British post-punk band from Bradford, Yorkshire. Their distinct folk music influences make them hard to place in a particular genre (someone called them "fusion post-punk folk" and came pretty close) but they enjoy a strong following among the goth crowd rather than punk rockers.
One of the most enduring acts of their scene, they're known for putting on a damn good show but are best known for what they're against--and the (long) list includes drugs, Thatcherism and, oddly enough, The Cult. Their 1984 contract clause effectively forbidding any EMI staff working with the band to bring their coke with them is the stuff of legend. In the drug-addled world of the 1980s they were mocked as puritanic killjoys.
Formed in 1980 and showing no signs of slowing down, their uncompromising, often riddled with allegory, lyrics about social, environmental and simple human issues and their militant opposition to the conservatism of the Thatcher era and the Falkland Islands War in the 1980s earned them a devoted following, mostly in western Europe. With musical interests as diverse as Led Zeppelin, The Ruts, Motown and Irish traditional music, they soon acquired a very distinct sound and character, their closest contemporaries being Killing Joke, of whom their frontman is an admitted fan. In the early days they sounded a bit more like The Fall and their fans were known for showing up in working-class clogs and engaging in the colourful ritual of the Klompen Dance. Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of their musical heritage is that they see their roots as being in Northern Soul.
For most of its existence the core of the band was made up of guitarist and vocalist Justin Sullivan, initially going by the moniker "Slade the Leveller" in another reference to Oliver Cromwell's army, and the late Robert Heaton, tribal drummer extraordinaire. Heaton left in 1998 due to health problems and was replaced by his understudy and roadie Michael Dean. Between them, Sullivan and Heaton have written the bulk of New Model Army songs.
Other members have been Stuart Morrow (1980-1985), a remarkable bassist who helped define the band's early sound with his unusual lead playing but has not been heard of much since, his replacement Moose Harris (1985-1989, and that's also been his legal name since 2001), who joined the band at the tender age of 17 and later made himself a bit of a name with The Damned, and finally a bass-playing gentleman who goes by the single name of Nelson (Peter Nice, actually) and who has been with the band since Harris left. Violinist Ed Alleyne-Johnson was practically a band member from 1989-1994, playing about 500 gigs with them. Guitarist Dave Blomberg worked with both the band and with Sullivan from 1993 to 2005, and harmonica virtuoso Mark Feltham's regular appearances have contributed to some of their best songs.
The changes in the band's line-up in the late 80s led to a shift from a rich punk-rock like sound, characterised by prominent vocals and speedy, elaborate bass lines, to a more subtle, lyrical sound, with increased use of instruments such as the harmonica and violin as well as acoustic guitars. In one unusual collaboration in 1993, the band teamed up with Tom Jones to produce a cover of Gimme Shelter for a Rolling Stones tribute album. For the recording of No Rest in 1985 they had what may well have been the best rhythm section you've ever heard. In 2007 the people were different but it still held true. After Blomberg's departure, the band acquired a bona fide blues-rock guitarist in the Les Paul-wielding person of Marshall Gill. The addition of this charming gentleman, poached from Kyla Brox's band, worked miracles for the band's on-stage chemistry and allowed the band to complete the transition to a more guitar-rock oriented sound.
Commercial success has not mellowed the band; they remain vitriolic and politically incorrect. In their only appearance on the BBC's Top of the Pops, they showed up wearing t-shirts bearing the phrase "Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin." Following the producer's objections they covered the words with tape, but slowly narrowed the strips until the text was clearly legible. Their first single with Epic Records, titled Here Comes The War, came complete with a picture of a charred body and a poster with instructions for making a nuclear bomb. Sullivan's lyrics did progress towards more personal, less socially oriented anxieties but remain the words of a crusader.
"We're a scourge, if you like, because we stand against both sloppy thinking, all that wishy-washy liberal naff cop-out stuff, and against ignorant peasants."
While their recording output is quite decent, they are above all a live band and the tension and close contact of touring suits them well. Despite always living far outside their core audience's area. I've had the good fortune of seeing them live several times between 1988 and 2009. They're far and out the most captivating live band I've seen and Sullivan is an inspirational and very intense frontman. They prefer smaller venues although their audiences went as high as 5000 when they were touring with Fields of the Nephilim in 1990, and they play acoustic at least as well as they do plugged in. If they're in town, definitely consider attending. Three chords into the first song you'll realise that they take no prisoners. By then it'll be too late.
Their fanbase has always been concentrated in the UK and western Europe, especially Germany, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands. NMA fans don't share the "happy happy joy joy" bond fans of a band often do but find more common ground in their anxieties and Weltanschauung and have a kind of tribal connection. They call it "The Family." Every NMA gig features a seriously diverse audience, though it did seem to be greying at the temples at the last few gigs that I went to.
The band never made it big in the US and never will, probably because much of their earlier work involved venomous attacks on the sacred cows of the "American way" that made every punk-rock closet conformist shrink away from them. Indeed, they were initially refused a work visa for a US tour on the grounds that they were of "insufficient artistic standing" and did not gain entry until the fifth time they applied in late 1986. US officials are required to give no reason for denying a visa but one suspects that filming a video for "51st State" outside the US Embassy and an American air base did not help their case. Twenty-one years and seven studio albums later, they managed to be refused a work visa again for reasons unknown but to those who decide those things. Sullivan addressed the audience as "the chosen few again" last time I saw them in the States, and proceeded to make being the 200-odd "chosen few" well worth our while. They only get better with time, it seems.
