New Model Army

New Model Army



ew Model Army played their first gig in Bradford on October 23rd 1980. Its founding members were Justin Sullivan, Stuart Morrow and Phil Tompkins. The threesome had already been together for a couple of years in a number of Bradford bands with other musicians and singers but in the Autumn of 1980, they decided to form a stripped-down three-piece, their music drawing on a wide collection of influences and fuelled by their passions for Punk Rock and Northern Soul. Within a few months drummer Phil Tomkins had left to be replaced by Rob Waddington. The band slowly built up a local following and created a unique style based on Justin's song-writing and Stuart's virtuosity on lead-bass.

In Summer 1982, whispers about this band reached London and they were invited to perform at a couple of showcases. But in a scene hungry for "the next big thing" (the coming "New Romantics"), NMA's fearsome music and northern style did not win over the Major Record Companies and they returned to Bradford empty-handed. Rob Waddington left to be replaced by Robert Heaton, who had been working as a drum tech and occasional drummer for the band ‘Hawkwind‘. Undeterred by the indifference of the Music Business, NMA began to perform more and more around the country and frequently featured as opening act on a series of all-day concerts at the London Lyceum which heralded many of the "Post-Punk" bands. Although this meant traveling for several hours to play a twenty-five minute set for no money, the band embraced the opportunity and their reputation as a live act grew. A first small-label independent single "Bittersweet" was released in the summer of 1983, followed by "Great Expectations" on Abstract Records that autumn, both played frequently on late night radio by John Peel. Suddenly the band had a "Following", people who would travel to every concert around the country to see them.

Early in 1984, the producer of "The Tube", the most important live music show on TV, had seen NMA in concert and invited them to fill the ‘unknown' slot on the programme. Having originally asked the band to perform their provocative anti-anthem, "Vengeance", the TV Company suddenly got cold feet about the song's lyrics minutes before broadcast and asked the band to change songs. It made no difference. Somehow twenty to thirty followers had managed to get into the TV studio and when NMA began with "Christian Militia" the crowd went wild and an electric atmosphere was transmitted around the country. Suddenly NMA were underground news. Their first mini-album, "Vengeance" knocked "The Smiths" from the top of the Independent Charts and the major record companies, who had rejected them less than two years earlier, were now begging to sign the band.

The autumn of 1984 was a time of political turmoil in Britain. After five years of Mrs Thatcher's right-wing government, which had already fuelled so much of NMA's early fury, a final showdown with the National Union of Mineworkers (the strike that had begun in March and had split the country), entered a critical phase and much of Northern England began to resemble a Police State. NMA's last Independent EP "The Price" also featured "1984" a song written directly about the strike and, with their declared left-wing views, NMA's concerts became increasingly intense.

At the end of the year, NMA signed a contract of "complete artist control" with EMI (which included EMI giving a donation to a miners fund). The move surprised many people but the band were already looking beyond the confines of Britain and considered the deal to be the right one. In the Spring of 1985 the album "No Rest For The Wicked" and the single "No Rest" both reached the national top 40, but this success and now relative financial security had done little to soften NMA's confrontational attitude. They appeared on Top Of The Pops wearing T-shirts with a motif reading "Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin" (a reaction against the fashionable drug of the time).

Then, halfway through the "No Rest" tour, the day after their hometown gig, Stuart Morrow decided to leave the band for personal reasons. Frantic negotiations were made (by a strange unhappy co-incidence, on the very same day as the Bradford City fire disaster killed 56 people at a football match), but to no avail. As a result, Justin and Robert decided to follow up the success of "No Rest" with an acoustic song from the album "Better Than Them" which had not involved Stuart and accompanied it with three specially recorded acoustic tracks, a move of principle which dumbfounded EMI. By the summer, Stuart had been replaced by 17 year-old Jason 'Moose' Harris, whose first gig was at a benefit for the families of the fire tragedy, and the "No Rest" tour continued.

Thatcher's victory over the miners, and by extension over all organised opposition, marked a new political reality. This, coupled with the shock of Stuarts's departure and increasing media hostility, resulted in the band takin