Before becoming a pop star with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Andy McCluskey spent much of his spare time fixing cars with his dad.
That was one of two ways the British musician earned pocket money as a teen in the 1970s. The other was walking his father’s racing greyhounds.
“Assisting my father doing brake pads and underneath cars was definitely the least-preferred option,” recalls McCluskey, whose reunited band will play two dates in Toronto this July to promote their new album, English Electric.
“I heard words come out of my father’s mouth at a young age that I really didn’t need to hear. I grew up hating cars.”
McCluskey’s father wasn’t an auto mechanic by trade; he was an engineer. But a gambling habit forced him to work on cars on weekends to earn more money to “lose at the greyhound track,” as McCluskey puts it.
Growing up in Heswall, a working-class suburb of Liverpool, the singer-songwriter of hits like “If You Leave” and “Enola Gay” says his dad’s attitude was why spend money on a new car when you can keep an old one running.
“He always had really old, absolutely crap derelict cars,” he says. “So not only did the car travel with every spare part in the trunk, but underneath the staircase in our house, it was like a garage. There were engine parts and oily rags.”
Even family vacations — road trips through Scotland — meant waiting on the side of the road while his father helped stranded motorists fix their cars.
“I just grew up loathing cars, loathing the fact that I would wake up on a Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. and I could already hear my father outside swearing with his wrench in his hand.”
As a result, McCluskey didn’t get his driver’s licence until he turned 20 in 1980. Already a pop star with two albums out, that was the same year he bought his first car.
But bowing to his father’s influence, he paid about 200 pounds for a ride like no other — a retrofitted, late-’60s Ford Cortina Mark II Estate station wagon.
“The guy that we bought it off of was a friend of my father’s who was disabled, so the whole steering column was full of these extra levers and things, which could control all of the pedals by hand,” he chuckles. “My God, this thing was a piece of crap!
“Most of the rust was on the underside of the vehicle and so, particularly the passenger-side footwell, was basically like a sponge. The carpet was constantly full of water and, in fact, grew mushrooms.
“This car, a chick-magnet it was not.”
That point was driven home when he dated a local model who had just been named Miss Great Britain. Stepping into the passenger-side mushroom farm, she quickly suggested they take her car — a sporty Triumph with the words Miss Great Britain etched down the side.
“Every time we pulled off at a traffic light, people would look at the side of the car, read it and say, “Oh, there’s Miss Great Britain!’ I’d be sliding down in my seat,” he groans at the memory.
McCluskey kept the station wagon for almost a year, fearing their early success would wane and the band would need something to ferry their equipment around.
“We were budgeting for failure,” McCluskey admits.
It was the same impetus for purchasing their own recording studio, The Motor Museum in Liverpool. A former car collector’s display space, the studio still has a stained-glass Rolls Royce window on its facade.
“My first brand new car was a charcoal grey Ford Cortina Mark V, which was still not exactly the most salubrious pop-star car around,” he says. “We didn’t get into this to be pop stars, so the mundane choice of car was part of the whole ethos.
“Had I rocked up in a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce, it would have undermined my kind of intellectual credibility.”
Over the decades, though, McCluskey’s cars have become more posh: two BMW 633s, a BMW 750i, a Mercedes-Benz ML430 and a diesel M-Class.
But only one of them was new, thanks to his father’s ongoing influence.
“He’s still there. He’s still with me even though he died nine years ago. He’s still there in the back of my head: ‘Son, don’t buy a new car. Let somebody else lose the first 50 per cent!’