- Vengeance (1984), later included in The Independent Story (1987)
Bittersweet - Betcha - Tension - Great Expectations - Waiting - *Christian Militia - *Notice Me - *Smalltown England - *A Liberal Education - *Vengeance - *Sex (The Black Angel) - *Running In The Rain - *Spirit of the Falklands - The Price - 1984 - No Man's Land - Notice Me (Peel Session) - Great Expectations (Peel Session) (* On the original release of Vengeance)
- No Rest For The Wicked (1985)
Frightened - Ambition - Grandmother's Footsteps - Better Than Them - My Country - No Greater Love - No Rest - Young, Gifted and Skint - Drag It Down - Shot 18 - The Attack
- The Ghost of Cain (1986)
The Hunt - Lights Go Out - 51st State - All Of This - Poison Street - Western Dream - Lovesongs - Heroes - Ballad - Master Race
- Thunder and Consolation (1989)
I Love The World - Stupid Questions - 225 - Inheritance - Green and Grey - Ballad of Bodmin Pill - Family - Family Life - Vagabonds - *125 MPH - Archway Towers - *The Charge - *Chinese Whispers - *Nothing Touches - *White Coats (* CD edition only)
- Impurity (1991)
Get Me Out - Space - Innocence - Purity - Whirlwind - Lust For Power - Bury The Hatchet - Eleven Years - Lurhstaap - Before I Get Old - Vanity
- Raw Melody Men (Live, 1991)
- The Love of Hopeless Causes (1993)
Here Comes the War - Fate - Living In The Rose - White Light - Believe It - Understand U - My People - These Words - Afternoon Song - Bad Old World
- B-Sides And Abandoned Tracks (compilation, 1994)
Heroin 12" mix - Adrenalin - Nosense - Trust - Brave New World 12" (Gregovich Mix) - R.I.P. - Brave New World 2 - Ten Commandments - Courage - Lights Go Out (US remix) - Deadeye - Prison - Curse - Ghost Of Your Father - Modern Times - Drummy B (Billy McCann Version) - Marry The Sea - Sleepwalking
- Strange Brotherhood (1998)
Wonderful Way To Go - Whites of Their Eyes - Aimless Desire - Over the Wire - Queen Of My Heart - Gigabyte Wars - Killing - No Pain - Headlights - Big Blue - Long Goodbye - Lullaby
- ...& Nobody Else (double live, 1999)
- Eight (2000)
Flying Through The Smoke - You Weren't There - Orange Tree Roads - Someone Like Jesus - Stranger - R&R - Snelsmoore Wood - Paekakariki Beach - Leeds Road 3am - Mixam - WipeOut
- Lost Songs (double compilation, 2002)
Brother - Sunset - Southwest - Song To The Men Of England - Refugee - Higher Wall - Far Better Thing - Rainy Night 65 - Casien - BD7 - F#NY - See You In Hell --- Freedom 1991 - Wanting - Still Here - If You Can't Save Me - Falling - Trees In Winter - Knife - Burning Season - Coming Up - Over The Wire (French Remix)
- Carnival (2005)
Water - BD3 - Prayer Flags - Carlisle Road - Red Earth - Too Close To The Sun - Blue Beat - Another Imperial Day - LS43 - Island - Fireworks Night
- High (2007)
Wired - One of the Chosen - High - No Mirror, No Shadow - Dawn - All Consuming Fire - Sky In Your Eyes - Into the Wind - Nothing Dies Easy - Breathing - Rivers - Bloodsports
- Fuck Texas, Play for Us (live, 2008)
225 - Nothing Dies Easy - Island - Into the Wind - Breathing - Rivers - One of the Chosen - Bloodsports - Lust for Power - No Mirror, No Shadow - High - Family - Vagabonds - Wired - Bad Old World - Master Race - Poison Street
- Today Is A Good Day (2009)
Today is a Good Day - Autumn - Peace Is Only - States Radio - God Save Me - Disappeared - Ocean Rising - Mambo Queen of the Sandstone City - La Push - Arm Yourselves and Run - Bad Harvest - North Star
Almost all their album covers are graced by the art of Joolz Denby, Sullivan's partner, visual artist, performance poet and crime writer.
As far as recommendations go, NMA are a tough band to get into. I'd start with Thunder and Consolation as more approachable and at the same time musically rich. Don't just listen to it. Read the lyrics, they make all the difference. This is a band to whom music is more of a vehicle for the message than a means in itself. I've noticed that people tend to understand and like the music better once they've acquainted themselves with the words. Next in line, The Ghost of Cain is probably the thing to listen to. Raw Melody Men (which is an anagram of the band's name under which they toured small clubs) offers an excellent cross-section of the band's first ten years and includes some great acoustic tracks. This is a band which feels most at home playing live so that would also be an excellent album to start out with. Carnival, one of their later studio releases, is a more demanding but extremely rewarding album.
Airplay was something they never really got. MTV viewers with a long memory may remember Stupid Questions from Thunder and Consolation a long, long time ago. I believe that's also the only one that made it onto MTV. Their best-known songs are probably The Hunt (which you may know better from the Sepultura cover of the song) and 51st State, both from The Ghost of Cain. Songs that people tend to like the first time they hear them are Green and Grey and Vagabonds, both from Thunder And Consolation.
They have a web presence at http://www.newmodelarmy.org/ where samples of their live recordings and webcasts can be found. If the video of Wonderful Way to Go is still on display I highly recommend it.