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Review: OMD 40th anniversary with RLPO *****

Next week it’s 40 years since a couple of teenage mates from Meols knocked on Roger Eagle’s door at Eric’s and asked if they could play a gig at the Mathew Street club.

Eagle said yes – and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark was born.

Little can those teenagers have imagined that they’d still be playing together as they neared their 60th birthdays, or that they’d be doing it on the musical crest of a 70-piece symphony orchestra. But then life can be funny like that.

OMD and the RLPO collaborated successfully back in 2009, but this new pair of anniversary concerts, although featuring some of the same favourite numbers adapted for band and orchestra, has the edge on that inaugural outing.

Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys seem more at ease at the front of the Philharmonic, and the songs, augmented from the original by arrangers Gary Carpenter and Ian Stephens, seem somehow fuller and richer in their delivery.

OMD and the RLPO. Photos by Mark McNulty

The first half is dedicated to OMD’s more epic output – works like Stanlow, Sealand, Ghost Star and The View From Here.

“All the hits are in the second half,” said Andy McCluskey at the outset, “but we suspect a lot of you here will like the first half more.”

Given the reaction to the second half, I’d wager the hits probably won. But there’s lots to admire and enjoy in the arrangements of works like Ghost Star – with lovely orchestral textures layered over the OMD melody, The New Dark Age (an “obscure piece from the 90s”) and the grandiose The Avenue.

The numbers are all accompanied by video created by performance artist Hambi Haralambous, who turned up in the stalls during the premiere performance of The Daughter of the Minotaur, a track from the new film Female Human Animal, writhing around in a mask make of vegetables and flowers while McCluskey and Humphreys looked in deadly earnest side-by-side at the keyboard.

Performance artist Hambi Haralambous. Photo by Mark McNulty

The second half, as advertised, is a rollercoaster ride through OMD’s biggest hits, and a few band favourites thrown in for good measure.

McCluskey, sporting a shirt from 1984 for “a slightly looser half”, and also busting out his best dad dancing moves and some classic Andy armography, was in powerful voice, particularly through Maid of Orleans (which boasted a sweep of swoonsome strings), Walking on the Milky Way and Native Daughters of the Golden West which had a blistering orchestral opening to boot.

Meanwhile Humphreys, who had wheeled out his natty blue wedding suit for the special occasion, took lead vocals on Souvenir – buoyed by brass and strings,

There was a change of pace with the delightful All That Glitters, with lots going on in the orchestral accompaniment, and La Femme Accident which featured some winsome harp and oboe playing.

But with the audience on its feet, the final minutes were an exhilarating ride through Sailing on the Seven Seas, Enola Gay, and the song the pair penned two years BEFORE that first gig at Eric’s – Electricity.

Celebratory stuff.

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