A huge release from NMA showcasing all their best & some of their rarest ever releases leaves Adrian Bloxham very nostalgic.
I know these songs. Every word, every bass line, I know them. Back when this was released there was a buzz, a word of mouth appreciation, a âhave you heard?â and a âDid you see The Tube?â. John Peel played the singles and a network of fans appeared from the edges, from the underground alternative scene. Back when alternative meant just that. It built and built and then the album was number one and we had our heroes. They played the Polytechnic in Coventry and as one we were there. The drums and bass just went to your gut and the feeling made you want to get up and challenge. A punk spirit within a folk history story telling. Slade the Leveller led them and you listened. For this album and singles they belonged to us.
The first portion of this double cd release is the Vengeance album. The iconic logo set on white and the black, proud face set next to it. A striking image to begin with. The themes of the record are global, with âVengeanceâ and âChristian Militiaâ but rooted very much at home with âSmalltown Englandâ and âA Liberal Educationâ. The album is built on the military and tribal drum beats and the lead bass lines that make the New Model Army sound so rousing and spiritual. The warnings are there, the Far Right Fundamentalism in the US. The kids doing smack just to get attention from anyone, the uncertainty and loneliness of the teenager. The attitudes in the alternative scene towards people not liking the right music, not dancing right and not being in the right circle of friends. The feelings about the eduction system letting kids down. The righteous fire of anger at the smack dealers, the war mongers, the evil bastards that surround us. Itâs a punch in the face;Â a bloody nose of a record. Itâs a call to arms and we answered. The fervour matched by the pounding music, the anthemic choruses that we shouted at each other and the lyrics that you read and sat in your bedroom working out. This is the start of New Model Army, the folk roots are there but under the punk feel of the music. The basslines lead, going from funky to straight ahead grooves to echoing the drums. The bass makes this stand out like nothing else. The last two songs on the album are âSpirit of the Falklandsâ about the Thatcher administration fabricating the war for votes. A widely held opinion at the time and âBittersweetâ which is also their first single. It sounds youthful and fresh, with its staccato guitar and story. The first release and where it came from.
The rest of the cd is made up of the single and EP releases both before and after Vengeance. âBetchaâ, an encore favourite form the gigs I saw if I remember rightly, is all rolling aggressive drums and a message about fighting in relationships, a pure slice of aggression and a call to arms. The singles from before the album go from what came to be the sound on the album, the start of New Model Army to more alternative sounding songs, âTensionâ has a real Siouxsie and the Banshees feel to it, âWaitingâ reflects a Cure like sound. However âGreat Expectationsâ is a step away from that and a closer link to the album, the wishes of youth, the expectation that the world is yours and the realisation that it isnât going to be like that.
The Price was the single that came after the album and the four songs are an immediate step forward, the opening of âThe Priceâ with its piano and faded sigh leads into the drums building. Justinâs voice is emotive and desperate. The hatred for the state of the country returns with â nineteen eighty fourâ written as the North of the England turned into a battleground between striking miners and the police. Which leads to the âNo Mans Landâ of life on the dole, feeling helpless and listless and not having anything. What New Model Army did was to give the people a ray of hope at the time. Any voice speaking out made us think. The last track is a fairly pointless remix of Vengeance by Zion Train from 1994, really, for collectors only.
Now the second disc is where this gets really interesting. This collection is released by the band themselves after acquiring the rights to all of the pre EMI recordings and as part of the package they have given us nine songs that really have never been released, demos of songs Iâve never heard before and underneath the patchy production and the rough choppy nature of the music you can hear the bare bones of another Vengeance, another album that never saw the light of day. Was it deemed not good enough? I suppose that as Vengeance was as near to perfect at the time as it could have been perhaps they didnât need these songs. The nine songs are definitely demo recordings. They are not quite the sound that New Model Army became but the roots of it are there, the bass and drums lead them and the folk history that Justin has made an integral part of their sound is built already. Several of them feel as if they could have been massive, both âParalysedâ and âNew Frontiersâ sound as if they could have been anthems to sit alongside the bands best. A fascinating look into the history of the band. The fact that they are released now is a brave move. But thinking as a New model Army fan why would they buy this just for songs they already have? The band have always been protective of their fanbase and the fans have always been fiercely loyal. This is for those fans because they deserve to be heard.
The rest of the CD are radio sessions, all released on various different versions over the years. I always really liked the radio sessions, finding out when they were on from your mates, tuning the radio in and recording the songs on cassette to play later and keep.
These versions arenât radically different, and the fact that they are a little cleaner and crisper doesnât detract from the music. The first eight tracks are just a little different form the album, the drums echo more on âSmall Town Englandâ, âGreat Expectationsâ sounds harder and more rounded. There are still raw edges and the differences work to the bands advantage too, the version of âChristian Militiaâ is as near to perfect as you can get.
The last three tracks are from what came next, all are from the No Rest album and they are the first steps forward from the rest of this collection. The feeling is more folk orientated and the messages are nearer to home. I remember Justin introducing âDrag It Downâ by saying âYouâve got to believe in something and it might as well be God? If not him, what?â the winner writes history. The subject of the other songs are the feeling of fear that the Thatcher years had made seep across the country and the story of the night before an attack. Is tomorrow going to be where it ends, will I die in the morning?
New Model Army have given us their start. A collection of folk edged punk fire. If you came from the same place that I did you will already know these songs and the sentiments behind them. You will wonder why the unreleased music wasnât put out there and you will remember dancing with a hundred like minded foolish teenagers as they played their hearts out. A reminder of a band forged in the North of the country not touched by fashion and whim but who triumphed anyway, seizing their moment and with a clenched fists held their heads high.
Buy it from here – http://shop.newmodelarmy.org/new-vengeance-the-whole-story-p-858.html
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All words by Adrian Bloxham. More articles by Adrian on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive here.