Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
Now this is a Live Concert review but I thought it worth-while throwing a few lines down covering the last 40yrs of NMA, many thanks to the vast online sources in digging this up.
Ok so we all know the band formed in Bradford in 1980 by Sullivan, Morrow and Tompkins, and from the very start the band have continued to defy categories by continually changing direction. Drawing on influences that include, punk, folk, rock, metal and even classical its understandable why.
John Peel gave them the break thy needed by playing ‘Bittersweet’ and ‘Great Expectations’ on his Radio 1 show, back when Radio 1 was the force to be reckoned with in 1983. Peel is renowned for giving bands an airing that would otherwise never be heard, a great man.
They made a bit of a kafuffle on channel 4’s ‘The Tube’ in 1984, when presenter, Muriel Gray introduced them as the ‘Ugliest Band in Rock N Roll’, their choice of song had to be changed to ‘Christian Militia’ as ‘Vengeance’ had the word Bastard in it which frightened the then boss’s. They then went on to dominate the UK independent Album Chart, kicking the Smiths from the top slot, with their mini album ‘Vengeance’.
Studio Albums followed, ‘No Rest for The Wicked’ in 1985, where they were refused entry in to America as they were of ‘No Artistic Merit’. ‘Ghost of Cain’ followed soon after in 1986, Ricky Warwick (the Almighty, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders) joined them during their tour on second guitar. Folk Rock driven ‘Thunder and Consolation’ followed in 1989 which has been hallowed as a landmark album.
Around this time there were several band changes, the most notable being Peter Nelson joining them on bass and staying for the next 20yrs, Ceri Monger would take his place in 2013. ‘Impurity’ continued this folk-rock driven theme in 1990. Sullivan has said in interviews that he likes to do the opposite to what he’s already done for the next album, he duly did that with a different sound and an album cover that I remember well, it depicted how to construct a nuclear device. This was the ‘the Love of Hopeless Causes’ Album, released in 1993.
After taking some time out to sort personal and musical issues, it was apparent that Sullivan and drummer, Heaton were at logger heads, after finishing and touring the album, ‘Strange Brotherhood’ it was agreed that they’d part company, however during the tour Heaton dropped out due to medical reasons and the drum tech, Michael Dean, took over the throne for the remainder of the tour. It was also at this time that former tour manager Tommy Tee had returned as band manager. A live album followed in 1999 called “& Nobody Else’ and in 2000 the eighth album was written and subsequently simply called ‘Eight’.
Another short hiatus followed so Sullivan could conceive, write, record and tour his solo album ‘Navigating by the Stars’ which was eventually released 2003. The 9th Album ‘Carnival’ was released towards the end of 2005 and included the track ‘Fireworks Night’, Sullivan’s antiphonal reaction to Heaton’s death the previous year.
The 10th studio Album ‘High’ was written quickly and released in third quarter of 2007, again the band struggled to get US Visa’s on the first attempt, however this was overcome and the postponed dates were rescheduled for 2008. As if that wasn’t enough, at age 46 their manager Tommy Tee suddenly died.
‘Today is a Good day’ the 2009, and 11th album followed. This being a more rock orientated one, followed. The name apparently a 2008 stock market crash reference. The subsequent tour brought the band to its 30th year.
Special shows, home and abroad heralded the 30yrs. Some venues host the band over two nights as they for filled their promise to play 4 songs of each of all the albums. The final shows at the Kentish Town Forum in London resulted in an album release with no less that 58 songs recorded over the two nights, the 3rd and 4th of December 2010.
Regrettably, on that Christmas Eve a fire destroyed the bands studio and rehearsal room in Bradford, musical and recording equipment were lost along with memorabilia collected over the years. However, in three months everything was back up and running. With the recent departure of ‘Nelson’ on bass the band welcomed the afore mentioned Ceri Monger into its fold as their new bass player.
In 2013 their 12th studio album was released this was to go on to be the most successful album in 20yrs, ‘Between Dog and Wolf’ again showed Sullivan’s eccentricities as he yet again changed musical direction. A more complex Tom Tom dialogue drove the album along with a distinctive percussive beat, very different than those preceding it.
2014 saw ‘Between Wine and Blood’ released this apparently included 6 tracks that didn’t make the earlier between dog and wolf sessions, it also included eleven live tracks. Later that year a documentary film featuring the bands story premiered at the Raindance film festival in London and at the equally renowned Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal Canada.
2016 saw the 14th studio album ‘Winter’ a New York Based Music magazine heralded it as the No 1 album of 2016. And finally, having been recorded on the Norwegian Island of Giske at the Ocean Sound Recording Studios, the bands 15th album ’From Here’ was released, reaching No 13 in the UK Album Charts on the release week.
