As co-founder of electronic pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Paul Humphreys has found himself in more than his fair share of scrapes.

After all, OMD were one of the biggest bands of the 1980s and have sold an astonishing 25 million singles and 15 million albums, flicking the switch on Britain’s love affair with the synthesiser.

But the band’s recent tour of North America left them more than a little dishevelled. Pitching up at a show in the US Midwest their reception almost blew them away.

“We were playing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a huge storm blew in,” Paul grimaces. “We got hurried off stage several songs before the end and pushed into a tornado shelter.

“We really were Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark!

“It was the worse show ever and a lot of gear got trashed.”

They received a warmer reception on Saturday when they returned to Oxford for a sold-out show as part of an ongoing tour celebrating their 40th anniversary.

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The show, at the New Theatre, was part of a year of performances and releases which have also seen keys player Paul and singer-guitarist Andy McCluskey release a lavish box set, ‘Souvenir’ and a career-spanning greatest hits collection of the same name, which includes all the singles from 1979’s thrilling breakthrough Electricity to 2017’s What Have We Done, as well as a new single, Don’t Go.

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By anyone’s standards, they’ve had an impressive run.

Formed in 1978 on the Wirral, by Andy and Paul when they were just teenagers, they took the pop world by storm with their revolutionary synth sound which influenced a generation of electronic artists.

From humble origins they became a regular presence in the charts, hitting their highest points with the top three hits Souvenir and Sailing on the Seven Seas; Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans (reaching numbers five and four respectively) and Locomotion (also charting at number five).

Their 13 LPs include top three album Architecture & Morality – which went platinum – and gold-selling albums Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Organisation, Junk Culture and the avant garde Dazzle Ships.

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Despite disbanding in 1996 they have come back stronger than ever  reforming in 2006 and going on to score a top four album with 2017’s The Punishment of Luxury.

But Paul admits it hasn’t all been plain sailing. “We had a big following at home but in America they didn’t want to invest in some weird electro band from England,” he says.

“We didn’t see ourselves as just a band but as an art project. We have always been true to our roots – so things like the non-success of Dazzle Ships scared us. We didn’t want to be famous or make lots of money but had to make a living.”

He is still astounded at the reception to the band after the 2006 announcement of their comeback. He says many fans now only really know their later material, rather than their 80s classics.

“We are living in postmodern times,” he laughs.

The prompt for that reunion came from an unexpected quarter – a request to perform from a German television show.

“We had always kept in touch by phone,” recalls Paul and agreed to perform Maid of Orleans – our biggest hit in Germany – at a show in Cologne. Then we asked each other whether we should do it again, even though we hadn’t played together for so long that we couldn’t remember how they went!

“But we put shows on and they kept selling out.”

They were back, though. They remastered possibly their greatest album, Architecture & Morality, and toured it live in its entirety. They then did the same for the experimental Dazzle Ships.

“We wondered whether we had become a tribute band to ourselves,” he smiles. “So I wrote more songs, as I realised I’d learned a bit by being apart.”

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The result was their 11th studio album, History of Modern, which reached number 28, followed by English Electric and hit The Punishment of Luxury.

“We wrote with each other,” he adds. “We have always had chemistry and know what each other is thinking. And the new stuff seems to fit in with the old.”

It’s quite an achievement and one he is incredibly proud of.

“We were just two working class boys from Liverpool who wanted to be Kraftwerk,” he says.

“From the age of 12 electronics had been my hobby and I wanted to go to engineering college to study it. That was my thing. We didn’t have the instruments to make the sounds I wanted so I used to go round to people’s houses and find old cupboards in radios and get circuit diagrams from the library and make noise generating machines.

“For the first six gigs we didn’t even own our own synthesiser. Then I got a shiny little Korg for £7 a week, which got us going on our electronic career.”

A full 40 years on and the celebrations are still in full swing.

“We didn’t have many compilations out,” he says. “But it’s our 40th anniversary so if there was ever a moment to do it, it’s now.

“We had 39 singles over 40 years so needed to do one more to make it 40 in 40, so we wrote Don’t Go.”

To the delight of fans, they also released a limited edition 7” vinyl of their iconic debut single Electricity. The limited edition run, which also comes as an ultra-clear vinyl, was remastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road. The B side consists of a new remix of Almost by Vince Clarke.

Andy says: “For Paul and I, holding in our hands an actual vinyl record of a song we had written as 16 year olds was one of the greatest thrills of our young lives. That original garage recording still has a charming energy that makes us proud.”

He adds: “OMD started as an art project and we were only going to do one gig – which is why we called ourself that preposterous name – but 40 years later, here we are!”

  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's new compilation: Souvenir – The Singles 1979-2019, is out now