If Sleaford Mods didn’t exist, one gets the impression that the music press would probably have invented them. Journalists of a certain age love interviewing people like Jason Williamson – a mouthy, entertaining fortysomething with a hinterland and a life before music – while Andrew Fearn’s minimal backing tapes draw from every critical hobby horse of the past 40 years: the DIY urgency of punk, the laptop expediency of rave, the minimal thunder of early hip-hop.
And then, of course, there’s the lyrics: state-of-the-nation poetry that grabs you by the lapels and demands your attention. Grimly satirical, horrifying and hilarious, this is a coked-up voyage through the arse end of Austerity Britain, a bathetic tour of dead-end jobs, benefit offices and lairy confrontations in provincial Weatherspoon pubs.
Williamson can be very, very funny – he curses more entertainingly than anyone in pop music since the Troggs Tapes – but his motivation is toxic anger and frustration. “If it makes us laugh, then it’s probably an idea that’s worth exploring,” he tells Uncut. “But comedy is never the inspiration. I’m more passionate about the rant as a viable artform.”
“Face To Faces” is as close as Williamson gets to a political statement on this album (“Boris on a bike?/Quick, knock the cunt over”). “Rupert Trousers” starts by mocking the image of “Boris with a brick” (when the Mayor of London declared his solidarity with builders at last year’s Conservative Party Conference by holding a brick) and continues with a splenetic, scattershot assault on the upper classes who are “spitting out fine cheese made by that tool from Blur”.
But the politics is critical rather than constructive, despairing rather than utopian; indeed the perky, breakneck “No One’s Bothered” berates Middle England for its political apathy (“you’re trapped/me too/alienation?/no one’s bothered”).
There are some wonderfully Wildean aphorisms here (“variety is the lie of life”) but if Williamson’s poetry recalls anybody it’s William Blake. Where Blake sought to observe beauty in detail – “the world in a grain of sand, the heaven in a wild flower” – Williamson sees horror, despair and drudgery in the same fragments. Even hedonism seems like a chore. “Skunk? I’ve got to be pissed up to smoke that shit, you cunt”.
Williamson is good at painting Hogarthian grotesques in a few brushstrokes. And, like Hogarth, he sometimes expends great energy on ridiculing somebody he finds hateful. “Giddy On The Ciggies” directs its venom to the male model David Gandy (“ripped up Tory cunt”). “Cunt Make It Up” – the c-word in this instance being a provocative transcription of “couldn’t” – is an extended character assassination of some leatherjacket-wearing local band from a Nottingham suburb. “Riding motorbikes from the fifties?/you live in Carlton, you twat/you’re not Snake fucking Plissken/You’re shit/you look like Rocket From The Crypt”. “Bronx In A Six” sees Williamson rail at length against an old boss who ran a shoe shop (the “Bronx” being an upmarket footwear brand, the “six” being the size). He eviscerates the shop keeper (“I’ll fucking tie your veins around your Vans limited editions”) and mocks the ambitions of these budding capitalists (“I’m laughing my head off at the old cows that grazed on grass from the boom/it soon turned its jets on your face”).
This is a band who are unlikely to hire a string section or a gospel choir – sonically, Sleaford Mods can’t really move on too much. The music is still minimal and brutal: relentless drum loops and fingerbleeding post-punk basslines, like Martin Rev’s Suicide on a Nottingham City Council budget. If there’s any development, it’s that Williamson sometimes takes a break from rhyming in his chewy East Midlands and starts to sing. “Tarantula Deadly Cargo” sees him howling near the top of his register, Shaun Ryder style; while “The Blob” sees him enunciating a three-note whine like John Lydon.
As Ryder or Lydon have found to their cost, it’s sometimes tempting for a brave and intelligent satirist to play the court-jester. But Williamson’s spleen will always keep those tendencies in check.
How have things changed since you gave up your job as a benefits adviser last year?
It was a bit of a shock to the system, to be honest. I miss the routine of getting up. And I felt guilty. Why am I jetting off to Switzerland? Why aren’t I in that shit £15 white shirt, sitting behind a desk, eating donuts from Asda? I’m slowly trying to look at it constructively, without any self pity.
Your earlier work often told stories. Here the lyrics seem more fragmented.
Yeah, there’s a lot more randomness. A few tunes tell a story. With other tracks, you’ll get a couple of lines that sum it up, and the rest is snapshots. A lot of words relate to things that are going on in my head that I really don’t want to explore. There’s some comedy, but more “what the fuck is he on about?”
How did you vote in the General Election?
Green, which I regret. I’m one of these twats who voted Green and wanted a Labour government. I should have just voted Labour. I hated their manifesto – so fucking vague, it could have been a recipe for a Bakewell tart. But they’d have brought some compassion. I’ve seen the people bearing the brunt of Tory policy – disabled people, single mothers who’ve lost their benefits trying to survive on 17 hours work a week. I mean, fuck off.
What’s your beef with David Gandy on the track “Giddy On The Ciggies”?
He’s this fantastically handsome male model with this fucking great body who is purportedly a Tory supporter. Hence “ripped-up Tory cunt”. In a sense, he’s probably a really nice guy, like a lot of the people I have a go at. But, in a sense, fuck off. When he did that underwear campaign for Marks & Spencer it was like some fascist notion of male physique. It just drew you to his bollocks and his cock and his tits. You didn’t know whether you were supposed to buy some Y-fronts or have a wank.
INTERVIEW: JOHN LEWIS
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