New Model Army: A History of ...
New Model Army have successfully managed to fuse together the harsh, raw sound of the post punk 80's, whilst incorporation their political views. Their audiences are often seen as an extension of the band's aggression, committing themselves to the music as convincingly as NMA commit themselves to their songs which tackle modern issues from drugs to terrorism.
"New Model Army's music is like driving a car at 150mph or an orgasm" was the colourful description a fan (a member of the 'following', the name given to NMA's legion of dedicated followers) gave when asked to sum up his favourite band.
NMA's contribution to the fashion industry must be the re-introduction of the clog, which can ever be resoled at selected gigs.
NMA relish strengthening their non-conformist image by constantly upsetting the music industry's standard laws and keeping their fans on their toes too. They've been banned by the IBA and the BBC, have been refused entry into the USA three times on artistic merit and annoy the music press by constantly patronising them.
NMA took their name from Oliver Cromwell's crack fighting force from the 17th century. Justin Sullivan, the band's undisputed leader and spokesman, became obsessed with the anti-royalist Cromwell period, he even took his nickname 'Slade the Leveller' from a socialist rebel under the English republic. The name of their latest LP Thunder and Consolation was taken from a 1663 book by the revolutionary quaker, Edward Burroughs.
New Model Army's history starts in 1980 when Justin met the self-styled punk poetess 'Joolz', who went on to design numerous NMA record sleeves and other artwork connected with the band. After their meeting and during 1980/81, they drew together the idea and members for NMA (they found a bass player in Stuart Morrow, Justin just acted as singer/songwriter guitarist). The drums were taken over by anybody who could play them until Robb Heaton joined the ranks later.
During 1980/82 they played small venues around their hometown of Bradford and Yorkshire, whilst Joolz drummed up support by winning the band early press coverage with her patronage.
With interest being established up in the local and national press, along with some hard-touring it wasn't long before the band was approached and signed up with the management organisation dubiously called 'Totally Obnoxious', who still manage them today. This shrewd move earned NMA a one single record deal with the 'Shout' record label.
Bittersweet became NMA's first single release in May 1983. Early copies came with a free flexi single containing two live tracks, Fashion and The Cause. This single is proving to be very popular amongst collectors and increasingly hard to find with the free flexi. The single was reissued in 1986 whilst still retaining it's original B-sides Betcha and Tension and it's original catalogue number.
Six months later New Model Army signed to Abstract Records and released the first of two releases, put out on this record label. Great Expectations/Waiting voiced NMA's political standings in this aggressive release. Both these singles took NMA into the Indie Top 20, whilst building interest in the band around the 'alternative' clubs of Britain.
Still with Abstract, NMA, in April 1984, released their debut LP Vengeance. The songs contained on the album dealt with the plight of Britain at the time. Spirit Of The Falklands commented on Britain's involvement in the dispute with Argentina whilst a stab at the British middle classes was voiced in Smalltown England.
Their next release showed NMA's growing popularity when The Price topped the Indie singles chart after receiving favourable reviews from the press. The Price also saw NMA's first 12" release with [1984/]No Man's Land/Great Expectations [(BBC)]/Notice Me [(BBC)] being the extra tracks on offer.
On the strength of their popularity, NMA were approached by the major record company EMI with a generous record deal allowing NMA total artistic freedom. The fans looked upon this move with dubious eyes, but were assured that the only difference this move would make would be that the band and their music would receive greater publicity.
NMA's next single from their up-and-coming LP put an end to all rumours that the band had 'Sold Out' to the majors. Their 4th single No Rest/Heroin benefited from the greater publicity by charting at No. 28 in the national charts. The 7" of No Rest was also released in Spain, Germany and New Zealand. No versions of the 12" double pack saw any official release in any other country other than Britain. Extra tracks on the 12" were live versions of [Vengeance/]The Price/No Greater Love, however these extra tracks weren't official EMI recordings, but were removed by the band from a bootleg stall in Camden market.
Optimistic after the success of No Rest, the band were ready to release their follow up LP to Vengeance practically a year after their debut LP hit the shelves. No Rest For The Wicked received a punchy production from Mark Freegard which added greatly to the melodic feel of the album. The LP was simultaneously released in Brazil, Japan, New Zealand and throughout Europe, greatly enhancing the sales and popularity of the band.
Production-wise, No Rest ... was definitely a step up from Vengeance, but still managed to retain the band's independent freshness which was benefited from Justin's imaginative and experienced vocal work.
However, disaster had struck the NMA camp when Stuart Morrow, the band's bassist, left at the end of May 1985. The press jumped on this opportunity to spread a NMA 'split' rumour.
To counteract this story, Sullivan and Heaton returned to the studios to re-record the Better Than Them EP. This showed that it was the material that mattered in NMA and not individuals. Their theory was confirmed when the EP charted at No. 49 in the national charts. The first 10.000 copies of this [7"] release came in a limited edition [double disk] gatefold sleeve, later to be replaced by a single [disk and] sleeve. Other tracks on the EP were No Sense, Adrenalin and Trust.
Stuart's clogs were filled by the young recruit, 17 year old Jason 'Moose' Harris. With the line up now complete and fully rehearsed, the band saw it necessary to apply for visa's to visit America. The authorities, however, viewed the situation differently and refused them entry on artistic grounds.
