New Model Army @ Strummercamp – live review

seeking vengeance - New Model Army

New Model Army
Strummercamp, Manchester
June 3rd 2012

Strummercamp is one of those great small festivals that define the modern festival circuit. A shared experience for band and audience, there are about 1000 people here huddled into the clubhouse or the large marquee tent at Manchester Rugby club avoiding the non stop rain that so defines these events.

Spirits are certainly not dampened and there has been a raucous reaction to the bands all night setting it up nicely for New Model Army as John Robb observes.

The band, who have been around three decades, command a loyal following of sharply intelligent folk who are passionate about their band that have been unnecessarily shunned by the hipster media and left to exist in a bizarre limbo where they can sell out European wide shows with a fiercely loyal bond to their fanbase that would be the dream of far more feted bands.

he gig tonight shows exactly why this is. The night before New Modal Army had all their guitars nicked at a gig in Bilston but they still take the stage with borrowed gear (including your author’s nifty Les Paul Gold Top guitar) and turn in a fierce gig in a situation where most bands would have buckled and gone home in a sulk.

The added anger has added a brisk energy to their performance and their first rush of songs are fiercely punky, with that razor sharp early Clash  style polemic married to the thudding bass runs of early Stranglers thing they do so well. Not that they are copyists- NMA forged their own sound very early on in their history and there is a huge dollop of the English folk tradition in here as well, back from a period when being folk was unfashionable.

NMA swiftly understood that punk was a folk music of its time and forged their own version of it, they then somehow got tangled up in Goth and then set off on their own idiosyncratic path. Front man and band mainstay Justin Sullivan  takes no prisoners and is still a formidable presence. With his long locks floating warrior style and his commanding presence he owns the stage and his direct and focussed song writing and pure passion and that great voice define these songs in a way that would see him worshipped in the USA if he had had the good fortune to have been based there instead of fashion conscious Blightly.

There is a righteous anger and emotion in the songs that really connects with their partisan audience and the atmosphere in the tent is one of abandonment. New Model Army are unlike any other band, they have done away with the music biz and establishment a long time ago and have become kings of the festival circuit, a place where there is community of people make up their own minds about music and culture. Bands like NMA, who represent something, who mean something and whose music is about the sweat and the toil of craftsmanship score heavily in this world.

Live, you look into Sullivan’s eyes and you see smouldering anger and contempt but a big heart that beats with a love of humanity, this comes out in the songs and it’s this that confounds the critics and the academics who prefer to tidy music away into dispassionate boxes. This is the curse of these times- that passion just is not in fashion and the sneering hipsters won the battle in the end and reduced music to a series of set piece sneers for cowering fashionistas who are too scared to step out of line.

New Modal Army don’t care about any of this and as they deal out Vengeance – their song of justice; tonight there is an added tension as everyone knows that when Justin sings about ”˜getting the bastard’ he is referring to the sad sack of shit who stole the band’s guitars and he looks quite capable of getting the bastard without the aid of the flunkies and security gorillas that most bands employ these days.

New Model Army sing songs for the outsiders and the dispossed, t the resourceful outsiders who stand up on their own two feet and don’t bow to the machine. They also manage to cram this into songs that are chugging anthems or stripped down, plaintive, neo folk acoustic pieces. They should be loved by 6music and Jools Holland’s Later, they are not but sound all the better for it. They never had to jump through hoops. They never had to fake anything and are left there on their own- a unique example of a band unpoisoned by the machine.

Their performance tonight is tough, disciplined and stripped down but full of passion, melody and history. There is anger but there is always love and tenderness and loads of other things that rock bands can’t deal with that well.

There is nothing else like NMA out there on the circuit-  an army of one- dangerous.


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