I feel that I ought to state my position as a somewhat lapsed New Model Army fan at the start of my review of this highly entertaining and touching DVD documentary of the band’s story. When I first came across NMA as a 14 year old, at the release of their ‘No Rest’ single in April 1985, I was instantly smitten. A few months later, I went to see them for the first of at least a dozen times, and it was quite obvious that this was no ordinary band. However, after eagerly hoovering up all of their records up to and including 1988’s Thunder and Consolation, for some reason I stopped buying their records and I haven’t seen them live in the last 25 years. Hence my stated position as a lapsed fan.
Between Dog and Wolf charts the band’s story from their inception in 1980, through the 33 years of their history, to bring us almost to the present day. In that time, they have gone through 15 members, with front man Justin Sullivan the only constant. Sullivan was originally known as Slade The Leveller, and reveals during the course of the documentary that this was mainly to avoid the unwanted attention of the dole office, as he was signing on during the band’s formative years! Starting off with three independent singles (‘Bittersweet’, ‘Great Expectations’ and the classic-but-not-mentioned-here ‘The Price’) and a classic debut album (‘Vengeance’), the film documents their rise to prominence.
‘They have never had a hit record, but have a loyal following that spans the globe’ is an odd point made early on in the film. Well, the latter part of that sentence is certainly true, as is proven by the heroes’ welcome afforded to them during trips to Germany and much further afield, but New Model Army have actually had seven UK Top 40 hits, between 1985 and 1993. That is the same amount of Top 40 hits that The Eagles had, or indeed Steely Dan and Foreigner, (who I remember being on the end of a hilarious Sullivan tongue-lashing back in the 80s), had combined.
A real treat for a fan like me, (I am no longer ‘lapsed’ by this point), is an extended interview with original (and infrequently-spotted) bass player Stuart Morrow, who reveals that he was ‘given a bass to play, and didn’t really know what to do with it’ early on in the band’s career. That he became one of the very best bass players of his generation, truly stamping his distinctive bass sound (as well as vocals) onto those early NMA songs, is remarkable given those circumstances. He reminds us that he won ‘Best Bass Player’ in The Face magazine in the mid-80s, but then goes on to describe how he left the band after what was really a silly disagreement just after the band’s second album, 1985’s No Rest For The Wicked. He is pictured in (almost) present day, working as a bricklayer, having seemingly given up on music. It is one of several unexpectedly poignant moments in the film, alongside terribly sad recollections of former drummer Rob Heaton, who tragically died of pancreatic cancer in 2004 after making up what the majority of fans would consider the classic trio line-up alongside Sullivan and Morrow. Heaton’s widow Robin speaks lovingly and eloquently about the man who contributed a lot of NMA’s music, including landmark single ‘Green and Grey’.
Sullivan was an enormously fierce presence in the band, a perma-snarling singer/ guitarist who appeared angry at a lot of things; drugs and Foreigner being the two that spring most readily to mind. The band often appeared in Only Stupid Bastards Take Heroin t-shirts, and had to tape over the offending expletive when they appeared, against all the odds, on Top Of The Pops to perform their aforementioned ‘No Rest’ single live (live!). For my money, it remains the greatest four minutes in television history, and I was glad to see that they featured a clip of it in this film (check out the audience, and Sullivan’s apparent berating of them!):
Sullivan comes across as an extremely likeable and intelligent man, still very much devoted to New Model Army, but looking back with a few wry smiles and really not taking himself too seriously at all. Originally from Buckinghamshire, the film plots Sullivan’s move up north to Bradford (for studying purposes), a place that he fell in love with, formed the band in, and lives to this day. He reveals that he still shares a house with Joolz (the person who can probably be credited with driving NMA to success, or at least greater success than they would have realised), who still takes care of all NMA design duties.
Between Dog and Wolf also does an excellent job of stitching in bits of old and new live performances, and seeing an old clip of the band performing ‘Christian Militia’ (from debut album Vengeance) takes me right back to Birmingham Powerhouse in the mid-80s. I remember a female NMA devotee, (and there were many hardcore fans of both genders who would follow the band absolutely everywhere in their trademark clogs), coming up to me in the queue for one of those Powerhouse gigs, noting my mid-80s uniform of Smiths t-shirt, black cardigan and jeans, and castigating me for ‘not being very alternative’ (her exact words). I thought it probably best not to mention that I was going to see a-ha the following evening.
As well as the interviews with the band and those near to them, interesting and amusing anecdotes and insights from the likes of Phill Jupitus, John Robb and legendary producer Glyn Johns make this a truly entertaining, as well as a really well-made, documentary. Within 20 minutes of the credits rolling, I had every New Model Army song in my possession back on my iPod with a plan to seek out all those I have since missed.