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I N T E R V I E W:
guitar and keyboard playing member of OMD together with his brother Neil
Graham, please tell us how it got around to do a cooperation between the Weir Brothers and OMD in 1984?
Neil and I had been playing as a brass section in Scotland with various bands. The band 'Fiction Factory', on whose album we had worked, were managed by OMD’s management, 'Worldchief'. OMD had recorded 'Junk Culture' with a brass section on some tracks, so we were asked to do some British dates, and possibly TV for the release of 'Locomotion' as a single. When they realised we could play all the other instruments they asked us to do a world tour, filling in gaps on guitar, keyboards and bass. We tried to make ourselves indispensable, so they would ask us to stay with them.
Did you know OMD or rather their songs at that time?
Not particularly well. I liked a lot of the singles, particularly 'Souvenir', the 'Joan of Arc' ones and I had bought 'Messages'. Neil wasn’t a fan.
You are a skilled and professional musician, was it not unusual for you to work together with an electronical geared band? Andy and Paul were rather autodidacts concerning composing and they had their very own way of notation, did you feel in a way unchallenged (concerning the musical aspect)?
No, not at all. Although we had trained classically, we were both pretty hip and had been in bands playing guitars and keyboards, too. We both loved 'Pink Floyd', 'Tangerine Dream' and other experimental acts, and I loved 'Kraftwerk'. After I met Andy, it turned out that we had bought many of the same records as kids – 'Do The Standing Still' by 'The Table' sold about two copies in Britain, one to Andy and one to me. Andy and I were big Leonard Cohen fans, too, and we all had an interest in the Stockhausen/Boulez influenced composers.
In terms of a challenge, it
was technically pretty tough, because Paul and Andy hadn’t considered the key
signatures of songs with horns, which they had sampled and moved around on the
Fairlight; songs like 'All Wrapped Up' in F sharp were very hard!
Have you had any negative experiences with fans who did not like the change of style in the music of OMD at the beginning of your time with the band, particulary during your first tour?
On the first tour, no. We were welcomed enthusiastically by everyone we spoke to , who liked the new direction. The good thing was that OMD didn’t suddenly become this horn-led funk band, it was just another musical texture on the same electronic backing. In subsequent years, I think I did have some influence on styles of music; I was a huge soul and dance music fan (still am), and I think I turned Paul and particularly Andy onto some more soulful, black artists, and that influence began to creep in a bit. Some might say that wasn’t a good thing…
For the recording of the 'brass version' of 'Julias Song' (which I like very much) in 1984, you and Neil were in the studio together with OMD for the first time. How came it to that new recording and whose idea was it? Do you still have memories of how the recording proceeded?
We had been running the track in rehearsals in Belgium, and Neil and I had added the Brass riffs. When it came time to do some recording in a studio in Brussels, we included that track. It ended up as a b-side of a single, I think. I don't remeber much about the recording - studios are pretty much the same the world over.
You were involved as a songwriter in
one of the greatest hits of OMD – 'Forever Live and Die'.
How do you know all this stuff?!! That was a good feeling, certainly. I think it’s a lovely song, but, to be honest, it’s fundamentally Paul’s. It was already written, and Martin Cooper had supplied a very tasty sax break in the middle. I was always good at spotting influences in people’s writing, and, as 'Slave to The Rhythm' was a big hit for Grace Jones at the time, it was kind of obvious where Paul’s song’s groove had come from. I was laying down some guitar tracks in the studio ('Amazon' in Liverpool) and when that track came on, I built up a groovy rhythm part based on the one from 'Slave to the Rhythm'; ridiculously similar! That made the track funkier, so Martin’s sax part didn’t sit so well. I went into the studio, sang the brass and string lines down in a take, then played them on the Emulator keyboard. I got a writing credit, which I split with Neil, and the rest is history.
Here’s an illustration of plagiarism at work: the bassline in ‘Forever Live and Die’ is the same as 'You Sexy Thing' by 'Hot Chocolate', from many years before. 'You Sexy Thing' was re-released around 1989 and became a big hit, but this time it was remixed, with a brass line completely stolen from 'Forever Live and Die'! It has the same triplet feel. The ironic thing is that I originally stole it from 'Rosanna' by 'Toto'.
Unfortunately „Shame“, another song you were involved in, flopped in the charts…
that really was a 'Shame'. I wrote almost all of this song, and on the single
ended up performing most of the instruments, too. That was probably what was
wrong, perhaps it was a bit lifeless. Kim Wilde came to see us in Australia
when we were touring that album ('The Pacific Age'), and she told me it was the
stand out track, which set me thinking about writing for her (well, really
about marrying her!), but it never happened.
