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New Model Army

To their impassioned cult of fans, New Model Army were one of the best post-punk outfits Great Britain ever produced. Combining the gut-level force of punk with the anthemic political fervor of U2 and the Alarm, as well as the urban protest folk of Billy Bragg, NMA sounded like few other bands mining similar post-punk territory. Their attack was hard, spare, and precise, but as time wore on, they were just as likely to deliver modern-day folk-rock replete with acoustic guitar, violin, and harmonica. Throughout their career, they remained staunch advocates of the British working class, occasionally tempering their leftist, anti-Thatcher political fury with moments of personal introspection. Their shout-along anthems often borrowed the football-chant feel of Oi!, but NMA were far less given to rabble-rousing, instead aiming for intelligent dissidence. True, that could sometimes translate into preachy sloganeering, but NMA's best work earned them tremendous acclaim in the U.K., where their singles regularly placed in the lower reaches of the pop charts. U.K.-specific lyrical references, coupled with visa problems that sometimes made touring difficult, unfortunately ensured that they were all but ignored in the U.S. Still, they maintained a strong following in Europe, and leader Justin Sullivan managed to keep them going for more than two decades.

New Model Army were formed in the Yorkshire town of Bradford in 1980. In keeping with the band's intellectual bent, their name was taken from Oliver Cromwell's anti-royalist military force, whose hierarchy was based on ability rather than social class, and which temporarily succeeded in toppling the monarchy in the mid-1600s. Early on, guitarist/vocalist/bandleader Justin Sullivan adopted the nom de punk "Slade the Leveller," which despite its aggressive ring was an esoteric reference to the Levellers, a radical democratic faction of Cromwell associates. The concept for New Model Army grew out of a meeting between Sullivan and writer Joolz Denby, who went on to become a respected poet, novelist, and spoken word artist in her own right; the two also became lifelong romantic partners. Bassist Stuart Morrow was the first to sign on, and after a rotating succession of drummers, Rob Heaton became a permanent member, as well as Sullivan's frequent songwriting partner. Denby, for her part, served as the band's manager early on, and while the job ultimately proved too time-consuming, she continued to design the band's cover art and occasionally provided backing vocals in the studio; the band also backed her on several albums of her own, credited simply to Joolz.

New Model Army spent a couple of years gigging around Yorkshire and building a substantial buzz in the British music press. In 1983, the group issued its debut single, "Bittersweet," which landed them a deal with the indie label Abstract by the end of the year. Their first release for Abstract was the politically charged "Great Expectations" single, which reached the British indie singles charts and set the stage for their debut album, 1984's Vengeance. Songs like the antiwar "Spirit of the Falklands," the frustrated "Small Town England," and the militant title track further defined NMA's perspective. In its wake, the non-LP single "The Price" was a smash on the indie charts, and major-label EMI stepped in to sign the band.

New Model Army's first single for EMI, "No Rest," climbed into the British Top 30 in early 1985, marking the first of the band's 12 pop chart entries. It was followed in short order by the album No Rest for the Wicked; however, bassist Stuart Morrow left the band that May, prior to the LP's release. Sullivan and Heaton cut the mostly acoustic Better Than Them EP before finding a permanent replacement in 17-year-old Jason "Moose" Harris. Following the non-LP single "Brave New World," Harris made his album debut on 1986's Glyn Johns-produced The Ghost of Cain, which expanded the group's acoustic folk influence and featured contributions from harmonica player Mark Feltham. The single "51st State," a critique of Britain's relationship with the United States, was a hit in Europe, and a dance remix of "Poison Street" was successful in the U.K.; additionally, album opener "The Hunt" was later covered by Brazilian metal band Sepultura.

"White Coats," a track from a self-titled 1987 EP, became NMA's biggest hit in some time, adding keyboards to their sound. Guitarist Ricky Warwick briefly joined their touring lineup that year before moving on to found the Almighty. Produced in part by Tom Dowd, NMA's next album, 1989's Thunder and Consolation, was widely acclaimed as their best ever, with an even stronger folk influence thanks to the presence of violinist Ed Alleyne-Johnson. The single "Green and Grey" was also tabbed as a highlight of the band's career, and both "Stupid Questions" and "Vagabonds" charted in the U.K. Chris McLaughlin joined as a second guitarist for the supporting tour, but bassist Harris later departed and was replaced by Peter Nelson, formerly of Brotherhood of Lizards. Nelson debuted on 1990's Impurity, which also featured new second guitarist Adrian Portas.