2021 sees the anticipated tour finally come to fruition. Having been postponed from 2020 we now see the band embark on a short, 5-night tour, starting at the Garage in Glasgow on November 24th it travels on to Nottingham’s Rock City for two nights, the 26th and 27th of November before finishing at London’s Roundhouse for a further two nights, 4th and 5th December. The tour is obviously the 40th Anniversary Tour, stated as 3hrs of Music spanning the bands entire career. I can’t wait!
And so, onto the night. It’s an early doors so, a quick bit of re-heated left overs, a peck on the wife’s cheek as she comes home from work, we pass in the porchway, and I’m on my way. Heading the jeep towards Nottingham yet again, Planet Rock on the wireless as we go. Getting parked up I can see that there’s quite a queue gathered already. I head for the box office only to find I’m down as a guest so I don’t have the pre-requested photo pass. A quick confirmation at my end and a chat to the girls at Rock City, I eventually end up with the pass with no drama’s. Always the best way. I get into the main hall, which already has a good crowd gathered.
I get to have a quick chat to the security and find out how the previous nights and bands have been since my last visit. It would appear that Live Music Is Back and its smashing it.
The stage is heavily backlit, the silhouette of Michael Dean’s drum kit being the only obvious item on stage, stands alone, stark and austere. There is no support band as we have two sets over the three-hour duration of the night. So the stage belongs to New Model Army.
The set list for the first set is down just moments before the band come on stage. The lights are dimmed as they arrive, Sullivan walks across the stage to huge cheers and applause as he is handed his guitar, a battered Gibson SG, he takes centre stage smiling, his gap is filled with metal.
With a few worlds to the crowd its straight into the first track, it could only really be one song to start the night. ‘Christian Militia’ belts out. The clockwork guitar clicks along as we get the intro build up and then there’s the driving bass line, solid and relentless, the crowd start singing as soon as Sullivan chirps out the first word, a good sign that the crowd are totally up for a great night.
‘Ambition’ follows, Sullivan is first at the microphone and then bouncing back into the shadows as he dad dances to the groove being laid down by Dean and Ceri Monger, in fact with the lighting being how it is, bright and in your face it very easy to forget that there’s a fourth member on stage, Dean White on guitar is very much in the shadows as he rocks his red telecaster.
The bassline of ‘Whirlwind’ heralds the start to the next great tune. With its snappy snare, Dean, on the drums, is engulfed in lights, a trade mark of the whole night to be fair. Again, the lights are, at times, none existent; as Sullivan sings into his microphone that stands centre stage, adorned with spare pics and several capo’s always a good sign as it normally means there’s not going to be to many guitar changes.
It’s been a great night so far. References are made about how old we are now, Sullivan mentions about many of the fans here tonight now have kids and some even grand kids, much to the crowd’s delight. The guitar work is great on ‘Rumour and Rapture (1650)’. Besides the acoustic being played up front, Whites guitar work in the shadows is sweet and helps drive the tune along.
This was probably not the best time to go check out the merch, I couldn’t get near it pre-show, I squeezed my way through the crowd, getting to the back of the soundboard as ‘A Liberal Education’ strikes out, great tom work on this political ballad, gets my attention, as I look stage-ward I see we have an acrobat in the room. A girl is stood on her partners shoulders and is dancing at Sullivan. An admirable feat of strength and balance as she’s going for it, arms entwining and then outstretched in time to the beat.
I complete my purchase of the compulsory tour tee shirt, sadly they aren’t furnished with the dates but it’s something I always buy when covering a band. My way of saying thank you for the opportunity to photograph them.
In the background I hear the driving bass of ‘Western Dream’. This slightly faster song is just finishing as I get back into the main hall, I diverted to the basement to get a diet coke, it’s getting hot upstairs. The clicking guitar riff echo’s the bass line as the song builds to its staccato finish.
One of my favourites NMA tunes is next, the distorted guitar driven ‘Today Is A Good Day’, Dean is having a good drum work as he gets a slight respite as the Hook is sang out by Sullivan and the crowd, the latter punching the sky as they chant as one!
The crowd are really into it, there is a great cross section in the mix, I’ve already been talking to a Norwegian fan who has come over for both nights, saying they don’t play Norway, Sweden yes but not Norway.
‘The Charge’ with its almost Black Star Riders, Ricky Warwick being the common denominator here, sound marches on, a rebel song in style as Sullivan’s monotone vocal makes this tune a solid favourite amongst the gathered fans as they bounce and rock out. Beer is being spilt around me as the dancing gets exuberant but who cares its not hurting anyone. I manage to get to my usual safe spot fairly dry. Maybe not the best spot for seeing the band but the sound is great and you can watch the crowd’s antics.
‘Believe it’, ‘Before I get Old’ and ‘Vanity’ finish the first set off. So far, we have had a great smorgasbord of old treasures.
