Tag Archive: Black Country

New Model Army + Bomb Whateva¿ @ Robin 2, Bilston, 17 November 2013

And so to the back-end of the Black Country. Hidden beyond the Black Country Route, in an inner-city town, lies the Robin 2. It is indeed in the back end of beyond, near the end of the world. But it has everything, really friendly welcome, great cozy venue, cheap refreshments and food and, tonight it has the powerful, raw and legendary New Model Army. 

As we mingle and the room gets warm support Bomb Whateva¿ take to the stage. They’re from Stuttgart in Germany and appear shocked to be here “… it’s nice being in Bilston – woohoo!” Bomb Whateva¿ are made up of Karl Francis (guitar, a Brit and former member of Bomb Disneyland), Cody Barcelona (vocals, former frontman of Skulls & Bones), Pavel (guitar) and Amin (drums). They’re a tight band, heavy and are giving it some, punky, 70s inspired Sabbath, proggie rock plus good bass beat with rhythm going on. They like it here and get a good reception from the waiting Model Army fans. Even a comment to “… make some noise…” gets a good response. Check ‘em out – I’ve a feeling they’ll be around some more.

And we wait for Cromwell’s men. New Model Army formed way back in 1645 [er… no sorry that’s the actual New Model Army], make that remarkably 1980 in Bradford, Yorkshire, releasing their first album in ‘Vengeance’ in ‘84.  Led by Justin Sullivan, the Model Army have attracted a loyal following over the years, and as a band, have always been overtly political, never fearful of being confrontational. ‘89s album ‘Thunder and Consolation’ was their landmark and probably their most commercial – reaching the Top 20 in UK charts. The Model Army have never chosen the easy route, sticking to their guns and principals throughout.  The journey has never been easy for the band throughout their history either. Lineup changes, personal tragedies are all part of the band’s history. Even since the late noughties, difficulties have caused them angst. The loss of their manager, Tommy Tee suddenly in 2008, with the band since they started out, was a major shock. In 2011, long time member Nelson left the band amicably after 22 years – days after his final gig, fire destroyed their studio, equipment and archive material – though they managed to save some touring equipment. Within 3 months they were back up and running, with new bassist and multi-instrumentalist 26 year old Ceri Monger in the fold. After his first gig, the their van got robbed, most of the guitars and other items were stolen. Kit was borrowed from family and friends and they got through the festival season… Resilient to the last – they’ve just issued their best album in years and have a huge tour bands half as old would struggle to deliver.

At just after ten past 9, we can hear an accordion, off stage, that starts off tonight’s proceedings, a rapturous applause as they take to the tiny stage, in this increasingly warm room. Almost an Arabic melody accompanied by a bass beat, we’re into ‘I Need More Time’. Sullivan’s vocals sinisterly crawl to start of with, but by the end of the song he’s screaming the title line. A big cheer from the crowd – he screams it again. The bass riff starts up and we believe it is indeed ‘Today is a Good Day.’

NMASullivan: “Ta…. welcome back to Bilston – yeah – we’ll play you this…” as we ‘March in September’; the arms start to rise from the family, fans are in full swing. ‘Pull the Sun’ is more powerful live, the drumbeat has an almost Native American beat – Monger swaps his bass for drums and the beat powers through the venue. And the crowd rise – literally, they’re standing on shoulders.

Model Army’s brand new album out ‘Between Dog and Wolf is self-produced and finished off in Los Angeles with Joe Barresi mixing (Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool). The album is filled with multi-layered tracks and atmosphere but looses none of Model Army’s passion. And the faithful here tonight already have it. They know the tracks. They know the words.

‘Christian Militia’ starts with an increasing bass beat – this be the Model Army powering up… crowd have arms in the air, spotlights on them as the faithful sing the words… Sullivan: “I think I never thought of was nostalgia for the 80s…There’s whole generation growing up thinking that Mrs. Thatcher was a kindly Meryl Streep – this is what it was really like…” and from the classic ‘Thunder and Consolation’ they deliver us  ‘Archway Towers’ followed by ‘Here Comes the War.’ Yep, the Model Army are in town – and boy, do they mean it.

