Tuesday, 07 June 2016 19:21

Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain

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in Films
Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain

Is there a British band in today's music industry that definitively reflects or comments on the consequences of Tory austerity? Or one that is a direct reaction to 21st century Toryism? Well, the makers of new documentary Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain seem to think so. But who are the Sleaford Mods?

Not a "band" but post-punk duo from Nottingham comprising vocalist Jason Williamson and laptopist Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn. On record they're as distinctive and unique as they come, live they're a force of nature. Jason, who has the stage presence and swagger of Liam Gallagher, turns his face upwards towards the mic to shout angry rants about the social malaise of Britain over the grime-influenced bass beats emanating from Andrew's laptop.

The pair's stage personae are brilliantly yin and yang. Jason's is aggressive, some might say intimidating, to the point where any stage invaders might expect, and possibly warrant, a Glasgow kiss if they attempted it. Whereas Andrew is decidedly passive. He presses a button, presumably "play" on his laptop, steps back a pace and bobs up and down with his hands in his pockets and a warm grin on his face, like a more restrained version of Bez.

The lyrics are comedy gold too. On Middle Men, Jason yells: "Middle men the metropolis of discount tents, red and orange lights and old men" before finishing with the line: "New labour new danger." Jobseeker is equally caustic with the chorus: "Jobseeker! Can of Strongbow, I'm a mess, desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression supplied to me by the NHS."
Or there's the memorable opening line of Tied Up In Nottz: "The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon."

But Sleaford Mods' lyrics, which are a form of poetry in themselves, are best heard not read. Yet judging by them, it's no wonder the filmakers chose to interpret Sleaford Mods as a reaction to the political zeitgeist of modern Tory Britain. One would assume on reading the title of the film, which follows the group on a UK tour of some of the most neglected venues and places in the country in the run up to last year's general election, that it will be the usual band documentary fare of talking heads answering predictable questions about what inspires them etc.
However while there are plenty of talking heads, they're largely not the comments of the pair but various fans, campaigners, trade unionists and activists that filmmakers Nathan Hannawin and Paul Sng speak to both on tour and other seemingly related events.

So we have a segment on the work of Unite Community - a membership scheme designed to strengthen trade unionism in every corner of the country, giving a voice to the voiceless including those out of work. Here members of the Unite Community in Barnsley, set up alongside the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), discuss the need for the project following the demise of one of Britain's proudest mining communities and with it thousands of jobs.

Then we hear from the work of a community cafe and the shocking case of a disabled man - a victim of cruel Tory austerity - who starved to death after having his benefits sanctioned.
Less relevant, it feels, is a sequence about joint enterprise law where families of those found guilty of another person's crime, by association, are calling for justice after the Supreme Court ruled the law had been misinterpreted for 30 years. The only tenuous link seems to be in the suggestion that these "victims" of joint enterprise law represent a social underclass. But why the filmmakers chose to run this segment and not one say on deaths in custody or the police shooting of Mark Duggan and the riots that followed is anyone's guess.

There's also the elephant in the room - where the hell is Jeremy Corbyn? Given that New Labour is mentioned several times in the documentary, including in Jason's lyrics, the omission and opportunity to include a message of hope amongst all the bleakness seems odd. In a Q&A at the Hackney Picturehouse following a screening of the film, director Paul Sng argued that they made a conscious decision not to include the rise of Jeremy Corbyn for fear it would change the tone of the film.

"We didn't want the film to become partisan," explained Paul. "I think if we had devoted part of the film to Corbyn it would have been naff."

Certainly it becomes apparent that Sleaford Mods are political nihilists and probably wouldn't have appreciated being linked to a Labour propaganda film. Jason states in one interview in the documentary that the band aren't political. However he commented in a later interview with Channel 4 that he supports Corbyn stating he "reeks of compassion and that's what you want" - so make of that what you will!

And according to Paul Sng, Jason off camera isn't the hot-headed brute he appears on stage. "Both of them went out for drinks with the fans after the gigs," he said reminiscing of their time spent on tour. That's more than can be said of pretty much every other music artist to hit it big.



Sleaford Mods are performing at various festivals across Europe this summer including Field Day in London's Victoria Park this weekend, 11-12 June, Roskilde festival in Denmark, 25-27 June and Flow Festival Helsinki in Finland, 12-14 August. The documentary, Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain, is currently on a screening tour of Britain. For more information about the next screenings to take place visit www.invisiblebritain.com

Read 32837 times Last modified on Monday, 18 July 2016 08:13
Will Stone

Will Stone is news editor for the Morning Star and freelances for various other national newspapers. He has written for online theatre review site What's On Stage, music magazines and has produced and presented several series on post-punk/industrial for ResonanceFM, an arts radio station in London.