is expected in 2017.
Legacy and influence
Critic Hugo Lindgren wrote that OMD have cultivated a "legacy as musical innovators". In February 2007 a Scotsman journalist said: "If Kraftwerk were the Elvis Presley of synthpop, then Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were its Beatles." Indeed, McCluskey and Humphreys have often been described as the "Lennon–McCartney of synthpop". In a 2008 piece on OMD, The Quietus magazine editor John Doran called them "the only Liverpool band to come near to living up to the monolithic standards of productivity and creativity set in place by the Beatles", and asserted: "Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark are not one of the best synth bands ever: they are one of the best bands ever." Veteran BBC DJ Simon Mayo described OMD as "the fathers of electronic music in this country [the UK]."
OMD's experimental brand of synthpop has garnered limited mainstream attention. The group generally eschew choruses, replacing them with synthesizer lines, and opt for unconventional lyrical subjects such as war and machinery; the BBC wrote that "OMD were always more intellectual" than "contemporaries like Duran Duran and Eurythmics". The band also rejected celebrity status and strove "to have no image". Despite the group's experimentation, they had an established knack for pop hooks; AllMusic critic Mike DeGagne wrote that OMD's music was "a step above other keyboard pop music of the time, thanks to the combination of intelligently crafted hooks and colorful rhythms". DeGagne's colleague Jon O'Brien remarked that the outfit were "ahead of their time".
McCluskey in 2010 opined that OMD had become "the forgotten band" (he had predicted in 1981, at the peak of the group's popularity, that they would soon be forgotten). The band have nonetheless earned a growing cult following. OMD have come to be regarded as one of the great Liverpool acts of the 1980s, and pioneers of the synthpop genre. Architecture & Morality (1981), regarded as the group's seminal work, had sold more than 4 million copies by early 2007; Sugar Tax (1991), the album that marked a commercial renaissance for the band, had sold more than 3 million by the same time period. The challenging Dazzle Ships (1983), while not as commercially successful, has been hailed as an experimental masterpiece. OMD's overall record sales stand in excess of 40 million.
The group regularly features on 1980s compilation albums and box sets; multiple OMD tracks feature on each of the three volumes of Ministry of Sound's Anthems: Electronic 80s series. The band's songs (and samples of their work) have featured in films such as Urgh! A Music War (1982), Weird Science (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Arthur 2: On the Rocks (1988) and The Beach (2000); as well as in television shows including Scrum V, Ashes to Ashes, Top Gear, Chuck, Cold Case, Modern Family, The Goldbergs and Castle. Cover versions of "If You Leave" have appeared in the film Not Another Teen Movie (2001) and the TV series The O.C.; a season 6 episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation was named after the track. Additionally, every episode of the TV show Hunters is named after an OMD song.
Mid-1980s stylistic change
The group's ambitious early work earned them critical acclaim. However, in response to the commercially underwhelming Dazzle Ships, the band moved toward a more radio-friendly sound on fifth album Junk Culture (1984) – while continuing to incorporate experimentalism – which polarised critics. Retrospective opinions are also mixed, with some journalists dismissing the group's recordings during that time, and others expressing an appreciation for the new direction. In a reflective 2006 article, Sean O'Neal in The A.V. Club said OMD would "give up" creatively after 1983's Dazzle Ships. The Quietus writer Julian Marszalek in 2010 suggested that the band would have been "more fondly remembered" had they split up after releasing that album, rather than in 1996. Conversely, Marszalek's colleague John Doran said: "It's quite popular to see OMD as nose-diving into the effluence after Dazzle Ships but the truth is there is still much to recommend". Ian Peel, in a piece written for Record Collector, opined that the group's legacy consisted of "two brilliant, but very different, bands". In contrast to other critics, AllMusic journalist Dave Thompson saw Junk Culture as part of the group's early experimental tenure, and considered 1985 – the year in which they issued sixth album Crush – as their shift toward the mainstream.
OMD's recent work – specifically English Electric (2013) – has been seen as more akin to their early output.
Impact on other artists
As new wave pioneers, OMD influenced the music of popular artists like U2, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, a-ha, Erasure, Radiohead, No Doubt, Robyn, Information Society, Saint Etienne, Howard Jones, Sneaker Pimps, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoons, Karl Bartos, Yazoo, Naked Eyes, Talk Talk, Nine Inch Nails, Berlin, and Underworld precursor, Freur. Erasure instrumentalist Vince Clarke (formerly chief songwriter of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and The Assembly) has cited the band as his inspiration to pursue a career in electronic music, while BBC Radio's Steve Lamacq has named "Electricity" as the track that made him want to become a DJ.
