When Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark burst onto the British music scene in 1979, they sounded like nothing else.

The fizzing, bubbling synths and masterful musicianship of debut Electricity paved the way for the 1980s’ legions of electronic pop bands – not least Depeche Mode, whose Vince Clark cited them as a formative influence.

It seems incredible that 40 years have since passed. Remarkably though, despite fizzling out in the mid 90s, OMD are back together and releasing some of the best music of their careers. And they are celebrating by taking a bag of their biggest tunes on tour. The Greatest Hits show, which they played to a packed New Theatre last Saturday, shone a spotlight on the epic sweep of their career.

Unlike their recently released hits compilation Souvenir, this wasn’t in chronological order – and was not all hits, starting off with 1980’s boisterous, if esoteric, Stanlow followed by 2017’s Isotype.


Things really took off though with the distinctive opening synth chords of classic Messages – and the packed house of fans (all, it’s fair to say, admirers of the band from first time round) went wild.

The hits kept coming – Tesla Girls, (Forever) Live and Die and Souvenir, along with the odd new tune.

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Frontman Andy McCluskey was visibly delighted at the reaction. “This isn’t the demure Oxford we’re used to!” he purred in his warm Merseyside tones, before telling us to get our dancing shoes on because “it’s going to be a long night”. And it was. McCluskey and co-founder Paul Humphreys keeping the pulse racing with a set of bangers which hit a high point with their sonic diptych Joan of Arc and Maid of Orleans.

Anywhere else and the crowd would have been on their feet, arms in the air. This being the New Theatre, though, we were obliged to stay glued to the red plush chairs.


What shone through was that, no matter how good the new stuff, they were at their most exciting, original and uplifting with the harder-edged electronic pop of those first few albums. Take 1983’s sample-heavy experimental album album Dazzle Ships, which received, at best, a mixed reaction on its release. It spawned the single Genetic Engineering (who else but OMD would release songs about science, alternative energy or a 15th century martyr?). Tonight, however, we get the less accessible Time Zones. It could’ve been released last week, it sounds so fresh.

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Odd interludes like that apart, the hits kept coming: So in Love, Locomotion, Sailing on the Seven Seas and their biggest anthem – an ode to a nuclear bomber – Enola Gay. After that they left the stage, but we knew they’d be back: They always finish on their debut.

“Here’s our first and shortest,” said Andy as he introduced the band’s virtual mission statement. Electricity fizzed, pulsed and raced into life and was over all too soon... bringing to an end a superlative night of electronic pop for the head and the heart.