Bad old clashes in town tonight with both Morbid Angel and the UK Subs playing but you go where your heart is and mine was always going to be here. It’s always a pleasure seeing New Model Army as the last show of the year and they always do things in style. Tonight they were promising a two part set and one that was going to stretch to two and a half hours (it was for those with stopwatches, a fair bit more). Special guests were also apparently being lined up and we could only take a guess at exactly what we were going to get here. I am glad they didn’t bill tonight’s show as NMA + Nobody Else as they did in the past as it caused great confusion for those of us waiting for support act Nobody Else (yep true story that). The stage was set up rather spectacularly before us and bathed in deep red shade and whereas most group’s set lists stretch to a single sheet there were three here with a wealthy array of numbers on display; too many to actually take in!
Eight o’clock comes, so do the band, we immediately lose sight of Michael Dean behind his vertically piled up kit but there was going to be no problems hearing him. We are off into the jangling guitar of ‘Guessing’ from ‘Between Wine And Blood.’ It’s a great upbeat start, passionate and full of melody along with good rhythmic surges to get everyone pumped up and singing along. Justin Sullivan is naturally at the front in the middle, taking up stage right beside the main drum kit is newest player Ceri Monger who has really consolidated himself into the band’s ranks and helps fire away a youthful exuberance on things and stage left bassist Marshall Gill is fully in charge. Just to the side of him and keeping in the shadows a little is Dean White on keyboards but there is no sticking to things throughout with most of the band swapping around and joining in on other instruments over the course of the night.
From the new it’s not long before the old raises fanatical head in form of ‘Christian Militia.’ It’s a tempered display from both band and audience, as bristling and indignant a treatise against organised religion as you could wish to hear. We are told the next one is a bit of an anniversary, scratching my head and feeling a bit stupid I suddenly work out the obvious. yep ‘1984’ was 30 years ago and this was one of those songs I did not expect to hear although it makes obvious sense playing it. It sounds as good as it did back then with the twanging bass and chanting vocals. It’s hard to choose a best newer song but tonight the cause for ‘Stormclouds’ was brought to the fore with a hugely dramatic and soaring version of it delivering the goods and really bringing it on. The audience all knew the words for the next one ‘No Rest’ and so they should have done and ‘Knievel’ was the moment that the pyramid builders had been waiting for, the chance to fly was too much to ignore. There was so much emotion here and not in an emo way, atmosphere and passion just flowed off the stage and consumed us all. Sound was crystal clear as well.
‘Waiting’ was another big surprise to hear and it heralded the first special guest to appear, harmonica man Mark Feltham and boy can he play the blues! The Nine Below Zero man has played on so many classics and he was on fine form tonight enthusing some of the songs with a real manic and infectious clamour or having them poignantly weeping away. ‘Family’ united us all and everyone was singing along now and it was left to ‘Between Dog And Wolf’ itself with its percussive Middle Eastern rhythms to finalise the first hefty set and the band to take a break.
It was true that I still did not have a clue why they felt the need to divide things in two but as I came back in it was obvious as they had a cello and violin player to accompany the rest of the set. Yes that does make perfect sense when you think about it and it worked well with everything they had chosen to play next. NMA have never gone down the “full orchestra” route many bands of their longevity have and this was the closest they had got to doing so. It certainly enhanced rather than diminish the impact of things too. First Justin had us solely in his grip with ‘Ballad’ another number I would never have expected and one of many great stories the band spellbind us with. You could have heard a pin drop during it. We are taken through some of what I call their mid-era albums with songs like ‘Someone Like Jesus’ and ‘Into The Wind,’ albums I overlooked at first but have come back and loved due to catching the songs live over the years. They are perfect for the strings to join in with too and there’s another surprise as electric violin player Ed Alleyne-Johnson makes a long overdue and welcome return to stage with the band. I had a quick count and there were no less than nine of them all playing and singing away!
There is still plenty of mixing it up going down and we have what I call the “woo hoo” song due to the chorus ‘March Into September’ proving yet another stand out moment. ‘Liberal Education’ chilled to the very bones and sent shivers down the spine with the hefty drumming and angst ridden, loathing vocals. Everything they were playing had classic written all over it and I doubt there was anyone complaining about what they gave us tonight. The rhythmic groove of ‘No Mirror, No Shadow’ gave us chance for a full tilt boogie and ‘One Of The Chosen’ delivers unbridled rage getting fists flying towards the heavens. Volatile and battering, this one very much left its mark proving absolutely bruising with strident accompanying strings taking it to another dimension. ‘No Pain’ is oh so poignant and touches each and every one of us and ‘Angry Planet’ etches itself on me as the anthem of the year.
With Feltham here there was absolutely no chance of them not playing ‘Poison Street,’ the harmonica blazing away through it and delivering us into the redemption of ‘Wonderful Way To Go.’ We knew encores were on the cards as another they had to trot out with Ed here was ‘Vagabonds’ much to the delight of the audience. They had everyone on the stage and even threatened Ray Davis who apparently would have loved to have been there with a cover of Kinks classic “Till The End Of The Day.’ It seemed like the band simply did not want to stop playing, they certainly brought plenty of thunder with ‘252’ ‘Green And Grey’ and ‘I Love The World’ taking us out in a spectacular and rousing fashion. Phew. It was kind of a relief to fall out into the fresh air after all that and there was absolutely no topping it at all. A spectacular show to round off the year from the best band in the planet; top that 2015.
(Review and photos © Pete Woods)