Mark Jenkins Listening Pool Interview


Mark Jenkins listens to Paul Humphreys’ stories of pooled resources


A founding half of pioneering electro-pop band Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Paul Humphreys left the team in 1990, taking two
other band members -Mal Holmes and Martin Cooper- along with him to form the Listening Pool.
All of which begs the question – why haven’t we heard more from The Listening Pool since then? And if Paul has all the band members, why
does Andy McCluskey still have the name Orchestral Manoeuvres?


Unsurprisingly, the dreaded music-business lawyer lies behind the problems. “Andy and myself had 50/50 rights to the name ‘Orchestral
Manoeuvres'(the ‘In The Dark’ bit having latterly been dropped),” explained Paul during a recent visit to London. “But he wanted to go
more electronic and I wanted to go more organic, so we came to a financial arrangement and he kept the name. There was some bad blood after the split, but that’s all healed now and we see each other quite often. However, after that stage I realized that I still had obligations both in terms of recording contracts and of management contracts as a solo artist, and it took two and a half years to clear the slate.”

Paul went to the USA, where he now lives, for part of the time, feeling that after 12 years OMD had become a ‘touring machine’ and wanting to do
something different. Part of the band’s success stemmed from the fact that they had established their own studio in the early days, and so they had infinite flexibility in their use of recording time. Latterly, though, even that advantage was lost as the studio was torn part and the band increasingly booked themselves into commercial set-ups. The independence of their own label, Telegraph, signed to Virgin for the Dazzle Ships album, was largely illusory, but it’s Telegraph that Paul has now revived as a vehicle for The Listening Pool and for many other artists, including China Crisis. “I’m enjoying spending part of my time as a musician and part of my time running the label,” says Paul. “I learned a lot about the business with OMD, and it’s very satisfying to be able to apply that.” One of the first releases on Telegraph is The Listening Pool’s album
Still Life. It includes the track Oil For The Lamps Of China, which was released as a single some 18 months ago. “We released that a little too early, because it got lots of air play interest but our distribution wasn’t really together. Now we’re issuing Meant To Be as a single, then possibly Where Do We Go From Here?, and maybe Oil For The Lamps Of China again.


Paul’s major early influence is football (shouldn’t that be Kraftwerk or something? – Ed), “To be honest, I got into keyboards by accident. I’d had a few piano lessons but I was more interested in football. Then I went to study electronics in college, built a synthesizer, had to learn a little bit about it and found that a lot of local bands were looking for synth players. I liked techno stuff like Kraftwerk, but now the material has a more ambient structure, it uses a lot of technology but
sounds very organic. Most of it was written over a period of time, because for a long time all we were allowed to do was write.” The band’s working practices are unusual is some ways. “We don’t always work together. Sometimes I come over from the US with some ideas on cassette, created on a Macintosh Quadra 840 running Studio Vision. That’s great because you can compose on it and run audio alongside – it has four audio tracks but only two outputs, which are demo quality. So there’s some MIDI on the album, but also a lot of live playing which is added afterwards.

“Mal does the drum parts and some songwriting, with some of the drums live and some coming form loops modified on the Akai S1000 or S3000 to make the groove exactly right. Martin plays keyboards and a little sax – he felt he was too rusty to play much on this album. He prefers a heavier keyboard action to me and tends to play the piano parts.” The Vision package used to create much of the album is similar to Cubase, but Paul also uses Passport’s Master Tracks Professional v5 and ports composition over to Studio Version. “Steve Hague has always used Macs and I was very impressed with what he did on the later OMD stuff. When we tour, which will probably be as a six-piece, we may take some type of sequencer out with us, or we may use a disk recorder like the Alesis Data Disk for backings.”


Plans for the development of the Telegraph label -distributed by BMG in this country- are fairly well formed. “We’ve picked up China Crisis -EMI chucked 10 bands off the Virgin roster when they took over, including them- and we’ll put out a live LP for them followed by a new studio album. There’s also a classical album from Nicola and Alexandra Bibby, mostly of French music. That’s finished except for the final Sound Tools editing session, and we have a girl singer from Manchester and other acts from that part of the world -we’ll probably get six albums out altogether this year.” And as for the future of The Listening Pool? “We have a lot of spare ideas because I’ve been working on new songs in the USA. The next album will probably be very different, maybe more upbeat, maybe even a bit more rocky.”


Although boasting a lush sound, the album was recorded largely at Paul’s Rhythm Ranch studio on a single tascam 16-track with a Studiomaster desk. Synths used include: Roland D-50, Akai S1000 and S3000, Kork M1R, Waldorf Microwave, Roland Super Jupiter module, Oberheim Matrix 1000, Yamaha TX802, Minimoog, MIDIMoog, Oberheim Two-Voice, Roland Jupiter 8 and SH-101. “Andy and myself also ended up with a Mellotron each, and I’ve kept an Emulator IIX, which is good for grungy loops. “We can achieve very good production quality with this set-up just through being very careful. We learned a lot with OMD from engineers like Tom Lord Alge and Steve Hague, so we can use the facilities we have to the out most. We’ve got good outboard effects like Lexicon reverbs and Urei compressors, and decent speakers like Yamaha NS10s and NS40s. Now I’m getting into the Yamaha ProMix 01 automated mixer, which is great because you can reset it so quickly. It allow you to get some perspective on a song then return to it easily.”

The Listening Pool Still Life Telegraph Records (via BMG) TLGCD002.



Many thanks to Guillermo Nunez for contributing this article for posting