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New Model Army

+ {Justin Sullivan}

Lifting their name from Oliver Cromwell’s anti-royalist forces in the 17th century English civil war, anti-politico post-punk posse NEW MODEL ARMY – as always, led into verbal battle by Justin Sullivan – have proved their staying power by reaching Top 40 status again in 2013 after two decades in the chart wilderness. Spurred on by the leftist, anti-Thatcher feeling arising when the Iron Lady ruled sorry Britannia in the 1980s, Sullivan and Co plotted to rid the nation of its leader – not by violence – but by rolling out a barrel of anti-war anthems and rabble-rousing “oi”-ish folk songs; their revolution best served by typical dirges `No Rest’, `Smalltown England’, `Spirit Of The Falklands’ and `51st State’.
Formed 1980 in Bradford, West Yorkshire, singer/songwriter/guitarist Slade The Leveller (the nom de plume initially adopted by Quaker lad Justin Sullivan until later in the decade) was joined by bassist Stuart Morrow and first drummer Phil “Tom Tom” Tompkins; the latter was almost immediately superseded by Rob Waddington, who was indeed (summer ’82) replaced by long-termer Robert Heaton. It must be said also, that Bradford-based punk poet/spoken-word artist, JOOLZ Denby (Justin’s partner/future wife) played her part as support act in the group’s promotional tours.
Following a one-off release, `Bittersweet’, for the small independent Quiet label, NMA moved on to the larger operation, Abstract Records; the exclusive `Great Expectations’ preceded a debut mini-set, VENGEANCE (1984) {*7}. With songs like the bass-heavy `Christian Militia’, `Spirit Of The Falklands’, `Smalltown England’ and the title track, the group had attracted a notoriously partisan, clog-footed following, their uncompromising anti-Thatcher-ite stance and crusty-punk musical assaults endearing them to those actively dropping out of the prevailing 80s ethos.
Further tracks such as `No Mans Land’ and `1984’ (the bonus sides to subsequent single platter, `The Price’), laid out their political agenda in bruising style, NEW MODEL ARMY’s growing popularity subsequently leading to a deal with E.M.I. Records. The irony of signing with a multi-national corporation wasn’t wasted on the band’s more scathing critics, although the fact that their music was now more widely available than ever, was no doubt justification enough for such a move; a major label double-header debut, `No Rest’ / `Heroin’ (the latter’s subject matter resulting in an IBA ban), cracked the Top 30, while a full-length follow-up album, NO REST FOR THE WICKED (1985) {*7}, almost reached the Top 20. Sounding remarkably like TOM ROBINSON in his “2-4-6-8” new wave heyday, 30-something punk preacher Justin fired the flames of a disgruntled youth by way of `Grandmother’s Footsteps’, `Frightened’, `Better Than Them’ and `My Country’.
In light of this homeland chart success, a ban from performing in America – reputedly on the grounds of poor artistic quality! – looked all the more untenable. With 17-year-old Jason “Moose” Harris replacing Morrow, NEW MODEL ARMY continued to kick against the pricks throughout the latter half of the 80s on such grimly defiant albums as the Glyn Johns-produced THE GHOST OF CAIN (1986) {*6} and the partly Tom Dowd-touched THUNDER AND CONSOLATION (1989) {*8}. The first of these sets was notable for the inclusion of NINE BELOW ZERO harmonica man, Mark Feltham, on the single `Poison Street’ and `Ballad’, while Ashley Cartwright’s lyrics were utilized on sarcastic anti-government minor hit `51st State’; opening track, `The Hunt’, was thought worthy of metallic reproduction by Brazilians SEPULTURA.
A transitional time for NMA in ’87, Northern Irishman RICKY WARWICK filled in on guitar before going off to find fame in The ALMIGHTY; meanwhile, violinist extraordinaire ED ALLEYNE-JOHNSON (also a future solo artist) became part of the set up on the aforementioned late 80s Top 20 album. Ironically, the band were now granted a US visa, more or less on the strength they’d added Ed, who could double on keyboards. From the mighty `Stupid Questions’, the heart-wrenching `Vagabonds’ and the Celtic-folk of `Green And Grey’ (all Top 40 hits), to the meaningful `Ballad Of Bodmin Pill’, quality-control was no longer necessary.
Without young Moose delivering his bass licks; his berth taken by multi-instrumentalist Peter Nelson (ex-Brotherhood Of Lizards), while guitarist Adrian Portas was added, the band’s next set IMPURITY (1990) {*6} forged ahead with worldly tales from the Iron Curtain and Australia. Probably filling a void left by The CLASH or battling in fields where Welsh anthemists The ALARM stood their ground, Yorkshire’s NMA were still a Top 30 proposition, despite the usual flak from the music press. Always heartfelt and honest in their sweep in anything of injustice and oppressive, minor hits `Get Me Out’, `Purity (Is A Lie)’ and `Space’, also complemented the band’s inaugural live double-set, RAW MELODY MEN (1991) {*6}, alongside several usual suspects; note that ALLEYNE-JOHNSON was ready to move into solo pastures. The following June, Justin’s mortality was put under threat when he was nearly killed after being electrocuted on stage.
