Jason Williamson returned home recently after a gym session. He was just doing a few final sit-ups in the living room with the radio on, when David Cameron’s voice came on, and the rage started.
“I just had to turn it off, and shout ‘f**k off’ repeatedly, about five or six times, just really aggressively. I just lost it completely. His voice.” He grimaces and bulldog puppy wrinkles crease his forehead. “It’s just full of so much insincerity.”
Just a month from the election, Sleaford Mods are being held up as the dissident voice of the working class (which Williamson denies). Their music is about being broke and angry and not being able to change that. It has gained comparisons with John Cooper Clarke, The Fall and Mike Skinner, but really there’s no comparison.
The outspoken Nottingham duo are, as Williamson puts it, out on their own. After years of floating between mod bands and going nowhere, vocalist Williamson met musician Andrew Fearn and something clicked. As well as having a buzzy new album, Key Markets, out this month, Williamson has just performed guest vocals on the Prodigy’s new album, on a track called “Ibiza” that pokes fun at the White Isle’s EDM scene, and there’s also a documentary, Invisible Britain, about social issues and problems that have arisen through government policy, which follows the Mods around their current tour, taking in untrendy venues outside the usual gig circuit.
We’re seated in the reception area of a budget hotel in Reading, two minutes’ walk from the unassuming venue on the high street where they’ll be playing later this evening. Williamson and Fearn are explaining the reasons why they won’t be voting in this election. The reasons include blind hatred and repulsion. Fearn says Nigel Farage making himself out to be a working-class bloke is “hilarious” and that Ed Miliband is like “something off of Wallace and Gromit... people can’t take him seriously”.
Rock and pop highlights of 2015
Rock and pop highlights of 2015
1/5 Mark Lanegan Band - touring from 20 January
The most intriguing performance prospect of a fairly docile January is the arrival of the Mark Lanegan Band for a clutch of shows in support of the recent masterly album Phantom Radio. Expect soul-ravaged blues fatalism as Lanegan confronts dark memories and apocalyptic visions with apparent sangfroid, his baritone croon traversing soundscapes of chugging electropop, spiralling guitars and courtly pop melancholy.
Kevin Nixon/Future Publishing/REX
2/5 Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night released 2 February
An album on which Dylan sings Sinatra, a performer in whose voice he claimed to hear "death, God, the universe, everything". He's eschewing the usual swaddling orchestrations in favour of relaxed small-combo versions, recorded with his own band. They're not cover versions, he explains: "They've been covered enough. Buried, as a matter of fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day."
3/5 The War on Drugs - touring from 16 February
2014's breakout US indie band will arrive for a string of British dates. Songwriter/frontman Adam Granduciel's blending of Dylanesque vocals, stadium-pop melodies and guitar drones should appeal to fans of Neil Young and My Bloody Valentine alike, and these shows offer the perfect opportunity to check whether they’re as loud and overbearing as Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek claims in his amusing song "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock". Thankfully, music is big enough to accommodate both.
4/5 The Jesus and Mary Chain - touring from 16 February
Having bowed to the demand to perform their debut Psychocandy in its entirety – a move that places them firmly in the rock-heritage classicist ranks, rather than the punk-nihilist cadre of their original 1980s inception – the re-formed Mary Chain take their sweet white whine around the country. Expect: great tunes; loud feedback. Don’t expect: a revolution.
5/5 Nicki Minaj - touring from 28 March
Initial reaction to Nicki Minaj's new album The Pinkprint is mixed, but however its more assertively autobiographical songs transfer to the live arena, bangers like "Want Some More" and "Anaconda" suggest that her upcoming shows should pack some punch. And the flamboyant diva can surely be relied on to put on a show. But what will be the colour-scheme? Think pink.
But what’s got Williamson (who intends to vote Green) really worked up is the “diabolical possibility of further taxes on disabled people and benefits cuts” from the Conservatives. “It is absolute insanity. It’s just absolutely outrageous, you’ve got this f**king c**t, sorry for my language,” he seems to consider a different way of phrasing it for a second, then continues, “but this f**king c**t who’s leading that, who is putting on this face of compassion, putting on this face of ‘everything’s being taken care of’, constantly dodging the question. He’s not intelligent, he shouldn’t be in the job. Leaders shouldn’t really exist anyway but if anybody’s going to collect a group of people together and talk to them it certainly isn’t that t**t. Do you know what I mean? He’s just got no backbone. He’s a wimp.”
Williamson actually had a stint working for the local council on “benefits, council-tax stuff”, but the duo have also both experienced what it’s like to be on the dole. “Jobseeker”, released as a single in 2013, goes through the motions of signing on, with a vitriolic internal monologue delivered by Williamson. At their gigs, Williamson spits violently into a microphone, delivering wordplay, jokes and angry torrents of poetry, while flicking his head reflexively, like he has a Tourette’s tic.
