New Model Army – ‘Vengeance’

With new friends came new musical influences and an ever-growing political awareness. Thatcher was at her full-tilt worst during the miner’s strike, backed up by her fully armed police ‘boot boys’. Mentally and morally impacted by the likes of Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, the Glastonbury CND Festival, the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common, Paul Weller and Billy Bragg, my views were well to the left.

Someone must have mentioned New Model Army to me. I think it was Martin Common. Martin also introduced a few of us to something else at the time, and boy did we laugh. Aged 18 my gig history was limited to say the least, but I’d heard enough of, and about New Model Army to go to Bournemouth Town Hall to see them play as part of the Vengeance tour.

I was getting into jazz and reading Roger McGough and Billy Patten. I had never been a punk or anything near. So, the memory of entering that hall and seeing a sea of punks looking twice my age will stay with me forever, heightened massively when NMA let rip. I was literally blown away by the ferocity, the intensity and the anger, and lead singer/guitarist ‘Slade The Leveller’ had me transfixed. I was almost too in awe to take it all in, but I know I had to find out more, so I bought their mini-album Vengeance.

New Model Army reeked of anti-authority and anti-establishment. They were fucking intense. The album is immense from start to finish; I was aware it was louder, angrier, heavier and a huge musical diversion from what I’d been listening to. But I loved it, and played it LOUD. The chunky as fuck, thudding bass demanded it. Lyrically it had plenty to inspire me, and choruses to intoxicate…

“Is it a crime to want something else?
Is it a crime to believe in something different?
Is it a crime to want to make things happen?
To spit in the faces of the cynical fools”

– Smalltown England

“I believe in justice,
I believe in vengeance,
I believe in getting the bastard”

– Vengeance

From the caustic opener Christian Militia and that trademark pounding bass, Vengeance is brilliantly relentless. New Model Army contributed massively to my rapidly expanding musical appreciation and social conscience. If there’s ever an album that encapsulates the feeling of the social disorder at the time, it’s Vengeance.

The Police – ‘Reggatta De Blanc’

The Police made great singles. I’d loved the three or four before Message In A Bottle and Walking On The Moon, but it was those in particular who made me part with my hard-earned paperboy pennies for this full length stunner. I played it to death, and not too soon after its predecessor Outlandos D’Amour.

It was around this time that I became overly concerned about my looks, my clothes, hair and my ability, or lack of, to attract the opposite sex. I was a playground playboy at kiss-chase when I was 10 or 11, but that early promise had faded badly through my early teens. I loved the mod look and the 2-Tone attire, but then these guys came along with random clobber and floppy fringes and when you obsess over an album and stare at its cover the image sinks in to your psyche. I plumped for sta-prest trousers and Argyll jumpers and a mid length mop. And random glasses. And a brace. Cool.

Reggatta De Blanc was the first album I remember where my focus was on the rhythm, the blend of reggae and rock, and i became aware of an ability to use of my hands as percussive instruments. Tracks It’s Alright For You, Reggatta De Blanc and No Time This Time sparked my love of a groovy drummer, and there weren’t many better than Stewart Copeland. Sting was cool, but in late 1980 I wanted to be a drummer. I wanted to be Stewart Copeland.

Thirty years later I’d be promoting gigs, managing live music venues, running rehearsal studios and I’d be surrounded by a bounty of instruments. I’d love to say I can play, but despite having rhythm, I have little patience and an inability to use both hands and both feet at the same time. I’ve also got long fingers but little dexterity. These are actually all shit excuses for really giving up too quickly, but soon I’d become a DJ… and that was good enough for me for the next thirty years.

I have a dreamy legion of musical memories from my teenage years, and constantly flipping this vinyl gem in my bedroom whilst hammering out its kaleidoscopic groove is right up there. Since my twenties I’ve had a love affair with France. Maybe Reggatta De Blanc and Outlandos D’Amour planted seeds. But then again, non.

