Live Review: New Model Army / Zen Baseball Bat – The Ritz, Manchester 03.12.2022

Phil Pountney

It was refreshing to get across the Pennines fairly smoothly with almost no hold ups at all, a feat which I haven’t been able to achieve in the last eight or nine attempts of trying in recent weeks, I was also pleasantly surprised to find a fairly relaxed atmosphere amongst the Ritz congregation when I walked through the door, only half the venue was full and I just hoped that it filled up later to give the Bradford born band the size of crowd that they rightfully deserved.

Supporting New Model Army (NMA) tonight were Zen Baseball Bat, a band I had met once before when they supported NMA over in Holmfirth, and I was keen to catch them again as I had been impressed with my initial encounter and they certainly did not disappoint tonight. Their eclectic mix of self-labelled post post post post post post punk, Ska and punchy, bouncy guitar led funk was a definite catalyst in getting the party started and the crowd could impressively be heard to be singing lyrics back pretty much word perfect.

The charge was led from the front by the Gleavy twins, Carl was like a flamingo, relentlessly trying to control his bass whilst perching on the one leg while Gary was also energetic and charismatic with his six string work and vocal duties all ensured that he was kept a busy man throughout the whole set.

Jogga kept the stage left wing warm with his understated yet technically brilliant fretwork which was undeniably on point all set. Stage right was occupied by a fairly discreet Donaldson, although saying that, when it came to his segments of input he blew it out of the water. His vocal contributions were passionate and commanding and the key work was sublime, intricate, enchanting and captivating.

The set progressed smoothly with tracks like ‘Place Like This’, ‘Whiplash’ (nope, not a cover of the Metallica classic) and ‘You Won’t Get Paid’, all delivered with the Zen trademark, tongue in cheek, playful feel-good vibes which constantly had pockets of the crowd dancing as if there really was no one watching. A great warm up, a great one indeed.

By the time NMA were due to hit the stage, my previous worries and concerns re the Ritz not showing its appreciation via crowd numbers were quashed and the ritz was packed to the rafters, it must have been verging on sold out, if not actually sold out, as there really was no room to swing a ruddy cat in the now heating up cauldron that is the Ritz.

As the band marched onto the stage and took their relevant positions, strategically placed in order to give every inch the appropriate respect it deserved, Justin duly informed us that they were going back to the beginning and then we were carved open with ‘Bittersweet’ and the whole place exploded. As the band progressed through the set, it was hard not to appreciate just how crisp and clear the sound was, each riff, each chord, each word was delivered out of the speakers with clarity which only added to the emotion and passion being served up by Justin et al tonight.

The set was packed full of anthems, ‘Here Comes The War’, ‘The Charge’, ‘Vagabonds’, ‘The Hunt’ and ‘The Ballad Of Bodmin Pill’, and that’s even before we moved onto the encore which exploded with ‘No Rest’, ‘Stupid Questions’, ‘Vengeance’ and ‘I Love The World’, simply sublime and spine tingling majestic punk rock with overflowing flare and passion. 

Monger was an absolute beast on the bass throughout the whole set, showing his versatility at times by manning extra drums which have been positioned conveniently for him to smoothly transition across to when needed, and boy did he beat those drums as if his life depended on it, so much gusto and power I’m sure the stage was literally shaking through the aggression and onslaught he relentlessly delivered.

As the set progressed the energy and volume from the crowd just increased and increased, even seeing some of the brave stalwarts in the crowd choosing to create their own vantage points by scaling nearby shoulders and orchestrating their own gig whilst standing aloft in the now trademark NMA crowd imagery, the passion and dedication shown was heart-warming and a genuinely impressive sight to behold. 

As the set drew to a close this had to be marked down as a gig to remember and one I’m sure the crowd will be citing for many a year to come. New Model Army, you never disappoint, if anything you are reminiscent of a fine claret, maturing well with each year that passes us by. 

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