And here’s an article on the band from Sounds, 1989, and a short interview from Chaos Control, a cool site with a slew of interviews from some pretty obscure bands. Not the greatest articles, and they're both written in a very English voice, but they will help offer perspective into this amazing band.
There are few more devoted disciples than the followers of New Model Army. For many it's a full-time job — hitchhiking to every concert, home abroad, equipped with only a £48 "season ticker", a dole cheque and an unswerving sense of purpose. "They changed my life," they say. But how? And why?
At the top of her voice, though quite inaudibiy, the fat girl sings, "I love the world, I love the world, I love the world, Oh God I love the world!" She holds her arms aloft in adoration to the multiple suns of the lighting rig and smiles ecstatically. Beneath her, the flushed face of a stout bearded bloke, around whose neck her thighs are firmly clasped, speaks of agony rather than ecstasy and his knees quiver like a weightlifter's in extremis. Nonetheless, he silently bellows "I love the world, I love the world" with awesome sincerity.
Above them to right and left rise three-tier pyramids of bare-chested men steaming sweat, the topmost of each tower "arm-dancing" with spirited disregard for equilibrium and total commitment to self-expression. From behind, in silhouette, they look like a walking mountain range. Around them thrash wild waves of sea-level celebrants, some of them forming circles, whirlpools and eddies of shirtless slam dancers, hurting no one. though, grinning and singing like the rest "I love the world. Oh God I love the world ..."
Onstage at the venerably stone-built St George's Hall in their adopted home town of Bradford, New Model Army go about their business with a formidable earnestness, volume and speed. They are a picture of uncool inelegance. A blur of faded T-shirts, old but not ripped jeans, pony tails, wooden clogs; singer Justin Sullivan opens wide to reveal front teeth gone cavernously missing; bassist Jason "Moose" Harris flaunts a mop-head so convincing it's probably on loan from the broom cupboard; drummer Robb Heaton strips down to black Bermudas and boots which pre-date the Piltdown Man: Everything about them declares that this is a band who have no truck with appearances.
And their fans – "The Following", as they are often called – like them that way. That's why a hundred of them snapped up the unique offer of a £48 tour season ticket and, along with many more who applied too late or couldn't afford such a hefty sum in one go, crammed into old hangers or hitchhiked the length of the country throughout February and March to see every one of the Army's 17 UK dates.
"It was raining today," says Brian Palmer, 19, from Sheffield, unemployed (£24 a week dole), a hitchhiking follower. "It was raining yesterday. It was raining the day before that. I got drenched. My leather jacket's soaked through, it's never had time to dry out." The previous evening after the gig he had been lucky enough to sneak into a students' TV room at Leicester University for a dry night's sleep. Sometimes, if he doesn't make a connection through a friend of a friend, he stands at the exit from the venue and pleads for floor or sofa space, appealing to fan solidarity. "I've had 80 people in a row tell me they didn't live local," says Brian, his poker-face just about leaking a grin. If it comes to it, he lays his sleeping-bag down wherever he can find some shelter. Railway stations are a favourite.
Charlotte Nielsen, 20, and Eva Madsen, 21, are known as The Pastries because they come from Copenhagen (geddit?). Working as chambermaids in Paris, they saved up for months to follow the British tour, but then somehow they got caught up in the earlier French leg and also decided to go on to Germany afterwards. With a Eurocard, £150 for a month's unlimited rail travel, they were seeing Britain in style. They'd run out of cash for accommodation though, and this had led them into some unlikely lodgings including a sub-post office and a bank (in Chippenham, the one that likes to say ''Yes! "no doubt).
