Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

On this chilly and damp November evening Winter is coming. In fact Winter is here. Winter will be on show tonight as Sullivan brings his army to Birmingham, to the main room at the o2 Institute, and to the family that follow. ‘Bring me the snowfall. Bring me the cold wind. Bring me Winter.’  Which is exactly what New Model Amy will do tonight.

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Mad Dog Mcrea are a ram-shackle-bobtail bunch who blend a unique mixture of folk rock, pop, gypsy jazz, bluegrass and ‘shake your ass’ music. From self-penned songs of adventure, drinking, love and life, to traditional songs of gypsies, fairies, legless pirates and black flies – they are fun and get the crowd bopping along to their Irish folk jamming….. This band of brothers (and lasses) hail from Plymouth; with Michael Mathieson (guitar & vocals), Dan Crimp (whistles & flute), Jimi Galvin (bass),  Dave Podmore (bazooki & banjo), Pete Chart (drums) and Nicki Powell  on fiddle.

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And so to the main men. The New Model Army. Into their 36th year – they are still as relevant today (even more so) then they probably have in the three decades plus of existence.  Led by one ‘Slade the Leveller’ – Justin Sullivan, NMA  attract a truly loyal following and as a band, are known for being overtly political, never fearful of being confrontational – it’s part of their DNA. They’ve never chosen the easy route, sticking to their guns and principals throughout.  The journey has never been easy for the band throughout their history either. Resilient to the last – lineup changes, personal tragedies are all part of the band’s history and are now a part of who they are. And they still have things to say.

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First part of the set is indeed ‘Winter.’ ‘Winter’ is their new release – less ‘commercial’ and far more fierce than ‘Between Dog and Wolf’ – but full of NMA angst and beautiful lyrics. And delivered with all the passion you would expect. And many tonight have brought it. They know the words – and cheer the gap in ‘Winter.’

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‘Part the Waters’ – commenting on the migration from the Middle East and Africa – “The tide flows both ways across the seas; All following through on promises made; The roads are filled with fleeing slaves and refugees – singing…”

Whether ballad on full on venomous angst – NMA are in the zone and the faithful be at one.’Die Trying’ about the world’s current protectionism, and how country’s are doing it for themselves and closing openness – this will become one of the regulars on their set: “Winter storms and the snow flying; Razor wire and the gulls crying; Cross the water or die trying…”. And tonight they are joined by Mad Dog fiddly Nicki Powell, complementing and adding to their sound.

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‘Purity’ for those who lost their lives in Paris 12 months ago, across the city and the Bataclan. Before the tub-thumbing beat that is ‘Stormclouds’ off ‘Between Dog and Wolf.’ Sullivan’s advice on the crazy and scary world we live in – go west from here – into the hills. And the set complete with venomous angst, ‘Wonderful Way To Go’ – we chant – people stand on the shoulders of others.

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For the encore, a trio of three classics, set off by – Mad Dog fiddly Nicki Powell, with the beautiful tune that is the start of ‘Vagabonds.’ And we sing: “We are old, we are young, we are in this together; Vagabonds and children, prisoners forever; With pulses a-raging and eyes full of wonder, Kicking out behind us again….”

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NMA are relevant. However many fans are there, 10 or 10,000, they give EVERYTHING. They are tough. Rugged. And in this forever. And as relevant now as they ever were – as the world spirals out of control. Politicians flexible truth. People challenge the system and answers given politically wrong ones. The ‘elite’ meltdown, madness reins on multiple levels. In a world that appears to be increasingly going mad, I’ll leave you with the last chorus of the last song to scream out loud. I Love The World.

“And if one day the final fire explodes across the whitened sky
I know you’ve said you’d rather die and make it over fast
With courage from your bravest friends, waiting outside for the end
With no bitterness but an innocence that I can’t seem to grasp
I know somehow I will survive – this fury just to stay alive
So drunk with sickness, weak with pain, I can walk the hills one last time
Scarred and smiling, dying slow, I’ll scream to no one left at all
I told you so, I told you so, I told you so . .
Oh God I love the world…..”

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Setlist:

Burn the Castle
Whitelight
Winter
Part the Waters
Eyes Get Used to the Darkness
Fate
Devil
Angry Planet
Drifts
Born Feral
Die Trying
Purity
Stormclouds
High
51st State
Wonderful Way To Go

Encore:
Vagabonds
Christian Militia
Poison Street

I Love The World

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Listening: New Model Army
Thunder and Consolation [1989]
Between Dog and Wolf [2013]
Winter [2016]

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