New Model Army 'hewn from the granite of true talent...'
New Model Army ‘hewn from the granite of true talent…’

New Model Army
Beautiful Days Festival
August 18th 2012
Live Review

It’s pretty early on in this epic, sweeping set that you suddenly notice something quite odd is going on.

New Model Army, it is fair to say, have been around a long time. They are as craggy and old as the hills that surround the festival- and that’s a good thing because they remain as obstinate and beautifully stubborn as the rain soaked former mill towns they came out of all those years ago. They have become more like a community than a band. A band locked into a very individual take on the world that reflected that of its loyal fan base. A band that never lost its spittle and passion and idiosyncratic talent.

Tonight, though, the Family, that evergreen fan base has been supplemented by hordes of youthful teenagers, many of them girls who are doing the old climbing on shoulders, eyes shut tight, hand jive thing, singing along with these powerfully emotional songs like their lives depended on it.

How did this happen? How did they discover a band that has been traditionally shunned by the media and written out of history by a snooty press?

And yet they are here as impassioned and in love with the band as the old school fans who have followed New Model Army through thick or thin.

Maybe people are getting bored of quick fix bands and the notion that music has something to do with fashion. Maybe they are seeking further than being a hipster and delving into the Internet throwing up these bands like New Model Army whose sweat drenched passion strikes a chord.

Since their debut release in 1984 the band, built around key member Justin Sullivan’s powerful and brooding vision, and his powerful songs with heartfelt poetry that seeks a truth in politics and life have survived outside the corruption of the system. They sing of a truth that has also bruised the band like on their notorious run ins with the American authorities when trying to get visas.

Sullivan creates his powerful music and everything else has to get out of the way. It’s a direct approach that plays no games and is a strong part of the band’s appeal. The current line of the group is doing justice to these songs and they sound powerful and hungry as the songs switch from from the more direct arms aloft anthems like to the bands more direct punish rants.

It’s a rare thing to see a band so connected with its audience. They are both feeding off each others energy, this is a band that never compromised. They may be very much part of this huge underground Levellers hosted scene, after all Simon Friend form the Levellers was once part of the Family- following them around and they’ve shared the gigs, followers, concerns and battlefields but New Model Army are not about scenes they exist on their own. Folk troubadours with electricity.

young fan of NMA  looks like a ghost stood on the hands of the many...
young fan of NMA looks like a ghost stood on the hands of the many…

Sullivan is a compulsive stage performer with a charismatic neo preacher man atmosphere about him as he assaults the mic whilst he stares at the audience eyeball to eyeball. This is the heart felt passion that many talk about and most fake. Belying his 56 years he is like his music, ageless and timeless, hewn from granite and the fire breathing soul power of the layman preacher.

You can almost imagine him in the Victorian times emerging from the misty hills with a shamanic leer and a cloak ranting about the ills of the world with a loyal crowd spellbound by his wild eyed nature.

In the 21st century it’s still rock n roll that provides a space for these mavericks, these outsiders who won’t play the banal music biz game. The set races past, powerful emotions are unleashed, the packed audience are spellbound. You can see the whites of their eyes as they match the passion of the singer- many of them too young to have seen anything like this before but equally mesmerised by the power.

This is a rare moment in collective communal power, an object lesson in how to deliver rock n roll and tonight New Model Army are triumphant, another battle won in the English Civil War…

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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