JUSTIN SULLIVAN (NEW MODEL ARMY): “We Have Over 250 Songs To Choose From For This Tour”

Justin Sullivan (New Model Army) on stage playing guitar and singing.
Photo: Mick Burgess

After 16 albums across a 40 year career, Bradford’s rabble rousing New Model Army, have a huge catalogue to draw from and they intend to dig deep for this year’s tour. Mick Burgess caught up with lead singer/guitarist Justin Sullivan to chat about the tour and their latest release, Unbroken.

Your upcoming UK tour kicks off in Northampton then swings over to Europe the very next day for a few weeks before coming back over here. That’s quite a challenging routing for the tour?

The first part of the tour is in mainland Europe but we stop off in Northampton on the way for a warm up show. Then we come back for 10 shows in the UK and Ireland.

You play 10 shows in the UK and Ireland in April – that covers a fair bit of ground. Is it important to you to get out and play to as many places as possible?

Yes, it is. It’s what a band does and we love to play wherever we can. It’s like breathing really.

Are you getting to any places that you’ve not played before or have you been to just about everywhere now after over 40 years on the road?

In Europe, there’s a couple of places we haven’t played before in Belgium and Sweden but we have played in most places now. Of course, we’ve played pretty much everywhere in the UK. We haven’t done Columbia or Chile before so we’re really looking forward to going there. We’ve always done well in Brazil and have had a great response there. The only other place outside of Brazil that we’ve played in South America is Argentina so this time we’ll be doing a few other places. The first time we went to San Paulo in the early ’90s and we were just amazed that we had an audience over there and we’ve been going back to Brazil ever since so it’ll be good to play some other places this time.

You have a pretty intense schedule across the UK and Europe. How do you pace yourself on tour?

We do tend to have one ritual when we’re on tour. We go to bed before the gig. We’ll wake up an hour before the gig and there’ll be nothing in our heads except what we’ll be doing at the show and an hour is a good time to get ready and warmed up. It works for us and we’re all fresh for the show. That hour or two of kip before the gig really helps.

On 21st April you’re up in Newcastle at the Boiler Shop. You’ve played up here many times over the years. Do you remember your first visit?

The Boiler Shop is a really nice venue. We played there on our last tour. We played on the Tube early on in our careers but I think we played at Dingwalls before that if my memory serves me right. I think we played to about twenty people. I think it was actually The Tube that helped launch us back in the day.

The last time you were up North at the Northern Kin festival in Durham you had something of a medical emergency where you had to perform as a two-piece. How much time did you have to prepare for that?

We didn’t have long to prepare for that at all. The two piece thing though, that myself and Dean do, is something that we’ve done on and off for years so it’s easy for us to do. Obviously it wasn’t New Model Army as that’s all about the rhythm section but we still had some of the intensity of the songs and I think it worked OK.

What sort of setlist have you got lined up for your upcoming tour?

We’ll do lots from our new album as that’s what we like to do. We’ve got quite a mixture though. It’s quite difficult picking a setlist though as we have around 350 songs to choose from. We don’t feel that we have any songs that we have to play so we’ve never got stuck with that “this is your big hit so you have to play it” type of thing. If any song threatens to get bigger than the band, we just stop playing it for a while. We’re in this place now where we’re free to play what we think is good. That keeps it fresh for us. Sometimes we do songs for a few years because we love them but then if we’re not feeling it anymore, we drop them for a while and return to them later and we love them again

Do you find you fans are pretty receptive to new songs?

We made a decision in the early ’90s when we were on the edge of becoming quite a big band that we’d just please ourselves and weren’t going to please the audience. We weren’t going to do the big band stuff and just play the hits. We took a left turn and did what we wanted. We never became a stadium band or arena band but instead we kept an audience that were rolling with us through their lives and they are interested in what we’re doing now and the new material. We’re actually in a very good place and the new album has generally been very well received. I think people are looking forward to hearing those songs live.

It’s been almost five years since your last album, From Here, which came out in 2019. That’s just about the longest you’ve gone between albums over your whole career. Was that mainly down to Covid?

It has been five years but it doesn’t feel like it. Covid effected everybody’s sense of time. During Covid I went off and did a solo album and a small solo tour. Then we had the much delayed 40th anniversary tour that was huge. Then we did the orchestral project with a big orchestra in Berlin. All through this time we were pottering about working on the album so it didn’t actually feel like it’s taken us a long time as we were busy doing so many other things as well.

When did you start work on writing the material for the album?

We actually started in the summer of 2021 but we were getting interrupted by various different projects and we finally finished two years later in 2023 so it took us two years on and off.

What was your plan for the album when you first started thinking about doing a new record?

We started recording it in our own little place and right from the start we wanted two things. Firstly we wanted a record that was really simple and direct. We just wanted to play some Rock ‘n’ Roll so we wanted to do a basic New Model Army album with the bass and the drums right up front. The other thing is that we wanted Tchad Blake to mix it and we approached him early on and asked if he was interested. We sent him some demos and we asked his advice on where we should record it and who with. He said he liked the demos as they sounded raw and exciting. Basically we just went off and worked in our studio and then gave them to Tchad at the end to mix them.

Do you all tend to contribute musical ideas for the album?

The musical ideas come from everybody. We work very much as a band. Everybody comes up with ideas and everybody plays guitar. Sometimes if someone comes up with an idea and another doesn’t like it, we argue for a bit and work it out. We work by consensus. We eventually will all agree that something is right but to get there is a band all working together. We’re pretty good together and trust each other. The arguments are about the musical content, they’re never personal.

The world has changed markedly since your last album was released. Has Covid, the impact of Brexit and the growing conflict around the world given you issues to raise in your songs?

I’m aware of what’s going on in the world. I wrote one about the Post Office scandal but we’re not a newspaper reporting on the news. There’s a few about relationships or songs about personal issues on the record too. There’s a mixture about things happening in the world, about personal stuff and things happening to friends. There’s always things to write about.

Where did you record the album?

We have our own little place in Bradford in an old mill building. It’s something of a Hippy heaven as several bands rehearse up here and there’s arty people doing stuff all the time. It’s a lovely place to work. We’ve been here 25 years now. I actually moved up to Bradford when I was 21 and have remained here ever since.

Bradford is not really considered a Rock ‘n’ Roll town. Why did you base yourself there?

The thing about Bradford is that it has a few redeeming features. One is that if you go back more than 200 years is that there was nothing here. It was a 19th century boom town which got rich on wool. If you go back five generations, nobody is from here so as a result it’s very welcoming to incomers because people have always been coming in. It’s also surrounded by beautiful countryside and thirdly, it’s cheap. If we were based in London we’d be worrying about the rent on the rehearsal space or getting somewhere to live. In Bradford, you don’t worry about stuff like that.

There’s 11 songs on the album. Did everything you wrote and recorded make the final album or is there a couple left over for B-sides?

It’s not everything we wrote or recorded. There were lots of ideas that were thrown away or might get changed and find their way onto the next record. We always have lots of ongoing ideas.

Last year you released a double live album, Sinfonia, which you recorded with the Sinfonia Leipzig Orchestra. Whose idea was it to do that?

I think more than anyone else, it was Shir-ran Yinon, the lead violin player in the orchestra’s idea. We first met Shir-ran in 2016 and she played violin on and off for us since then. She is also a composer and she said that we should do a show with an orchestra. We didn’t immediately jump up and down and agree, we just thought it sounded expensive and we weren’t sure but a German promoter paid for it all. Shir-ran set about doing the arrangements. There were two principles that we insisted on. We still had to be New Model Army so the bass and drums were still going to be right up there. The other principle was that we wouldn’t just add an orchestra to our music. We would take out some of what we were doing to suit the orchestra. We didn’t want it just to be New Model Army plus an orchestra we wanted it to be a 40-piece New Model Army. That was the idea and I think that’s what we achieved. We only had two days of rehearsal and did one gig. Over those three days though we really bonded with the orchestra.

Would you like to do something like that again?

Now that Shir-ran’s amazing score exists, we could do it again with any orchestra in the world. We’re not in a rush to do that again quite so soon as when we do something we like to move onto something else. It’s nice to do something once and then move on but we won’t say never again. The album came out really well and it wasn’t until we listened to it that we realised how good the show had been.

It’s 40 years since you released your first album, Vengeance, in 1984. Can you believe that so much time has passed since then?

It feels like 135 years ago. People tell me that life is short. I don’t think it is. We’ve lasted a long time and 40 years since Vengeance feels like a life time ago.

You’ve released 16 studio albums over those 40 years with five of those in the last 10 years or so. Is it important to you to remain creative and continue to move forward musically?

For me, it’s the only reason to do it. I can’t imagine just playing the same songs that we did years ago, over and over again. Every so often we get offered large amounts of money to do a Vengeance revisited tour but I’m not interested. That’s gone. What’s the next idea? That is what we’re interested in and I think that’s why our fans keep coming back year after year.

When your UK shows end in London on 11th May, where do you head after that?

We go to South America in June and after that we’ll be playing festivals around Europe in the summer then in October we’ll be doing another round of gigs in the UK and then back to mainland Europe so we’re busy all year.

New Model Army are on tour now. See newmodelarmy.org for more.

Unbroken is out now.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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