Orlando was the most successful and visible band to emerge from the extremely brief romo movement of the mid-'90s. Led by songwriter/keyboardist Dickon Edwards, Orlando combined the stylish, synthesized dance-pop of the early '80s with Pulp's sense of purpose, the Manic Street Preachers' sense of outrage, Morrissey's sense of humor, and a lyrical stance that bordered on the explictly gay. Thanks to journalist Simon Price, the duo became a sensation on the pages of Melody Maker, who grouped Orlando with bands like Plastic Fantastic, DexDexter, and Hollywood as romo bands -- i.e., bands that revived the stylistic sensibilities of New Romantics and crossed it with modernist art. Despite a huge push within the media, romo failed miserably, with Melody Maker's package tour playing to audiences of less than 100 in early 1996. Most of the bands crashed and burned following the tour, but Orlando persevered, becoming one of only three romo bands to actually release singles.
It's nearly impossible to separate Orlando's story from the saga of Dickon Edwards, the leading light behind the duo. Born in Bildeston, a small village in Suffolk, England, Edwards -- who was named after a boy in the children's book The Secret Garden, even though his parents officially registered him as Richard, fearful of the torment he would receive as a strangely monikered child -- concerned himself with his studies and he was a good student until his last year, when he was in the sixth form. At that time, he began questioning whether he wanted to go to college. Inspired by Dead Poets Society, he dropped out of school and ran away from home. Although he reconciled with his parents, he had left school for good and began studying theater, eventually enrolling in the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in 1991. By that time, he had developed a fervent obsession with indie rock, largely through the British music weeklies and John Peel. In the early '90s, he developed an obsession with the cute, twee pop of Sarah Records and Heavenly in particular, following the band from gig to gig. By the mid-'90s, he was spending a lot of time in London, where he met Tim Chipping, who was heavily involved in the Camden Lurch scene. The two began attending concerts, seeing bands like Field Mice and Another Sunny Day.
In 1992, Dickon began publishing a fanzine called Studbase Alpha -- a parody of the title of Saint Etienne's first album, Fox Base Alpha -- which consisted primarily of his thoughts and poetry. Within the fanzine, he mentioned he had a band called Orlando, named after the Virginia Woolf novel. He didn't, actually, but soon after reading Kevin Pearce's book on Mod, Something Beginning with O, he realized that Orlando was destined to become an actual band. Dickon had the concept of pulling the strings for a band fronted by an effeminate male, sending up the concept of the female-fronted indie band. Despite his dream, Orlando originally consisted of himself and his friend Simon Kehoe, and the duo began making spoken word tapes at home. Soon, the duo added Chipping, who had been playing in a post-Huggy Bear and lo-fi band, formed an allegiance. With Tim on board, as well as guitarist Stephen Jeffries, Orlando nearly fulfilled Dickon's vision, but the group was becoming too guitar-oriented for his tastes. Eventually, Kehoe, Jeffries, and Chipping all left the band.
Moving to London, Edwards revamped the group into a dance-pop band, with the idea of making Stock-Aitken-Waterman music with intellectual lyrics. Chipping rejoined as vocalist and Dickon began collaborating with keyboardisit Sean Turner, who left the group after just one song, "Just for a Second," because he didn't like Edwards' lyrics or Tim's flamboyant voice. Frustrated, the duo recorded some old songs under the name Shelley for Sarah, but the EP was ignored upon its spring 1995 release. Shortly afterward, Orlando was revived, with Neil Turner and Mike Austen providing instrumental support. Inspired by the success of Menswear and then despaired by thedisappearancee of Richey Edwards in the Manic Street Preachers, the duo decided to appeal to the middle ground between the two extremes, but wound up sounding like New Romantics. By networking throughout the Camden scene, the duo got the name of Orlando to all the right journalists and DJs, and they soon received a glowing review of their debut gig from Simon Price in Melody Maker. During October, Melody Maker ran a cover story about the romo movement, of which Orlando was one of the most prominent bands, before any of the artists had even released a record. However, the spread led to a deal with Blanco y Negro for Orlando. In the spring of 1996, Orlando's "Nature's Hated" was featured on a Melody Maker romo giveaway tape.
In the summer of 1996, Orlando released their first EP, Just for a Second, which received decidedly mixedreviewss, ranging from Price's enthusiastic praise to several other publications who panned it. Magic EP followed in the fall, and it received similar reviews. The "Nature's Hated" single was scheduled for spring release in 1997.
Orlando finally delivered their full-length debut, Passive Soul, in September 1997. It was greeted with indifference and generally lukewarm reviews. The label barely supported the album and the group failed to launch a full-scale English tour. Within a month of its release, Passive Soul had disappeared. By the end of the year, Dickon unleashed a shocker -- he was leaving the band to start the harder-edged Fosca. Tim continued with Orlando, working on new material in early 1998. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi