My first (and only) outing with Southampton Uni Rock Soc. I did my best to avoid university societies, but this one’s coach was cheaper than getting the train, so I joined.
Portsmouth Guildhall is a decent sized 2 tier hall with no seating downstairs, holding (at a guess) about 3000. I knew NMA’s records intimately, but never having seen them live before, I wasn’t quite prepared for the freakshow that was their fanbase. I had never seen a man in clogs before, but there were dozens of them. Not the massive wooden sort from Holland, with all tulips and that painted on them, but evil looking black leather slippers with inch thick wooden soles, ideal for clumping oop cobbles t’th mill. Worn with combat trousers or stripey leggings, and a ‘come near me and I’ll fooking stamp on you’ expression too.
Luckily, one of The Levellers had dashed off 2 mins before the show was due to start, to be present at the birth of his child, so they were unable to perform a full set. They did 30 mins of acoustic stuff, which was bad enough, but at least I didn’t have to put up with the full monty. On came ‘the Army’ to thunderous cheers from the beclogged masses. Right from the opening number, ‘Get Me Out’, to the second encore, they had the crowd in a frenzy, an orgy of clogs and fists. The New Model Army moshpit is the most violent I’ve ever experience, far more aggressive and vicious than any thrash or punk band I’ve seen. Some people were actually out to hurt, I think, and a clog raked down the shin is a painful experience
I would imagine. In the interest of self preservation, I remained on the periphery of the ‘dancefloor’. ‘51st State’ always gets the loudest cheer, and it went down a storm, as did ‘Vagabonds’. That is a corker of a song, a proper live anthem, and it was to be the only time I would ever see them play it, as violinist Ed Alleyne-Johnson was shortly to quit the band. Army fans have this habit, which I’ve never seen in crowds for any other band, not to such an extent anyway, of sitting or standing on each other’s shoulders and holding their arms aloft. Sitting on the boyfriend’s shoulders is commonplace at gigs, but at NMA gigs, there is no clapping or waving by the person being hoisted above the crowd, the arms are held static in a sort of two armed salute, throwing shapes to be silhouetted by the strobes. Odd indeed, and a pain in the arse if you happen to be stuck behind one, because they tend to remain aloft for several songs. At the end of the set Justin Sullivan half-heartedly smashed up his gear (read: knocked over the microphone stands and kicked his guitar stand across the stage) and raised his fist to the crowd as he exited stage left, as if to say ‘we’re really angry punks but we don’t like to break anything. Grrrr.’
Fucking great, I’d go and see them again.