In line with the new age travelling movement’s increasing concern with environmental matters and the rise of bands such as the LEVELLERS, NEW MODEL ARMY gradually moved away from jackboot punk towards a more traditional folky approach; the tellingly-titled THE LOVE OF HOPELESS CAUSES (1993) {*7} marking the first fruits of a new deal with Epic Records. Never strangers to controversy, there was a minor storm over the attendant `Here Comes The War’ single; the record’s enclosed instructions on how to construct a nuclear device typical of NEW MODEL ARMY’s militantly subversive approach.
A live album by JUSTIN SULLIVAN (featuring guitarist Dave Blomberg) was issued in ’95 by his own Wooltown imprint. Entitled BIG GUITARS IN LITTLE EUROPE {*5} and recorded in Sweden and Holland a year previously, a number of fresh songs were combined with a few from his NMA manifestations; tt was also an opportunity for Justin and JOOLZ to branch out on the first of a couple of collective RED SKY COVEN “volumes” with folkies REV HAMMER.
After an extended hiatus, NEW MODEL ARMY (Sullivan, Heaton, Nelson, plus newcomers Blomberg and keyboardist Dean White) returned in 1998 with the strings-enhanced, Eagle Records-endorsed STRANGE BROTHERHOOD {*4} album. Missing the spark and bite of previous releases, the sprawling set was nevertheless highlighted by `Wonderful Way To Go’, `Gigabyte Wars’ and the U2-esque `Over The Wire’.
Always an exciting prospect live in concert, NMA self-issued the double …& NOBODY ELSE (1999) {*6}, filling time between their poignantly-titled studio offering EIGHT (2000) {*7}. In the meantime, drummer Michael Dean was drafted in to replace long-time servant Heaton, who’d later die of pancreatic cancer on 4th November 2004. Sullivan proved himself a master of foreboding, acoustic atmospherics when not railing full pelt against his chosen targets and, with gripping tracks, `Flying Through The Smoke’, `You Weren’t There’, `Paekakariki Beach’ and the COHEN-esque `Someone Like Jesus’, the band looked to be on a high.
Deciding instead to release a studio solo set with a few NMA accomplices, JUSTIN SULLIVAN delivered NAVIGATING BY THE STARS (2003) {*6}, a measured group of songs that identified with the spirit of the man’s maturing nature. Released around a year later for his Attack Attack imprint, Justin Sullivan & Friends combined the old with the new on the live TALES OF THE ROAD (2004) {*5}.
NEW MODEL ARMY were back on track, and as always forever sharp, for 2005’s comeback, CARNIVAL {*6}, an intense study of the time’s recurring hardships: poverty, power and everything in between; almost preaching in a ROGER WATERS-type aplomb, `Too Close To The Sun’, `Red Earth’ and the swirling `Another Imperial Day’, were singular in an attempt by the righteous brother Sullivan to rid the world of its ills and corruptive oligarchies.
When guitarist Marshall Gill and short-stop violinist Anna Esslemont replaced Blomberg for the Chris Kimsey-produced HIGH (2007) {*6} – incidentally, Chris Tsangarides co-produced their previous effort – NEW MODEL ARMY looked to be finding a new audience among the country’s soon-to-be disaffected and recession-torn youth. To mark nearly 30 years in the business, and taking the title of the live FUCK TEXAS, SING FOR US (2008) {*6} from a chant by its New Orleans audience (at Hi Ho Lounge), one could not falter the passion and the power from both parties. In keeping with the spirit and tradition of the quintet’s newfound aspirations, TODAY IS A GOOD DAY (2009) {*6}, found heart and soul within their ever-burgeoning fanbase.
Then came the big surprise when, after years of life in the lower divisions of rock, NEW MODEL ARMY (Blomberg in for Gill) again hit the UK Top 40. Co-produced in Los Angeles with Joe Barresi, BETWEEN DOG AND WOLF (2013) {*7} drew from Justin’s environ-friendly psyche, the set obviously registering with old fans who’d slowly but surely been turned back on by the pulsing rhythms of `Horsemen’, `March In September’, `Seven Times’, the title track et al.
Following on from a similarly-veined BETWEEN WINE AND BLOOD (2014) {*6} – a mini-set of 6 fresh tracks and a full live-set – and a limited-edition triple boxed-set, BETWEEN WINE AND BLOOD LIVE (2015) {*7} – recorded live the previous Xmas – there was finally some meat in the bones for fans on the summer 2016-released WINTER {*7}. Who would’ve thought that after three and a half decades in the biz that Justin and his NMA tribe of chieftains would still be reeling off their rebellious revelry. A fascinating renaissance of what punk’n’roll might’ve sounded had Cromwell or other historical figures been plugged in, they excelled themselves on just about every slice of spine-tingling tracks; press-play `Beginning’, `Burn The Castle’, `Part The Waters’, `Drifts’, the title track and the TOM ROBINSON BAND-like anchor-piece, `After Something’.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2013-Aug2016

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