Dazzle Ships by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1983)
“…These are the little children, the future in our hands.
When all God’s children on this Earth inherit all our plans.
These are the lies they tell us. But this is the only way.
When all God’s children on the Earth will evermore be saved.Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Genetic Engineering)
As I’d already written about this album in one of my very first blogs I was kind of stumped about what to say about it this time around. Those early blogs were before I started this now long-running countdown of mine. So here Dazzle Ships appears again … this time very proudly at number 38.
For my regular readers you may recall my previous effort (chapter 40 # 39) on Deacon Blue’s Raintown I make mention of bumping into Jonathan Tombs at the pub called Busby’s in Brackenhurst and hatching a plan to travel to England the following year. Well after publishing that little yarn I had some excellent responses by some of those involved in my story. Most notably from Albin Wagner, who is not a lawyer for nothing it seems. He has a truly remarkable memory for details and especially for events a great many years back.
Albin “the Punk” Wagner had this to say about my last blog …
‘Just read the Deacon Blue/Jon Tombs blog. Fantastic as usual (thank you) , some great flash-backs! What a treat’
The Punk then goes on to say … ‘I do remember that Busby night Beza* … you were my driver! Okay so now I actually drove my car to Busby’s that night. I had forgotten this small, yet important fact … but it’s slowly coming back to me now …
* (Beza or Biza is what The Punk and Humps have always called me. It comes from the Sotho greeting “Eita Beza” meaning “Hey Sunshine” … because as you all know I’m always a complete “Ray of Sunshine“)
After Busby’s an intoxicated Beza heads towards his car with The Punk in tow … Albin continues with his recollection of the post-Busby events of much later that night, in fact it’s well into the next day by now … ‘First you couldn’t get your car key to fit into the door. When you did, only after getting some help from a passing youngster, you then pulled off straight into a metal pole‘ … Okay this sorry tale is not sounding so good as I read the Punk’s Whats App. (PLEASE NOTE : Parents of today should be very grateful someone invented Über)
‘Then we made a detour on the way home to my place … in totally the wrong direction!’ … and now for the very worst bit … ‘and then you parked outside Karen Lepora’s house at 2.30 a.m. Jumped out the car and started firstly singing and then intermittently shouting Karen you bitch, I LOVE YOU! I was cringing in the passenger seat, but luckily nobody came out.‘
Okay so all of these mortifying events had been completely banished from my memory banks … until Albin reminded me and it all came flooding back in all it’s cringe-worthy glory. No wonder Karen Lepora never called me again … hahaha …
Albin finished his story by explaining his own day-after … ‘I was meant to study the next day, but only managed to revive myself in time for the 1pm bus to Braamfontein (and not the planned 7am journey …)
I don’t know why I tell these stories but anyway. Now I can remember it forever, hopefully. Finally if you are reading this … ‘I’m so sorry Mrs. Lepora (Karen’s Mom) for that night long, long ago when I stood shouting outside at your house shortly before breakfast one morning‘…
And now on to Dazzle Ships … the fourth album by the fine Liverpool band, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Dazzle Ships is pop of the most fragmented kind, a concept album released in an era that had nothing to do with such conceits. On its own merits, though, it is dazzling indeed, a Kid A of its time that never received a comparative level of contemporary attention and appreciation. Indeed, Radiohead’s own plunge into abstract electronics and meditations on biological and technological advances seems to be echoing the themes and construction of Dazzle Ships (Ned Raggett, All Music Guide)
Most know OMD through their big hit singles that were played constantly on the radio and probably still are. There songs also appeared on countless 80’s compilation albums or CD’s over the last, almost four decades. Dazzle Ships finds them straddling the large crevice that lies between the hit singles, and other hand, the weird shit. The album does of course have the monster smash “Telegraph” on it. This breathtaking pop nugget is quite possibly one of my three favourite OMD singles of all time. Then there is “Genetic Engineering” which was the first single released off this album. It soars gracefully with its Speak & Spell toy vocals and an opening sequence that also sounds like the inspiration for Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier,” for instance. It’s very strange that it wasn’t a bigger hit. “Radio Waves” to is one of the records more poppier moments.
Here I must mention two of the lesser know album cuts … “International” and “Of all the Things We’ve Made” which are both alluringly melancholic. In fact these last two completely make this LP for me. Originally a B-Side to the single release of “Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)“, “Of all the Things We’ve Made” was remixed and polished up for inclusion on this album.