Paul Harrison, 22, is a civil servant at the Department of Transport Eastern Traffic Area office in Nottingham and spends his working day dealing with bus and HGV licensing. Then, once a year, he takes off after the New Model Army tour. "If I can, I arrange my holidays to coincide with it," he says. "Otherwise I take flexi-leave, sick leave, or I'll drive all night and go into work in the morning whether I've slept or not. I've been to all the gigs for three years now." He once tried to hitch to Sweden to see them, didn't make it, stayed with friends in Germany for a week, then set off to catch them at the Lorelei festival in the Rhine valley, got stuck again, and arrived only in time for the encores. But, in Bradford, he was getting together with some fellow followers to fix up a minibus for the weekend swing through Scotland. "I just can't imagine not going now," he says. "It would be such a wrench. I got the majority of my friends through ‘The Following’ and they include the band and the crew."
This seems to be the heart of the matter. New Model Army and their ‘Following’ are a family on the road; better than that because it's only for a few weeks, so differences are enjoyed rather than resented. On the dole or financed by doting parents (as one or two are), there's scope for all to give and take.
From mid-afternoon at St George's Hall, band and fans mingled in the bar as they do at every gig — New Model Army soundchecks are open to the punters too. They chatted about the day's luck, sought or offered lifts and beds, checked whether their mates had tickets and sold spares back to the band to keep them out of the hands of the touts. Ever since the band took to wearing clogs, their sole fashion accessory, the fans have loyally followed suit. And when a veteran craftsman and two apprentices from Walkley Clog Mill set up their clog clinic in one corner, the impecunious took their old pairs in for on-the-spot refurbishment while the more prosperous bought the new designer models which the band-inspired youth market has stirred this traditional workshop to produce. A lad who'd got hold of a missing Giro went round paying off debts and then borrowing again to tide him over. By the time the band withdrew to get ready, they had arranged to put up well over a dozen fans in their own homes, quite normal for the Bradford gig apparently.
Ged Forrest, formerly a follower from Burton-on-Trent but now a housemate of Justin Sullivan and all-round operative for the band and their management, Totally Obnoxious, says "We are people who feel dissatisfied or lost or know there's something missing," he says. "When I first saw New Model Army, in 1986, I was working in a warehouse and when I went back to the job on the Monday I just told my boss I was leaving at lunchtime. And now I've got a career ahead of me because of the opportunities they've given me. They changed my life."
Jimmy Elder, 25, an unemployed fan from Lincoln, has been tracking the Army for four years. "New Model Army music is like driving a car at 150mph — or an orgasm," he says. "It blows me away. I never get bored with them, never. And look at the lyrics, they're my Bible. They have the same political ideals as me and the same romantic ideals."
And should you wonder whether, for "The Following", there is life beyond New Model Army, Charlotte Nielsen has a fulsome answer: "I only have one ambition and that's to see the whole world, every single corner of it ..."
New Model Army are one of those bands who scowl the moment a camera is pointed their way. Although, as serious people will, they insist they have a sense of humour, snappy one-liners do not feature in their work or their conversation. Their songs reveal them as fiercely anti-drugs, anti-(Falklands)war, anti-colonialism, anti-terrorism, anti-(amoral)technology. The positives they urge are, like the chorus of "I love the world", impassioned but less specific.
Now 33, Justin Sullivan grew up in what used to be a Quaker village. Jordans, Buckinghamshire. Long since merged into the stockbroker belt, it still boasts a barn made from the timbers of the Mayflower, the ship that carried the first English settlers to America. The history seems to have got under his skin as the band's story is littered with 17th century references: the original New Model Army was Oliver Cromwell's crack fighting force; on the early records Sullivan dubbed himself "Slade the Leveller" after a socialist rebel under the English Republic: the title of this year's album, Thunder And Consolation, is taken from a 1663 book by a "revolutionary" Quaker called Edward Burroughs.
Via the usual odd jobs, in the '70s he gravitated to Bradford, flirted briefly with Peace Studies at the university and then, for a year, plunged himself into living the band's one truly exotic anecdote. "I was involved in ... trade, shall we call it? Driving out to Pakistan in Transit vans loaded with engine parts, fridges, videos. Plus you sold the van itself when you got there. We went out in convoys of six, 6,000 miles in two weeks, driving 18 to 22 hours a day. The return leg could have been heroin, dope, but I wouldn't do that, I just flew home."
