Some Thoughts On The Idea Of The NMA Family
by Joolz Denby
by Joolz Denby
A question that often comes up, both privately and on the New Model Army Noticeboard, is: "What is meant by the term 'The Family' in regard to New Model Army?"
It's an important question, and one which provokes strong responses both from those who feel attracted to the idea and those who fear it means some kind of elite, or club, to which they either don�t want to, or feel they cannot, belong.
Firstly, I think it's important to state for the record, it is not, nor ever has been during the long years NMA has been in existence, an elite, a club, a gang or anything else along those lines; more than anything else, it's a feeling; some would say, an instinctive emotional response to the intensely emotional music created by the band.
When NMA formed in the 1980's, the UK was in the grip of one of the most socially devastating governments the country had ever known, led by a person whose agenda was ably demonstrated by her slogan - "There is no such thing as Society, there are only individual men and women...". This call to the most base, selfish instincts in humanity, the so-called 'Law Of The Jungle', characterised the Eighties with it's single-minded selfishness and brutal hedonism. If there was no Society, no sense of community or care for those around you, no real sense of family - and your only god was extreme consumerism - then it didn't much matter how you treated others. Ideals such as loyalty, friendship, pride and altruism all became jokes. The sick, the weak, the disadvantaged, the alienated and the poor were discounted as being somehow innately inferior; only the powerful, the ruthless and those society considered beautiful were admirable. No-one else mattered as long as you got what you wanted, when you wanted it and it certainly didn't matter how you went about achieving that.
NMA stood against these attitudes with all the force it could muster: from the very start the band felt the power of its music and lyrics could help create an atmosphere of change. Not content with simply singing about such things, NMA raised many thousands of pounds without any fanfare or self-promotion for drug rehab centres, for the striking miners, for environmental causes by means of genuine benefit concerts with no 'hidden expenses' or backhanders. Everyone pitched in to help - fans collected money for these causes from other fans with the famous Army Bucket Collections. Justin Sullivan picketed with striking miners and later, fought alongside environmentalists and road protesters. The band took a stand against the sick glamorisation of drug abuse by a music media happy to promote damaging myths to young, impressionable readers in order to sell their papers - NMA said "don't be ignorant about the effects substance abuse of any kind has on you; do what you want, but make informed decisions about what you're doing" and in order to present an alternative, unglamorous view of substance abuse produced the infamous "Only Stupid Bastards Use Heroin" T-shirts which notoriously, the BBC attempted to ban on the band's Top Of The Pops appearance. At this sense of self-determining realism creeping towards the fat golden goose of mainstream rock n' roll, the media, ever conflict-fuelled, screamed "anti-drug killjoys" and "grim puritan Northern barbarians" trying to discredit the band in any way they could. In attempting to drive NMA underground, however, the media effectively created in the band a genuine force for the counter-culture. NMA, it seemed, couldn't be relied upon to be 'on message' in a world hell-bent on control and dumbing-down: NMA spoke up - and it spoke the truth.
But the band paid a very heavy price for its principles. The press resorted to sneering at or boycotting them - and in the UK at least to some extent, this pathetic attitude still continues. It became the accepted thing for journalists to ignore or personally ridicule the band, despite the very high esteem in which NMA are held by many other bands, producers and artists and the overwhelming attendances at gigs all over Europe. Journalists automatically insulted and vilified NMA as a matter of course, Justin Sullivan especially coming in for some extremely vindictive personal insults. Even the artwork I did for the band was jeered at in what UK press coverage NMA got: no NMA associate was safe. Journalists sympathetic to the band found their articles completely altered by their editors or more often simply dumped altogether. Smugly, many assumed this would make NMA conveniently disappear - but they couldn't have been more wrong. What in fact happened was - The Family.
Seeing and feeling the persecution of a creative force that intelligently addressed and examined the ideas and beliefs they held dear, that never patronised them, that spoke the secrets of their hearts and was not afraid to stand up and be counted, fans became more loyal, more devoted and identified even more strongly with NMA than ever before. It was as if the band in some way became a genuine part of their lives, became, in fact, part of the fans' families. This feeling extended to other fans of the band too - a strong sense of camaraderie and support began to spring up, underpinned by the idea of modern tribal cultures, of new clans, and for many in an increasingly alienated culture, a desire to make new families if their own blood family was dysfunctional. There was a feeling that if the fans did not look after each other, and care for and support the band - NMA could not continue to create the work that meant so much to them.
NMA has always rejected the conventional attitudes of a media-hyped rock n' roll image that so many bands, even those claiming to be alternative believe is their god-given right. There has always been, and will always be, a strong personal bond between the band and the fan-base: a sense of mutual pride and respect. This is not always easy, as in any family; some people will always seek to take advantage of the trust and kindness of others, some will never understand the concept or consider themselves too jaded and cynical to risk their carefully-constructed self-image by participating, but to the majority of NMA fans the Family, despite everything, remains and matures. The band, unlike so many others in the music industry, have never manipulated or lied to the fans for financial gain and in return, generation after generation of fans come to the music and love it honestly. NMA aren't a 'cool' band, they don't affect to despise the fans or their technical crews or anyone associated with the band in order to make themselves feel big or feed their egos - they don't need to. The music is what they love more than anything and it's all they need, so each element - band, crew, fans, management - has it's proper place in the whole, and each element supports the rest to help create the albums and legendary live shows that continue year after year.
The Family is not a formal, contrived organisation, but a spontaneous sense of fellowship that has developed over the years. There are those who say NMA is now much more than just a rock band, that it has slowly metamorphosed into a kind of Movement: not resembling accepted forms of conventional religious or political movements, but rather a new kind consciousness derived from archaic tribal roots and the most basic human need for a sense of belonging, transplanted into the fragmenting twenty-first century to create stability and a sense of collective power via NMA's music, ideas and creative endeavours. For many, NMA and the Family has simply become a place of emotional sanctuary where they don't have be anything but themselves and where they can be proud, not ashamed, of their deepest feelings in an atmosphere of comradeship, love and support. In a world obsessed with spin, materialism, fake-celebrity and plastic superficiality this authenticity is an infinitely precious resource. And the Family is a joyful thing - to know you can talk to and communicate with people all over the world who hold similar beliefs and feelings is genuinely exhilarating.
The future of the music industry as we know it now becomes ever more uncertain: what the years to come will hold is unknown in the face of an ever developing technology. But one thing remains true; music made by human beings about things that other fellow human beings feel to be their deepest and most sacred emotions, will never die. It might be driven underground, it might never appear in the mainstream media, it might be ridiculed by those enmeshed in the illusion of consumerism and what they sadly consider 'normal society', it may struggle - but it will survive and in the hearts of those who love it, it will flourish.
That is a small attempt to explain what it means to be part of the NMA Family; naturally, as in any family, each person has their own, individual viewpoint and adds their own valued contribution to the greater picture. But as to my thoughts on the NMA Family - I personally am incredibly proud of it and proud to say I belong to it.
© 2004 Joolz Denby/New Model Army