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  • Writer's pictureNick Meynell

New Model Army - Northampton Roadmender, 27th February 2024

Updated: Mar 3

I must declare an interest - I do like New Model Army (NMA), but it has really only been an interest of mine for about 15 years, although I did catch them at the Reading Festival in 1989. My gig spreadsheet - yes, I am that sad, and this is easily the most useful spreadsheet I have ever made - says that this is NMA gig number 21, and the 5th at the rather compact and homely Roadmender too. I remember seeing Radiohead on The Bends here in 1995 which was incredible, unlike their post ‘OK Computer’ drivel.

 

A former colleague of mine got into NMA early on in Bradford. He was working for the British Communist Party at the time and helping with food parcel deliveries for striking miners in the local pits. He was clearly very politicised, as were NMA - a natural match. He later became a music teacher at an independent Prep School next to my school, and somehow his past political activities seemed to make no difference. A few years ago, I saw the band at the Rock City in Nottingham with him, and it was his 200th NMA gig. He reckoned others had done more! At the time he had actually seen the band more times overall than that current line-up had seen each other play! By this time, the only original band member was Justin Sullivan aka Slade the Leveller.



So, I am a relative newcomer and this is a devoted fanbase, which used to buy ‘season tickets’ for entire tours. Justin once asked at a NMA gig in Leamington Spa (my hometown) whether anyone actually lived there. Only a handful did so. Others had travelled from all over contributing to our local economy. Would be easier if they just played in Bradford and fans travelled there continuously to see them play? Similar to that old Velvet Underground adage that 'not many people ever saw the Velvet Underground, but...', not that many people follow NMA, but those that do go to many of their gigs!


So their new LP, Unbroken, is studio album number 16 since 1984 and they have something like 250 songs to choose from. They could look back and play some of their 'hits' from their early period (Vengeance) and their most commercial period (Thunder and Consolation) but instead they play 8 songs from their new LP, leaving only three out. That’s what I really rate about them, they are definitely no tribute band to themselves and instead very much look forward. Each album is slightly different and reflective of their changing line-up. Something like 14 band members have had some involvement over the 42 years, so it is not quite like the late Mark E Smith and The Fall, but there have been some personnel changes which have helped keep them fresh.



I suspect that even if 67 year-old Justin Sullivan was no longer with us, there would still be a New Model Army and there would also be a 'family' - their multi-generational informal collective of fans. Interestingly, their German fanbase seems more substantial and younger based on my two gigs at the 4,000 capacity Koln Palladium, which might explain their extensive touring there and German record company. We are standing close to the mixing desk, watching the half decent, and very likeable support Headsticks. Along pops Justin to watch them for a bit. Some fans smile at him and say a polite hello, but no selfies or conversations, just mutual respect for privacy.


So, this is pretty much a warm up before an extensive European, UK and South American tour and they seem exceptionally well rehearsed. Little do I realise that two days later I'll witness singer Ian McCulloch's Bunnymen warming up in Gloucester and showing a need for considerably more rehearsal time! New songs like First Summer After and Coming Or Going seem like they've been played for years. The anger is still there with new offering Reload - 'If I have to see another fucking Union Jack flying on the orders of the government..,' You get the idea, this could still be 1984.



New songs Do You Really Want To Go There and Deserters both having their live debuts, sandwiching No Greater love from 1985's No Rest For The Wicked. Green And Grey, a song describing young people leaving cities like Bradford and 'those who had chosen to stay' usually does get an airing, and most people's view of the stage is blocked by several on shoulders, and in a more unique NMA style, someone standing on another poor guy's shoulders. I've seen this at close hand. It takes four pairs of supporting hands as well as a sturdy pair of shoulders - quite some teamwork.

 

Idumea offers a little bit of 'world music' whilst If I Am Still Me involves a more drum-based sound which much of their early music misses out on. They finish on Wonderful Way To Go which would be a wonderful way to finish, but we still get three encores with Get Me Out sending the moshpit wild. It all looks very aggressive, and I always feel very under-pierced, under-tattooed and lacking facial hair, but it’s all pretty safe. The security even turn a blind eye to the acrobatics. They know this fanbase are as well rehearsed as the band.


We do the ‘get out’ into the cold Northampton drizzle and reflect on another very professional performance. This band are well worth another listen even if you gave them a miss and dismissed them as too gothy or two folky (or whatever) in the late 80s. They maintain their integrity and respect their audience without being patronising and condescending. If you get to see them live, you'll be impressed with their energy, their originality and their seamless transitions. 



I would also recommend listening to an interview with Justin Sullivan. He is certainly, along with The Chameleons’ Mark Burgess, one of the most eloquent and measured individuals in the industry. I hope that the year brings you many more fantastic live music opportunities.

 

Editor: That’s another great guest blog from Nick Meynell. If you fancy writing a piece, Back In Black(heath) would be delighted to publish it and put it out into the world. Give us a shout if you fancy it!

 

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x

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