As OMD headline Wychwood Festival, Tim Hughes discovers they have lost none of their electricity


Manoeuvres in the Dark

Wychwood Festival

June 3, 2017

It is almost 40 years since electronic music obsessives Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys set the pop world alight with their pulsing synth classic Electricity – kick starting the fledgling UK electro scene.

In the following decade, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark were responsible for a string of electro-gems, thrilling, beautifully-formed pieces of synth-pop which set the bar for everything that followed. And they still sound amazing; fresh, uplifting and exhilarating.

Taking to the stage on Saturday as headliners for the lovely Wychwood Festival, we were back in the zone, as the opening chords of their anthem Enola Gay washed over the crowd – who in turn responded with delight.

The fact that OMD were topping the bill at this eclectic festival, organised by a dedicated team from Witney and staged on Cheltenham Racecourse, says a lot about the event and band.

They headed up a day of music from the likes of Indian drummers Dhol Foundation, Congolese soukous act Kanda Bongo Man and reggae heroes Aswad. The contrast couldn’t have been greater, but that’s the beauty of Wychwood’s programming, and the appeal of OMD’s precise, anthemic pop.

The big tunes come thick and fast – soaring, beautiful and uplifting - Messages, Talking Loud and Clear, Locomotion, Souvenir, Tesla Girls...

“I’ve never seen so many people dancing along to a song about the end of the universe,” says Andy at one point. “It’s misery to a dance beat.”

There are tunes from the less electro, more radio-friendly Crush era and 1986's poppy number 11 hit Forever Live and Die, but sadly nothing from their intriguing and deliciously experimental tour de force Dazzle Ships - but then this is Cheltenham Racecourse, and they probably didn't want to scare the horses.

OMD have had a renaissance of late, their position in the pantheon of rock firmly acknowledged. They even have a new album out, Andy tells us, though he also agrees tonight is not the place to flog it – admitting no one knows the songs. He also jokes that many of the crowd don’t know any of their songs at all and are just their to dance around drunk in a field – which is also fine – though the audience's reaction gives the lie to that.

The sonic diptych of Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans elicits a sea of arms (and singing of half-forgotten lyrics) – as Humphrey’s soaring synth bathes the slightly soggy festival site in sound.

The whole thing peaks with the tune that started them off Electricity – and it still sounds like the future.

OMD had a quiet 90s and noughties; had they stuck with it they would perhaps have been playing the Olympic Park that night instead of the arguably technically inferior Depeche Mode.

Still, our gain!