By Ryan Bell
Today, Sleaford Mods release collection/compilation All That Glue, which pieces together some fan favourites as well as some unreleased tracks, as a retrospective of the previous decade. It’s a little tricky to write about Sleaford Mods, the social/political angle of their music has been written about so often and so well by so many music writers in the past, that avoiding repeating what has already been said is easier said than done.
With All That Glue in mind, I can only offer a personal account of how I came to be enthralled by one of Britain’s most vital groups of the 2010s.
In 2015, I had tickets to see Noel Gallagher in Manchester. Seeing him in his hometown, as an Oasis fan, it promised to be electric. But a few months before the gig, I was flicking through my phone, trawling the NME website and I came upon a headline that, to paraphrase, went a little something like ‘SLEAFORD MODS SAY NOEL GALLAGHER HAS BLOOD ON HIS HANDS’.
As I mentioned, I was geared up for this gig, I’d put my Adidas Gazelles and my best coat ready to one side and everything. So, feeling especially defensive my initial though was ‘Pfft, who the bloody hell are Sleaford Mods?’. Clicking the link at the bottom of the page sent me to their tune Tied Up In Nottz…
‘The smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon / Kevin’s getting footloose on the overspill / under the piss station’
The opening lines.
I probably played it through about three times back to back, just to check my ears were working properly. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, whether it was brilliant, or it was rubbish, or even whether I liked it or not. This is who’s slagging off Noel Gallagher? Soon after what was probably my fourth or fifth listen, it all suddenly made complete sense, and then shortly after another four or five listens, nothing but Sleaford Mods made sense – especially Noel Gallagher.
I’m not writing this to slag off Noel, I’m still a fan. The gig in Manchester was great as expected (Johnny Marr turned up which was nice), and I’ve seen him again since (though Mods’ ally Baxter Dury upstaged him for my money). But Tied Up In Nottz, which features on the All That Glue compilation, wiped out pretty much everything else I was listening to at the time, it was blisteringly unpleasant yet darkly comical and seemed to accurately expose and unite a faction of the United Kingdom in the same way Anarchy in the UK, Ghost Town or even Live Forever did.
Strangely enough it happened that my first Sleaford Mods gig was exactly one week before the heralded Noel gig. Though Sleaford Mods weren’t playing to a sold-out Manchester Arena, they were performing in my hometown, Wakefield in West Yorkshire, in the upstairs space of city pub venue The Hop.
But that gig was electric.
(Despite accidentally wandering into a pre-gig meeting with management and Mods’ frontman Jason Williamson – once the manager realised I was nothing to do with anything, I was politely asked to wait downstairs with everyone else).
The documentary Bunch of Kunst followed the band around this time, and Jason described what I believe was the Wakefield gig, or at least a gig on the same tour run as “being a real release for people”.
It was true, it was packed full to the rafters by the time Sleaford Mods came on stage, the crowd mainly comprised of men of a similar age to the band themselves, whom were both in their early to mid-forties. It’s funny looking back, I didn’t realise then but I was perhaps a little nostalgic for something I was never even a part of, being so invested in Oasis, The Stone Roses etc., but the group which I used as a distancing tool from that was a band comprised of men of a similar age, of the same generation at least. A generation who likely spent the mid 1990s unified by Britpop, cheering on Gazza striding on goal, with the hope of New Labour and a shift in hope being welcomed in by Halliwell flying the flag; who could blame millions for believing they would too would ‘Live Forever’? However, not everyone emerged from the millennium millionaire rockstars with a pad in Ibiza, and instead some of that generation were here, sweating out a rage on the top floor of a pub to the new street sound of clunking basslines and the spitfire sprechgesang gospel of everything being a bit shit.
‘Can of Strongbow I’m a mess / Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression / supplied to me by the NHS / It’s anyone’s guess how I’ll go / I suck on a roll up – pull your jeans up / Fuck off, I’m going home’
Sleaford Mods most infamous moment is undoubtedly Jobseeker, thankfully included in All That Glue after being missing from streaming services for a good while, and its title alone raises eyebrows even before hearing Williamson’s expletive tirade against the ‘smelly bastards who need executing!’ and the crass confession that since his last signing on date, he’s done ‘fuck all, and sat about the house wanking’.
But like many Mods’ tunes, beneath the toilet grime and sniping verbals, it’s an honest reflection of an all too familiar reality to many, neither patronising nor sycophantic, it’s too tangible to be meticulously calculated, and its timing for me was paramount.
I’d not long left the job centre myself when Sleaford Mods entered my life, and the lyrics documenting the disillusionment of the experience struck me particularly strongly; no other band I was aware of chose to discuss the feeling of finding that your ‘signing on time is supposed to be ten past eleven, and it’s now twelve o’clock’.
I’d never seen anyone personify frustration as perfectly on stage as Williamson in my life, even when watching ‘punk’ bands you could sense an element of posturing about it; but this was the real deal, articulated frustration so strong it burned all five senses.
If punk did away with the guitar solo back in ’77, then Sleaford Mods made the guitar itself redundant for a while, after the gig it seemed like nothing more than a masturbatory prop that would dilute the primal rage that drove the music, and I say that as a guitarist myself.
Beatmaker Andrew Fearn stands at stage right, nodding along to every song, his laptop resting atop stacked empty beer crates which is next to a filled beer crate for himself, and any audience member brazen enough to ask. Williamson stands centre, but does not stay still, constantly gyrating, twitching, spasming, at times laugh out loud hilarious with barnyard animal grunts and silly walks and in the next minute genuinely threatening, the spit and sweat lashing from his beetroot face cropped by his ruler straight fringe; he’s part Benny Hill, part Iggy Pop, but always enthralling.
This is still the case today, or at least the last time I saw Sleaford Mods, on the 2019 tour at Holmfirth Picturedrome, and visually not much has changed in the four years between first and latest. Fearn still bops along in the background, bottle in hand, though Williamson’s knocked drinking on the head and taken up weightlifting, which has only added more energy, more humour and more athletic ability to his arsenal as a performer.
The tunes though, despite what some may have predicted, have developed album by album. The seething rage and grim description that made Austerity Dogs and Divide & Exit so exhilarating remains on recent releases English Tapas and Eton Alive, but it’s obvious that both halves of the group have progression in mind.
You can track it through their venture into the lyrically surreal such as Tarantula Deadly Cargo or their unique stab at a pop choruses TCR as well as the ingenious loop of an off-licence buzzer and an iPhone alarm on Drayton Manored and Discourse respectively, and the final track of All That Glue; When You Come Up to Me being probably the least Mods track the Mods have done yet. Built upon some synth blips sounding like a lost gem from the new-wave era, it’s a track that would have felt highly unlikely back in the top room of a Wakefield pub in 2015, as Williamson sings throughout, his voice miles away from his usual bark, here sounding somewhat earnest and a little vulnerable.
‘Maybe it’s the way we feel and / I wanna love the sky and the universe / But that don’t get the door round here and / It don’t even come close too”
All That Glue oversees a massively creative period for the group which saw five studio albums, two previous compilations, four EPs and a live album. Cynics could argue it’s a little unnecessary, but it’s testament to the band that personally, I would have a hard time swapping any of the previously released tracks out, though there’s many more I would want to add.
So if anything it’s a celebration, not a greatest hits as Williamson has stressed to make clear. And so cheers to Sleaford Mods, one of the most vital bands of the decade for my money, and here’s to the next decade of modernism.
More from Sleaford Mods and links to buy All That Glue here
Words and photos by Ryan Bell
15th May 2020