Album Review – New Model Army

New Model Army Wine and Blood

New Model Army -‘Between Wine And Blood.’ (Attack Attack)

Between Wine And Blood follows New Model Army’s last album Between Dog And Wolf almost exactly a year to its release date. That album – rightly – got not only some of their best reviews ever – but also saw them getting their highest chart positions in many years.

Between Wine And Blood is a package to two halves. The second half is a series of live performances recorded in England and mainland Europe. To my ears the finest new version on here is ‘Horsemen’ which closed last year’s album, and still contains the same urgency. Whether leading New Model Army (as he has done for thirty-four years) or solo, Justin Sullivan is a compelling performer and these live performances give an insight into why they maintain a very loyal following and why their last album did so well.

It is, however, the first part of the album that’s the main reason for buying this album. It’s a six track mini-album, recorded earlier this year when drummer Michael Dean was unable to play shows. It’s prime New Model Army, from opening ‘According To You’ (which – again- reminds me that one of the many refreshing things about New Model Army was their positivity) to the closing ‘Sunrise.’ I kept trying to decide which was the standout track here and decided ultimately to admire the whole. There’s a number of excellent additions to the New Model Army songbook here – and a reminder that while the mainstream music press may have treated them shoddily, their fanbase continues to grow and remain loyal. And once more, the record features fantastic artwork from longterm collaborator Joolz Denby.

****

Between Wine And Blood is out now on Attack Attack.

Album Review: New Model Army

New Model Army

New Model Army -‘Between Dog And Wolf’ (Attack Attack)

This album is the twelfth album from the Bradford institution, and thirty years since the release of their debut single ‘Bittersweet.’ And it finds them firing all all cylinders – lyrically, musically, and creatively.

Though the band have been victim to a lot of lazy and stupid journalism over time, the reality is that they were -and are – a band with a huge cult following, and who follow their own path. Variously lumped in with punk and post-punk, folk, metal, goth – the reality is that New Model Army aren’t bothered by changing fads and fancies and pursue their own interests musically. They’ve taken on board hip-hop influences (check out ‘You Weren’t There’ on 2000’s Eight or ‘Inheritance’ on 1989’s Thunder and Consolation), without the embarrassment that usually entails when rock bands try and do this.

They’ve always stretched their horizons, and the reality is that right from the opening ‘Horsemen’ they’re using more voices – not just Justin Sullivan’s, more drums and just, somehow, more everything, without the album ending up overblown. And this spirit continues through the album. There’s a number of excellent songs on here – my personal highlights would be ‘March In September’ ‘Lean Back And Fall’ and ‘I Need More Time,’ though the likelihood is that their fanbase (of which I am proud to include myself) will have their own favourites.

Perhaps best known for Thunder and Consolation, the band may hold a mirror up to the reality of the world around them, and yet rather than a nihilist ‘we’re all doomed’ they continue to offer a way forward, together. And – many years after they left major labels behind – produced one of their strongest efforts to date.

Long may they continue.

****1/2

Between Dog And Wolf is out now on Attack Attack

Does there have to be a reason?

new-model-army-green-and-grey-225317

My favourite ever song from a much-loved, though oft-misunderstood band.

With some of the best lyrics I have ever heard or read.

Enjoy. And buy Thunder and Consolation. And indeed most of New Model Army’s back catalogue.

That is all

GREEN AND GREY
(Heaton/Sullivan) 1987

The time I think most clearly, the time I drift away
Is on the bus-ride that meanders up these valleys of green and grey
I get to think about what might have been and what may yet come true
And I get to pass a rainy mile thinking of you
And all the while, all the while, I still hear that call
To the land of gold and poison that beckons to us all
Nothing changes here very much, I guess you’d say it never will
The pubs are all full on Friday nights and things get started still
We spent hours last week with Billy boy, bleeding, yeah queuing in Casualty
Staring at those posters we used to laugh at:
Never Never Land, palm trees by the sea
Well there was no need for those guys to hurt him so bad
When all they had to do was knock him down
But no one asks to many questions like that since you left this town

Ch: And tomorrow brings another train
Another young brave steals away
But you’re the one I remember
From these valleys of green and the grey

You used to talk about winners and losers all the time – as if that was all there was
As if we were not of the same blood family, as if we live by different laws
Do you owe so much less to these rain swept hills than you owe to your good self?
Is it true that the world has always got to be something
That seems to happen somewhere else?
For God’s sake don’t you realise that I still hear that call
Do you think you’re so brave just to go running to that which beckons to us all?

Ch: No, not for one second did you look behind you
As you were walking away
Never once did you wish any of us well
Those who had chosen to stay
And if that’s what it takes to make it
In the place that you live today
Then I guess you’ll never read these letters that I send
From the valleys of the green and the grey

Published by Attack Attack Music/Warner Chappell Music Ltd

Tom Jones and New Model Army

You did read that right.

