28 September 2011

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Live in Berlin 1980

Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark are set to release a CD and book documenting their performance at the Tempodrome Berlin on 18th November 2010. The package marks the culmination of the band's recent resurgence. Following the reunion tour of Spring 2007, which brought together for the first time in more than a decade the band's founding members, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, and a well-received album of all new material this past year, OMD are riding high. Once the forgotten sons of the synth pop scene of the eighties, they are now lionized in the press as visionaries who brought together edgy even experimental music with a pure pop spirit, and their sound has become a noticeable influence on a host of a younger bands, including Mirrors and Cut Copy. It is time, then, to take stock. What made this band so unique?

OMD (as they came to be known) were different. They rarely used guitars, as did the early Gary Numan and Ultravox. Nor did they depend overly much on drum machines, like John Foxx and the Human League (Mark II), or the kind of sequencers that could be triggered by drum machines, like Depeche Mode. In their earliest incarnations, when their musical spirit was in its first and fullest ascendancy, their main instruments were often bass guitar (Andy) and a Farfisa organ, occasionally complemented by some wonky Korg monophonic synthesizer or other (Paul). Drawing inspiration from Kraftwerk and Neu!, they played along with Winston the tape recorder, setting Paul's chiming one-finger melodies against Andy's positively propulsive bass and yearning vocals on songs about communications systems and steel mills. And occasionally bursts of static and tapes of distant wireless radio broadcasts burst through the pop sheen.

What then of the reunited OMD? A cause for celebration, to be sure, but also to remember just how different they once were. The Second Chameleon and I saw the band several times in the early eighties, including one occasion on which we talked with the band back stage and explained how it was that SC had come into possession of Andy's own personal copies of his early singles (turns out Andy's mom didn't think he'd mind if she gave them to a friend of the family). The early shows, dating from the time of their second album, Organisation, were especially striking, with the core duo supplemented by a drummer and second keyboardist/saxophonist. From Andy's windmilling arms and chugging bass to the gorgeously cascading synth lines of songs like "Almost" and "Messages," the band could hold its audiences positively spellbound.

To accompany your pre-ordered copy of Live In Berlin, then, TSM offers a document of another live show in the city from 1980. It's a truly astounding performance, with plenty of rare live outings of b-sides, and an audience keen to push OMD to greater and greater heights of dizzying rapture. By the end of the second encore, when the band has played every song in their repertoire, but the delirious crowd simply won't let the house lights come up, they just start playing the set over again, and everyone goes simply mad. It's a rare document of a rare band.

--Crash the Driver


Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark - Live in Berlin at the Kant Kino 08-12-1980

01. I Betray My Friends
02. Stanlow
03. Pretending To See the Future
04. Almost
05. Messages
06. Annex
07. Mystereality
08. Julia's Song
09. Motion and Heart
10. The More I See You
11. Promise
12. Statues
13. Dancing / Red Frame White Light
14. Electricity
15. Bunker Soldiers
16. Enola Gay
17. Waiting For The Man
18. Electricity (Encore)
19. Julia's Song (Encore)
20. Enola Gay (Encore)

07 September 2011

Virginia Astley - Rarities Part Two

This will be our third and final dip into the world of Virginia Astley after our posts for Promise Nothing and Rarities Part One. These tracks have been gathered from various third-party sources and so some are not up to our usual mastering quality -- but we must be grateful to have them in any form. We thank the primary donor, who apparently wishes to remain anonymous.

First we have the Peel session from Virginia Astley, Kate St. John and Nicky Holland, known collectively as The Ravishing Beauties. This was recorded 14 April 1982 by Chris Lycett and broadcast on the BBC's John Peel show 29 April 1982. Percussion was provided by Ben Hoffnung. The Ravishing Beauties were formed when Astley's label-mate Troy Tate (more on him below) invited her to support The Teardrop Explodes over the winter of 1981-2. She called on two university friends for support. This appears to be a different dub of the session than that recently presented by our friend TreeTopClub, so you can choose which you like best.

Following this the group made a studio recording of "Futility" (based on a Wilfred Owen poem) before internal pressures forced a split. This version of the song was released only on the New Musical Express compilation cassette Mighty Reel in 1982. How it relates to the version on the Promise Nothing album is a matter of conjecture, but it seems they are mixes of the same session.

"Le Song (A Day, A Night)" b/w "A Winter's Tale" was a Japanese single released in January 1986. Despite the gap in time, the b-side dates back to the era of The Ravishing Beauties. Even more astounding, the a-side was used for a TV coffee advert! In the same year "Charm" was also released as a single only in Japan and used to promote the Honda Accord. (We provide a shot of the cover, above, as proof!) This conjures up a strange image of an alternate earth in which fey English singers saturate our television sets, enticing us to buy products with their tales of dead children and lost love.

In 1981 Les Disques Du Crépuscule had the idea to compile various artists doing covers of songs from classic films. Astley and film-maker Jean-Paul Goude got together under the name The Dream Makers and chose the Philippe Sarde composition "La Chanson D'Helene" from the 1970 film "Les choses de la vie". However the album Moving Soundtracks was not released at the time, so "Helen's Song" ended up on the 1986 double LP re-issue of From Brussels With Love, a compilation with so many different release versions it might make your head spin. Oh yes, do check out that film, by the way, which is a slow burner but has some excellent characterisations and a great car crash scene. There are no lyrics in the film, so it appears Astley made them up herself.

"Second Chance" is the sole Astley composition on the 1989 David A. Stewart (yes, Eurythmics) soundtrack for Lily Was Here. That's a film we haven't seen but we must admit this is not the strongest song in the Astley repertoire.

The remainder of the tracks are songs by other artists on which Astley provides vocals. The first of these is the 1982 Troy Tate single "Lifeline". Linked only by their releases on Why Fi Records, this release also includes Josephine Wells on the b-side "Kamikaze". It's a minor addition to the canon, but we wouldn't want it to be overlooked entirely.

More pleasant is "Now The Night Comes Stealing In", a duet with Kate St. John for her 1995 album Indescribable Night. Finally we have two collaborations with Silent Poets, "Don't Break The Silence" from 1998 and "I Will Miss This Holy Garden" from the following year.

Add all this together with the other available files and you have a bounty of Astley material. Please do not forget to run out and buy From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. Though mostly instrumental it is a superlative work.

-- The Second Chameleon

Rarities Part Two

01 Arctic Death (3:18)
02 Futility (3:12)
03 We Will Meet Them Again (3:53)
04 No Need To Cry (2:56)
05 Futility (3:26)
06 Le Song (A Day, A Night) (3:44)
07 A Winter's Tale (2:05)
08 The Dream Makers: Helen's Song (2:31)
09 Second Chance (4:11)
10 Troy Tate: Lifeline (Hold On To That) (4:47)
11 Kate St. John: Now The Night Comes Stealing In (2:57)
12 Silent Poets: Don't Break The Silence (5:26)
13 Silent Poets: I Will Miss This Holy Garden (5:06)