WILL STONE is struck by the rage against austerity so eloquently expressed in the work of post-punk pioneers the Sleaford Mods
IS THERE a British band in today’s music industry that definitively reflects the consequences of austerity? Or one that is a direct reaction to 21st-century Toryism?
Makers of the documentary Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain seem to think so.
The post-punk duo from Nottingham, vocalist Jason Williamson and laptopist Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn, are as distinctive and unique as they come and, as the film’s footage shows, they’re a force of nature live.
Williamson, who has the stage presence and swagger of Liam Gallagher, shouts angry rants about the social malaise of Britain over the grime-influenced bass beats emanating from Lindsay Fearn’s laptop.
The pair’s stage personas are brilliantly yin and yang. Williamson’s is aggressive, some might say intimidating, to the point where stage invaders might expect — and possibly warrant — a Glasgow kiss if they try it on.
Lindsay Fearn is markedly passive. He presses a button — presumably “play” on his laptop — steps back a pace and bobs up and down with his hands in his pockets and a warm grin on his face, like a more restrained version of the Happy Mondays’ Bez.
But it’s the lyrics — some comedy gold — which make the duo a stand-out. On Middle Men Jason yells: “Middle men the metropolis of discount tents, red and orange lights and old men,” before finishing with the line: “New Labour, new danger.”
Jobseeker is equally caustic with the chorus: “Jobseeker! Can of Strongbow, I’m a mess,/ desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression supplied to me by the NHS.” Or there’s the memorable opening line of Tied Up In Nottz: “The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon.”
But their poetic lyrics are best heard, not read, and it’s no wonder that the film’s directors Nathan Hannawin and Paul Sng chose to present Sleaford Mods as a reaction to the political zeitgeist of modern Tory Britain.Their film follows the group on a tour of some of the most neglected venues and places in the country in the run up to last year’s general election, thus it’s far from the usual band documentary fare of talking heads answering predictable questions about what inspires them.
There are plenty of talking heads — fans, campaigners, trade unionists and activists — and a segment on the work of Unite Community, a membership scheme designed to strengthen trade unionism in every corner of the country and give a platform to the voiceless, including the unemployed.
Members of Unite Community in Barnsley, set up alongside the local NUM, discuss the need for the project following the demise of one of Britain’s proudest mining communities and with it thousands of jobs.
There’s footage of the work of a community cafe and the shocking case of a disabled man, a victim of cruel Tory austerity, who starved to death after having his benefits sanctioned.
Less relevant is a sequence about joint enterprise law where families of those found guilty of another person’s crime by association are calling for justice after the Supreme Court ruled the law had been misinterpreted for 30 years.
The only tenuous link seems to be in the suggestion that these victims of joint enterprise law represent a social underclass.
There’s also the elephant in the room — where the hell is Jeremy Corbyn? Given that new Labour is mentioned several times, including in Williamson’s lyrics, the omission and opportunity to include a message of hope amongst all the bleakness seems odd.
But in a Q&A following a screening of the documentary, director Sng argued that they made a conscious decision not to include the rise of Corbyn for fear it would change the tone of the film.
“We didn’t want the film to become partisan,” explained Paul. “I think if we had devoted part of the film to Corbyn it would have been naff.”
It’s apparent from the film that Sleaford Mods are political nihilists and probably wouldn’t have appreciated being linked to a Labour propaganda exercise.
Williamson states during one interview in the film that the band aren’t political. But later, on Channel 4, he supports Corbyn, stating: “He reeks of compassion and that’s what you want.”
According to Sng, off camera Williamson isn’t the hot-headed brute he appears on stage. “Both of them went out for drinks with the fans after the gigs,” he says. That’s more than can be said of pretty much every other music artist to hit it big.
Sleaford Mods are performing at Field Day, Victoria Park, London on June 11-12, details: fielddayfestivals.com. Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, is currently touring Britain, details: invisiblebritain.com