It might sound odd on paper (or on screen) but in 1993, New Model Army did indeed team up with Tom Jones to record the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ for the charity Shelter.

…and here’s the proof!

When I interviewed NMA’s Justin Sullivan in 2009 he said that Tom Jones had been great to work with.

Musty write that interview up properly sometime.

Oh, and one of the other cover versions was…Samantha Fox and Hawkwind…

if anyone has an mp3 of this I would be eternally grateful.

33 1/3 Part 2

nma

New Model Army -‘Thunder and Consolation.’ (EMI, 1989)

No matter how many times, I hear this album, I never get tired of it. (Just as well, one one occasion driving to a gig, James at the Birmingham NEC in 1998, my taped copy of this album got stuck in the tape player and it was all we had to listen to. Its’ quality meant that did not matter).

New Model Army have attracted some derision over the years, which largely seems down to the fact that some of their followers may have worn clogs. But Justin Sullivan is a fantatsic songwriter, musician and lyricist, and over their thirty year career this is the album that showcases his talents best. They may not have troubled the singles chart in recent years, but they still have a huge follwoing in both the UK and further afield.

I remember seeing New Model Army mentioned in Smash Hits, of all places, about 1989, round about the time that this album came out. However, whilst I became gradually more and more aware of them, it was several years before I taped a copy off a friend and about 1998 before I bought it. By that stage, I had fallen in love with the album, hook, line and sinker.

New Model Army came out of the punk/post-punk scene and based in Bradford as they were – and are – there was a definite sense of being outside the pravailing trends as perpetuated by a media in the UK that remains strongly London-centric. The song ‘Green and Grey’ which is almost heartbreaking in its’ sadness, imagines a letter to a friend who has left these valleys of ‘Green and Grey’. At first, Sullivan’s lyrics explain that the town is still as it was: ‘The pubs are still full on Friday nights/and things get started still.’ Yet there’s a (rather understandable) bitterness directed at the ‘friend’ who has gone to ‘the land of gold and posion/that which beckons to us all.’ It’s not named and shamed as London, but given that the streets of London were legendarily paved with gold (does this steam for the story of Dick Whittington or is this even older?) There are various versions of the song in existence, but the album version has the gorgeous, full introduction.

Ed Alleyne-Johnson’s violin playing adds much to the album – perhaps nowhere more so than on ‘Vagabonds.’ It amused me in later years when I would lend the album to friends who would say ‘It’s quite like the Levellers, isn’t it?’ The plight of new age travellers was being focused on more and more in culture – just as well as they were being demonised spectacularly by the gutter press in the UK, and this was not long after the infamous ‘Battle of the Beanfield’ which had taken place in 1985, itself immortalised by the Levellers. This album predates the Levellers, and whilst I still play early Levellers albums with a feeling of nostalgia, this album has aged well.

When I interviewed Justin Sullivan last month,* I asked him if he thought the world had got any better or worse. He didn’t think it had – though the pre-internet ‘225’ sums up a warning of what would come over the following generation. Its’ damning couplet is ‘Well this golden age of communication means everybody talks at the same time/and liberty just means there’s freedom to exploit any weakness that you can find.’ Then again, the song starts off with ‘She stares at the screen, with its’ little words of green.’ In hose days computer screens really did tend to be black and green…

1989 was a strong year for albums – De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising, Madonna’s Like A Prayer,Disintegration by the Cure and the ubiquitous Pixies’ Doolittle and the eponymous Stone Roses debut, to cherrypick five others. This holds its’ own -perhaps as an album out of time, and yet very much in tune with the world around it. There have been strong New Model Army albums subsequently – Purity, Strange Brotherhood and this year’s Today Is A Good Day, but this remains my favourite of all.

*will finish writing this up soon, promise!

Album Review – New Model Army

new-model-army

New Model Army -‘Today Is A Good Day’ (Attack Attack)

It’s now nearly thirty years since New Model Army formed, and twenty since the album for which they are still most remembered Thunder and Consolation. Speaking to Justin Sullivan recently, he acknolwedged that the time at which the band were most famous was the early nineties, but he also stated that this was the period of his life when he found things most stressful. Over the last decade and longer, they have released their albums through their own label, and enjoyed working at their own pace.