- One of the saddest songs they did, always brings a tear to my eye as I was not there when my father passed away, this was on the radio of the taxi on the way to hospital (Peter Nicklin)
- Fantastic song that I always think represent the end of the OMD era that I really love (the first four albums)(Ulf Björkland)
- Simply a perfect song. Sublime in its melancholy and beauty and off of a near-perfect album. One of my favorite synth pop albums (and bands) of all-time. This music is timeless. (Matt Jarvie)
“International” starts up ominously with a spoken introduction using radio samples that goes something like this …
“The youth and Anti-Imperialist Tribune was also addressed by a young girl from Nicaragua whose hands had been cut off at the wrists by the former Somoza guards …
Veronika Merko, of the German Federal Republic, had this to say: Also, ich habe eine Ausbildung gemacht als Industriekaufmann und wurde nach der Lehre nicht uebernommen.”
Translates to English as “Well, I had finished my training as an industrial clerk but was not taken up”. This is thanks to Genius.com and not my supreme linguistic abilities. No matter what it means I just love how the song starts in such a grim fashion. From there the hypnotic electronic drum-beat and haunting bass synthesizer kicks in. The tune then gently rolls on into simple, yet pretty lyrics, which wrap themselves effectively around twinkling keyboards. This is also possibly one of Andy McCluskey’s greatest vocal performances. “International” is quite heart-wrenching … especially the ending …
“She never thought he’d be this way. Her arms aloft, she holds. But now it’s all a memory.”
My guest on this edition is one John Rowberry who I’ve known since around 2006. He’d met a friend of mine Dominic while she was living and working in London. They’d met, fallen in love and he subsequently moved to South Africa to marry her. They had their ceremony down in Cape Town a few years later, and then settled in Morningside a smart, very up-market suburb of Johannesburg.
John Rowberry is certainly a music fan. That’s probably why we bonded so quickly when we first met all those years ago. He is however more a 90’s and beyond music child as he was only born in 1976. John’s main musical love is electronic and ambient type music. Not my favourite, but I usually get where he is coming from. Dazzle Ships is an 80’s “concept” album that made me think of him. It’s I suppose a pioneering album of the kind of stuff he loves. So here’s John “Ladies and Gentlemen we are Floating in Space” Rowberry in some of his glory …
Let me digress for a moment and mention what John said in response to my blog about Paul Simon’s Graceland album …
“I have this funny feeling that Paul Simon’s Graceland is why I am here in South Africa. This album was the soundtrack to my youth, my Dad had it on vinyl. He has this totally gangster Bang & Olufsen Stereo which had both a record player and tape deck and three fader mixing controls . I would play the album over and over again to my pet hamster Hammy (who lived next to the stereo) and play with the three faders the whole time. The second reason I love this album is it has seen me thought the dark times. I remember my first day I went to boarding school in some horrible school full of posh kids that I did not fit in with. I was in the locker room sitting there thinking how am I going to get through this? Then on the TV came Chevy Chase with Paul Simon singing “You can call me Al ” and they both took me away from the horror of it all for a few minutes as only “You can cal me Al” can. I cannot think of a month in my life when I have not played this album, sometimes for the joy of listening or to get me through the harder times“
Thanks for taking the time to send me that John. It’s a really nice reflection and memory to have of that classic record. I must ask though … could you not have thought of a better name for your hamster than Hammy?
John’s best albums of the
John’s selection is excellent, especially considering what he spends most of his time listening to these days. He makes mention in his list of three albums that narrowly missed being released in the 80’s themselves. The Boomtown Rats Fine Art of Surfacing from 1979 ; and then two 90’s LP’s – Chill Out by the KLF and Pills ‘n’ Thrills & Bellyaches by the Happy Mondays ; both which were released in 1990. His top ten 80’s albums (see below) include five that crack my top 100.
Q & A
- How old were you on the 1st of January 1980 … 3
- Year matriculated/finished school and what school … 1994 * I attended Royal Grammar School Worcester, which you probably don’t know is one of the oldest schools in the world and can trace itself back to 685 AD. Making it the 6th Oldest school in the world. Also we had black pear trees which some of you know is the emblem of Worcester cricket team and of the county. A little research gives two reasons. One because the Worcestershire Bowmen carried black apples at the battle of Agincourt (where we right royally thumped the French) in 1415 and in 1575 Queen Elizabeth was so taken by the quality of the fruit of Worcestershire she allowed it to be unpicked and granted an emblem of the three pears.