The second set starts after what seems a quick 20-minute break. Back in the pit we are alone with Sullivan and his acoustic. Engulfed in lights, properly picked out in bright light all focused from behind him. Spots from the front stage edge, as he plays the slightly more up-beat number ‘Family Life’ to us all. A great song made all the better by Sullivan’s delicate treatment of the vocals, the crowd singing back ‘Why did they do this to you’. A great start to the second set.
‘Snelsmore Wood’ follows, the lighting has gotten more pronounced, flood lights beam around him, at times looking like Voile curtains being draped over and around the microphone and Sullivan as he rattles out this descriptive ballad, the band have joined him but as has been all night they are well back in the shadows.
‘Love Songs’ sees the band back on stage, Monger now has a set of toms stage left as he beats a rhythmical tune as Dean beats the big kit lights again very much making it a visual spectacle. ‘Red Earth’ is introduced as a song about South America, its Percussive intro begins to ring out as the drums start a slow rhythmical tribal beat, a move in a slightly different direction to the previous albums is what Carnival brought to the table. This all builds until the guitars strike up and then its back to drums beats and stop.
‘White Coats’ has the familiar bass-line, I can’t help thinking of the bass lines used in the early Stranglers albums. Strikingly distinctive and fitting to the type of attitude driven delivery being cast forth. ‘Vengeance’ had to be on the set list and its up next with its snare driven start up with a bass line full of string bends. ‘Getting the bastard’ is sung by the whole venue, the reason why it never featured on the Tube all those years ago. ‘Innocence’ follows with its wah wah guitar and staccato tom work.
As attitude driven Sullivan sings around it all, the ‘bouncing crowd’ join in with the hook. ‘Orange Trees’ sees a change in tone, acoustic guitar and strings in the background drive this song from the eighth album simply called Eight. A more mellow mainstream style with a great drum beat certainly makes this song stand out in the set. A change again and we get a floor tom rocking start to ‘Devils Bargain’ a dark and brooding tune, sees the crowd’s heads nodding as Sullivan carves his way through this firm favourite as the drums increase throughout, a great keyboard soars in the back ground as the song progresses, Sullivan’s vocal is dripping with angst as he smashes the vocal to this fine song.
‘Flying Through Smoke’ has a vague Irish lilt to it, the drum beat more Bódhran driven than drum and a penny whistle playing ghostly I the background as this short song leaves a mark, flowing into ‘High’ with its more poetic verse, sees a more rock orientated beat, again another one of the ever evolving musical directions the NMA have taken over the decades.
‘Hunt’ from The Ghost of Cain see’s us back in to the angst ridden hurly burly of the early 80’s. Classic NMA and that Bass, love it, its cutting through, not buried in the mix. The crowd have now got their second wind and are bouncing about again, their seems to be an attempt at a mosh pit or is it the ‘Pogo’ being smashed out I the middle.
The acoustic ‘51st State’ starts the wind down to the end of the second set, ‘125mph’ follows with its almost triplet beat and surf sounding guitar intro from Thunder and Consolation, this being the last album that Heaton appeared on before taking ill and his premature departure from the band. ‘Betcha’ closes the set. Its bounding drum fill crashes into a cacophonous riot in the crowd as they bounce to this tune from the first album. The clicking guitars around the drum beat grind us to the end of the set. To great cheers and applause from a hot and sweaty crowd the band leave the stage briefly.
A short Interval ensues, where a restless crowd are baying for more see’s the band back on stage to play a three-song encore. Starting off with the steady ‘Vagabonds’, a firm favourite, it sees the crowd dancing again singing along, with its marching military style snare giving it a folky feel as it rings out. ‘Stupid Questions’ follows, a billy brag style delivery soon dies out as the band kicks in and pushes this song at you. Sullivan’s voice has lost none of its attitude and strength as he pummels the crowd with song after song.
Green and Grey’ finishes the night off. With is swelling keyboard and acoustic guitar beginning reminiscent of a Pink Floyd track holds your attention. Again, Sullivan doesn’t disappoint as he poetically joins in singing of fighting and being blood soaked in casualty, its hard to figure whether this is a reference to the English in Belfast or whether its more about life around Bradford, the song is that powerful. I guess loyalty and family, leaving to better one’s self or going off to war and returning afterwards do you really achieve anything in the end. it’s a stunning song and well delivered. A great end to a great first night.
So, 40 years since they started and each song right from the erly years has lost none of its initial thought-provoking angst driven relevance.
A quick disclaimer here. During the early years I was very much a biker, so heavy metal was my bag. This attitude driven borderline punk folk style music definitely wasn’t my thing, however, like many folk, I have revisited what was around during the crazy years of my late teens and early twenties to enjoy some, only some of the sounds that past me by. New Model Army is such a band, and to be fair I’m now old enough to ‘get’ them, maybe I was too young for them back in the day.