This twelve track album showcases – yet again – that Justin Sullivan is one of Britain’s best lyricists. He writes from the heart, and with passion, and not necessarily always about politics, either. The title track kicks off with mentions of the collapse that took place on Wall Street in 2008 ‘We became what we despise.’ ‘Arm Yourselves and Run’ with its’ reference to graffiti from Belgrade in 1991 shows how much things change and yet remain the same. Yet, as is a common theme with New Model Army’s work, there is a sense of hope and redemption; all is not lost. We have to seize the day, wake up to how wonderful nature is: ‘So who wants to live forever. when these moments only come the once?’ he sings on Autumn, summing up not only what is beautiful about the season, but also what is beautiful about life. We cannot place much value on those things that are easily replaceable.

New Model Army can still write anthems – and I mean this as a compliment, they continue to evolve. For those who still associate them with the rock-meets-punk-meets-folk-meets-soul of albums like the aforementioned Thunder and Impurity…cast your ears this way. Nearly thirty years in, New Model Army are still evolving. You should still be listening…

****

Today Is A Good Day is released on September 14.

New Model Army website/New Model Army myspace

Underrated albums #1: New Model Army "Thunder and Consolation"


A new series at 17 Seconds

History is full of those bands who are presented, by a sometimes revisionist music industry and journalism, as being little more than footnotes. Many bands may not often grace front covers or have their records played on mainstream radio, yet can fill massive gig venues, and, most crucially, have a loyal fan base that will stay with them for years (as opposed to, say, the teen market, which can turn on their heroes as quickly as each other in the playground).

One band who this definitely applies to is New Model Army. Sneered at, seemingly largely for failing to come from London and the fact that some of their followers may have worn clogs, New Model Army formed in 1980, around the nucleus of Justin Sullivan, who still leads the band today. their sound genuinely incorporated many diffrenet styles (as opposed to those who cliamed to whilst ripping off the same sources). Their debut album, Vengeance, was released in 1984. They signed to EMI for their second album No Rest For The Wicked, for which other ‘alternative’ bands attacked them, including Chumbawumba*. They made it onto ‘Top Of The Pops’ to play the album’s title track, (in)famously sporting t-shirts bearing the legend ‘Only Stupid Bastards Take Heroin’ with the word’bastards’ taped over. The following year’s The Ghost Of Cain, was their best yet, with a continuation of their fantatsic songs of urban life. Opener ‘The Hunt’ was later covered by Sepultura.

But it was 1989’s Thunder and Consolation that showed the group had hit new heights. As well as their post-punk sound, the album also featured the violin of Ed Elain Johnson, adding a folky approach. The pinnacle of the album is ‘Green and Grey’ which deals with the claustrophobia of the small northern towns in England, where unprovoked violence can erupt at any moment, those who escape it for the rbight lights of the city, and those they leave behind:

GREEN AND GREY
(Heaton/Sullivan) 1987

The time I think most clearly, the time I drift away
Is on the bus-ride that meanders up these valleys of green and grey
I get to think about what might have been and what may yet come true
And I get to pass a rainy mile thinking of you
And all the while, all the while, I still hear that call
To the land of gold and poison that beckons to us all
Nothing changes here very much, I guess you’d say it never will
The pubs are all full on Friday nights and things get started still
We spent hours last week with Billy boy, bleeding, yeah queuing in Casualty
Staring at those posters we used to laugh at:
Never Never Land, palm trees by the sea
Well there was no need for those guys to hurt him so bad
When all they had to do was knock him down
But no one asks to many questions like that since you left this town

Ch: And tomorrow brings another train
Another young brave steals away
But you’re the one I remember
From these valleys of green and the grey

You used to talk about winners and losers all the time – as if that was all there was
As if we were not of the same blood family, as if we live by different laws
Do you owe so much less to these rain swept hills than you owe to your good self?
Is it true that the world has always got to be something
That seems to happen somewhere else?
For God’s sake don’t you realise that I still hear that call
Do you think you’re so brave just to go running to that which beckons to us all?

Ch: No, not for one second did you look behind you
As you were walking away
Never once did you wish any of us well
Those who had chosen to stay
And if that’s what it takes to make it
In the place that you live today
Then I guess you’ll never read these letters that I send
From the valleys of the green and the grey

Published by Attack Attack Music/Warner Chappell Music Ltd

This album is, frankly, an underrated classic. New Model Army continue to record and tour, and have a very committed folllowing over the world, even if the music press in the UK either sneered or ignored them altogether. They have relased nine studio albums as well as live albums and compilations. Their webpage can fill in more info.

This album can be bought here. During a conversation with Joolz Denby in 2001 (-Justin Sullivan’s partner, who also has been responsible for the groups art work, as well as amassing a fantastic career of her own. See www.joolz-denby.co.uk for more information about her own very varied and fascinating career), she told me that Chumbawumba’s alice Nutter had, in fact, apologised to Justin in person for her earlier attacks. Chumbawumba later themselves signed to EMI.