In various interviews it is said that without the Weir Brothers as a great joker during the endless USA-gigs in between 1986 and 1988 it would have been very cheerless within the band… How do you see this time and the times on tour at all?
Touring was the best time ever! I have certainly had a lot of high points in my life since, but as a young, single man, it’s all your dreams come true – lots of money, nice hotels, nice countries, and a couple of hours’ work a day. There’s a lot of boring, hanging around, but we all got on very well, and had great fun. Neil and I are fairly renowned for never being serious, and Mal Holmes is equally crazy, so we had some great moments of fooling about and games.
Do you have thereby specific memories of Germany?
The backstage catering was nearly always Weinerschnitzel…being amazed to find
Dr Mueller’s Sex Shop in Frankfurt Airport, and even more amazed to meet James
Brown in there…good clubs in Munich…doing an open air gig in a
park in Hamburg and having the stage invaded by 'China Crisis'…the Paderborn
festival with lots of British soldiers…Berlin in the pre-unification days…a
strange TV show we kept doing, Pop something.
Was it hard for you and Neil to assert your own musical ideas compared to the main songwriters Andy and Paul? It is said that amongst others one of the reasons for the OMD-split in 1989 was that you (as well as Malcolm and Martin) wanted to be more involved into the songwriting-process
I was keen to write – I had millions of ideas that I thought were great, but in retrospect were far too complex and involved. I used to tease Andy about his ideas for songs, because I thought they were often pretentious. Quite rightly, he couldn’t have cared less, but he did, very graciously, ask me to come up with some ideas during 'The Pacific Age' sessions.
I think that it did play a part in the tensions and subsequent split, but there were other factors, such as the biggest US hit, 'If You Leave', not having an album to back it up – a very bad mistake in terms of marketing. We toured relentlessly, and I think possibly Paul and Andy’s creativity suffered a bit. With all this touring, we were beginning to get a bit fed up with one another, and had partners and wives, so there was less attraction in coming straight off a tour and then three months in the studio. Paul is a very sweet guy, and Andy is very strong willed, so when Andy had plans for a new direction that Paul wasn’t too keen on, they began to go their separate ways.
Many fans thought and still think that Virgin, the record label of OMD, did never bring the band to market or rather did not do enough for their marketing. What do you make of it? Do you think that OMD could be as popular as i.e. 'Depeche Mode' or 'New Order' today, if they were brought to market to a greater extent?
really can't answer that; I wasn't involved in any of the marketing or record
In which OMD songs have you been significatly involved without being mentioned by name as a songwriter?
difficult one to quantify, and might cause problems.
How did you get on with the members of OMD and do you still have contact among each other?
We were all great friends. Andy had his 'moments', as we say in English, but we would just stay out his way for a little while. Nowadays, Neil and Mal are great friends (Mal was Neil’s best man at his wedding), and Mal and Mart are close, so we all know about one another, although we don’t see a lot of each other. I have seen Andy in Liverpool, and had a couple of good sessions. I haven’t seen Paul for ten years. There’s no bad feeling, it’s just our lives have gone down different paths.
Can you tell us something new about your brother Neil? What does he doing today?
Neil works in education, too. He is Senior Lecturer in a college on the west of Scotland. He has a wife and young son and still plays when he can find the time. He and Mal spent last week together.
How did you in person experience
the breakup of Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys?
As mentioned above, it was around 1987, touring 'Pacific Age' and Greatest Hits. There wasn’t much too it, they were still friends, but everybody was growing up and had other interests.
Have you and Neil been active
members of OMD until the end in 1989 or did you leave the band earlier?
I have no idea if I’m on 'Satellite' – I’ve never heard it! If I am, I’ll be giving Andy a call!
Actually, we all hated 'Dreaming', when it first appeared around the 'Crush' sessions – Andy loved it, but couldn’t get it on an album until the band was ‘his’!
remember exactly the dates, but I think it was in 1988 that we toured USA in
support of 'Depeche Mode', it was the third support tour in a row for bands that
were no bigger than us back home, and they had all conquered the US. Neil and I felt it was time to move on, so
we told the guys we would leave after that tour, which we did. I subsequently wrote with Andy for the next
album, but none of the ideas made it to 'Sugar Tax'.
How did you feel after the split of the band? How would you describe your feelings at that time – were you rather happy that it finally was all over and did you have a positive view on the future or did you have an emotional crisis whilst you did not know what the future might bring? What did you do at the first time after OMD?
