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Andy McCluskey


Andy McCluskey is the lead singer, bass guitarist and primary songwriter for the band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD). He has achieved 60 global gold and platinum album and single awards, has three Ivor Novello Award nominations, and sold over 15 million albums and 25 million singles with OMD. He is a frequent contributor and regular interviewee and commentator for television documentaries, books and radio programmes on musical history and popular culture. His song ‘Enola Gay’ was selected to feature in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

OMD was formed in 1978 with Paul Humphreys, who he’d known since they attended primary school together; and who he was later in several bands with, including Hitlerz Underpantz, VCL XI and The Id. 

OMD’s 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 independent label Factory Records. Later Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper joined the band.

Some of the hits McCluskey wrote for OMD were ‘Enola Gay’, ‘Joan of Arc’ and ‘Maid of Orleans’. He co-wrote ‘Locomotion’, ‘Talking Loud and Clear’, ‘If You Leave’ and ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’, among others. ‘If You Leave’ reached number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in May 1986.

In 1989 the original band line up disintegrated, leaving only McCluskey to continue as essentially a solo artist retaining the OMD name. He recruited Liverpool musicians Lloyd Massett and Stuart Kershaw as collaborators for the making of OMD’s biggest selling album, Sugar Tax (1991), and hits from it included ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’ and ‘Pandora's Box’. In 1996 he disbanded OMD.

Wanting to concentrate on songwriting and nurturing new artists, he formed the girl group Atomic Kitten. And wrote their hits ‘Right Now’, ‘See Ya’, ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Cradle’. And their song, ‘Whole Again’, co-written by McCluskey, went to No. 1 in the UK. And he and its co-writers were nominated for the Ivor Novello Award for excellence in songwriting. He parted ways with the group during the recording of their second album, Feels So Good (2002).

He subsequently formed the White Noise records and publishing label, and bought a recording studio in Liverpool called the Motor Museum, in order to nurture new artists.

In 2005, McCluskey and Humphreys reformed OMD for a performance on German TV in June of that year. There was considerable interest from promoters and agents for live appearances and in January 2006 McCluskey announced plans for OMD with himself, Humphreys, Holmes and Cooper from original line-up to tour again.

2007 saw the first tour of the reformed OMD, commemorating the twenty-sixth anniversary of the release of their album Architecture & Morality. The album itself was remastered and re-released to coincide. Since the band reformed, they have played over 500 concerts, performed with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and released three albums that received acclaim from critics and fans alike.

OMD continue to play live at major global music concerts.


Q: Do you think of your lyrics as poetry? 


A: My lyrics are written very specifically to be heard within the context of the song. I often worried about my words even being printed on the album sleeves as they were not written to stand alone or be read separately. Therefore, I would have to say that I do not think of my lyrics as poetry. They are very important to me, and I am no fan of empty lyrical clichés in songs, but I never considered them poetry even though I am aware that over the years people have told me that they have been touched deeply by my words.


Q: Do you think it is important that songs rhyme and if so why? 


A: I think that song words are helped by the rhyme. It doesn't have to be every line, but rhymes are like the essential glue that holds the lyrical metre together. To me it would be a joke without the punch line. Sometimes, however, lyrics can suffer because you sense the writer has been consciously looking through a rhyming thesaurus and is constructing poor full sentences just to squeeze in the prefigured rhyme as the last word. 


Q: Do you think song lyrics must conform to recognised song structures such as clear rhyming schemes, choruses, refrains, hooks and bridges or that songs can also be like free verse? 


A: I must admit that without consciously realising I have a tendency to write in couplets, usually two line stanzas. In my band our song structures were often not very conventional, especially in the very early days, as we used keyboard melodies as main parts of the arrangement. Usually replacing the choruses and the middle eight. The lyrics invariably conform to a pattern or structure because the music is created first. I keep notes for potential song subjects and titles, which I often research as though it was for a written essay or educational paper. However, I consciously avoid trying to construct full lines or sentences so I am free to fit the final lyric into the rhythm of the music and the melody. I write the words as I create the vocal melody. I could not imagine how songwriters began with a lyric and create the music as the foil afterwards. The hardest part of creating a song lyric is actually the vocal melody. I believe the words are very important but they fail in their purpose if they are not sung as a great tune in their own right. The lyric is the top line hook. Poetry does not have this issue. Poetry embraces the reader in a different way to a lyric because the reader imbues it with their voice and interpretation. It is actually more proactive.


Q: When you read poetry in school or elsewhere did you recognize any connection to the music you enjoyed? 


A: Sadly, I have to admit that when I was at school I was not moved by poetry. It did not resonate with me nearly as strongly as music. In fact, I seldom read fiction at school and never poetry unless for English projects. I was a worrier. A very anxious child. I would say in later life that ‘My world is complex enough without reading about other people's problems’. A friend who lived for literature was horrified saying ‘You are dismissing all the great classic works of fiction as “other people's problems”’. It is only in the last decade that I have started to embrace the power of poetry and fiction.


Q: Was there anything about poetry in books that influenced your songwriting? 


A: Many people have found it strange that I am a lyricist but I was not influenced by poetry in any way that I am conscious of. However, I adored some very poetical lyricists such as Leonard Cohen. Also, when I was at school it seemed that poetry was exclusive, ornate, esoteric and very classical. It was not a language for me. Perhaps it was because I attended a rather old fashioned Grammar school in the 1970s. I was unaware of more modern and raw poetry that may have appealed to me more.


Q: Why do you think songs are more popular with people than poetry is?


A: Because they are multidimensional. Beat, melody, harmony, lyrics and singing all together. Music is more all embracing than poetry alone can be. The human voice is evocative. The spoken word is strong, but the singing voice has a power to present words in a very connecting way. Also, there is a massive profit making industry that promotes and sells popular music. UK sales of poetry last year were £12m. Music sales were £1.3bn. It's just a bigger machine that has groomed its audience to be mass consumers.