The annual New Model Army end of year show at the Forum is always a calendar event not to be missed. However that’s exactly what I did last year going to another gig down the road at The Dome. Good though that was, it kind of felt all wrong and I had a feeling of displacement all night. That’s not something I am going to do in a hurry again, 2 years without an NMA show is far too long and it’s great to be back in the arms of family once more.
First support The Hyena Kill are part way through when I get in, I had given them a listen earlier on BandCamp but performance wise they took things to a whole other level. Loud and boisterous were 1st thoughts, the drummer pounding things like there’s no tomorrow on a small kit at the side of the stage and the singer / guitarist rocking out and yelling. They may have had a bit of a White Stripes set up but these hyenas would have aggressively torn the flesh right off the bones of that duo. Apparently the Manchester based act had been having a hell of a year following the release of debut album Atomised and here they inject a bit of a bluesy vibe into things although any subtlety is completely lost as the sound levels are pumped up right through the roof. Last song ‘Stay Sick’ had a bit of a stoner ballast but was more akin to being hit by rocks, ouch that was a brief introduction but it was hard as hell.
I had heard a buzz about Macc lads The Virginmarys before but again this was my 1st encounter with them. The trio are hardly three wise men and definitely have youth and exuberance on their side and their mode of attack is quite upbeat and rocky with a Britpop vocal gob on. They have a brash and raw style and I couldn’t help thinking of the band in sadly cut in its prime series Vinyl at first. Then again this lot could just as easily turned up here on the following night and gone down well supporting Sham 69. A New Model Army crowd is a tough one to win over though, myself included but they gradually were getting there with anthemic chants ringing off the terraces. Apparently they come with the blessing of Marshall Gill and things begin to make a bit more sense as the band break into a number with a bit of a post punk, agit-prop, protest song feel about it. The drummer really gets into things thwacking sticks on his kit and songs such as ‘Falling Down’ provide for a vitriolic and in the face performance. I reckon The Virginmarys got some new converts tonight and once again NMA had provided some interesting supports.
Finally the main event and although the venue is very busy it’s easy to move down the side and get a good view near the front or join in the pit action if so inclined. The latter is tempting as New Model Army come on blazing with ‘Burn The Castle’ a new song that’s designed to get the most lethargic of audiences pumped up and bouncing around. It blows the doors wide open working as a complete battering ram with the band lit in blood red hues from the stage-lighting. An entrance and a statement before they keep the levels up, take us back to the past and thrust us into the ‘White Light.’ After this boot-stomping start we have a chance to chill to the frosty caress of ‘Winter’ and take on just what is going on stage wise. The sound is spot on, Justin Sullivan’s vocals are absolutely enchanting as we are mesmerized by the new album title track. Marshall flamboyantly spirals stage left and Ceri Munger thuds the bottom end to the right. Dean White is only just seen lurking on keyboards behind him and the backbone is rigorously enforced by Michael Dean. There is a bit of a surprise though as a violinist joins in and it’s immediately evident that this is not Ed but (and I only just found this info myself) more than capably handled by ex Eluveitie fiddler Shir-Ran Yinon. I’m not sure how this meeting of minds came about but throughout the show she added great textures to the sound and proved a bit of a revelation.
If I was forced to choose a favourite song of the year it would be easy and ‘Devil’ with its hard hitting chorus is a Faustian tale well worth selling your soul to. ‘Angry Planet’ turns the pit full-tilt boogie and proves another modern anthem for this cold hard world. Things calm a bit and we immerse ourselves in the balladry of songs like ‘Drifts’ listening to tales and being mesmerised and swept off our feet by them. Violin and a splash of harmonica from Gill are extra elements to indulge in and the build-up of ‘Born Feral’ gets absolutely intense with strobes flashing before seguing straight into ‘No Rest’ and providing the old guard to really fly into action in the centre of the dance-floor. Justin is a man of few words sticking to fitting as much music as possible into the allotted time, we savour what he says though and the life-affirming message of Autumn speaks loud; it’s music like this that keeps us alive. Everything is indeed beautiful! I suddenly realise that the more recent material is working absolute wonders and clambering up the mountains of ‘Stormclouds’ I don’t even feel the necessity for the old classics. This is the sound of a band whose work has never diminished in relevance or brilliance. Of course they can’t get away with the classics and 51st State and Purity go down a storm themselves. We get an electrifying happy song about death as Justin no doubt remembers the shocking circumstances of what led to the writing of ‘Wonderful Way To Go’ and I suddenly realise that time has simply flown by and they are off stage to a stomping of feet quickly urging back for encore. It really does sound like some are still wearing clogs here too by the noise. Several classics are lapped up, ‘Christian Militia’ not enough to leave us to go marching home, ‘Get Me Out’ a frantic call to arms and of course right at the end ‘Vagabonds’ but with a violinist present we knew fully well that was how it was going to culminate before running for trains with memories of a spectacular 2 hour set to linger in the memory till the next time. I have often said that New Model Army are the best live band in the world and tonight they yet again proved such a sweeping statement; long may they continue being so.