Monday, 28 November 2016

Memories of 2016 gigs #9 & #10

#9: New Model Army
Tramshed, Cardiff - 18 November 2016
Support: Mad Dog McCrea

I'd never seen New Model Army live before. This baffles me. More than 30 years into their career, they are still churning out some great stuff, their most recent offerings being as strong and absorbing as anything they've done. What exactly keeps them going? And more to the point, what keeps them so relevant? Having now broken my duck and seen them live, it's as clear as the nose on my face.

One of their secret weapons is their fanbase. Many of the people at the Tramshed were probably there right at the start in the early 80s as NMA emerged from the post-punk and New Wave wasteland, crossing politically-charged punk rock with folk music as Thatcher's evil empire took hold. There were a lot of angry souls back then, and there are many angry souls now. More than half the audience looked exactly as I imagined more than half the audience would look like - they'd survived the dark times once and were now raging once more - older and wiser, but as angry as ever.

My politically-active years were the early 90s when I caught on to the sort of bands New Model Army undoubtedly influenced. Which is probably why the support band didn't do much for me. Mad Dog McCrea can be best described as a Levellers-lite pub band. Sorry, but I'd seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt, got bored and left that party more than 20 years ago. Nothing new, nothing interesting.

The Tramshed recently celebrated its first anniversary. "Nice place," observed Justin Sullivan. "Bit new though; be better in 25 years. We'll still be around." It has been a good year for the venue, but I doubt it had seen a better show than the one that was about to take place, for New Model Army were simply outstanding. The set was not what I expected, comprising mostly of new and recent material. There were a few predictable cries from the audience for No Rest (which ultimately went unheeded), and one shout of "Play some old stuff!" But if I'm being honest, I can't fault what was played. I love NMA's recent albums and their new stuff has an angry almost tribal feel to it. In fact the drums dominate the sound, with the bass player doubling up as a second drummer in places. The performance was superb, the energy and dynamism on stage undoubtedly fuelling that of the crowd, and Justin's voice is as strong and growly as it ever was.

There were highlights a-plenty, but among my faves were Part The Waters, Die Trying and Eyes Get Used To The Darkness from the current album 'Winter'; Stormclouds from 2013's 'Between Dog And Wolf', and the oldies Wonderful Way To Go, 51st State and Poison Street. The ardent fans seemed to appreciate the old songs, but they hollered the new ones with as much abandon as the classics. This is another reason why New Model Army keep doing what they do; their fans allow them - nay, demand of them - to stay fresh. No greatest hits cabaret circuit for this lot, and for that they must be applauded. Not even the first encore yielded a nostalgia-fest, though we were rewarded in a second encore (which is in itself something I haven't known a band do for quite some time).

Before the band came back on for one final showing, the strains of the violin were heard. The guest violinist walked on, playing solo, followed shortly afterwards by Justin who picked up a guitar and played along. The pair meandered around the stage duetting, constantly looking at each other before the familiar strains of Vagabonds broke out. The pair of them played the first verses and choruses together before the rest of the band joined in, with THREE of them playing drums in an uproarious rendition of the long-time crowd pleaser. And when it seemed that it couldn't get any better, they closed with I Love The World, one of my favourite NMA songs. As Justin sang "You blind yourselves with comfort lies like lightning never strikes you twice / And we laugh at your amazed surprise as the Ark begins to sink," you realise exactly why New Model Army remain so relevant. If ever two lines sum up the state of the world right now, it's those words right there. I, and pretty much everyone else in attendance, bellowed "Oh god I love the world, I love the world, I love the world, I love the world," as much in defiance as despair.

It was bloody hot and the sweat was dripping from me at the end of the night, which made walking out into the freezing (yes, actually freezing) November night more than tolerable. All three of us (Our Mate Colin, MrsRobster and I) reckoned this was the best gig of the year so far. Sure, we've got some pretty big shows coming up in December, but the bar has been set incredibly high.