Brave New World was to be NMA's next release, probably one of their best tracks to be left off an album. As well as the now customary 12", Brave New World/RIP also had a special 12" double pack which not only boasted alternative takes of Brave New World and RIP, but also live versions of Young, Gifted and Skint and Sex. The live tracks were, again, confiscated from a bootleggers stall in Paris by the band, this release is very popular amongst collectors and now commands prices between £10 and £15, making it NMA's rarest release to date.
For the completist collector, it is worth getting hold of the Joolz single called Love Is (Columbia JLZ1) co-written with Sullivan, the single also featured Sullivan and Heaton on all musical accompaniment. Two years later Joolz read poetry the musical ramblings of Sullivan and Heaton on her LP Hex (Columbia SCX6711), well worth a listen.
Apart from live shows, NMA now fell quiet for almost a year until September 1986 when the band released their greatest work to date, the LP The Ghost Of Cain. To produce the album NMA persuaded the legendary Glyn Johns, whose past credits include work with The Rolling Stones, The Eagles and Joan Armatrading. It wasn't to be all plain sailing however, as Justin later recalled an incident between himself and John whilst making Ghost ... . "I argued a point with him, so Glyn took me by the scruff of the neck, led me around the back of his studio, pointed to all these gold discs he had on the wall and said 'how many of these have you got?'. A very sobering experience". Justin went on to say "We regret every argument we won against Glyn". Perhaps it was this transfusion of aggressive energy and John's experienced producing techniques that resulted in the excellent Ghost Of Cain selling 25.000 in 1987 in both Britain and Germany.
It was around the release of Ghost ... that NMA again tried to enter the USA. They were again refused, which threw up a great deal of publicity.
However, even with all this publicity they could not get their much needed hit. 51st State was to be the first single off the Cain LP. It commented on Britain's position in regards to America according to NMA, a view of distaste and resent. The single reached No. 71 in the national charts, which was disappointing when compared with the LP success. Along with the 12", a 12" double pack was released which boasted Liberal Education, No Rest and No Man's Land [also "a bootlegged bootleg"] as extra tracks.
Poison Street faired slightly better than 51st State, peaking at No. 64, again a normal 12" and a 12" double pack were issued with the double pack offering extra live tracks, All Of This (Live New York) and My Country (Live Coventry). This 12" special is also proving to be very popular amongst collectors, which perhaps shows where the future collector items lie.
White Coats was to be NMA's biggest selling single in two years. It headed a four track [7"] EP, the 12" was released in a poster sleeve. Tracks on both the White Coats releases were identical [this is wrong: The 7" features an edited version of White Coats, the 12" has an extra track The Mermaid Song, which is, however, not mentioned on the sleeve or label. Only a very rare withdrawn German blue-covered release names this track Friday Morn (Traditional)] , both versions featured The Charge/Chinese Whispers and My Country [(live)]. Completists will also be interested in a White Coats 4 track promo, which is already commanding high prices.
In April 1987, NMA entered the CD world with The Ghost Of Cain being the first NMA LP to be released in this format. Around the same time, Abstract, who still owned the rights to the group's early recordings from the time of Vengeance capitalised on the success of NMA in an enterprising move by issuing a CD only release entitled Vengeance - The Independent Story [There is also a rare Brazilian LP release of Vengeance - The Independent Story]. This release contained all the Vengeance LP with extra tracks being made up from early Abstract non-LP singles and Shout releases.
Back on vinyl, Abstract, helping to keep NMA on the record sleeves, released a Radio Sessions LP, featuring tracks from 1983/84 sessions - all but one were broadcast by the BBC. The 'Sessions" LP was really an odds and sods NMA compilation LP, featuring versions of Drag It Down and Frightened, as well as a demo version of The Cause, an essential album for the collection.
It had been two years since NMA had been into the recording studio to record Ghost Of Cain. Now they felt it was time to release some fresh material, so with the help of another veteran producer, 70 years old Tom Dowd, whose more familiar work includes Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Eric Clapton, NMA set about recording the album Thunder And Consolation: Tom, however, failed to relate to either the band or the album and subsequently left. This then forced NMA to re-record and self-produce parts of the album. Early versions of the LP came in an embossed sleeve and managed to sell 35.000 copies in its first three weeks of release, proving NMA's staying power and overall popularity.
Proceeding the album by a month, Stupid Questions [/Nothing Touches] was taken from the LP and gave NMA another hit as the single entered the national charts at No. 31. The extra track on the 12" was a live version of Betcha, which also included a Stupid Mix of the title track. This release also saw NMA's first CD single, which offered 51st State (live) as well as Betcha as bonuses.
To capitalise on the success of Stupid Questions, Vagabonds/Deadeye was released in no fewer than three 7"s, two 12"s an a CD single. As well as the normal 7", a gatefold sleeve edition appeared [including a badge] as well as a 7" picture disc. The second 12" offered a free sticker [in fact, two stickers] whilst still retaining the same track as the normal 12", White Coats (live) and an extended version of Lights Go Out [this is wrong: Only the CD single contains Lights Go Out (extended)].
Apart from the obvious commerciality of the multi-release of NMA's later singles, they must remain on of the only groups who have managed to keep hold of their original ideas and identity after moving from a humble, independent beginning to a major record label and mainstream sales potential.
Through years of heavy touring, numerous record releases and the usual trappings surrounding the eighties, New Model Army have managed to keep their independence, their loyal band of followers and leave behind them a plethora of excellent recordings and a few rare collectors items.
They Love The World ...!
Reprinted without kind permission from "Spiral Scratch" No. 13, 1989, p. 60-62.
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