13 December 2018 (gig)
15 December 2018
Christmas just wouldn’t feel the same without New Model Army’s annual December visit to the Forum in Kentish Town and as the years have gone by, they have continued to steadily raise the bar and tonight deliver as passionate and relevant a performance as ever.
We rolled up out of the pub in time to catch the second half of Sean McGowan who is having a successful time of it following release of his debut album. The venue was half empty at this point, but it was positive to see him deliver an honest and humble acoustic set that was well received.
Gradually the crowd thickened and the tension rose and finally NMA took the stage, opening with ‘Whirlwind’ from their 1990 album ‘Purity’ that set the tone perfectly for what was to come. In recent years, they have treated their fans to a long two-part set that has built gradually. This year, they were straight in to it and barely took their foot off the peddle as the more recent ‘Burn the Castle’ followed the opener, which was then followed by one of my all-time favourites ‘Drag it Down’ from the mid-80s. Three songs from three different decades of their history tackling differing social and political issues in their lyrics, and each as equally relevant to the here and the now.
Justin Sullivan remains the one constant and corner stone, prowling the stage with a fury and fervency in his eyes that belies his 60 plus years. However, his deft and near sage like lyrics are underpinned by driving rhythms and infectious melodies. The band has changed over the years, but this current line-up feels as important and ‘classic’ as the early line up of Stuart Morrow and the late Rob Heaton that oft gets referred to. There is no doubt a synergy between them that is engaging to watch.
When a band has a strong back catalogue that spans four decades it makes it hard to know what to choose to play. Tonight, the set was near-perfectly balanced and carried the fans on a wave of energy and emotion expressed as ever with raised hands and a sweaty mosh pit that eddied and turned front of stage engulfing all who would venture too close. Sullivan would argue that they are not a political band and that first and foremost it is about making good music. However, it is hard not to associate their songs as narratives for what is happening in our world around us; whether the fallaciousness of the American dream (States Radio), or the simple honesty that our human nature drives us to divide and believe we are better than others (Better Than Them). Yet, they also pen plenty of songs that simply celebrate what is beautiful and shared by all in life, such as nature, the passing of time and our mortality (Autumn).
The time was up all too soon, but damned if the crowd were going to let them get away with only one encore. The band returned to stage to play ‘Stupid Questions’ and then finely, one of their very earliest songs. ‘Betcha’, where I surrendered to the mosh and nearly lost a tooth in the process to the back of someone’s head.
In the eyes of the mainstream it’s never been cool to like New Model Army, certainly not in the UK. A lot of people just don’t get them or at least resign them to the past. However, they seem to have a growing presence on radio stations such as BBC6, and have an increasing and solid fan base across Europe and other countries. Their recent jaunts to Brazil and Argentina must give the band the affirmation that what they do is so very important to many people.
They are presently working on a new album of songs that will hopefully be released in the coming year, and then they will be celebrating their 40th anniversary after that. In the thick of the crowd tonight there seemed to be more punks, more women, and a younger contingent engaging as well as the return of fans back for the first time in 30 plus years. God forbid but as the 40th year approaches it might soon become trendy to like New Model Army.