How did you get involved in this project?
I published my first book, a collection of fan memories of seeing the Rolling Stones, in 2015. I have also done books on The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Who which followed the same concept of trying to tell the story of a band in the words of the fans. Then in 2017 I co-curated a collection of fan stories about indie band The Wedding Present, working with the lead singer David Gedge.
David liked the idea of the fans’ view of the band rather than a conventional biography. Mirelle Davis, who manages OMD, used to work with David and when she saw the Wedding Present book, she liked the concept. She thought Andy and Paul would like the idea of a ‘fan history’ of the band too.
Why not just a traditional biography of the band?
Andy and Paul just felt that, with all the other projects they had on the go, including touring, they couldn’t commit the time to producing a ‘normal’ authorised biography. Plus, given the close relationship the band has with their fans, they liked this different take on their story. In the end, Andy was very involved in checking the stories and contacting celebrity fans so did commit a lot of time to the project after all. And we didn’t publish until the band were happy for the presses to roll.
So when did the book get the go ahead from the band?
The publisher, Neil Cossar, and I first met Andy at his local pub in January 2018 to talk about the project in more detail. As soon as Andy and Paul had given it the green light, the call went out via the band’s social media for people to send in stories.
Why were some fan stories not included in the book?
We had over 500 stories sent to us and it just wasn’t possible to fit them all in. Some stories were very similar to others that were submitted and didn’t make the cut because of that but mainly it was a question of space. We increased the size of the book by over 20 pages in order to squeeze more material in. And, although I interviewed Andy on three separate occasions, once he read all the fan stories together, his memory banks went into overdrive and he recalled lots of other memories that we just had to include. At the end, the stories just kept coming and coming. Plus Andy opened up his archive for us. He has an absolute treasure trove of OMD ephemera. We could probably have filled a second book just with flyers, photos, lyric sheets and other memorabilia.
What about Paul’s involvement in the book?
I interviewed Paul before I interviewed Andy. I went to see him at his Georgian terraced house in Richmond. It was a gloriously sunny day and we sat in the back garden and did the interview with me lurking in the shade to avoid getting horribly sunburnt. I only did the one interview with Paul but we chatted for about three hours. And he, like Andy, helped track down celebrity contributors to the book.
Did you interview all the famous names in the book?
I did a phone interview with BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine while I was on holiday in Cornwall, desperately hoping that the phone signal in the cottage we were staying in wouldn’t give out on me. And I did a few others. Other stories - such as those from Gary Numan, Phil Oakey and Stephen Morris of New Order - were emailed through. Andy and Paul know a lot of people after 40 years in the business.
What did you learn about the band?
Everything I learnt is in the book. Well, most of it is. One or two things that Andy and Paul told me didn’t make the final edit for different political or legal reasons! But there’s some ‘dirt’ in there. Andy was very keen to place on record that when they flew to the US on the same plane as New Order, OMD and New Order each had their own supply of drugs. Peter Hook had apparently claimed in his autobiography that OMD introduced him to cocaine and Andy wanted to set the record straight in that regard. The band were also very honest about the rigours of touring in the US and the pressures they were under towards the end of the 1980s.
Was there anyone who didn’t contribute to the book who you would have liked to have heard from?
It would have been good to have included Paul Collister’s story, as he was OMD’s first manager and of course Winston originally belonged to him. And I tried reaching out to Sir Richard Branson via a friend who knows Sir Richard’s tennis coach to get his take on the Virgin contract that Andy and Paul comment on in the book, but to no avail.
And were there any contributors you were particularly pleased to hear from?
I managed to track down Lindsey Reade via LinkedIn. It was Lindsey who fished that cassette of ‘Electricity’ out of the carrier bag and it was she who persuaded Tony Wilson to give the boys a chance and put out that first single. Had that not happened, Paul might have taken the job as a telecoms engineer, Andy would have gone off to Leeds University to do his art degree and pop music could have been very different from what it is today.
How has the book been received?
Feedback to the book so far has been really good. I’m really pleased with it, and I really enjoyed hearing everybody’s stories. I think it works well as a history of OMD. I think OMD fans will love it.
Pretending To See The Future is available now on Amazon.
Pretending To See The Future author Richard Houghton has been talking about working with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark on the new book published to mark the 40th anniversary of the band.
I have just completed my book, Jimi Hendrix - The Day I Was There, which brings together over 500 memories of Hendrix from his pre fame days through to his very last. In compiling the book I was struck by how many people were able to share with me personal memories of encountering Jimi. This, of course, is because he rose to fame in an era before personal assistants and PRs became the norm, and because he was a black man performing in 1960s America when it was still not safe to be out on the streets in certain cities. One of the most personal and affecting tales in the book is from a lady from Shreveport, Louisiana. Shreveport is home to the magnificent Municipal Auditorium, which hosted the Louisiana Hayride radio shows which brought a young Elvis Presley to fame. When Jimi came to the Auditorium on 31 July 1968, Louisiana was still a segregated city. My contributor recalls she and her two friends hanging out with Jimi after the show and him having to stay back at his hotel when the party decided to get late night food because the only place to go was the local truck stop and Jimi’s fans were savvy enough to know that a late night truck stop wasn’t a good place for a black guy to visit.
There are other instances of Jimi meeting fans and taking time out to hang with them, and clear examples of him being racially abused - use of the N word, a slice of watermelon being thrown on stage. What emerges from the book more than anything else is a picture of just how hard life must have been for Hendrix. There were drugs, girls and glamour, but often he wanted to slip away and experience a little normality.
Much has been written about what direction Jimi might have gone in musically had he lived. One possibility is that, had he been able to escape the shackles of the management which worked him like a horse and undoubtedly contributed to his early demise, he might have walked away from the spotlight altogether and just shown a few people how to play the guitar the way he did.
I specialise in oral histories of bands, telling their stories in the words of their fans and capturing people's gig memories for posterity. I'm interested in your pop and rock memories, even if it's an act I've written about before. Upcoming projects are fan memories of Prince (2019), Queen (2019), the Faces (2019) and Cream, Neil Young and Slade (2020), so if you've seen any of them, or if there's anyone you're passionate about, I'd love to hear from you. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org