13 October 2021 (gig)
Tonight, Sullivan’s almost 2-hour set was nothing less than excellent. His stately presence on the small and intimate stage of The Lexington as he steered through a well-balanced set-list of recent solo recordings and carefully picked New Model Army classics, was captivating.
He explained how lockdown and enforced time at home sat on the sofa eventually prompted him to start writing music for a solo project. There have not been many upsides to this never-ending pandemic, but this was definitely one of them. The songs came ‘thick and fast’ and, with collaborations from other musical friends, his second solo album ‘Surrounded’ was released earlier this year. The album is an eclectic collection of songs about life, nature, the sea (one if his favourite subjects), and stories inspired by the people he meets. A welcome escape from the current relentless newsreel that heralds dark times.
Seeing Sullivan perform acoustically serves to reinforce just how powerful one man's lyrics and a guitar can be. The set opened with Maps from the most recent NMA album. An emotive, rolling rhythm that carries a foreboding lyric about present and future times. Next up was a firm favourite from his first solo album Navigating by The Stars that he released twenty years ago – Changing of the Light. Beautiful and poetic, and a fine example of Sullivan’s talents. Also, the only the song from that album to be played tonight.
My personal new album favourite 'Stone and Heather' was delivered perfectly as were the delightful tones of 28th May. Despite showcasing his recent writings, there were several NMA songs woven in to the setlist, spanning 40 years of song writing. No Greater Love from NMA’s second album, released in the gloomy early 80s seemed very fitting for today’s challenged times. Although above all, it is a love song of hope and redemption, and beautiful at that. Acoustic renditions of Over The Wire from the album Strange Brotherhood, and Eyes Get Used to the Darkness from the more recent album Winter allowed the lyric to take centre stage, again showcasing Sullivan’s lyrical prowess.
Sullivan has the knack of continually surprising, tonight we saw the raconteur holding the audience in the palm of his hand. It’s also clear to see the reverence in which he is held by his fanbase. The ‘pin-drop’ moment extended for the whole set leaving no-one in doubt of his musical talents. Where does New Model Army end and Justin begin? The truth is, they are one and the same. Without Justin neither exist, nor should they. After tonight's set we all look forward to an extended two-night stay at Camden's Roundhouse in December with renewed passion and faith.
Changing of the Light
Coming With Me
No Greater Love
Over the Wire
Stone and Heather
Where I Am
You Weren't There
Bad Old World
Eyes Get Used to the Darkness