And to a song about someone all the boys in the 70s wanted to be, Evil Knievel, the man who jumped things on his motorbike. He was uber-cool in the day. A quip about the prospective winter being the coldest ever “… which may or may not be true…”, a poke at the press speculation, takes us into a winter love song and title track from new outing – ‘Between Dog and Wolf’, typically poetic and beautifully written. Sullivan sweetly sings before the track starts bouncing along.

It’s so difficult to select, but this was a standout: ‘Stormclouds’. Another from their new album, it is powerful, with a stomping beat and rising crescendo; the fans be moshing and dancing at the front… we’re all singing along… as Sullivan finishes with “… Die… Die … Die…” Sullivan gives it his all; it’s personal and powerful. And then we get ‘No Rest’ .The single made the top 40 in ’85; the band appeared on Top of the Pops wearing T’s with the statement ‘Only Stupid B******s Take Heroin’. (These are available for charity on ebay from £50…)Track ends with us all shouting “… Dear God what is this evil that we’ve done? …”

‘High’ is about putting life in perspective. Well we should be top of the hills, or as Sullivan suggests: “…build a really tall tower block in Bilston…” The crowd are getting taller too – people standing or sitting on shoulders en masse, in this small venue they’re almost touching the ceiling. As Sullivan notes: “You guys kinda taking it very literally…”

If New Model Army were raising concerns about the future in the first three quarts of the gig, we’re assured that “…the last quarter of gig why you shouldn’t be scared of the future…” And we’re into ‘Seven Times’ now Monger is playing a bodhrán (Irish drum). One guy, stood high on shoulders waves his hands around like he’s doing semaphore. We come to conclusion that there’s a plane, that only he could see, that was coming into land…

‘Lust for Power’ takes us back to their punk roots, a track they haven’t plaid for years. Sullivan: ”… it’s good to be back in beautiful Bilston….”{?} “… For those of you who have come from abroad – this is what most of England looks like…” Well parts of.

As we finish on “What a Wonderful Way to Die.” Indeed. The Model Army disappear from the stage, the crowd stamp the floor, whistle, yawl, shout, cheer. We indeed want more.

They’re back. “It’s Sunday – we’ll play a Sunday song…” They were gonna play it in Yorkshire, but the Leeds audience were rubbish (more to do with the venue methinks – 02 Academies do not impress). “… 4million quid to buy a drink – far better in this warm Midlands venue…” And it’s ‘Summer Moors’. Next up we’re …”Getting the b******!” in ‘Vengeance’ followed by ‘Get Me Out.’ We exhausted – the Model Army put in huge energy and emotion – but we still want more.

And they disappear again. We’re not sure if they’ll return – but after 5 minutes they re-appear to a huge cheer. They have a day off tomorrow, so sod it. Sullivan’s knackered; he’s given us his all. But one more. ‘225’ a manic, frenzy of a track from ‘Thunder and Consolation.’

Huge. Respect.

New Model Army are one hell of a tough band. And these guys have been doing this for well over 30 years, before new guy Monger was born. Musically they are tight, soundwise great, more powerful and heavy ‘live’ and give every ounce of passion, ire and all and everything to every gig they do. You like music with real raw passion, a ‘family’ feel to the gig and a band who deliver and then some – go see New Model Army.

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Setlist: Bomb Whateva¿
No Free Ride
Come Closer
Deliver
Slippin Away
Supernova City
Keep It Clean
Mexico

Setlist: New Model Army
I Need More Time
Today is a Good Day
March in September
Did You Make It Safe?
Pull the Sun
Christian Militia
Archway Towers
Here Comes the War
Knievel
Between Dog and Wolf (N)
Stormclouds
No Rest
High
Seven Times
Lust for Power
Wonderful Way to Go

Encore:
Summer Moors
Vengeance
Get Me Out

Encore II:
225

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Listening: New Model Army
Thunder and Consolation [1989]
Between Dog and Wolf [2013]

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 Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison.

Dudley Zoo 2011 edition

Well we went for a day trip out to the Zoo. Dudley Zoo.

Things have changed a lot over the years. Dudley Zoological Gardens opened in 1937. At the time it was a place to go and look at creatures you’d only see in books or in moving pictures.

I remember going when I was little. I sat on the back of a Giant Galapagos Tortoise and had a ride. I remember the Killer Whale. I remember the elephants. I remember looking into the meticulously aesthetically designed concrete pits at Polar Bears. I remember eating a picnic in the castle….