- Worst memories of the 80’s … Driving my plastic tractor down a very large pathway (it was if you were 3) that had quite a lot of swerves and a tree at the bottom. I hit the tree and cried a lot. (John was it a “fake plastic tractor”?)
- Most famous person/s you’ve met … Tony Wilson, the owner of Factory Records who came and gave a talk at Cardiff University. He basically said music’s a mugs game. Tony Wilson was immortalized in the movie 24 Hour Party People with Steve Coogan playing him. If you have not seen the movie watch it, it’s hilarious, poignant and sort of true. Factory Records managed Joy Division, New Order and the Happy Mondays all of whom appear on my top ten list. He also owned the Hacienda nightclub, (along with New Order I must add John. In fact almost all the money New Order made was pumped back into the Hacienda to keep it going. New Order were basically bankrupt through this period of squander) where everything happened in 1989-1990 with the new British electronic dance scene. Oh I could go on for hours about this but you know it really was the end of 1989 and early 1990 so I must stop.
- The achievements you are most proud of … My two children, my present life and how I got to where I am today
- Last album you purchased (or was given) on vinyl and/or CD … Selected Ambient Works Volume 1 by Aphex Twin
- Music that you listen to up until 2020… I have had a long and passionate love of electronic music starting with Kraftwerk, key stoned by a 30 year love of Underworld and everything that has come since and before. My current likes are Nicholas Jaar, Jamie XX , Jon Hopkins and of course Brian Eno.
- Do you stream music? If so which platform? Apple, Spotify etc. Yes, Apple Music
- What Radio station do you listen to now if any? … None
- Favourite radio presenter/s … now or ever or both … John Peel. He was everything to me growing up. He introduced me to every type of music and a broad love of every genre there is. From West African to blues, punk, Indie, Jazz and to Techno. Of course they are all one and the same and that was his great skill to make you fall in love with the smallest band in the world to the biggest bands in the world back to back.
- What work do you do? Who do you work for? I am currently experimenting with a post work lifestyle which I hope you will all enjoy one day. My days are spent parenting, trying to get fit, learning guitar and piano and producing electronic music. (what John is actually saying here is that he came into a vast sum of money and doesn’t need to work again …. the bastard!)
- What did you mainly do during lock-down … I watched The Deuce all seasons, watched season 1 and 2 of The Wire, watched great old movies such as Gangs of New York, spent a lot of time with the kids playing a board game called Azul. Drank red wine.
- Favourite night-clubs in the 80’s …or favourite pubs ? (John of course only became a teenager in 1989 I really liked the Dolphin in Lee on Solent, my Dad would buy us a bottle of coke and some crisps and we would play on the swings and slides in the beer garden. We were not allowed in the pub and I do not remember the parents ever coming out to see us much. Times have changed
- Bands or artists you’d like to see play live before they or you die … I’d like to see Underworld play in Japan at a festival. I would preferably like to have some really good quality ecstasy and a bottle of water and my mate Mark Wilson cause he would fucking love it! Taking pills and listening to techno. He might not know it yet but he would. And the love of my life Jordan (but she can’t come cause she does not like flashing lights and they give her a migraine). So it would just be me and Mark and loads of hot Japanese Women and relentless good vibes. (John I’ll ask me Mum if I can go with okay?)
- All-time favourite movies … I really don’t know, I think it would be a Tarantino movie, probably Once upon a time in Hollywood, maybe the Godfather Part 3. I also love Maid in Manhattan or maybe and I think this is the one Meet Joe Black. Yes Meet Joe Black, I could watch it once a year forever so that must make it my favourite. (phew, glad we got there in the end John)
- Last book you read and/or book/s you are reading currently … Currently reading I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I really like sci-fi and Margaret Atwood said that Never Let Me Go was her favourite dystopian book, and it is magnificent. Also I love history and economic books and people books. I tend to keep 5/6 books on the go (this confirms my worst fears, John must have ADD) and enjoy writers like Anthony Beevor, Ian M. Banks, Peter Jordasson. I also read the Economist every week.
