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Sleaford Mods and the Endless Battle Against Shit Jobs, Poverty Wages and Banal Rock Stars

We hung out with the band in Brighton and talked about the rotting end of Britain.
October 29, 2014, 11:00am

We're premiering a new video from Sleaford Mods today. You can watch that here and read about our time with them in Brighton below.

Twenty-four hours before I meet Jason Williamson, the ranting, steamed up vocalist of punk duo Sleaford Mods, his official work status is full-time benefits advisor at Broxtowe Borough Council. For the last twenty five years Jason has been scraping a living in similar jobs. He has - as he says in “Fizzy” - been working his “dreams off for two bits of ravioli and a warm bottle of Smirnoff under a manager that doesn't have a clue."

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On Friday afternoon that all changed. Having crammed in rehearsals and gigs with full time work, toured on holiday time, and spent his working hours slumped hung-over at his desk in West Nottinghamshire, Jason resigned from his job, became a full-time musician and said goodbye to the drudgery of low-paid, wage labour.

“No more getting on the bus every morning in a shirt and having to conform to somebody’s rules for eight hours,” he says.

I'm with Jason and his bandmate Andrew Fearn at The Haunt in Brighton, on a grim Saturday afternoon. They're mid-way through a tour of their new album - Divide and Exit - a gloomy, comical tour through modern Britain that’s quickly gaining a fan base across the country.

Success has been a long time coming for Jason and Andrew. Both are in their early 40s and have been toiling for years as part-time musicians. Before the band formed as a duo in 2009 both were on the verge of giving up. Andrew was working part-time at a call-centre, making moody ambient hip-hop based on the doom records he was listening to. And Jason was gigging with various bands but found himself always emulating someone else – usually Paul Weller.

“Sleaford Mods saved us,” Jason says. “I was getting bored and my work was trailing.”

“Before I met Jason I was in quite a depressed place,” Andrew adds. “I was sick of it all. I’m not super spiritual but the way Sleaford Mods unfolded was so perfect. It’s funny to be a part of something that feels like a real phenomenon.”

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It does seem like things are finally falling into place. They've just come down from London after two sell out dates at the 100 Club which they played still burned out from a 16 day tour in Germany. Every music hack in the country is phoning up for an interview. Even as we speak we’re being lugged around Brighton's “Quadrophenia hotspots” by two other journalists with a thing for mod-culture and penetrating questions like “tell us a joke”. The boys are starting to get used to it - but only just.

“My whole life’s been turned upside down to be honest,” Andrew says, sipping a coffee. “Everything has been a really happy accident, it’s all just come together for us.”

Even the man that signed them, Steve Underwood is in a state of shock. The band had already released five albums before gaining his attention at a live show at The Chameleon in Nottingham. Underwood took a punt because he liked what they were doing but he never expected the attention they’re getting now.

“I thought worst case scenario, they’d sell 300 records and some shows in the local area. 27,000 albums have now been sold. Not bad for a bunch of twats from Nottingham.”

Their shock is perfectly genuine but none of them should be surprised that Sleaford Mods have struck a chord. If it weren’t for the British public choosing ironic keep-calm-and-carry-on kitsch as its cultural escape route to austerity it might have happened earlier.

Looking back at 2012’s Golden Jubilee street parties - the bunting that took over the country, the twee nu-folk that took over the charts - you’d be forgiven for thinking the England riots never happened and the Millbank student protests were just a silly food fight that broke out at the end of the Great British Bake Off. Just like when Blair said We’re all Middle Class Now, Cameron told us We’re All In This Together. That we're one nation pulling together. Tory landlords and single mums, Jacob Rees-Mogg and welfare claimants all sailing in one happy boat of collective self-sacrifice.

Sleaford Mods are here to remind you this is bollocks. They’re here to lay bare the facts that Mumford and Sons won’t. Stuff like 13 million people living below the poverty line, or 1 million people using food banks because they can’t afford to feed themselves.

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When Jason opens his mouth he doesn’t sing, rap or speak: he rants, quickly and furiously about modern Britain. He rants about its shit jobs, and poverty wages, its banal rock stars and “EDL twats”. Plenty of music that could be described as political has come out in the past few years. But none quite as explicit, as scornful and as funny as Sleaford Mods. It’s not a Red Wedge replica. It’s not a protest song about the NHS or the duplicity of Nick Clegg. It’s a stream-of-conscious burst of dissatisfaction, alienation and working class anger based on the experience that so many feel but so few voice.

“I became more aware of the rotten end of Britain when I started failing myself,” Jason says. “I was drinking and taking drugs and getting sacked from jobs, falling into periods when things would get really messy. I would pull myself back up but then fall down again. I didn't like myself very much at the time.”

Sitting backstage half an hour before tonight’s show, Jason is getting “pretty fucking angry”. We’re talking about Thatcher, capitalism, the 1%, Russell Brand (obviously). He says that before he performs he likes to remind himself of everything he hates. “My wife tells me you can’t hate someone just because they’re rich,” he says. “But I do. It’s like when Thatcher died – people reminded you that she was a human being – try telling that to the communities she destroyed.”

Andrew, however, is totally at ease. He’s just smoked his third joint in as many hours, and is talking about his musical influences and early projects. “I was in an electro pop act called Mark’s Brother because my brother was called Mark,” he says. “Before that I was in a more grungy band called Dutch Cop and The Perpetrators where I was this sleazy, Euro guy in a leather jacket, and my mate would play this mad techno music.”

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Fish and Chips arrive courtesy of their manager, but he's forgotten the forks so they’re eating with their hands. Andrew has changed from some (relatively) smart Levis and a Parker into some scruffy tracksuit bottoms and a baggy Chief Wiggum t-shirt.

“We try and make it as crap as possible,” he says. “Last night I wanted to use a stall to put my laptop on rather than the big table on wheels I was offered. I said it was too good. The best thing to use is three-beer crates stacked together; it’s the perfect height and it looks great.”

Andrew can be self-deprecating but his beats work brilliantly. They’re cheap, low-fi, functional, monotonous. They drive Jason into vitriolic rants, egg him on, make him angry.

On stage it's Jason that does the work. He sticks his chest out and squares up sideways to the mic. He brushes his hand through his hair compulsively. He sweats, grunts and shouts in his strong east-midlands accent.

Then the rants start coming.

“The lonely life that is Tory.”

“'Weetabix, England, fuckin' Shredded Wheat Kellogg's cunts.'

“Can of Strongbow, I’m a mess/ desperately clutching on to a leaflet on depression, supplied to me by the NHS/It’s anyone’s guess how I got here/anyone’s guess how I’ll go/I suck on a roll up/Pull your jeans up/Fuck off.”

The crowd’s diverse. There’s uni-kids, middle-aged folk, old-time mods. Everyone seems to get it.

“It’s more the middle class and lower-middle class that are watching our shows,” Andrew told me earlier. “They’re as affected as the working class now. They’re working really hard and just don’t have enough.”

You have to wonder though, now Jason Williamson has left his job for a rather more enjoyable life in a touring band, will he lose some of that fury?

Not likely. He says he might have escaped that drudgery, but there is still the Tories, Rivita and cracked black pepper, and Miles Kane to get fucked off with. “The cynicism and nihilism will always be there even if I’m more happy,” he says. “Getting away from work is fine, but you're never really free.”

Follow Philip on Twitter: @PKleinfeld