OMD at the Museum Of Liverpool November 2014
OMD’s decision to perform an intimate gig at the Museum Of Liverpool had begun as a much more simpler exercise with a request for the band to submit some musique concrète tracks for the new Dazzle Ship display next to the Museum.
The Dazzle Ship was actually a special commission involving 1418 NOW (WW1 Centenary Art Commission), Liverpool Biennial and Tate Liverpool in partnership with the Merseyside Maritime Museum. The Edmund Gardner ship, which was in dry dock and being conserved by the Merseyside Maritime Museum, was given a new paint display by artist Carlos Cruz-Diez. The finished piece, which was titled Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship / Liverpool. Paris, 2014, presented a colourful presence on the Merseyside river front.
The inclusion of additional Dazzle Ships musical pieces (titled ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts I, IV, V and VI)’) seemed a logical combination and would provide a much more dynamic installation piece. However, this idea was expanded into a more ambitious plan to stage a live performance at the Museum Of Liverpool itself, plus the addition of an OMD memorabilia display and a special series of dazzle-related films curated by Andy McCluskey.
With a limited capacity, it was clear that tickets for the event would be popular. In fact even with an additional performance slotted in for the next day, tickets sold out in mere minutes.
This performance was also unique in that OMD would be appearing as a 3-piece as Mal Holmes was still taking it easy following on from his illness during the English Electric tour. Instead, trusty tape recorder Winston was brought out of ‘retirement’ from the museum display to provide backing tracks for some of the performance.
The first order of the day however was a visit to the Edmund Gardner in which a special installation had been set up to showcase the additional Dazzle Ships tracks. Guided through the cramped spaces of the ship, groups were led into the belly of the vessel until they reached the engine room. After a briefing from the museum team, our curious group stood waiting as the haunting tones of ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts I, IV, V and VI)’ echoed around the room. Lighting effects brought up bursts of red and green in distant parts of the confined space, followed up by intermittent darkness – particularly eerie when the track switched to the sound of a hull being crushed and water seeping in.
The experience was over in mere minutes, but the effect had been mesmerizing. The new elements of Dazzle Ships could have seamlessly fitted onto the original 1983 album, yet sounded fresh and contemporary – a further celebration of Dazzle Ships as an album.
On then to the museum itself for a tour of the OMD memorabilia which had been arranged in a cabinet in the main foyer. Among the items to be viewed were the original Korg MicroPreset synth, master tapes for Electricity and Almost and the Roland CR-78 drum machine, which had famously been employed on early OMD material – particularly ‘Enola Gay’.
It’s curious to consider that there had been a point in which Liverpool had been neglectful of its more recent musical heritage. A city that could celebrate The Beatles, but had not recognized the legacy that the Eric’s Club bands had established. Having a weekend themed around OMD was certainly a welcome gesture.
A series of dazzle-related films had also been scheduled at the museum. This included a more in-depth explanation of precisely why the dazzle camouflage had been employed as well as a special abstract film by Hambi to accompany ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts I, IV, V and VI)’.
With plenty of local watering holes for fans to grab food prior to the evening’s main event, it was a good opportunity for people to catch up with old friends. Amongst the people attending the event were Jane and Martin from Vile Electrodes (one of the UK’s finest electropop outfits – and a former OMD support band!). The anticipation before the gig itself was electric. Despite the chilly winds that blew across the Mersey, enthusiastic OMD fans dutifully queued up outside the venue, which had been transformed from museum to live music venue.
With a foyer now packed solidly with an eager audience, Winston whirred into life with the fractured tones of ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII)’ acting as the most suitable introduction to tonight’s performance. The first surprise of the evening (although there had been hints via the Official OMD social networks) saw Andy, Paul and Martin striding across the stage to perform the semaphore routine with flags that had opened up the original Dazzle Ships live performances back in 1983.
The majestic tones of ‘Sealand’ came next with its distinctive percussion perhaps driving home the absence of Mally on stage. In the background, the familiar seascape visuals that had graced the 2007 Architecture & Morality performances lent a certain grace to proceedings.
If the opening tracks had set the atmosphere, it was ‘Messages’ which returned the evening to the elements that had made OMD a household name. The song remains a timeless classic and the familiar sight of Andy McCluskey confidently commanding the stage, bass guitar in action, brought forth an equally enthusiastic reaction from the audience.
