Peel Sessions – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, 29 January 1983

After doing three in a little over a year, OMD‘s fourth and final John Peel session took place nearly two and a half years later, during which time they had turned out to be a little bit too popular to get much attention from the Godfather of British radio. But he did welcome them back for one final session.

It starts with a pretty faithful version of the then-current single Genetic Engineering, released a couple of weeks after the session was recorded and about ten days before it was broadcast. It gains a pleasant extra end section, making it more of a 12″ version.

The fourth album Dazzle Ships was just about to appear in the shops when this was broadcast, and the Peel Session was a good opportunity to showcase some of the material on this, one of their least overtly commercial releases. Closing track Of All the Things We’ve Made is the second track on here, pleasant and mournful, although the backing track, playing just one note for the entirety of the song, does start to wear a little towards the end.

The third track, both in this session and on the album, is ABC Auto-Industry, performed here with what might at least partially have been a live vocal. It’s short, experimental, and pleasant enough.

Not included on the Peel Sessions 1979-83 CD was the final track, another rendition of Bunker Soliders, which had previously been performed as part of the first session. It’s a shame this didn’t make it to that release actually – after an otherwise experimental session it makes a pleasant change of pace to hear one of their more uptempo pieces. It’s only slightly different here, otherwise retaining a lot of the raw unfiltered energy that it had three and a half years earlier.

We covered the previous sessions here, here and here. You can read more about OMD‘s relationship with John Peel‘s radio show here. The first three tracks from this session are available on the CD Peel Sessions 1979-83, available here, and you’ll have to find the other one on the internets somewhere.

Onetwo – Instead

In a parallel universe, Onetwo would have been an enormous electronic supergroup. The duo of Claudia Brücken, formerly of Propaganda, and Paul Humphreys from Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and a collaboration with Martin L. Gore of Depeche Mode, really should have been enough alone to guarantee a couple of number one hits. But this is the twenty-first century, and anyone above the age of 25 who who keeps their clothes on is considered “cult”.

So Onetwo‘s brief career began in 2004, with an EP entitled Item, and three years later came the one and only album, Instead. It opens with the glorious two-part The Theory of Everything. A great introduction to the warm synth and simple vocals that characterise the duo, it is however somewhat overshadowed by Sequential, a beautifully evocative piece that must be one of the finest pop songs never to make the charts.

Home (Tonight) continues the theme, and while for the most part this is an album where the tracks work together to form something brilliant, rather than always trying to stand out on their own, there’s plenty to enjoy here too. Similarly Signals, one of just two tracks on here from the original 2004 EP, is another gentle and beautiful song.

The really unexpected moment comes with a cover of Pink Floyd‘s Have a Cigar, which works well and sounds great, but you are left wondering somewhat how on earth it came to be recorded and included here. There’s a certain logic when it mixes into another cover, this time of Cat Power‘s I Don’t Blame You, with Humphreys on lead vocals, a voice barely heard since, but just about recognisable from OMD‘s Souvenir.

Then comes Cloud Nine, definitely the best moment on here – in fact, it’s probably one of the finest songs of the decade, in spite of the opening “shalalalalala” from Brücken. Featuring the writing talents and guitar work of Martin L. Gore, somehow the chords and warm synth sounds come together perfectly. Also worth mentioning is that it features the synth work of friend of this blog Jon Russell, also known as Jonteknik.

If there was any doubt that Onetwo were in fact a synthpop supergroup, Andy McCluskey gets a writing credit on the lovely Anonymous, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a bit of an OMD feel to it, particularly in the chorus. Then Heaven has a bit of an end-of-album feel, even though there’s still plenty to come after it. There’s a pleasant ethereal other-worldliness to it, and while there’s not been anything particularly dark or violent up to this point, it still makes for a welcome change of pace.

It’s always nice to hear singers using their native language, and so it is with Kein Anschluß (which, interestingly, by 2007, was actually a misspelling). I suspect it’s partially intended as a nod to some of the duo’s influences from Brücken’s homeland, with its rhythmic electronic beats and almost Gregorian sounds. It’s easily one of the best songs on here.

After another downtempo moment with The Weakness in Me, you finally have to accept that it’s time for the closing track A Vision in the Sky, a sweet and memorable pop song with a gentle swing pattern and an enormous choral pad backing. This is entirely how this album should end – with something epic and unforgettable. If only it had sold a few more copies.

But ultimately Onetwo‘s downfall was that the seventeen year romantic partnership of Brücken and Humphreys meant an inevitable end to their combined musical career, but the 2006 reformation of the original line-up of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark had already put paid to most of Humphreys’s time commitments. So sadly, we’re left with just one album from Onetwo, completely forgotten but entirely brilliant, Instead.

You can still find Instead at all major retailers.

Stowaway Awards 2017

Finally! We kick Awards Season off in earnest with the Important Announcement of the winners of the 2017 Stowaways.

Best Track

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre with Pet Shop Boys, for Brick England.

Best Album

These were the nominees:

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre, who had a particularly good year and stood a better chance of winning than most, with Oxygène 3.

Best Reissue / Compilation

The nominees:

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Winner: The Human League

Best Artist

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Best Live Act

Winner: Pet Shop Boys

Best Ambient Track

Nominated were:

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Winner: Delerium, for Ghost Requiem

Best Dance Act / Remixer

Potential winners included:

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Winner: Shit Robot

Best Newcomer

Winner: C Duncan

Innovation Award

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Outstanding Contribution

Could have been any of the following:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Winner: Delerium

That’s an unprecedented four out of ten for Jean-Michel Jarre. All being well, we’ll do the BRIT and Grammy Awards over the next couple of weeks.

