I first saw Sleaford Mods as openers for The Specials at The Roundhouse in London in November 2014. I'd only heard them once on BBC 6 music, probably in the middle of the night and half pissed but the name was in my brain. I said to my mate Rob that we should get there early to catch them rather than stay in the pub.
Opening in a 3000 capacity venue in front of a few hundred early arrivals who are bagging the front row must be a bit dispiriting, people chatting and checking phones, waiting for the main act.
On came a couple of roadies to sound check, one bloke barking grunts into the mike, another plugging in a laptop and pressing a few buttons to get the sound levels. But these were no roadies, it was the Sleaford Mods.
|The Roundhouse (Camden, London) - Nov 2014|
For half an hour we had an onslaught of Jason Williamson's profanity strewn lyrics on life in austerity Britain and sink estates, laid on the bed of Andrew Fearn's stripped back beats. It truely shook me: Who are this pair of men in their early forties? Where have they come from? What are they all about?
There are two type of reviews of Sleaford Mods, perhaps one that starts "They're like fucking Brown Bottle in Viz," he [Noel Gallagher] said. "There's no joy in that, is there? It's just two guys, one clearly mentally ill, who's just shouting like Brown Bottle about fucking cider and fucking shit chicken.". The rest mainly mention how little Fearn does, whilst condensing Williamson's tics, swearing, and spluttering into one experience. The first time you see the Sleaford Mods, coming out of the gig it does though all roll into one big "what the fuck have I just seen and heard?"
So I booked up straight away to see them headline at the Electric Ballroom in London in January 2015. Meantime, the Sleaford Mods are gaining more and more attention. The pair have dropped the day jobs, and are now touring relentlessly. A lyric book was printed up, gathering together seven years of hard work and slog. This was pressed as a run of 500 to flog on the merch desk for £15 on the next tour, but sold out on-line within a few days. With a knowing touch, the publishers send it out with four Maggie Thatcher stamps on the parcel for postage, and the original print run now fetches £100 on e-bay. It's daft says Williamson. It's ironic that the very people who can pay these prices are probably the opposite of everything Williamson identifies with. He doesn't seem bitter about this, and the band continue to release eps and singles, and a crowd funded dvd is put into place. I buy the Tiswas ep on orange vinyl from my record shop, and again the band have a little joke at our expense: one side is at 45rpm, the other at 33rpm. "Take that, you hipster cunts, with your brand new turntables", I imagine them chuckling to each other as I take the platter off my record player to change the belt governing the disc speed.
So at Electric Ballroom I thought I was a bit more prepared, having bought the Divide and Exit album and Chubbed Up best-of. I wasn't expecting the very first words to be "bunch of cunts" shouted right in my face. The pair rocketed through their catalogue in little under an hour, before the whole crowd was unceremoniously pushed out of the venue without even time for a beer due to a club night taking place later that evening.
|Electric Ballroom (Camden, London) - Jan 2015|
Throughout the spring, the band sell out venues across Europe, the smaller the venue, the better the experience it seems. Williamson guest vocals on the track Ibiza on the new Prodigy album. Being a Prodigy track there are just a few lines of lyrics, "what's he focking doing?" is a reaction to overpaid superstar DJs who turn up with everything pre-recorded onto a USB stick, whilst also bemoaning the overpriced life and culture on the island.
Iggy Pop of BBC6 Music now regularly plays their tracks, a real tribute that the original wild man of rock and roll on stage appreciates and shares their music.
The Sleaford Mods are back in London in June to play to a sold out Koko in Camden. The support act are Vic Godard and Subway Sect, survivors from the founding days of punk in 1976.
The Sleaford Mods are also a performance backing the strong social commentary. Fearn could be dressed like a trendy DJ as in the Ibiza track, but instead on stage he dresses the ubiquitous uniform of the unemployed who leave home to buy fags from the corner shop - loose grey tracksuit bottoms, cheap t-shirt and baseball cap. He could have a full drum machine and sampler set, playing his backing tracks live, however he has a laptop set on a chair, where he simply presses play for the next song, meantime supping from a bottle of cider or lager, fiddling in his pockets, sometimes jigging along to his own music, or mouthing along to his co-conspirators words.
|Koko (Camden, London) - June 2014|
Williamson meanwhile builds up throughout the night. As mentioned earlier, it is easy to condense him into one snarling spitting pit-bull of a man. However it is more than that. Williamson shows us the effects of all sorts of drug throughout the evening, speed, cocaine, E, LSD, as he descends into Dante's nine circles of hell. The show starts with with slower beats, Williamson is swearing into the microphone, a bottle of water behind his back as a prop and for refreshment, rather than the lager or cider of Fearn. Williamson has a hit list of all the bands and music he despises, Gallagher takes much of the flak for his champagne socialism sell out and Brit award, whereas newly big band Catfish and the Bottlement are also in his headlights.
As the show continues, Williamson becomes more and more pumped up, veins bulging, pulling the mike stand around the stage; then suddenly he is twisting his nipples, pointing his arse at us, blowing kisses; the music speeds up, the crowd in the middle are moshing and crowdsurfing; now Williamson is nodding to us, doing the wanker sign; next he is blowing raspberries into the mike, stutterring his lyrics; and with one arm almost tied behind his back to try and keep it under control, the other is now repeatedly tic-ing like a Tourettes, brushing his hair, then brushing his nose as if to wipe away a few crumbs of coke. Then Bang! Williamson is back as he derides the rest of the crowd who aren't moshing for not enjoying the night, and with a final song for the evening, that's it.