The pace was kept up with an energetic ‘Radio Waves’, which kept the crowds dancing before being followed up with the chittering intro to ‘Genetic Engineering’ which somehow managed to elicit an even louder reaction from the gathered crowd. Prior to this, Andy commented that the museum had in fact been subjected to vibration tests “so we can dance!”
Switching to more recent OMD compositions, the stately ‘History Of Modern (Part I)’ came next as a nod to OMD’s 2010 reunion album. Following this, Martin Cooper stepped from behind his keyboard to strap on a bass guitar for a rare live outing of ‘Julia’s Song’.
The usual contemplative melodies of ‘She’s Leaving’ were given a boost by an audience sing-along leading to Paul Humphreys taking over vocal duties for a passionate rendition of ‘Souvenir’.
As expected, Andy next launched into an emotive performance of Maid Of Orleans’, whirling across the stage in a frenzy of rotating limbs. This resulted in an extended round of applause and shouts from the assembled hordes thrilled with one of OMD’s fixed points on the live performance schedule.
If the concert so far had been warmly received, what happened next made OMD history. Hints of two songs that had never been performed live before had been touted by the OMD camp for some time. Discussion raged about which tracks these could possibly be, although the first contender came as a complete surprise.
It’s certainly not often that an OMD concert bears witness to a classic B-Side track being played, but tonight OMD fans were treated to the wistful joys of ‘4-Neu’. The tribute to one of Germany’s pioneering electronic acts (and major OMD influence) remains one of those songs that have a special place in the hearts of OMD fans.
But then things got very interesting indeed. With the closing notes of ‘4-Neu’ still echoing around the foyer, a medley of the musique concrète sections of the Dazzle Ships album was broadcast over the PA. Combining the various elements of ‘Radio Prague’, ‘This Is Helena’ and ‘Swiss Radio International’, it was unclear what was coming next. The video projections acting as a false start as the imagery that had originally been featured on the 2007 tour suggested ‘Georgia’ was coming next. In fact it led directly into the intro for ‘International’.
This politically-charged track has a special relevance for OMD fans as, indeed, it wasn’t an inclusion on OMD’s original 1983 tour. In hindsight, this was understandable as the song features a rather tricky section which involves Andy hitting a difficult high note. Tough to do once, let alone on repeated dates across a tour. Age will always have an impact on any singer’s voice, but the live performance of ‘International’ was flawless with Andy being pitch perfect (although down a semitone). In fact the applause during that particular section almost drowned out the remaining bars of the song.
Following on from that is a tough thing to do, so the band threw in an unexpected moment as they performed ‘Metroland’ culled from 2013’s successful English Electric album. This was followed by a return to History Of Modern with ‘Sister Marie Says’. This was probably the weakest song of the evening with the mix being a little muddy and the bass elements drowning out the melody.
‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’ turns into another audience participation number and is rounded out by a blistering performance of ‘Enola Gay’ which has the crowds jumping up and down (a brave endeavour considering the age of some of us!).
It’s hardly a surprise when OMD return to the stage for their encore performance. Andy takes time to remind everyone about what the concert was all about – raising funds and the profile of the Museum Of Liverpool as well as a shout-out to their absent member Mr Holmes.
As expected, ‘Electricity’ serves up a frenetic eruption of applause and manic dancing from an already enthusiastic audience. OMD’s debut single still has the power to sound dynamic and contemporary and reminds us once again why OMD are considered one of the UK’s pioneering electronic acts.
Closing the evening’s performance, they announce their “favourite song” as the familiar percussive beats of ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’ kick in.
The Museum Of Liverpool performances add on to an increasingly welcome left-field approach by OMD to do unusual performances and projects. Following on from The Energy Suite and the Royal Philharmonic performance, it’s a welcome addition to OMD’s desire to mix things up a little.
Those who were unable to make this weekend should also take heart. Hambi was in charge of overseeing the filming of the performances and a DVD release is mooted for the very near future.
Messages would like to thank Dickie Felton, Lucy Cattell and the staff at the Museum Of Liverpool for their kind assistance.
Text and photos by Paul Browne
Main photo by Mark McNulty
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and The Electricity Club.