That concluded, he met and moved in with ranting poet Joolz (now doubling as Army merchandising supremo), and, from 1981 onwards, drew New Model Army together. After the standard rows and sackings, Heaton, 27, and (much later) Harris, 21, wandered into Bradford and the band. They were both smalltown boys themselves, from Cheshire and Oxfordshire, though Robb's family were restless globetrotters while Moose stayed rooted in Pusey until the day he ioined the Army — in May '85, at 17, an emergency mid-tour replacement plucked from a casual association with "The Following".
"It did take some getting used to," he says. "They'd put on all these old tapes in the van. I'd go, What the fuckin' hell's this? ‘Ziggy Stardust, dickhead.’ Never heard it before. 'You must have.' Sorry, I wasn't into Bowie when I was five." He's been staring at Sullivan down the barrel of a generation gap ever since. In fact, the band are an ill-assorted aggregation. Off the road in Bradford they rarely see each other.
But Sullivan is sure it's a plus that they only rub along. "Bands that are made out of good friends don't last," he says. "In the end it's the wrong things bringing them together. With us it's the right thing, the music." And in that regard he is not unambitious. "I think we're imperfect people trying to make something perfect, impure people trying to make something pure. Not just us: the crew and ‘The Following’, all of us. This is going to sound pretentious, but if music is a celebration of humanity then that's basically what we do."
The Army's first break came in '84 when their debut album, Vengeance, was top of the independents chart for a couple of months, selling 6-7,000. In tearaway post-punk vein, it brought them good press and big offers. The following year they signed for EMI and, ever since, they've been racking up debts while taking home £50 a week.
If controversy guaranteed Gallup placings, though, they'd have shipped platinum every time. The song Vengeance came back to haunt them with the vigilante implications of its refrain, "I believe in vengeance/I believe in gettin' the bastard", and saw them rejected as benefit volunteers by both Greenpeace and the Labour Party's Red Wedge. They had a barny with Top Of The Pops over a T-shirt slogan which read "Only stupid bastards use heroin" — the B-word had to be obliterated before they were allowed on air. They were refused work permits for the USA three times on the rather subjective grounds that they lacked artistic merit (conspiracy rumours abounded, naturally). But there wasn't much to show for all the ructions: a minor single hit, ‘No Rest’ (Number 28 in April, '85), and their last album, The Ghost Of Cain, in '87, doing about 25,000 in both Britain and Germany.
This meant little with studio time at about £1,500 a day (at Virgin's The Manor in Oxfordshire) because the band possessed a strange desire to be produced by all-time greats — who even more improbably agreed to do the job. Glyn Johns (who worked with the Stones, the Eagles and Joan Armatrading) slugged it out with them through The Ghost Of Cain. The band now admit they were wrong on every point of production and arrangement, and regret every argument they won. At one particularly acrimonious juncture, Johns took Sullivan "by the scruff of the neck, led me round 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 sobering experience."
At nearly 70, Tom Dowd (who'd produced Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Eric Clapton), tried and failed to identify with Thunder And Consolation. Largely re-recorded and self-produced, it has thrown up another minor hit, ‘Stupid Questions’, and shifted 35,000 albums in its first three weeks — looking-up on such a scale that EMI began to ruminate on maybe 500,000 worldwide ...
The band, though, insist on taking it one game at a time. "New Model Army has risen very slowly from obscurity to relative obscurity — and I wouldn't have it any other way," says Sullivan, smiling with genuine satisfaction at a story-so-far which has notably reversed music industry priorities by affecting a few people profoundly rather than a lot of people just enough to buy the record.
On the other hand, he believes that a lot of the showing-out intensity at gigs arises almost independently of the band. "People get this idea that there's something almost religious going on, but it's not that. The fans want an event: they choose a band, they go along to the gig and make it what they want. That's why there are nights when we are brilliant and nothing comes back at us and other nights when we're not worthy of it and the Earth moves. They make it happen."