No, fairly unhappy – it had been a
terrific life with a terrific bunch of guys, and we’d been all over the world,
with friends in many places, so it was hard to give that, and the money up, but
it wasn’t fun anymore, and it was obviously coming to an end, so the time was
right to go. I had met a lovely girl, now my wife, Lorene, so I was excited
about that! Mal and I did some writing, but again, we didn’t have much
direction or energy, so it fell flat. I
got into writing for TV and corporate videos, which fulfilled my creative
needs, during which I became an expert in MIDI technology such as 'Cubase' and
then I got into education.
Did you observe Andy McCluskey’s continuation of OMD in the 1990s and if yes, what is your opinion about it?
Fine – I went to his 'Sugar Tax' launch party in Edinburgh and heard some of the album, then we went out and got very drunk together. I thought 'Sailing on the Seven Seas' was very good. Andy has a good commercial ear and writes good hooks, so he deserved the success. I thought OMD died a natural, graceful death – a few singles and albums and then fizzled out.
Andy still can’t dance. His 'Atomic Kitten' project was inspired, and although not the most creative thing ever, he obviously put some very hard work into it, and was rewarded appropriately. It’s best to draw a veil over his Eurovision project!
There’s a brass version remix existing of 'Pandoras Box' (called 'The Abstract Mix'), which really sounds like the '90s' OMD meets the '80's Weir Brothers. Do you know this song?
No, and again, I’d be interested to hear if it’s me.
At the end of 2004 there have been a discussion if it made sense for OMD to play a gig again within the scope of the 'Here & Now'-Tour in England. What do you think about it and would you take part in it?
I would love to for old times’ sake, but I’m too busy
to commit to a tour. I doubt very much
if I would be asked – these tours usually only feature the 'names' and a house
band. Good luck to them – there’s an audience out there, so why not?
Which musicians except OMD did you work together with? On which records of other artists you can be heard?
'Crowded House' supported us in Australia when they first formed, and we discussed the idea of Neil and me joining them for a big American tour they were about to go on, but we couldn’t as we were off to Japan and the Far East with OMD. I wonder what would have happened?
We worked with all the Scottish bands in the 80s, 'Wet Wet Wet', 'Love and Money', 'Hue and Cry', 'Spirea X'; I can’t remember who all they are. We worked with Van Morrison and I played guitar on a 'Pale Fountains' single once! We don’t do much nowadays, unless we really like the artist. We recently did some recording and touring with a terrific act called 'Mull Historical Society', who there’s been a real buzz about, playing in Britain, US and Europe, and some TV gigs with traditional (folk) musicians.
You are now head of the 'Ian Tomlin School of Music' at the Napier University in Edinburgh. Can you tell us something about your work there? What was the way to start there?
I had been working in education since 1990 at a college of further education. I was offered a job at Napier University in 2000, designing and setting up a degree in Popular Music. I did so, and then was made the boss two years ago. The University is on a beautiful campus in Edinburgh, a lovely place to work. We have degrees in Classical music and Popular Music, and postgraduate studies in a wide range of genres. We have some very distinguished staff, and good links to several institutions worldwide.
We offer a range of summer courses including a jazz school, rock school, organ academy, singing school and the Pacific Northwest Fimscoring School – the pre-eminent film scoring programme in the world, run by Hummie Mann, the Emmy award-winning composer.
I have just returned from a week in Los Angeles, where I have been involved in setting up links to partner institutions, and further developments of our film music work.
I am involved on a daily basis in all types of music –
classical through jazz through rock, but my real big love is Dance Music,
particularly Trance. I spend my summers in Ibiza, immersed in the scene there –
I’m basically a hippy at heart!
How would you describe or sum up the time you've spent together with OMD?
When I look back on the old days, it was never my intention to get into OMD, I simply wanted to play music and see the world, and Neil and I knew that we would eventually get a call from someone, whoever, who could make it happen. When we did, it couldn’t have been with a nicer bunch of guys, and I am grateful for the experience. I’ve never drawn on it professionally, my pop music career ended after I quit OMD, but in terms of my outllook on life, it played a big part, giving me an insight to human nature that only comes with seeing the world the way I did.
As a rule, I don’t dwell on the past much, but I’m reminded of OMD every day of my life by all the gold disks on my walls, and all the memories are good. I was never required on stage during ‘Souvenir’, a song which, to this day, I still love, so every single night of every tour I would stand in the wings and watch the crowds singing along, thousands of people smiling and enjoying a special evening, and I would commit it to memory, telling myself, ‘one day, you will remember all this’.
And I do.
Thank you very much for this interview, Graham. We wish you all the best for your future!
More information about Graham Weir you will find here:
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