FEW people who bought New Model Army’s first album, Vengence - a record bristling with punk attitude - would have predicted that the band would one day play seamlessly with a classical orchestra. Surely that would be unthinkable for this anti-establishment, hard rock militia?

And over the years, the band have seen their fair share of rock ‘n’ roll moments, including being dubiously banned from America for “having no artistic merit”, wearing provocative T-shirts on Top of the Pops, being electrocuted on-stage and technically dead for three minutes and succumbing to the predictable rock band fall-outs.

But frontman Justin Sullivan has never trashed a hotel room or thrown a TV out of a window – he says he would feel sorry for the person having to clear it up - and his intelligent, thoughtful lyrics and beautiful melodies also paint a very different picture.

So, should we be taken aback that the latest album, Sinfonia, is a partnership between the band and the Leipzig Sinfonia orchestra, featuring 11 violins, four violas, four cellos, two double bass, two flutes, one oboe, two clarinets, one bassoon, two trumpets, two trombones, kettledrums, a harp, two French horns and no doubt a well-tuned partridge in a pear tree?

“I think actually a lot of people are not surprised at all,” says Justin. “Our music is very kind of built for that. A lot of rock music has an urban identity but we’re more big landscape and being with an orchestra sort of suits.”

Sinfonia is a live album - a full recording of a one-off concert in Berlin in July last year. It was released on Friday, September 15 and comes in a pick-and-mix variety of bundles variously including CDs, vinyl LPs, T-shirts, tote bags, an accompanying book and, crucially, a DVD of the original night’s show.

Crucially because that reveals the full magnificence of the occasion and also some unusual sights, including Justin standing obediently, waiting for the baton-waving conductor to give him the okay to start playing and, to begin with anyway, the audience sitting quietly and well behaved, almost subdued, in neat rows perhaps nervous of what to expect. True, half-way through Justin invites them to get to their feet but there’s no sign of a human pyramid anywhere. Don’t let this fool you. In many ways, the orchestra leads to an intensity of sound that surpasses even the norm for the band.

Sinfonia is the result of a chance encounter back in 2014. “We were looking to do a handful of shows with an extended band. I invited cellist Tobias Unterberg to join us and asked if he knew a violinist who he thought would be the right person for us. He brought Shir-Ran Yinon with him and she was very much the right person. We’ve been friends ever since. The orchestral project was something she really wanted to do and she could see it. We sort of just went: ‘Yeah, right, okay.’”

Shir-Ran, talented daughter of the renowned classical conductor Israel Yinon, has been the main driver behind Sinfonia, writing all the orchestral parts. “She changed the arrangements of some of our songs to give more musical space for the orchestra but at the same time it had to be very New Model Army with full-on drumming from Michael [Dean] and a big bass noise from Ceri [Monger].”

And does it work? Yes, it does and take that from someone who was initially sceptical. What you get is a unique reworking of 20 songs plus an introductory overture. There are some surprises: the collection includes Shot 18, a song the band haven’t played live since the 1980s and a string quartet version of Green and Grey that would not be out of place at an ambassador’s reception. And there are some non-surprises too: the songs Purity, Vagabonds and Lullaby – already part way down the road to being orchestral pieces – thankfully always were going to be on the album.

Most fans would probably say Purity is one of their top ten songs from the band but although Ed Alleyne Johnson did a sterling job playing violin on the original recording, he couldn’t possibly match the vibrancy and richness produced by the small army of violinists on Sinfonia, while band guitarist Dean White manages to overlay their significant wall of sound with a short but winning piece of lead guitar. It all unites band, orchestra and audience as one and takes the song to a new level of emotion that almost brings a tear to the eye.

Justin’s personal favourite is Winter, while drummer Michael Dean points to Innocence, Wonderful Way to Go and, yes, Shot 18. Michael has his own memory of the build-up to the night in Berlin: “When we first played with the orchestra in rehearsals, it was challenging. We weren’t used to playing with a conductor and anyway, it was hard for me to see him through all the set-up of cymbals. There was a lot of give and take on both sides and in the end it all came together really well.”

Looking at the cheering audience on the DVD after the finishing track, Wonderful Way to Go, has reached its crashing final moments, no-one there on the night would have disagreed with that. Sinfonia marks yet another victory for New Model Army, a band that is still marching on unhesitatingly and on more than one front too.

* Visit newmodelarmy.org