We all enter a New Year hopeful the next twelve months will be bigger, better and brighter than the last. 2021 doesn’t need to get much right to be better than its predecessor, but equally, you’d only be human if you weren’t fearful of new and even more punishing horrors to come. So, what can we do? One answer is to find joy in small mercies, and wage war against the crushing forces which are out for themselves, all the while damning the rest of us to miserable oblivion.
In the UK music scene, you’d be hard pushed to name a modern band who have spoken out as long, as hard, or with as much incisive intelligence as the Sleaford Mods. While every band with a working-class twang and a list of complaints is compared to the duo, you don’t often get the feeling of authenticity that you do when Williamson is mouthing off.
Speaking to Jason Williamson, he agreed, there’s a whiff of a gap-year in some of the mouthier malcontents in today’s music business. Sleaford Mods have long been ahead of that game. One of the fall-guys in the final months of 2020 was Phillip Green, who was called out years ago on the band’s ‘BHS’.
And then there’s Dominic Cummings. By now, you should have bopped and nodded along to ‘Short Cummings’, a timely release, but one which was written in 2019. As the initial anger at the arrogance over that infamous Barnard Castle drive, and then seeing Cummings get off scot-free, died down, a smile would have crept across Williamson’s face as he knew he already had his attack on the shamed political strategist in the can.
He says: ‘Yeah, that fell for us. You just know with these people, there’s always something new coming out about them. With Cummings, I was interested in what he was up to a good while back. No one voted for him, and yet he was running the show.’ While the political ire and societal surveillance is still on point, there is a maturing evolution in Sleaford Mods.
The music gets stronger with every release, with Andrew Fearn digging deeper into a robust yet varied record collection for inspiration. Even the frontman is looking to make a more measured approach as to how, where and at whom he rails. When asked if he has other targets in his sights for a future release, he said: ‘Oh yeah, plenty, and it’ll always come up. I am trying to get away from that side though, you can’t just solely be having a go at people. I’m sure it gets tiring. It’s the same with bands, I don’t want to get into the same fights with the same people.’
While the Government deservedly gets it in the neck on the album, there’s also a reflective and personal focus on the record, with moments dipping back to his childhood. The lyricist was not alone in spending much of 2020 in a reflective mood. Williamson said; ’I think that was inevitable with lockdown, because what else are you doing? Getting up, doing the school run, and then spending the rest of your day around the house. I think it’s caused a lot of people to think about themselves and their surroundings, and I think this is where a lot of the low mood or depression stems from.’
Of all the things we’ve learned in the past year, it’s that life is better when it’s shared with the right people. This is true for the band’s new album, Spare Ribs. It’s on the collaborations that the album is most likely to puncture or prick the consciousness of a wider audience. Not so much that the band is tapping into other act’s followers, but that the collaborators drove the act to higher levels.
Williamson said; ‘We were looking to push things on, and it was suggested we try a few collaborations. We weren’t sure, but it worked. Production wise it was interesting, and it has kicked us on, so yeah, it worked out well. ‘Nudge It’ with Amy Taylor and ‘Mork N Mindy’ with Billy Nomates are the best songs on the album for me, the most commercial anyway.’
The track with Billy Nomates was the lead song of the record, packed with classic Sleaford Mods style murky mithering, but the chorus soars. The infectious rhythm and Nomates’ lilting delivery have hopefully been lodged in your brain for months. While aggression is commonly cited in reviews and dismissals of the act, the wit and humour aren’t regarded so quickly. And yet, some of the most mesmerizingly funny lines of the past decade have been spat out by Williamson. All it takes is the mention of eucalyptus and this writer is chortling to himself, such was the frontman’s caustic response to that word.
Of course, humour, much like political ideals which threaten to tear the country apart, is a game of opinions. It doesn’t help when people can’t see the joke that is right in front of them. ‘Well, that’s the thing isn’t it? You’d like to think it’s obvious I’m having a laugh, and that people don’t genuinely think I’m talking about how rich I am or how fit we are. It is a worry, but still, you’ve got to have a sense of humour and have a laugh with it.’
The singer’s ‘Late Night With Jason’ clips on social media have also split opinion, as he explained; ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been pulled up for them a few times. Even when you’re reaching out to other musicians, you hope they get it, but it’s a laugh, I enjoy it’.
Twitter bans have also followed, including a lockout for swearing at Jacob Rees-Mogg. This begs the question, why hasn’t everyone sworn at Rees-Mogg? Williamson’s answer? ‘Because they’re f***ing idiots aren’t they?’
One man who isn’t an idiot is Tim Burgess, one of the heroes of the past year. ‘Tim’s a good lad, a very positive person, and it’s been good for people’ was Jason’s take on the Twitter listening parties, with the band featuring prominently in the early days as the phenomenon gained traction. At that time, Thursday night meant applauding for the NHS, and the duo’s back catalogue, with a series of album run-throughs. ‘We did it a few weeks in a row, and I was worried about people becoming bored with it, but it went okay. I enjoyed it, and it was a good chance to look back on the albums, share some photographs. It was good to hear from other people too.’
The week before Spare Ribs is released, the band are playing a streamed show, something they’ve already dabbled with in the past year. Williamson said; ‘It was alright, we love performing and we thought it was going to be like a TV show, and that’s how it went. It was an extended sort of TV show, but it was fine.’
It’s likely the band is envied by many of their peers, not just for their forthright views, but for the simplicity of their live shows. While being unable to divulge their touring plans for 2021 just yet, the duo can pretty much get in a car or van and hit the road as soon as they get the all clear. Unsurprisingly, they’ve got another assault on your ears, heart and mind ready to go, and when live shows return, it won’t be long until they’re playing near you. We shouldn’t need any additional encouragement to get out of the house.
Sleaford Mods are scheduled to play Glasgow Barrowland on 18th November 2021
Main image: Alasdair McLellan