The Jam – ‘Going Underground’

For my 14th birthday The Jam released Going Underground, and much appreciated it was too. Prior to this No.1 single (straight in at the top spot; no mean feat at the time) I’d dug The Jam, but had yet to become a Weller obsessive. That was about to change. I was looking for inspiration, for excitement and a hero to worship, and like many other impressionable teenagers who sought a role model from their TVs, radios and record players, Paul Weller was that man. A good choice. A very good choice indeed. Paul Weller was a passionate, gobby, working class, mod-obsessed, Beatles-inspired super cool motherfucker.

Prior to Going Underground The Jam’s previous two LPs Setting Sons and All Mod Cons had gone by relatively unnoticed. I was still largely a singles kid, obsessed with Top of the Pops and the Top 40, and Strange Town and Eton Rifles in particular were singles that had already turned me on to The Jam. The financial restraints of a 13 year-old meant albums were few and far between (I probably had a dozen or so, and a bunch of oldies I’d nicked from my dad just to beef up my collection) and it was The Jam’s next album Sound Affects released in late 1980 which was the first of theirs to feel the sweat of my eager mitts. Going Underground was a perfect single; screeching guitars, thumping bass riffs, hammond keys and spat out harmonies, but it was Weller’s passion and cool that won me and thousands of others over.

“You choose your leaders and place your trust
As their lies wash you down and their promises rust
You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns
And the public wants what the public gets
But I don’t get what this society wants
I’m going underground…”

See, kids, our heroes were people we could relate to, speaking for the common man and the kids on the street. They were largely untouched by the corporate system that pukes out most of your modern day ‘idols’. Yes, there were also your watered down pretty boys and girls with nothing to say – some people always care more for style than substance – but in 1980 pop stars weren’t part of the system, instead they sung out against it. Fuck, even UB40 had a political conscience, Signing Off being a brilliant dub-heavy statement of disillusionment. Going Underground cemented The Jam’s position as the biggest band in the UK in 1980. For an awkward sod like Paul Weller to reach such heights was a sign of the times. Shit was happening and Weller told it how it was. Soon, a certain John Lennon would become my obsession, but until they split in ‘82 Weller, Foxton & Buckler were my world.

The Beat – ‘I Just Can’t Stop It’

By 1980 the ‘second wave of ska’ had firmly found its place in the UK charts. Madness, Selector, Bad Manners and The Specials were having major success, and it was The Beat with their debut album I Just Can’t Stop It who cemented my love of the dance craze. By the grand age of 14 I was already checking out the roots of my chart favourites, listening to soul, ska and sixties, fascinated and obsessed as I was by the history and the culture as well as the music.

The band’s first three chart singles were all taken from this stunning LP. Hands Off She’s Mine, Mirror in the Bathroom and Best Friend were all classic singles with the rest of the album littered with covers and blatant nods towards their ska and rocksteady pioneers. As with The Specials, much of The Beat’s own writing was heavily spiced with political and cultural references born out of Thatcher’s Britain. I loved the energy of Click Click and Two Swords as much as the dubby loose-limbed groove of Jackpot and Whine and Grine, and despite some of the overtly political lyrics and cutting social comment this was still most definitely a ‘pop’ album.

It’s with far more than a large dose of dewy-eyed nostalgia that I can listen back to I Just Can’t Stop It, and still love it. Along side other debut albums by The Specials and Madness, I Just Can’t Stop It is the soundtrack to my 15th year. A year of happiness, in no small part due to the sheer energy and excitement of these albums. I remember a constant stream of innocent days full of naive and romantic positivity, and the sheer voyage of musical discovery was already an all-consuming passion.

Quite simply this is an exceptional album, brilliantly of its time and forty years later as socially relevant now as it was then. The lyrics I was devouring as a kid served as my social and political learning, missing as it was at school and at home. Forty years later my views have changed very little. A life well lived not being judged on capital gain, but one’s compassion towards others. That plus a distrust of the elite, questioning how indeed their capital was gained.

“You look like a government minister
Or a high ranking military officer
I don’t think you care
You’re just a big shot, yeah”

– Big Shot

The only down side – the putrid cover of Andy Williams’ Can’t Get Used To Losing You – despite Everett Morton’s perfect mellow ska beat. I didn’t like it then and don’t like it now. Anyway, kids, there’s never a bad time to give your social conscience a jolt, so stream, download or just get this album.