Tim Hughes talks to electro-pop pioneer Andy McCluskey of OMD, ahead of the band’s return to the Rewind festival

Grab your leg warmers, shoulder pads and red braces – because the 80s are back.

Yes, the decade of big hair, Margaret Thatcher and Rubik’s Cubes will be revisited in all its glossy glory on the banks of the Thames this weekend, courtesy of the Rewind festival.

This two-day trip down memory lane, which gets under way at Temple Island Meadows, Henley, on Saturday, pulls together many of the artists who defined ‘the decade that taste forgot’ in all its tacky, overblown glory.

Saturday’s highlights will include headline sets by Billy Ocean, Kim Wilde, Slim Jim Phantom from The Stray Cats and Altered Images, while Sunday belongs to Human League, The Selecter, Bananarama, Soul II Soul, Nik Kershaw and Midge Ure – all playing to a 40,000-strong crowd.

But among the nostalgia trippers are a band who stand out as pioneers, and whose music still sounds as fresh and urgent as when it was unleashed on the world at the tail-end of the 70s.

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – or OMD – are among the most important bands Britain has ever produced. Taking their cue from ‘Krautrock’ bands like Kraftwerk and Neu! and Gary Numan, who they supported in their early days, they invigorated a pop scene bruised by punk and mired in glam-rock, firing it up with fizzing synth lines, driving beats and soaring melodies.

With their crisp shirts and banks of impressive-looking equipment bristling with buttons, dials and switches, they looked, and sounded, like nothing else around. And they still sound amazing.

“We have been reinstated as an icon, and I love it,” says Andy McCluskey, who set up the band with old schoolfriend Paul Humphreys. “I think that we accidentally created something that was not really of its own time, therefore, it appears to have transcended the decades and become timeless.”

Over the course of their careers they have scored 17 top-40 singles and some of the best albums ever made — four going gold and two platinum.

Songs like Messages, Enola Gay, Souvenir, Joan of Arc, Maid of Orleans, and Genetic Engineering still sound fresh, atmospheric and haunting. They have weathered well, as have Andy and Paul, themselves, who are still creating great music; their most recent album Electric Electric charting at number 12.

And how does Andy feel about playing Rewind, joining the likes of Black Box, T’Pau, Hot Chocolate and Belinda Carlisle for the sell-out festival’s seventh annual outing to Henley.

“We played it four years ago and it was great fun,” he says.

“We weren’t sure of the idea of doing a heritage festival and wanted to make sure people knew we had credibility and could do things ourselves. But they are a wonderful opportunity.

“We were the soundtrack to many people’s start in life. Our music is burned into people’s memories, and we are happy to play it for them.”

He adds: “Rewind is not like a normal festival, though. It’s all killer and no filler. If you’ve just got two hits, you play them and get off.”

“Each set consists of hit after hit. So we’ll probably squeeze in 15 songs, which will all be singles.”

And, he insists they are proud to carry on playing the hits, three decades on. “We don’t understand when people say they are bored of doing that,” he says. “We’ll be doing a medley of hits.

“We started as a live band and have always loved playing live. The biggest difference now is the equipment, which is much more flexible and reliable.”

That the band are together at all is no mean feat. They broke up for almost a decade. But, says Andy, it feels good to be back: “We all grew up together and began playing music together as teenagers. We shared a decade of the most incredible journey, and it was obvious that we should all play again.

The Oxford Times:

  • In the dark: Paul Humphreys, left, and Andy McCluskey

“There have been conflicts but less than any other band that I have heard of. We are all very different characters but have learned to appreciate the different elements that each of us brings to the collective whole.”

Is he surprised at the longevity of OMD? “Yes! Especially as we only planned to do one gig in 1978 as a dare,” he says. “There was a time when it seemed that we were banging our heads against a wall of indifference. Things began to change in the last 10 years and we were offered a few concerts. But things have exploded for us in recent years, and now it seems that we are ‘cool’ all over again.”

Outside of OMD, Andy busied himself with a string of musical endeavours — not least setting up Atomic Kitten and co-writing many of their songs — including chart-topper Whole Again. The experience, he confesses, was not entirely happy.

“I learned a great deal about computer programming of music with the Kittens and also just how dirty and back-stabbing the real manufactured end of pop is,” he says.

“It is much better to be in your own band. I have no plans to do anything like that again. OMD has become full time and rewarding.”

And which of his albums is he most proud of? “Probably Architecture and Morality,” he says. “We were young and fearless and had perfected our own way of doing things that sounded like no one else but, amazingly it sold millions of records.”

He is also fond of 1983’s Dazzle Ships – an experimental tour de force of sound collage and sampling. Alas, it proved too avant-garde for critics and fans at the time, though is now hailed as a masterpiece.

“It was almost career ending rather than career defining,” Andy laughs. “But the world changes, and so does people’s ability to adapt to stuff.”

He goes on: “The old songs have been good to us, and are loved by many people. We treat our back catalogue with respect and will never tire of hearing the audience respond to the opening bars of Enola Gay or Electricity.

“Our ethos was to always try to go where we had not gone before, and we contained sharp extremes in our musical output that simply reflected our desire for variety. We did not change the world, nor did we solve any great global problem. However, when someone takes the time to tell you that some small piece of music that you created has touched their lives and is forever in their heart or soul, that is the greatest reward. We are honoured to still be allowed to make music and have people listen to it.”

Where & When
Rewind takes place at Temple Island Meadows, Henley-on-Thames on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets have sold out