Unsigned Act – Blue Swan (and Subculture)

With this blog and the radio shows that came before it, I have always tried to keep some space available for unsigned artists, but honestly giving them the chance to be written about or to appear on an actual radio station yields surprisingly poor results. In the end, I only ever covered two unsigned acts on my old radio show Music for the Masses (2004-2005), one of whom was Blue Swan.

I must have contacted them via email, and wrote the following…

The duo consists of Henrik Jürgensen, 31, the vocalist and a soon-to-be qualified accountant, and Kasper Lauest, 30, who is the producer and also a psychologist (in the band?) They have been producing music since late 1999, when they met on the first Pet Shop Boys internet forum at Dotmusic, discovering by chance that they had gone to the same high school, one class apart, so they decided to meet up.

They listened to each other’s music, and both liked what they heard. When they heard about the Pet Shop Boys fan tribute project Attribute, they decided to record a cover of A New Life. They liked the result, so continued working together. They continue the story:

Last August, we released our first “virtual” album Sinister But Fragile. The track Black Widow was supposed to have been recorded by a famous Danish artist for her international debut album, but the deal fell through.

They are situated around Copenhagen, Denmark. All of their songs are recorded in their home studio in Kasper’s house. They write their songs together, sometimes in collaboration with Kasper’s younger brother Jakob.

The track Black Widow was done as an instrumental entitled Brutal, written by Kasper and his brother. When Henrik heard it, he absolutely loved it and wrote the lyrics and melody line on top of it. All synth sounds on Black Widow were made using an Access Virus C, while the beat was programmed using Reason 2.5.

Their virtual album Sinister But Fragile can be heard and downloaded in its entirety for free at (a website which no longer exists).

Their favourite band is the Pet Shop Boys, and Kasper’s favourite TV show is 24.

If you’re wondering, the other unsigned act we featured on the show was Subculture, but my only notes for them read as follows:

  • “Trash pop”
  • New Order
  • The Human League
  • David Bowie
  • OMD
  • Suede
  • Ladytron

Ross (vocals), Mace (synth), Matt (guitar), and Julia (bass).

You can read our most recent feature on Blue Swan here. If you’re unsigned and want some coverage, please get in touch using the form on the “Are You Unsigned” page.

Stowaway Awards 2017 – Nominations

Now for the moment that you have, of course, all been waiting for: the announcement of the nominees for the 2017 Stowaway Awards. As always in recent years, there will be exactly ten awards, one of which (Best Track) you know already from the countdown a couple of weeks ago. Here are five more key nominations!

Best Album

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Best Ambient Track

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Best Dance Act / Remixer

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Outstanding Contribution

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Architecture and Morality

Often heralded as one of their best, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s third album Architecture and Morality first appeared an astonishing 35 years ago this week. Which seems a good excuse to reappraise it.

The opening track is The New Stone Age, which, after a few daft noises at the beginning, is driven primarily by a clicking sound, no doubt taking inspiration from Radioactivity. The track as a whole is experimental and a bit noisy, but entirely appropriate for the concrete Architecture implied by the title of both the song and the album, and also the artwork.

Unlike the subsequent album Dazzle Ships (1983), this album is not purely experimental, as second track She’s Leaving proves. It’s a typically great pop song, with a rawness not heard since the early OMD demos, but it’s definitely overshadowed by lead single Souvenir, which is clearly fantastic.

The interesting thing about Souvenir is that it’s sung by Paul Humphreys rather than Andy McCluskey – in fact, McCluskey wasn’t involved in the writing or singing, and apparently didn’t even like the song much, which proves that it’s good to have more than one member in a band – it seems pretty clear 35 year later that this is far and away the best thing on this album.

Side A ends with OMD‘s longest track to date, the drifting half-instrumental Sealand. By releasing three albums in less than two years, OMD had already proven themselves in need of a bit of editorial control, and it would be easy to criticise this track as being a bit superfluous as well. It’s definitely pleasant, but it might have been better saved for the b-side of a 12″ single.

Statistically, the majority of OMD‘s songs about Joan of Arc are on this album, with Joan of Arc first, and then Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans), or Maid of Orleans (The Waltz Joan of Arc) next. Both were big hits, arguably bigger than they deserved to be, but they’re decent songs – in my opinion, the latter more than the former.

After that you find yourself more than a little disappointed that the entire second half of the album isn’t devoted to songs about Joan of Arc, but instead you get the title track, which is an appropriately bleak instrumental piece built around high-pitched chimes and deep choral sounds that combines to make something that’s actually rather good.

By this stage, you might as well have given up on the “concept” of the album completely – OMD definitely had. Georgia is a pleasant plinky plonky piece, sounding entirely of the era, and then we’re onto the closing track The Beginning and the End already. As with several of the tracks on here, I had little memory of it, and assumed from the start that it was going to be an instrumental, but it’s not. It’s atmospheric and pleasant, although I’m not convinced it actually needs the vocals. But why not?

So is Architecture and Morality‘s reputation as one of OMD‘s finest works justified? Well, it’s possible. They had definitely matured by this stage, and were proving themselves extremely capable. It’s far from perfect – in fact, apart from Souvenir, the artwork might be the best thing about it – but it does contain three very successful hit singles, and a couple of other pleasant moments too. As a minimum, it’s worth giving it a listen every time it hits a significant anniversary – such as right now.

The remastered version of Architecture and Morality is still widely available, and gets you nearly an album’s worth of bonus material and an optional DVD.