Things were different then. You looked at these animals. The environment the animals were kept in wasn’t a real concern.

Then came Zoo Check and real concerns over animal welfare. Many zoos, including Dudley, were wholly criticized for keeping animals in conditions which were way beyond fit for purpose. And taking into consideration the newly re-focused animal-in-captivity welfare concerns –  they were right.

Giant Tortoises (and rides) went. Keeping Killer Whales in pools that were so small they couldn’t move went (the Orca died in ’74 before it could be relocated). Keeping Polar Bears in concrete bowls where they paced all day just wasn’t on. From being intrigued about these bizarre animals from overseas that we wouldn’t see in real life without traveling; we all started to care that they were kept in the best conditions possible. Now that wasn’t to say keepers of their day weren’t doing their job, or caring about the animals in the care. Times they’d changed. Visitors expectations changed.

Dudley was a zoo that struggled it’s way through all of this. And to compound the issues of modernization – the Art Deco concrete enclosures, designed by Berthold Lubetkin’s Tecton Group,  were Grade II listed. So they couldn’t be taken down. They couldn’t be changed.

The larger animals began to disappear over time. And what do you do with an old Polar Bear that probably wouldn’t survive if moved, than you can’t build a new environment for, and that another Zoo probably wouldn’t take. Have it destroyed? Or look after it the best you can til it dies.

And the Zoo with lack of visitors and lack of funds began to literally fall into dereliction.

But over the past few years they’ve began to find a path. New structures, where possible have appeared, with environments that are substantially better than the old.  Some have been modernized as much as possible. Animals kept as mentally stimulated as possible to encourage natural behavior.

Dudley Zoo 2011 edition, now concentrates on several areas:

  • Conservation. Several animals including Giraffe, Red Panda and Asiatic Lion are part of bigger breeding programs, where species are so endangered that captive breeding programs are an option to keep the species alive.
  • Transfer zone. They are effectively a ‘holding’ zone in the transfer of animals from one location to another (while waiting for their new accommodation to be ready).
  • Taking in unwanted pets – from snakes to tarantulas, injured birds to birds of prey…
  • History. With a castle which goes from the 12th century through to Tudor times it utilizes it’s historic values through workshops of the times and ghost walks.
  • Education. Big time engagement – on a visit expect 15 or more mini experiences – whether hands on, feeding times, birds of prey flying times, ghost and historic stories. Or, for example,  you can be a Zoo Keeper for a Day.
  • Animal Sponsorship. Sponsor a penguin… Arkwright. Do you know which one he is?
  • Venue hire. You can have your wedding reception there.

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There are one or two animals still from times past. A Brown Bear, now thirty odd, too old to move, and near her end of life, is looked after as well as possible, in one of the old enclosures. Her coat is shiny. Physically the old lady looks well.

There’s a Lemur Walk - where you can walk through a large area which contains different breeds of Lemur – where you walk into their world, not a cage. Large area for Asiatic Lions as part of a conservation program (there’s only 300 left in the wild). And further (if minimal work) is undergoing.

In 2009 Dudley Zoological Gardens Charity operated on about £2.5m. In today’s money that’s nothing. And it severely could do with infrastructure investment to do something with the derelict, but listed structures. But it’s clean and well kept, the animals are well looked after and you cannot fault the keepers and workers on their commitment to the animals.

There are many animals at risk of dying out in our lifetime. And it is a pre-requisite about zoos these days to be primarily concerned with conservation. And there is probably still a need to care for those animals too old to move, or who are unwanted, or born in captivity couldn’t be put back out into their own environment.

Dudley Zoo does a lot of great stuff. But clearly runs on limited money, limited resources and limited staff.  Does it know what its long term direction should be?  I’m also not sure that it has a real structured marketing plan either. It’s almost that like many animals, Dudley Zoo is about day-to day-survival.

I’d like to see Dudley Zoo expand on it’s education. Do more and more conservation work to do with rare breeds. Have a strategy. Utilize it’s phenomenal history far more.

It is a really sweet day out, rather than a great day out. You will enjoy it. But in order to survive, just like some of the animals it cares for, it needs your help. The choice is yours. Support it by visiting. If you keep away –  like the DoDo –  it’ll die out.