While he likes "The Following", Heaton is even less impressed with any mystical interpretations of their dance rituals, seeing it all as the "Look at me, here I am!" stuff he used to do himself when he went to see bands. He feels that fervour goes before a fall. "If there's an honesty to what we do and that gives them a feeling of security for a while, then great. But sooner or later we're going to let them down. It's inevitable. Just being ourselves. The individuals in ‘The Following’ are changing all the time. They get tired of it and wait for an excuse to stop. You say something, they decide to take offence, and they don't like the band any more."
Perhaps that's the anatomy of a cult. One step up and two steps back. But even Sullivan, with his battered five-year-old clogs and his assiduously scuffed 10-year-old black leather coat, would prefer not to languish on 50 quid a week for many more years. "I'm not into possessions at all," he says, "but it I do ever make any money I'd like to travel with Joolz, of course. I'd go to China. I'd go to the Soviet Union. I'd go to the Polynesian Islands. All the places I've ever wanted to see." Why? "Oh," he shakes his head, "just, what a fantastic big beautiful world it is..."
© Phil Sutcliffe, 1989
From Chaos Control Digizine:
Throughout their 20 year history, New Model Army have never really fallen into a clearly defined musical genre. That's one of the reasons why nothing on "Great Expectations," their new singles collection, sounds the least bit dated. Existing just outside the mainstream, the group has consistently put out fantastic, emotionally charged rock music with highly intelligent lyrics and a slightly dark edge. "Great Expectations" is really just a small sampling of what New Model Army are about, but it serves as a great introduction to the band. The group recently embarked on their first US tour in a decade (performing with a scaled-down line-up consisting of Justin Sullivan on guitar/vocals and Dean White on guitar/keyboards/vocals). Shortly before the tour began, we got Justin on the phone for an interview.
How does it feel to be touring the US for the first time in a decade?
Justin: Good. We're very much looking forward to it.
Why has it been so long?
Justin: It's a mixture of things. It's partly to do with money, and partly because if you don't have sort of obvious industry presence in America, it is actually quite hard to get in, legally.
What effect will the scaled down line-up have on the sound?
Justin: Well, obviously it doesn't always sound like the records. But we have actually made records as a two and three piece. It's just as emotionally intense. We can't make as much noise with two people. If anything, I find it to be a really interesting creative challenge to make just 2 instruments, 2 people, sonically interesting for an hour and a half.
Are there songs that you'd like to do that don't work in this format?
Justin: Yeah, there's certainly some. There are about 150 songs released by New Model Army. I would say that we do versions of maybe 50 of them. Obviously, there's certain songs that wouldn't work, but we do know an awful lot that we can do in this format. We'll vary it as we go along.
Will you be focusing on material from the new singles collection, or mixing things up?
Justin: It will completely mixed up, from very old stuff to very new stuff that isn't even widely available in the States. To be honest, we don't really think about that [the singles collection.] We just put together shows that we think are really musically interesting and intense. We don't worry too much about whether people know a great deal of the songs. We certainly won't be focusing on the singles collection.
Are you doing any unreleased stuff?
Justin: Yeah, there's certain songs that have never even been recorded that we play a lot in this format. And with New Model Army, our B-sides have historically been better than our A-sides. The songs that we haven't put on any of our albums at all are probably best in the lot.
Did you have any idea that New Model Army would still be going after 20 years?
Justin: Oh god, no. I thought it would be one show.
At what point did you realize that it would be a long-term project?
Justin: Last week? I guess it sort of turns into a life, and I'm not sure about at what point that happened. We literally started the band to play one show at a pub in Bradford and we never had any sort of great ambitions. It was always just for the joy of playing. One thing led to another and another, and here we are.
Will there be a new New Model Army album in the near future?
Justin: Yeah, we've started work on one that will be released next year. It's been a while .... there's been live ones and compilations of lost songs and stuff like that. But the last actual studio album was 3 years ago, so it's time for a new one.