After one more album, the 1991 double-live set Raw Melody Men, NMA left EMI to sign with Epic. They released only one album, 1993's The Love of Hopeless Causes, which spawned the single "Here Comes the War." Several CD compilations of the group's singles, as well as B-sides, radio sessions, and other rarities appeared during the early-'90s reissue boom. The band, though, fell mostly silent during the middle of the decade. In the meantime, Sullivan and Joolz formed a four-person performance collective dubbed Red Sky Coven, which offered an informal mishmash of music, poetry, comedy, and spoken word. Sullivan reconvened New Model Army in 1998, still with a core of Nelson and Heaton, and with a supporting membership of guitarists/keyboardists Dave Blomberg and Dean White. This lineup, augmented by strings and brass, recorded Strange Brotherhood for the U.K. label Eagle. Its supporting European tour produced another live album, the double-disc ...& Nobody Else, released by Attack Attack. That label also issued the studio follow-up, Eight, in 2000; it marked the group's first album without longtime drummer Heaton, who was replaced by Michael Dean. The odds 'n' ends collection Lost Songs appeared in 2001, and a Sullivan solo album (Navigating by the Stars) in 2003.

Sad news came in 2004 with the death of Heaton, but as New Model Army turned 25 they continued to soldier on. The studio album Carnival appeared from Attack Attack in August 2005; it featured Sullivan, Dean, Nelson, Blomberg, and White. High followed from this lineup in 2007 with Today Is a Good Day landing in 2009. After recording a series of albums they felt sounded traditional and "band in a room," the group decided to try something more polished. As a result, they recorded their 2013 effort Between Dog and Wolf with engineer Joe Barresi (Queens of the Stone Age, Tool) mixing. After their BDAW world tour, the band used live recordings as well as six new tracks for a follow-up mini-album titled Between Wine & Blood, which was expected in September 2014. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

brimokemp
Easily one of the best bands ever. Live or from the studio, they've never disappointed me. They blew me away 25 years ago, and they still do.
New Model ARE still going strong!!!
Drummer Robert Heaton had to be replaced because tragically he is no longer on this earth.
Long Live Robert Heaton!

First saw them in '89 in Seattle, followed them to Canada for the next night. THEE only band I must see live!!
dcindc15, I totally agree and also have been since 16... I think there are a bunch of skater/bmx'e r s (no one says freestyle anymore) that would agree with you
i must take exception with the first sentence of the review. the reviewer states that they 'were'..... he is wrong, they 'are'... they are still around, and kicking a**.
Truly one of the most diverse, interesting, and amazing bands I've listened to. From the mid 80's till now, and well into the future, this is, was, will be my desert island band.
Listing the Cure as similar too NMA is like saying copper is similar to gold. don't let the comparison tarnish the brilliant gold of NMA
I've been listening to this band since I was 16 and their songs still evoke powerful emotions in me. The lyrics and the music are emotionally and physically thrilling. I wish they were better known here in the US
tommfairbank s 8
The tightness, and the thoughtful passion... I just can't say enough. Sheesh, and since 1987 on MTV 120 Minutes. Seems we never have the appropriate venue to say THANK YOU!! This seems appropriate.
I wish they would feature Eight, Impurity, & Strange Brotherhood on Pandora. Great albums.
owned Ghost of Cain then Saw them in 1989 for Thunder and Consolation in Seattle, was so blown away so I followed them to Vancouver, Canada for the next night! The ONLY Band I Must see live.
Justin Sullivan has one of the most powerful voices in Rock. His songwriting is absolutely top notch.
TOP 3 FOR SURE !!!
Simply, the best band in the world.
Follower since I saw them at the Bizarre Festival in Germany in 1987. Great Band. It is a highlight to see them on the US tours each year. "High" was a good album but the new "Today s a Good Day" tops that. And Marshall Gill on guitar is phenomenal! Get "F**k Texas, Sing for Us" for his rendition of Vagabonds.
holy freakin crap i LOVE NEW MODEL ARMY!!!
i missed there show here in LA 2 years ago
goddammit! money sucks!
...wow.. and by weaponry I mean pepermint schnopps, cheap scotch, Jameson, and maybe a fourwheeler way off paved roads.
"A lovely little left wing band."
Man, I've been listening to these guys so long, I'm just proud to know my weaponry might still be appreciated.

I was a fan of the earlier stuff up to about Thunder and Consolation but went to see them recently and thought the new stuff was great as well so got High and Carnival...b o t h superb too. And agree with Mike that the bass is a standout sound...
The band has not lost any of their power over the years. Every show I have seen has been great. From 1987 to the last time I saw them in 2004, time has not diminished their music like other over 20 year old bands have.
The bass player of this band kicks major a**!!!!

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