Words: Russ Litten
The first time I saw Sleaford Mods I thought it was some kind of joke. An idly clicked link sent from a mate on a dull Monday afternoon and bang, there he was, Smike from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” snarling a hail of invective down the camera lens while his mate bobbed about in the background sucking on a vape. Jolly fucker! he was shouting. Mister jolly fucker! He seemed to be highly agitated about something; twitching, scratching, sniffing, teeth clenched, his head bobbing like a demented rooster. It made me laugh. I watched it again. I liked the words, a barrage of skewed images and phrases that lodged in the head like, well, like gilded splinters – Ian Beale tight trunks, Kellogg Cunts, something about having kids and trying to get on a bus. Intriguing. Different. Mr Funny Fucker. I kept going back to it, like picking at a scab. YouTube threw up the back catalogue, and that’s when I started getting properly pulled in.
The early stuff was dark and soulful; “The Last Three Digits On The Back Of The Card”, “McFlurry” and “Double Diamond” were particularly absorbing, grubby personal dramas that reeked of barely restrained menace and nausea. The performances were compelling too – Sleaford Mods looked great, like early Mondays making a cameo appearance in Mike Leigh’s “Naked.” And racing through all of it were the words, the endless spikey images and seemingly effortless streams of non-sequiturs that dripped with sneering intelligence and smart observation. Here was a writer in the rich British vein of surrealist sarcasm but with a distinctively original East Midlands twist. And the tunes were completely brilliant: unforgiving, basic, relentless, monotone, hypnotic. Addictive. Sleaford Mods combined most of what I liked about music and writing in one quick cyber-hit. Watching a Sleaford’s clip in the morning became standard practice, like a jolt of espresso flung in your face by a snarling shop assistant, a psychic kick-start for the soul.
Then I saw them at the 100 Club in Oxford Street one gasping hot night in the summer, and it all made even more sense. They were different live to how I had expected – louder, dubbier, even more intense. Just utterly fucking on it. And the way the crowd reacted – I hadn’t seen a room go for a band like that since the early Stone Roses. It wasn’t adulation – it was recognition. Two tribes seeing the whites of each others eyes and saying yes. The televised Glastonbury slot a couple of months later felt like a real event, like the castle walls were starting to crumble. Sleaford Mods had arrived in the mainstream. Nice one. Deservedly so.
And so now, the film: Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, referring to the towns played on the 2015 tour. The sort of places that don’t usually appear on the big screen – Chelmsford, Scunthorpe, Grantham, places like that. Hull as well. We’re in Fruit, the multi-purpose arts and social space down the marina that my two companions and myself saw Sleaford Mods tear the roof off earlier this year.
At first glance, the Mods’ audience is an exuberant mob of forty-something maniacs; ex-punks and mods and scooter boys and girls, football casuals and latter day gig-goers stirred from their slippers by this gloriously familiar yet new type of noise; a conspicuously older crowd than usual, except for one razor cheek-boned young bucko from Scunthorpe who, I confidently predict, will either be a major rock star in the next three years or in prison. One of the two. Anyway, these gigs are just as joyously visceral as the two I saw in real life, and the film captures it perfectly, all slo-mo beer spray and flying sweat.
Apart the blistering live sequences (which don’t go on long enough for my liking) there are cutaway interviews with both members of the band. Jason Williamson comes across as self-effacing and gently funny, but you sense the core of steel that has guided him this far into the pop lark with his brains and integrity seemingly intact. Andrew Fearn is equally as likeable and open; but the most revealing insights in this film are more to do with the external forces that have shaped Sleaford Mods.
Under the reign of Mr Cameron and his merry crew of shiny-faced psychopaths, homelessness has increased by 50%. Since Ian Duncan Smith started victimising the mentally ill and the physically disabled in his effort to massage the unemployment figures, over two and a half thousand people have taken their own lives. As Jimmy McGovern correctly points out, the current government have nothing but contempt for the British working class. These numbers would be alarming enough in themselves, but perhaps the most troubling detail is that I learned these statistics not from a news report or the telly but from a documentary about a pop group.
And this is what is so brilliant and necessary about Sleaford Mods. They are the only current voice in popular culture pointing any of this out. Forget comparisons to the Pistols and The Specials – both of those bands had their aiders, and abettors, people that echoed their wake-up calls in the slipstream. In 2015, Sleaford Mods stand alone. Who else is talking about this sort of stuff? Mumford and Sons? Fuck off. Sometimes there aren’t enough swear words in the world.
In the end, the great thing about this film is that it offers a sense of hope. It shows communities in areas where austerity has bitten the deepest coming together and hunkering down, looking after one another, sharing resources and getting organised. Not taking it lying down. Fighting back. The unity showed by the families fighting the Joint Enterprise doctrine that incarcerates vulnerable working class people (JENGbA) is a fine case in point. The Independent Café in Scunthorpe is another. Small rays of light in the murk. Reasons to be cheerful, part 103.
And sound-tracking all of this, this we have two forty odd-year-old blokes with a laptop and a mouthful of profane poetry. Sleaford Mods are funny as fuck, but they are definitely not a joke. It’s all in the timing. Invisible Britain captures theirs – and ours – perfectly.