- All-time favourite TV series … The Wire, The Deuce, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder. Have I got News For You, The Young Ones.
- Favourite current TV series … Probably the Deuce, it’s underrated, there’s brilliant acting by all involved especially James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Also its about porn, prostitution, corruption and the seedy side of 5th Avenue of New York in the 70s and 80s (good old fashioned family viewing eh John?)
- The song or songs you would like played at your funeral … I actually have a death playlist that I have made. On Apple Music its called Johns Death Playlist (John did list this mighty playlist of his but I’ll spare you the details for now … but yes there’s plenty of Underworld in it!!)
So to finish this rambling blog on Dazzle Ships I must mention that I did think that techno-head Rowberry may find something of interest in an old Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark from the early 1980’s. He’s never listened to the record so I suggested he do so. Here’s what John came back with.
John Rowberry on OMD’s Dazzle Ships [editing, grammar and spell-check by Mark Wilson]
“I was not expecting much from Dazzle Ships as I put it on my stereo for a drive to the Netcare in Pretoria East. I thought an early 80s concept album was appropriate for such a journey. Unfortunately I chose the 2008 re-release, which is filled with extra bonus tracks, and then accidentally put it on shuffle. Well let me tell you, I thought it was an unadulterated piece of poop. I was struggling with why would this have got into Mark’s 100 albums, why? In the car park of the hospital I texted our good buddy Trevor Pape who incidentally was too busy in a conference talking about rocks to talk to me (how rude) ; but he assured me that it was a piece of genius. I went home. I thought, I cogitated, I ruminated and then had a bowel movement. I thought no this is wrong, Mark’s not normally this far off the mark and if you combine this with the rock steady confidence of Trevor, perhaps it’s me? So I put it on again, but this time I put on the original release, with no extra bonus tracks, and this time played it in the right order.
Back again, second time around everything in its right place (see what I did their Radiohead fans?). I got it, it clicked, all I love about old synthesizer pioneers OMD and everything I love about modern electronics came together. It’s got it all these crazy Cold War samples, reminiscent of Coldcut who would produce the cut and paste album 15 years later when that set the scene. Homages to the gods of it all Kraftwerk, references to the Baltic fleet on Radio Waves. So you have to know this to my knowledge is only the second reference to the Baltic fleet in the canon of English speaking music. Oh please John tell us the other one, I can’t live another day without you telling me. Well children, it was in Prefab Sprouts “Faaron Young“. You can all breathe again. The interludes in Dazzle Ships bring the bleak depressing narrative of the Cold War to the fore.
Within moments of hearing “All the things we’ve made,” the last song of the album, it went straight into my 2020 playlist and conjured up moments of the slow ballads at the back end of all great Blur albums. The tiredness of Damon Albarn, of the exhausting nature of living in today with its repetitively boring worship of consumerism, or of another broken love. Modern life is rubbish. “This is a Low”, I know now Damon listened to Dazzle Ships! What a joy for me to have been given this album to listen to, and looking at it from a perspective of hearing it for the first time, 37 years after it’s release. Hearing the echoes of so many artists you love in it, and within it, the album is paying homage to their own heroes in turn. Thanks Mark for making my Saturday morning perfect.
John also told me something about this record I did not know (or possibly I forgot that I knew)… what are these Dazzle Ships of the title you may may wonder? … Well …
From Wikipedia … “Dazzle camouflage, also known as razzle dazzle (in the U.S.) or dazzle painting, was a family of ship camouflage used extensively in World War I, and to a lesser extent in World War II and afterwards. Credited to the British marine artist Norman Wilkinson, though with a rejected prior claim by the zoologist John Graham Kerr, it consisted of complex patterns of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, interrupting and intersecting each other.
Unlike other forms of camouflage, the intention of dazzle is not to conceal but to make it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed, and heading. Norman Wilkinson explained in 1919 that he had intended dazzle primarily to mislead the enemy about a ship’s course and so cause them to take up a poor firing position.”
So there we have it. The first Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark I ever bought and still my favourite one. OMD sadly do not appear again on my list of 100 favourite albums of the 1980’s.
For those that read this far … thank you. To John Rowberry for taking the time, and putting in so much effort to help me with this issue … a very big thank you.
I’ll see you back here for number 37. “In Music we Trust” … Mark Wilson