McCluskey's distinctive onstage dance routine – dubbed by the BBC's Stuart Maconie as the "Trainee Teacher Dance" – has been influential. Rock group ZZ Top, who shared a studio with OMD on a 1980 edition of BBC2 show The Old Grey Whistle Test, adopted the routine as part of their live set (and also played OMD's self-titled debut album over the PA prior to concerts). Maconie wrote that the "jerky, leg-snapping" dance became "the dance-floor routine of choice" for teaching students in the early-to-mid 1980s.
21st-century chart acts who have been influenced by OMD include: The Killers, La Roux, Glasvegas, Sugarland, Blake Lewis, The-Dream, OK Go, Mirrors, Smith Westerns, The xx, Hurts, LCD Soundsystem, Client, The Postal Service, Fischerspooner, Peter Bjorn and John, Crystal Castles and Big Data.
The band's work has been covered, remixed and sampled by popular musicians including: Howard Jones, David Guetta, Sash!, Moby, Steve "Silk" Hurley, Zki & Dobre, Kid Cudi, DJ Quicksilver, Good Charlotte, Leftfield, Scooter, White Town, MGMT, Nada Surf, NOFX, 3rd Bass, John Foxx, Nino de Angelo and Ania. The 2001 album, Messages: Modern Synthpop Artists Cover OMD, comprises interpretations by various artists, such as The Faint, Color Theory and Ganymede. Pretending to See the Future: A Tribute to OMD, also a 2001 release, features covers by Mahogany, the Acid House Kings and Majestic, among others. A version of "Maid of Orleans" was recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1996. In 2015, IDM pioneer Mike "μ-Ziq" Paradinas released a cover of "Souvenir", which he had recorded as a child 30 years earlier.
OMD's experimental 1983 album, Dazzle Ships, has been highly influential on other performers; musician Telekinesis has named it his all-time favourite record. Numerous dance acts are fans of the album, as are the artists Radiohead, Saint Etienne, Death Cab for Cutie, and Terre Thaemlitz, who owns five different copies. Dazzle Ships has also been championed by producer Mark Ronson, to whom it was recommended by singer Amanda "MNDR" Warner.
- Current members
- Andy McCluskey – bass guitar, keyboards, vocals (1978–1996; 2005–present)
- Paul Humphreys – keyboards, vocals (1978–1989; 2005–present)
- Martin Cooper – keyboards, saxophone (1980–1989; 2005–present)
- Former members
- Dave Hughes – keyboards (1979–1980)
- Michael Douglas – keyboards (1980–1981)
- Graham Weir – guitar, brass, keyboards, writer (1984–1989)
- Neil Weir – brass, keyboards, bass guitar (1984–1989)
- Phil Coxon – keyboards (1991–1993)
- Nigel Ipinson – keyboards (1991–1993)
- Abe Juckes – drums (1991–1992)
- Stuart Kershaw – drums (1993); piano (2010)
- Malcolm Holmes – drums and percussion (1980–1989; 2005–2014)
- Studio albums
- Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1980)
- Organisation (1980)
- Architecture & Morality (1981)
- Dazzle Ships (1983)
- Junk Culture (1984)
- Crush (1985)
- The Pacific Age (1986)
- Sugar Tax (1991)
- Liberator (1993)
- Universal (1996)
- History of Modern (2010)
- English Electric (2013)
- Untitled 13th studio album (2017, in production)
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[B]ecause we weren't trying to be pop stars and weren't terribly interested in presenting ourselves as sexy or colourful, when people think back to 30 years ago, we're often forgotten. Because we were just about the music...We were fed up of being the forgotten band!
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We [OMD] were trying to have no image.
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[S]tarting with 1984's Junk Culture, OMD morphed from a risk-taking art-pop band to the still-inventive but commercially calculating act that found American success.
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What motivated me to actually buy a synthesiser was, again, probably Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's 'Almost'... not that I don't like Gary Numan; don't get me wrong, I was blown away by him on Top of the Pops – but OMD sounded more home-made, and I suddenly thought, 'I can do that!' There was this sudden connection.
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