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New Model Army - O2 Academy, Newcastle 06.10.2018

There was a cold wind blowing through Newcastle last night yet many of the late night drinkers are still wearing very little. It’s all different when you’re out drinking in the North, especially in toon. At this time of year it’s still classed as t-shirt weather up here despite the chill that’s blowing in from the North Sea. It brings a kind of grim realisation that summer is definitely over, despite how we all try and cling on. The nights are getting darker, the weather is getting worse and the mood mirrors that fact that the economy is pretty much gone so you best enjoy yourself like you’ve still got the chance.

Tonight see’s Bradford’s grizzled Post Punk veterans New Model Army lay their camp at Newcastle’s Academy One stage. Justin Sullivan has been leading the band now for close to forty years, taking very little in the way of breaks as they’ve continued their musical march through the years. While a lot of their original contemporaries called it a day only to be drawn back into the the limelight for nostalgia and pay cheques, NMA have continued to write, record and tour. Yes, he may be the only original member left but that doesn’t stop fans looking forward to every new album and tour with relish.

The night is still quite young as opening band Holy Moly And The Crackers take the stage. There’s a good sized crowd here as they class Newcastle their home town. Duel vocalists Ruth Patterson and Conrad Bird balance each other out perfectly on record and onstage. Call and responses are handled with ease as well providing some sweet harmonies between each other. There’s a real energy between the sextet as they all share the stage front with each other, blending the sounds and energy of Folk Punk bands like the Pogues, Gogol Bordello, Ferocious Dog and The Levellers. They open with the Glam Folk stomp of ‘Sugar’ it’s festival fun melody fills the hall with an energy that would make Lazarus get up and sway. Ruth pulls the sweetest, sensual vocals from the air before ripping notes from her violin as Conrad pulls and twists at his mic stand, channeling the songs through his body like some evangelical preacher calling us to the church of Holy Moly. Jamie holds down the bass as Tommy pummels away at his drums, tattooing the rhythms onto the songs. Colour and flavour is added to the mix by new boy Nick on guitar and Rosie on accordion, not the most Rock 'n' Roll of musical pairings but it works so well. It’s a good time stomp that leaves us all with a grin on our faces as they pull the best songs from their first two albums (“First Avenue” and “Salem”). They even manage to tease the audience with a new song ‘All I Got Is You Babe’ from their new album due next year. It’s fair to say that the future looks bright for these guys, the sort of future Joe Strummer would have loved to have seen them in. You can’t get fairer than that.

New Model Army are touring on the back of 2016’s album “Winter”, their fourteenth and possibly one of their most strongest. They’ve been on my musical radar since my college days, one of my friends Jo had “The Ghost Of Cain” painted on the back of her leather jacket. I remember my first listen being confused by the mix of Folk, Punk and politics, something that didn’t make sense to me at the time (hey, I was a confused late teen on the verge of a breakdown). It’s fair to say that they’ve aged well without the need for this modern thing of needing to constantly revisit and mess with what’s already been made.

This Saturday night sees the band open with the moody ‘Stormclouds’ from the album “Between Dog And Wolf” and the crowd are lapping it up (no pun intended). There’s a wash of life from the stage as NMA drive into the song. Bassit Ceri Monger is beating the hell out of some drums to the side of the stage adding extra beats over the top of drummer Michael Dean’s excellent playing, switching between tribal tom rhythms and subtle Rock double kick drum playing. Guitarist Marshall Gill locks down his guitar parts with ease, cutting through the pa with a telecaster set to kill, as keyboardist Dean White adds texture with his deft playing, thickening the already full sound when needed.

And then there’s Justin Sullivan, the man who IS New Model Army now. He stands stage centre with his trusty SG as if the past few decades have bypassed him Dorian Gray style other than his hair looking a little more silver. He prowls the stage, leader of this tribe that has gathered before him. NMA may have been born the product of reacting against eighties Thatcherite government, something Justin probably hoped the band would outlive. But here we are living with an almost identical feeling of civil unrest against government and population. These grim times are reflected again and again in the band’s work and the fact they’re still out here doing what they do. An excellent ‘Winter’ from their last album shows everyone that they’re not ready to mellow out in their age. Yes, the band are political, but it’s not just at the current rights stripping, privatising, shit robot dancing government. NMA are often talk about the global political and ecological situation; it’s about doing what’s right for everyone not just a bunch of people who are here to see how much money they can get.

There’s a pit, but it’s not as rowdy as you would have expected it to be. Biker types sway and dance in a way that you would never expect. Audience members sit on each other shoulders, doing some strange punching kind of thing that reminds me of a martial arts kata. Hell one woman even manages to stand on someone’s shoulders only to better it a few songs later by being on the shoulders of someone who is on the shoulders of someone else. As fun as it is I pity the people trying to watch the band who are behind them.

“We said we wouldn’t say anything about fucking Brexit but in the week of the Tory party conference we’ll play this” snarls Justin before launching into a particularly vitriolic rendition of ‘Burn The Castle’, so potent that Theresa May and lackeys should be worried if we gathered behind this rallying call.

But it’s all part of the fun. The set list is a fans dream, songs drawn from all eras of the band. There’s ‘Guesing’, ‘Poison Street’ and ‘Get Me Out’ (all standing proud in the first encore), an almost gothic ‘Summer Moors’ and an impressive ‘225’. A second encore of ‘Betcha’ feels well earned by the band and audience, proving that the band are certainly not slouches. Justin looks especially thankful to the audience by the end, moved by their loyalty to the band. You get the feeling that their dedication is something that helps keep the New Model Army continue, long after many of their peers called it a day. And on tonight’s showing, the band is justified in having an audience as dedicated. And long may it continue. Let’s hope that we still see some more albums from these guys, there’s still a fight going on.

Review - Scott Hamilton

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