MrsRobster's verdict: "I nearly texted my boss to tell her 'That's it, I quit! I'm going on tour following New Model Army!'" And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the most fervently enthusiastic response I've ever heard from her!


Here's Justin Sullivan performing Die Trying, a song about the plight of the Calais Jungle refugees from the latest album:

#10: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls
Great Hall, Cardiff University - 26 November 1016
Support: Felix Hagan & the Family, Esmé Patterson

This was TheMadster's birthday present. I bought her two tickets and asked who she would be taking with her. She seemed puzzled at the question. "You, of course," she replied. There can't be many 19-year-old girls who actually want to go to a gig with their dad. I should be proud and honoured. Except that she knows I'd probably end up driving us there, buying the drinks and shelling out 25-quid for a t-shirt!

Anyway, we watched American singer-songwriter Esmé Patterson from the back which wasn't the best idea because the sound was terrible back there. Perhaps unfair to judge her on that. We moved forward a bit for the next act, the exuberant Felix Hagan & the Family. Now, how can I describe this lot? Kind of like the Scissor Sisters with some glam rock mixed in. Cornier than a ripe cornfield. Camper than Carry on Camping. Really not my thing at all, and I suspect someone else wasn't taken by them - before the first song was over, a fire alarm went off! The sound cut out and the lights came on. After a five minute delay, they came back on and finished their set, but this was another first for me.

Pic by TheMadster
The one thing you can say about Frank Turner's audiences is they are LOUD! So loud, I couldn't actually hear him for the first two songs! His fans are rabid, singing every song word-for-word as loudly as they can. Now, I'm not blown away by much of his music and have grown a little weary of him of late. But the one thing I cannot deny is the guy knows how to work a crowd, and he makes sure he involves them at every opportunity. At tonight's show, he pitched one side of the audience against the other, every so often telling us which side was best. To decide it once and for all, he pulled a girl from the middle (or Switzerland, as he called it), and had her crowd surf to a guy in one corner, then across to a guy in the other corner, then back on stage where she had to judge which side was best. (It was our side, by the way.)

In the encore, Frank ordered a circle pit for a massive mosh (Madster went straight in!) and a Wall of Hugs, a nicer version of the death metal Wall of Death in which instead of charging at each other, we were instructed to hug a stranger. Yeah, a bit gimmicky and cringey for an anti-social old fart like me, but someone thought I was worth it as he grabbed me from behind, squeezed me and moved on to the next person.

By far the best track of the night for me was a solo acoustic rendition of Josephine, proving there's only so far you can go with shouty raucous anthems. Frank finished off by crowdsurfing himself while singing Five Simple Words. A heck of a showman, for sure. I'd like him to do something a bit different for his next album though.

TheMadster's verdict: "These hands have been blessed." Yep, she copped a feel of Frank's leg as he surfed the crowd. And: "I got stamped on a lot." She said this with a smile on her face, which is such a great thing for a dad!



  1. Seems like you had two really enjoying concerts in one week Robster. I almost forgot that NMA are still present and live on stage. I saw them once live in the late 80's and as far as I can remember they played a very good gig. As you said they came from punk/new wave and carried their political ambitions on their banner. Gonna listen to their records again these days. An Frank Turner is not the worst choice to go with your daughter. Positive Songs ... is a good record that works fine mostly every time.

  2. I've had one interuption via a fire alarm in all my years of going to gigs - it was Delphic at King Tut's in Glasgow and it put both the band and audience off their game for the night. Shame.

    Never seem NMA and ideed never quite got what all the fuss is about, but that's a fantastically positive review and delighted everyone had such a blast.

    I've a 19 year-old who I sort of regard as my daughter (her old man died a few years back and his last ask of me was to look after his young 'un and step in if needed). She wouldn't know who Frank Turner is - she's very much of the chart fodder/dance stuff which she inflicts on me as we drive to the football games together. It's bloody awful and I'm jealous that you get to hang out with such a cool kid as The Madster. Hope you bought her the t-shirt...