In a week that’s seen the press wet themselves over the release of Taylor Swift’s latest long player, we’ve said nah, you’re alright, before making a run for the opposite end of the spectrum. This turns out to be New Model Army’s gig at Glasgow’s Garage, the band as potent, poignant and poetic as ever as they celebrate their new album, Unbroken. 

And with a fabulous mix of frayed, greyed and shamefully intact NMA t-shirts decorating the pubs around Sauchiehall Street before the sell-out gig kicks off, it appears that their faithful following are still somewhat unbroken too, with some younger faces joining the troops, always a promising sight.

Tonight original frontman/guitarist/songwriter Justin Sullivan showcases eight tracks from the new album with his trusty line up of Michael Dean on drums, Ceri Monger on bass and Dean White on guitar / keyboards, and it might just be the cider-goggles, but I’m sure Sullivan’s got a wee glow about him this evening…ok maybe more of a renewed spark than fake tan flush (perish the thought), but then again what do I know? I’ve only seen the band live five times in 34 years, while my NMA-obsessed pal is now on her third date of the week with Justin & co, having seen them in Dublin and Belfast. Of course, even she can’t be sure of what goes on behind that feral gaze, but when some of your songs are over 40 years old, a new bag of tunes has got to feel pretty rejuvenating…

As the buoyant beats of Unbroken’s Coming Or Going kick things off, a glance into the crowd reminds me that as important as the band t-shirt is to the fans, it wouldn’t be a NMA gig without some taps aff. In fact, although I only catch the odd glimpse of those much-adored hairy back cleavages sweltering around in the pit, I’m pretty sure Sullivan replaces “ripples in the heat” with “nipples in the heat” on one of Unbroken’s highlights, First Summer After. On second thoughts, maybe it’s just the cider again… But despite being loyal to the band’s classic sound, this number brims with a freshness which can be found throughout the new album, Monger’s opening drills revving up momentum before Sullivan slings his astute poetic ponderings towards the crowd, the bass and drums weaving through the number with an tribal groove which uplifts and unsettles all at once, just the way we like it. Arms aloft (though sadly no wee squirts of Lynx at the ready), the chanting begins and the night is well and truly underway.

Although the majority of the set is made up of new numbers, they delve into their back catalogue for songs such as 225, Long Goodbye, Stormclouds and Winter, letting the fans squirm a bit longer as they wait for some older gems to make an appearance. To be honest, it’s a bit of a game to old Sullivan, who abuses his political podium to remind us that they must “never, ever, ever play what the audience wants”. Ok, point taken, Justin, and really, who’s going to argue with that stare? 

Of course, he’s a big softie really, going all gooey over their journey from Belfast this morning as he raves about of the beautiful road from Cairnryan to Ayr, a much-appreciated tease into the lush, melancholic meanderings of Green And Grey, from 1989’s Thunder And Consolation as the crowd are united in voice. But back to the “material world” and never one to shy away from the blatant hypocrisies that fester within our daily lives, he almost spits out that shiny ole tooth as he froths at the mouth over how we’ve “all been had” by that shower down the road at Westminster and the likes, a nice wee link into the song he introduces in Europe as “Brexit Island”, admitting there will be mixed feelings in Scotland. Aye just a bit, Justin! You can almost get a heat off the blood that boils as they unload the lyrics to Reload atop its pounding riffs such as “taking everything and stashing it away in a pretty little Caribbean island….all we feel is rage / all we hear is rage / we’re only fuel for them to burn”. Angry Planet follows on perfectly, before Purity’s gloom-stained ambience broods and builds, sending a welcomed chill over the sweaty crowd, as relevant now as it was back in 1990.

What NMA have always done so well is channel the anger and angst so many of us feel on issues ranging from the destruction of the planet to the derailment of society, with illuminating insights on nature, on simpler ways of life, all articulated through Sullivan’s astute lyrics and jaw-dropping, eye-popping intensity, which lies at the very tattered heart of the band. And tonight I think they get the balance about right, the new tracks they perform encompassing many of these notions, from the revulsion of Reload to the powerful reflections of Coming Or Going, Language and Idumea. Come to think of it, despite his unwavering conviction, I’m pretty sure Sullivan even blinks once or twice.

Ending the main set with 1998’s Wonderful Way To Go, they’re back for the encore with first single Bittersweet from way back in 1983, its upbeat melody causing a riotous response, betraying the desperate lyrics in true bittersweet style. The Garage shudders as 1985 favourite No Rest takes the agitation NMA do so well to explosive levels, the pit churning in glorious solidarity before Impurity’s first single Get Me Out flings me back to my student days when my flatmate (yep her again) would attribute the song to my early morning cosmetic routine. Vanity, eg? But it’s a blast from the past and a rowdy affair, just how it should be, and the perfect end to an evening which sees NMA nail it once more.

For many here tonight and so many more who can’t make it to the tour, NMA isn’t just about the music, but the community of likeminded people who’ve grown together through their love of the band and everything it stands for. That said, I’d like to think that Sullivan’s passion has rubbed off on the fans a bit and they’ll fight it out over whether to play The Ghost Of Cain or Thunder And Consolation on any latter year bus trips…But Sullivan and gang must feel quite at home wherever they go as they look out towards the hardcore of familiar faces night after night. And I’m pretty sure they’re delighted to spot my pal singing her wee heart out, despite wanting to hold her nose as those arms are raised higher and higher. Then again, they may have made a last minute decision to change the set list, thinking get me out of this place!

NMA are still out and about on tour, and will be heading to The Bearded Theory Festival at the end of May before headlining Glastonbury’s Field of Avalon (main stage) in late June. 

Words: Shirley Mack @musingsbymarie
Muse: Sandra D
Pictures: Calum Mackintosh @ayecandyphotography