Beside him, Fearn bobs up and down to the drum’n’bass beat; his role on stage consists of pressing the spacebar on a laptop which plays his pre-mixed backing music. He seems to enjoy it. Maxine Peake recently described their lyrics as “visceral” in her Artsnight documentary on voices that are marginalised by mainstream culture, but they could equally be described in less highbrow terms as “very, very angry at everything”.
Lines like “Weetabix, England, f**kin’ Shredded Wheat, Kellogs c**ts”, from “Tied up in Nottz” could either be seen as a battle-cry against consumerist culture, or the unfocused rage of the unhinged.
“Jobseeker” goes: “So Mr Williamson, what have you done to find gainful employment since your last signing on date?/ F**k all. I’ve been sat around the house w**king. And I want to know why you don’t serve coffee here. My signing on time is supposed to be 10 past 11. It’s now 12 o’clock/ And some of you smelly b*****ds need executing.” It’s this unsanitised, raw portrayal of the unpleasant bits of life that appeals to their fans.
Later, at that night’s gig, men in their forties and fifties clamour to shake hands with them, passing cans of Red Stripe lager to the stage. Some chant along to every single word, others thrust alarmingly at the waist like sexualised metronomes. Some just nod, as though agreeing with the truth of the words.
Whatever you think of the Sleafords’ music, it’s speaking to a demographic that’s feeling alienated and betrayed. “Jobseeker” was written five years ago, when the duo were at a low ebb. They weren’t making any money from music and were taking odd jobs to make ends meet. It was about “railing against my own inability to look after myself,” says Williamson, who is far less demented in real life than his stage persona suggests. He’s thoughtful and even polite, in a way; opening doors; offering to buy me a drink; stopping to talk to fans in the street. He does swear a lot though.
“I was just in and out of jobs, not really caring about myself. Getting drunk a lot, drug-taking, you know. Taking things for granted and scrounging off people and just generally being not a very responsible person.”
“It’s about that sense of feeling different to everyone else,” nods Fearn, “Dirty, like not clean. It’s the same as being working-class or underclass or whatever.”
What got them through was an almost idealistic belief in working hard at their music and not giving up. “It’s basic mathematics,” says Jason. “The longer you go at it you keep acquiring the skills for it and as long as you’re thinking about it and you’re aware of it and you’ve not fallen asleep on top of it, it does come good for you.”
They also both have supportive partners — Williamson is married and Fearn is gay and in a relationship — and even though it took them until their early forties (Williamson is 43, Fearn is 42) to break through into the music industry, their other halves never made them feel they had to take more stable careers.
“I’ve purposely crafted my life not to be like that,” says Fearn (whose full name is Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn). “Knowing people that had samplers and stuff stored in their loft gathering dust because they’ve got married and everything... and I was just determined never to let that happen to me because of that feeling – at least when I had no money I had stuff to make music with, so I could feed my brain with something that would benefit me... It’s a pointless existence otherwise. That was one thing that kept me going.”
In spite of their working-class appeal, the duo don’t consider themselves to be a working-class band. “If it’s speaking to the working classes that’s great but that was not the intention,” says Fearn. “No,” agrees Williamson. “We’re not socialists, we’re not f**king communists and we’re not Billy Bragg-ists. We’re just talking about what we’ve been through. And we’re doing it in a way that is just normal to ourselves.”
Williamson has publicly criticised Kasabian’s guitarist Serge Pizzorno for saying working-class bands were being sidelined by the Brit awards. “What are they saying about the working class? What have they ever said about the working class? Nothing, f**k off,” responded Williamson in an interview with NME. They also called the modpop artist Miles Kane “a pretender”, and insulted Paul Weller, because he “probably just sits back and thinks about his back catalogue”, but a lot of Williamson’s vitriol has been spent on Noel Gallagher for betraying his roots and being a “secret Tory.”
“I’m not criticising him for moving out of Burnage [the suburb of Manchester where Gallagher is from], I’m just criticising him for losing touch with his talent. I really saw beauty in that first year of Oasis’s career. I really loved them. But [my comments on Gallagher were] down to the greed thing and the personality and the devouring massive amounts of money and that’s something I disagree with.
“What you gonna do with all that money? No one needs that much. There is no need. The only need it feeds is the ego.” Williamson claims he never earned more than £13,000 a year before this sudden rise in his fortunes, but is now on “a considerable amount more.”
I ask whether he thinks success will ruin Sleafords’ creativity in a similar way to Oasis. He takes a sip of sparkling water before saying that the high-profile comedian Stewart Lee recently asked them the same question. “I don’t know how to answer that, I don’t know,” he furrows his brow again. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
‘Key Markets' is out in JuneReuse content