THE sense of anticipation and delight were palpable at the Swindon Victoria on Thursday night, as the gathering waited for New Model Army’s Justin Sullivan, and his first solo gig in the town.

He was stopping off en route to the Beautiful Days Festival in Devon, for another solo performance. His set included a wide variety of songs from across the New Model Army oeuvre.

Yet the concert was more than a series of songs. Justin has the touch of the shaman about him, or perhaps the prophet in the wilderness, and the choices he made created a kind of visual and emotional journey that took us through time and the seasons, from the deserts to the city, from the moment to the eternal. Fear, and catharsis.

It was a journey of portent, that began with Autumn, and the dying of the leaves and the sense ‘there is only beginning, And there is beginning of the end’ and then took us deep into Winter, and the darker tenor of ‘I fear the age of consequence and I wish that it was over.’

He explained the origins of an intense La Push, inspired by a visit to the Twilight town of Forks in Washington, and seeing native Americans with the American flag on the wall, and later explained to a delighted audience how, when asked what he thought was the best lyric ever written, he chose Dolly Parton’s Jolene:

“It was not the right answer,” he grinned. “But it expresses the pain and terrible heartache that everyone can understand, held in eight lines."

But he did sing another story song, Green, the tale of the veteran of war who never goes home, and then without any musical accompaniment, Another Imperial Day, a deeply felt account of the walls put up to keep people out, while money, oil and weapons move freely around the world. More like a chant, or a rap, than a song, during this rendition the audience was silent. The earlier cheers and frequent singing along dropped away in a moment of intense focus.

The tone changed often, from hearty New Model Army anthems, to quiet ballads. Justin sang a searing version of You Weren’t There karaoke style, as he described it, with a backing track but playing the mouth organ. And he dedicated one song to Aretha Franklin (‘If God had a voice, that would be it, wouldn’t it?’).

As the concert approached its conclusion, he sang Rivers, exploring the anguished quest for a right path, and then at the end of the encore, Justin concluded with Changing of the Light, ‘Following a dream, I see the same star shining above us, endlessly.” Thunder and consolation, fear and hope. Terrible things are happening, but life is full of passion and beauty. The darkness gathers, but the star is always here. Just brilliant.

-Sarah Singleton