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The song:
Vagabonds is more or less dedicated to the Following [NMA's dedicated fans who travel to see whole tours live].
- Source: Ox Fanzine interview with Justin Sullivan - translated back into English by me -

One of many songs that uses driving as subject matter or metaphor, like After Something, Happy to be Here, Headlights, 125 MPH, Orange Tree Roads, The Price, Stormclouds, Sunrise, Tales of the Road, or Wipeout.

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The song:
Justin: The song is really quite cynical. But the last two lines are very important to me. You are standing somewhere on a mountain and feel the earth, feel this feeling coming up through your veins.
Robert: This feeling that you are connected to somethintg, part of something.
Justin: We sit on a planet that moves with incredible speed through space . . . "We try to have control, all vanity, 'cos chaos rules it all".
- Source: NMA in an interview with German magazine Zillo 10/90 ; my translation-

I believe in nature. We were all born into the world 3500 million years ago as life began. And we'll all die when the world stops existing...when it crashes into the sun. Thus humanity really isn't so important - we've only been on the earth a short period of time. Everything which lives is beautiful and valueable. I see the Earth as something with a conscience. Many people see religion as something I like to call "Mambo Jambo" - terms like "spirits", other such ghosts, mysterious powers etc. I see things much simpler. The world consists of matter that contains things like electricity. We all know that the brain works through electrical impulses. Yet still people concern themselves with strange phenomena and "things that can't be explained". What's that all about ? It's all around us, here on the Earth...nowhere else. People, especially in our culture deny this.
- Source: Justin Sullivan in an interview with German Nonkonform Magazine in July 1996 -

Around 1990, in several interviews Justin expressed his interest in the chaos theory and Gaia hypothesis. Both theories appear in this song.

The Gaia hypothesis by James E. Lovelock postulates that because the organic and inorganic elements of the biosphere of the earth are so interdependent and interrelated, the biosphere can be viewed as a single, self-regulating organism, which he calls Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth. The physical conditions of the Earth's surface, oceans, and atmosphere have been made fit and comfortable for life and have been maintained in this state by the biota themselves. Evidence includes the relatively constant temperature of the Earth's surface that has been maintained for the past 3.5 billion years despite a 25 percent increase in energy coming from the Sun during that period.
- Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica - Read more: Wikipedia -

What the Encyclopaedia doesn't mention is Lovelock's conclusion, that it is the whole organism that matters, not its single parts, and that Earth will still survive even if single components disappear. In other words: mankind is not the purpose of evolution, but just one part amongst others, and even if mankind destroys itself, Gaia will continue to exist. This bit of the theory, however, can be found in several NMA songs: in Vanity, of course, ("She'll survive us all perfectly well") and White Coats ("She will dance on our graves"). Other songs influenced by the Gaia hypothesis, I think, are Living in the Rose and Whirlwind.

One suggestion is that this refers to Ed Alleyne-Johnson, New Model Army's violin player at that time.
- Source: Jon Mobbs in Nobby's Stupid Questions - The New Model Army FAQ -

On the end-papers in the Anthology book some sheets with handwritten lyrics are reproduced. On them you can see that initially the name was 'Billy' (as in Billy McCann?).

All vanity:
Biblical quotation: "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity". The point of this chapter of the bible is that life is meaningless, yet people should make the most of it, keep God's commandments and ask no questions, because "he who increases knowledge increases sorrow".
- Source: The Bible. Ecclesiastes, 1.2 and 1.18 - Read more: King James Bible - Wikipedia -

This biblical passage has also inspired a famous sonnet by English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), "Lift Not the Painted Veil" (1824):

Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread, - behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
I knew one who had lifted it - he sought,
For his lost heart was tender, things to love
But found them not, alas! nor was there aught
The world contains, the which he could approve.
Through the unheeding many he did move,
A splendour among shadows, a bright blot
Upon this gloomy scene, a Spirit that strove
For truth, and like the Preacher found it not.
- Source: Project Gutenberg -

The Chaos theory comes from mathematics and physics but has been used in sociology and philosophy. It describes the behaviour of nonlinear dynamical systems [don't ask me] "that under specific conditions exhibit dynamics that are sensitive to initial conditions (popularly referred to as the butterfly effect). As a result of this sensitivity, the behavior of chaotic systems appears to be random, because of an exponential growth of errors in the initial conditions."
- Source: Wikipedia -

Sea cliffs in the County Donegal, in the north west of the Irish Republic.
- Read more: Wikipedia -

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The song:
To start with, I don't believe in general liberal philosophy of life. That song, which I am always being asked to defend, is really just an effort to get things like this talked about, especially among young people. It's all a bit of a taboo subject, what with so much talk about peace and anarchy and love around at the moment. I believe in crime and punishment. There is a wide consensus about what is a crime, and an awful lot of people abdicate their responsibility about what is right and wrong because they just can't be bothered. I've sat down and thought about it, however, and I believe that if people do wrong things they have got to pay the price, and if you do not, and justice is not seen to be done, then you get a very bitter society.
- Source: Justin Sullivan in an interview with the Melody Maker on 28th July 1984 -

"For my own part, there have been many moments in my life when I have wondered about it. It doesn't sit easily with how I see myself or how I see life in general. Mostly I believe in forgiveness. However it was written for genuine reasons (after seeing a documentary about Klaus Barbie) in a moment of pure anger. It's a primal reaction, not a philosophy, though I do believe that some kind of justice has to be seen to be done for society to function. 'The Hunt' and, perhaps even more, 'My People Right or Wrong', also express gut reactions that I don't necessarily agree with in my clearer moments but that doesn't make them invalid - often I write from other people's points of view anyway. I've never seen song-writing as expressions of 'philosophy'. Songs should be about emotions and emotions are contradictory. We all like both love and hate songs. 'Vengeance' has been a millstone around the necks of the band from the very beginning; it meant that we couldn't be trusted by the mainstream because they didn't quite know what we were going to say or do next - and still don't. But in that one sense it made us free. We never acknowledged its 'popularity' or let it become a signature song and we stopped playing it live for many years but sometimes it's played because of a special moment or just because it is a four minute blast entirely true to itself."

Shot 18 and The Hunt treat a similar topic.

South America:
After Germany had lost World War II many Nazi criminals fled to South America. Adolf Eichmann, for instance, the inventor or the 'Final Solution' (i.e. the murdering of all Jews in Germany) hid in Argentina. In 1960 he was found by Israel's secret service Mossad and brought to Israel. One year later he was executed.
Klaus Barbie
(1913-1991) was known as the 'Butcher of Lyon' because he brutally tortured prisoners as an army captain in France. He was also directly responsible for the death of 14,000 people. All of this did not keep West German and United States intelligence agencies to employ him in their struggle against communism after the war. The US agency helped him to escape to Bolivia. There he was discovered by Nazi hunters in 1971, but he was only arrested in 1983 and extradited to France. In 1987 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. He died of cancer in prison four years later. 

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16/06/2007; last update 17/06/17