New Model Army interview reveals new gig for 40th anniversary

By Sebastian Oake

New Model Army interview reveals new gig for 40th anniversary

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IT will be a gig like no other. On Saturday, October 24, New Model Army are set to perform songs from all their albums to mark their 40th anniversary, a milestone most bands never reach.

As it’s firmly a celebration, there might even be some crowd-pleasers, unusual for a band who famously dislike playing what the audience most want to hear.

This concert will be different for another reason. Except for the band, sound crew and camera operators, there’ll be no-one there. Coronavirus means it will be a virtual gig, streamed live via the internet to all parts of the globe. But will the band not find it difficult to play to a silent, unseen audience? Frontman and founding member Justin Sullivan says: “I don’t know, we’ve never done it before. It certainly won’t be the same as playing to a gig full of people but I actually like the idea of playing to people in America at the same time as people in, say, Poland.

“The hardest thing is to know what to play. We’ll do around 30 songs but whatever we play, we’re going to miss out someone’s favourite. We’ve got 240 to choose from, so we’ll have to leave out 210.”

Fittingly the concert will come from Bradford, where 40 years ago New Model Army played their first gig at Scamps Disco on Charles Street, now largely buried under the Broadway shopping centre.

Justin arrived in Bradford from the Home Counties to go to college in the mid-1970s. It was a career direction that wasn’t meant to be. After a year he dropped out and turned to his chief love, music. At the time, Bradford and other cities in the North were hotbeds of Northern Soul - Motown cranked up for dancing. “Northern Soul was absolutely my sort of thing,” says Justin. “We used to go to Wigan Casino where dancing started at midnight and continued until 8am. It was essentially an early version of rave.”

But another music genre would soon become dominant - punk rock. “That created a very vibrant scene,” says Justin. “Punk came to be seen as loud guitars and shouting but it was far more than that. It was a cultural revolution and freedom of expression. Music played with spirit with the message ‘We’re doing this, we don’t care, like it or lump it’.”

Around Bradford, bands of all shapes and sizes were springing up. They included Southern Death Cult and later Zodiac Mindwarp. Justin remembers a Keighley band called The Shakes, fronted by his friend Ashley Cartwright. “The Shakes were a sister band to us really. We played together a lot. They were wonderful.”

Key to the music scene was the long-gone Royal Standard pub on Manningham Lane. “All the up-coming bands played there. It was where Hell’s Angels, or Satan’s Slaves as they were in Bradford, met punk rockers.”

The changing Bradford band scene has been catalogued in fine detail by Gary Cavanagh, author of Bradford’s Noise of the Valleys. He says: “New Model Army were the first band from Bradford in the 1980s to have an impact on the national indie music scene. Their debut album Vengeance went straight to the top of the UK indie charts in May 1984 and stayed in the charts for 70 weeks. The band have always been praised for riveting live performances and are adored by their legion of fans.”

If New Model Army have meant a lot to Bradford, the city has also meant a lot to Justin ever since he first arrived. In 2004 he set a series of interviews with Bradford residents to music to accompany an exhibition of photos by New Model Army artistic collaborator Joolz Denby. It was called Bradford Soundscape. “I walked around the city and talked to anyone and everyone about the place,” says Justin. “It was like a love letter to Bradford.”

Many of Justin and the band’s songs, there are around 240 in total, bear reference to the city or surrounding towns, villages and moors. Amongst them is undisputed anthem Green and Grey, almost certain to be played at next week’s gig. It will be a full-on affair using multiple cameras and streamed in high quality, with artwork, graphics and an interval chatroom. “We want to do it as ambitiously as we can,” says Justin, who’ll be joined on the virtual stage by Marshall Gill on lead guitar, Ceri Monger on bass, Dean White on keyboards and Michael Dean on drums.

So how does Justin feel after 40 years at the top of his game? “I’m proud that we always went our own way. I’ve never been interested in being successful. For me it’s about being in a room with others making something you think is great. What better feeling is there than that?”

* New Model Army’s gig is Saturday, October 24, 8pm. Visit newmodelarmy.org