Review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown and photography by Ken Harrison.

So to a town in the Black Country, to a small music cozy venue for an intimate gig to see a general, a special time, without his army, just this man, by himself. To a small quirky place – Claptrap The Venue – comes the leader of New Model ArmyJustin Sullivan.

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Claptrap is a quirky place. Morphing out of Scary Canary, it has an arty, do-it-yourself feel, comfy sofas and seating, quirky messaging and is well worth a pop in if you’re in Stourbridge. They have lots of too, cinema showings, DJs, music and much more, that feature on the small stage.

First up, is singer songwriter Timothy Parkes, he writes songs cos he’s p***ed off about stuff or he can’t change stuff.  His inspiration comes from a range of subject matter –  being dropped from a band by post. Or a caravan in Mid Wales. A bit rusty tonight’s set maybe doesn’t go quite to plan; he forgets one song and has one or two tech glitches with this guitar, but he’s entertaining and witty, and the crowd are laid back enough to be supportive.

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Quick break and it’s time for Sullivan. We’ve reviewed his solo shows at the sadly closed The Boars Head in Kidderminster in August 2016 and earlier this year in May and it’s always a delight and pure joy, to see him up close and personal, just like he’s playing a gig in your front room. Taking to the stage – he’s straight down to business: ‘All Consuming Fire’ and ‘Fire.’ Sullivan is a magician, once he starts playing he has this ability to mesmerize and captivate a crowd. He hasn’t spoke to us yet. He’s just singing. With that passion and ire.

“Lovely night out there….” he says. “Welcome to the Midlands…” quips a punter. Cos it’s that time of year. ‘Winter.’ For those of us who may have lost someone, from 2013 ‘Ghosts.’ “Gatherings like this, he says, as with New Model Army, are a must in this crazy world. He’s not gonna talk about what’s happening in the world, cos we already know. He’s gonna sing about it. “Over The Wire.’ An indictment of his generation – successive generations will pay: ‘Tomorrow Came.’

Television. He says, is a bugbear. He watched it though. He likes Gogglebox, watching them,  watching TV, as they know it’s all bullshit. Native Americans have an expression for TV ‘Deadeye.’

About 15 years ago he did a solo record about the sea – ‘Navigating by the Stars‘ and he plays us a track from that. He loves big characters, people who have seen it all, done it all, they provide a fascinating inspiration for him. Inspired by a bloke he met in Greece ; ‘Sky In Your Eyes.’

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He had to do a Skype interview. About lyric writing. The interviewer wanted to know what the best lyric ever written was. Sullivan surprised the hell out of theme by saying ‘Jolene’ (Dolly Parton). Because it tells a story. The punters encourage Sullivan to sing it, but he’s not having it. So from 2002 – ‘Green.’ And this is the lyrical story Sullivan does so well….

“Green is what I see when I close my eyes, drifting out of here
The colour of the forests and the uniforms and the bottles of beer
Flying in low above the cedar trees through the soaking air
Our voices raised high against the rotor blades and the beating of fear
So long ago

Green is what I was the last time I saw my family
I was hungry then for anything and everything
The world could throw at me
Then we were sweeping over lands that I never knew were there
With half a pound of dope and cigarettes
For the soldiers on either side
Of the burning bridge…”

The tracks roll on and we’re captivated by his musical storytelling.Look beyond what’s happening”, he says. “There’s got to be something else…” – “Eyes Get Used To The Darkness.’  Additions. Vaping has allowed him to continue a massive love affair with nicotine. And his other addition. Being on the road. And the characters that inspire his songs. ‘After Something.’

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He’s beginning to wake up. He was spark out on a comfy sofa upstairs when he got the call – you’re on! He’s gonna use his telephone with this track. Will it work ( see review from August 2016  for the in-joke on this one). It does,  and the tracks continue. ‘Rivers’ sang with passion:

“I followed rivers, I followed orders
I followed prophets, I followed leaders
I followed rivers, I followed highways
I followed conscience, I followed dreamers…”

A quick break from the stage after well more than an hour. Into crowd; there’s never anywhere to go he quips – back upstairs to dangerously comfortable sofa. “Who’s from Stourbridge?  Wiltshire? Now even I know Stourbridge is not in Wiltshire!” Full compliments to Claptrap: “Fantastic little room –  come back here often –  it’s got sofas.”  So what sort of people like New Model Army?The best definition he’s heard: basically intelligent people trying to work through their own personal darkness. “That’s just the band! ”  And the set continues ‘Pull The Sun’, ‘Stoned, Fired And Full Of Grace’. He tells us everyone should protest once in their lives.  “Go live in the country and protest – it’s f***ing brilliant….”: Snelsmore Wood.’

Sullivan once AGAIN captivated the audience . Thank you. Just him – his voice, the lyrics, his guitar. We lucky, lucky people. And Sullivan is looking to do more of these solo gigs – he’s clearly enjoying these intimate gigs – so keep an eye out for him in 2018. Sullivan and his band of brothers in New Model Army are about to embark on their five very special epic Christmas “Winter Gatherings” dates, TWO SETS, and two and a half hours of music. They’ll be gathering in London on 14th and Nottingham Rock City on the 23rd December. The time is nigh:“Bring me the snowfall, bring me the cold wind, bring me the winter….”

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