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Review: Sleaford Mods at Rock City, Nottingham

Sleaford Mods: Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn

Drenched in sweat and voice hoarse, Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson tells the sell-out Rock City crowd; “Nottingham, we are your sons”, and hundreds of meaty voices roar back. Solidly male and pissed, it feels like Nottingham’s Mod fans have decamped en masse from the terraces at the City Ground 15 minutes down the road. The man stood next to me spent the entire show releasing a succession of garlicky kebab burps and later took a break from the gig to have a fight with someone. The two of them were gently escorted out, swaying and bloody, and the Mods didn’t miss a beat. You get the feeling it isn’t a particularly rare occurrence.

For a band that have only recently sidled into the spotlight, the Sleaford Mods have been around for a long time, Jason Williamson and his partner Andrew Fearn having spent most of their careers, both separately and as the Mods, moving around Nottingham’s underground. They’re an unusual act. Frontman Williamson belts caustic rants into the microphone, spittle flecked and angry, half sung and half rapped in his East Midlands accent. Next to him, Fearn presses play on his laptop and sparse bass guitar and drum post-punk beats rumble out. Constantly burdened with “voice of the austerity generation” tags by eager reviewers, Williamson’s lyrics are dense with Nottingham slang and spitting rage at the wealthy, at the DWP, at shit bands, at public transport, at capitalism, at middle aged men from the suburbs riding motorcycles. There’s very little like it, and few other bands could get away with lines like “Weetabix, England, fucking Shredded Wheat Kellogs c*nts” and “the smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon”. They’re pulverisingly brutal, and they’re very funny.

“Williamson is an electric front man, writhing, twitching and shuffling around the stage as if going through some kind of evangelical Christian mania”

The show in Nottingham is the culmination of a major tour supporting their new album Key Markets, a wry nod to the music press’ attempt to characterise them, and it’s emotional. “Who’d have thought – a pair of c*nts like us?” they ask at the start, to a hearty cheer. The gig is intense and Fearn’s basic beats rumble ominously in your gut, while Williamson is an electric front man, writhing, twitching and shuffling around the stage as if going through some kind of evangelical Christian mania, right hand flicking off the side of his head and pinning tight behind his back, left holding the mike stand in a white knuckled grip. Sometimes he steps away from the mike and shuffles around the stage, rolling his shoulders like a gorilla and strutting like a Strongbow Mick Jagger.

The songs are a mix of new and old, the most famous of their older, pre-fame tracks “Jobseeker” garnering a strong reaction from the crowd (“So Mr. Williamson, what have you done in order to find gainful employment since your last signing on date? Fuck all, I’ve been sat around the house w*nking”). The biggest roar comes for their most well known track, “Tied Up In Nottz”, the video filmed around the city centre and on an NCT bus dragging its way through the outer city – every proud Nottinghamian in the joint shouting “Tied up in Nottz, with a “z” you c*nt” back at the delighted Mods. Nottingham isn’t a city with much in the way of recent musical history – Jake Bugg is the most famous recent export, and he’s now working with members of Snow Patrol and dating celebrities. You suspect that no matter how many reviews the Sleaford Mods pick up on Pitchfork and the Guardian, we’re unlikely to see them caught by the paparazzi in Chelsea any time soon.