Sebastian Oake on Bradford band New Model Army's new album release

BRADFORD’S New Model Army have fought hard over four decades to earn their place in rock’s book of legends. And today they come out firing on all fronts again with their 16th studio album, Winter.

It marks another milestone on an incredible journey that began when Justin Sullivan left leafy Buckinghamshire to go to college in Bradford. He soon met virtuoso bassist Stuart Morrow and long-term collaborator Joolz Denby and started a band that would go on to play the soundtrack to many people’s lives. Since 1980 at least 14 musicians have passed through the band, while the song tally is now up to more than 230 and shows no sign of reaching any ceiling.

New Model Army’s songs frequently reflect the romance of desolation and disillusionment; they are a call to arms against injustice, whether human or environmental. Some might call it a gloomy outlook but the lyrics are intelligent observations on life, its aspirations and disappointments, its high points and low points. The new album is no exception.

“It’s ended up a bleak album,” says Justin. “But these are difficult times in the world and for some of the band members too. We don’t really deliberately set out to make a sad album – or a happy album – but if that’s where the music goes, that’s where it goes. The songs were finally mixed to sound raw, dirty and dry.”

Winter does come across as different from the acclaimed and commercially successful Between Dog and Wolf, the previous full album released three years ago. “Dog and Wolf was very structured,” explains Justin. “It was built rather than played. This time we wanted to sound like being in a room with a loud band.”

Certainly there are some full-on blasts on the new album, particularly Burn the Castle, a rallying cry against blind subservience to those in power but, as ever, it’s the thoughtful and often softer moments that hit the centre of the target with the usual unswerving accuracy. In particular, the heart-felt song Die Trying leaves you both breathless and confused about the sheer desperation of refugees and migrants trying to reach somewhere, anywhere. Other highlights include the title track Winter, a statement of despair at the chaos of modern times, Born Feral, a song about restlessness, and After Something, pointing to the endless quests of the seeker.

The album contains the band’s trademark pounding rhythms and, in places, a slight nod to other bands such as the Pixies and New Model Army’s German brothers-in-arms Die Toten Hosen. On one level this is surprising considering that, out of his New Model Army uniform, Justin’s personal choice of music leans more towards soul or Motown than rock. But New Model Army has always thrived on different influences and opinions. Justin likes to tell the story that on his birthday once, the band sat down and tried to agree on one album in the history of the world that they all thought was brilliant, and they couldn’t.

One thing they do all agree on is that touring is fun and at the end of next month the band set out on a blistering march through Europe before doing a run of Christmas shows and then more touring into the spring.

“I’ve always loved touring,” says Justin. “I’m the sort of person who never wants to stay at A or arrive at B – I like the bit in between.” Even so, his heart does not sink when he returns home to Bradford, a city he has fond feelings for and somewhere frequently alluded to in his writing. “Bradford is a really interesting place and it’s in a beautiful setting. It’s a good size – northwards and westwards, you can easily get out to nice spots,” he says before revealing one of his favourite out-of-town haunts is Ogden Water.

He also embraces Bradford’s multi-cultural community. “The demographic changes that have taken place mean everyone belongs in Bradford. It gives the place a sense of easy-going acceptance.

“Sometimes though Bradford has this chip on its shoulder that it’s not Leeds but I don’t understand that – it’s much nicer!”

With today’s release of an album that’s surely going to tick all the boxes for New Model Army fans, Bradford must surely have even more to be proud of.

* Winter by New Model Army is released today. The band play Leeds University Union on November 12. Visit