It'd been a surprisingly sunny day in South London. A beer on the Tamesis Dock floating pub with views across to Westminster, and a pizza in Brixton's new container park, had set the scene nicely and Darren and I were still in Brixton Academy in time for the support bands.
The Lowest Form were a punishing, unchanging assault of hardcore punk, Mark Wynn was, assumedly intentionally, embarrassing am-dram performed in an office chair with a mop and some trouser dropping, and Nachthexen were an enthusiastic, and clearly thrilled to be there, riot grrrl quartet whose tunes were, alas, all rather a bit samey.
To give the benefit of the doubt to the promoters it seemed like Sleaford Mods were using their currently exalted position to help some worthy causes, and maybe some mates, get to play to a larger audience. Alas, exposure to the sunlight may've done them more harm than good as, to be brutally honest, none of these acts seemed quite ready for a stage as large as Brixton's.
It's a charge I might've expected, at this point, to be levelling at ver Mods themselves but the boards of Brixton Academy are not even the biggest they've trod in London in recent years. They supported The Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium this summer and The Who in Hyde Park back in 2015.
They've earned their right to be there too. A phenomenal work rate and a message that people fed up with austerity, the Tories, Britain First, pretentiousness, working class scapegoating, and the deification of heritage rock acts can all get behind. With some gusto.
If the initial sight of two, slightly older than your usual popstar, men standing on a vast empty stage doesn't look too promising, once Andrew 'Hardest working man in Showbiz' Fearn initiates one of his motorik funk backing tracks and Jason Williamson launches into one of his trademark, fuck and cunt infused, spittle flecked invectives you're soon won over.
I'd kinda imagined a fairly static crowd hanging on every word to come out of Williamson's mouth but the moshpit bounces around as if at a Ramones gig and even those near the back of the Academy (near the bar and the toilets (where the smell of piss is so strong it smells like decent bacon) are swinging and bopping to Fearn's preset rhythms. The music may be minimal but the bass is heavy, the beats both funky and frenetic, and any small change in the music appears with the power of a seismic shift.
From Army Nights' tales of lobbing down vodka and getting squeezed in a caravan to Tarantula Deadly Cargo's slow burning bass heavy story of alien mums and European poo, targets are identified and utterly destroyed by the precision, and sheer playfulness, of Williamson's words. If you're offended by the large amount of f-bombs and c-bombs going off you really need to listen to people actually talk some time.
TCR launches the first mass singalong of the evening, Williamson working the crowd as if he's Jim Kerr or something (well, if you squint). There's something immensely satisfying in watching a good proportion of Brixton Academy's 4,921 capacity screaming 'Total Control Racing' at the stage to a song that contains references to Ena Sharples and Ray Reardon.
Tied Up In Nottz was, probably, the first song that turned me on to the genius of the Sleaford Mods. How they turbocharged the prosaic accounts of life that bands like The Streets and Renegade Soundwave gave us and mixed them with punk and grime to create something resolutely their own and absolutely necessary for the uncertain times we live in. Giant toilet krakens, The Final Countdown by fuckin' Journey, Kellogg's cunts, and drug dealers. Any suggested impotence in his yelp is a narrative device that works all the better to portray the frustration and alienation that more and more people are feeling as nasty elitist pricks like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Jacob Rees-Mogg assume anti-elitist positions to mount power grabs.
At one point Williamson launches into a bit of Bad Manners' Lip Up Fatty. If that's not intended to be directed at our current Foreign Secretary then Moptop most certainly is. The lyrics are as cryptic as the sentiment is acute but Williamson's cleared things up with this quote on genius.com:-
“MopTop is based in and around the disgusting lie that is Boris Johnson, the wannabe Churchill (we don’t need another one). The song also discusses the void that is modern music, internet attention spans, one dimensional acts, and the current trend of reformed bands looking to cash in with PR heavy assaults that try to conceal their pointlessness.”
That's a lot of ground to try and cover in two minutes and forty eight seconds but encapsulates a lot about the Sleaford Mods. They see patterns and parallels between politics, music, and day to day life and in songs like the almost bionic paced Jobseeker (cans of Strongbow, leaflets on depression, and sitting round the house wanking) and Jolly Fucker's tale of Mr Kipling, Ian Beale, grammar wankers, and rotting away in the aisles of Co-op they seek, unglamorously and highly effectively, to weave it all together into a diorama of dystopia, disillusion, and drink and drugs fuelled escapism.
That they do so with good humour, banging beats, kind hearts (a collection for Shelter on the way out wasn't out of character but just what you'd expect), and smiles on their faces shows that this is a band that are angry not because of immigration, the EU, or Big Ben being silenced but because of privilege. Because of the injustice that leads to people to burn to death in unsafe tower blocks as luxury apartments sit empty a mile down the road, because of the conscious cruelty that leads people to food banks not far from where the Queen lives in a huge palace, and because of the lie they've been sold, we've all been sold, from birth to school to work to death, that serves only to prop up an unfair society utterly obsessed with consumerism, status and cold, hard cash.
In B.H.S, a serious contender for the single of the year, the bloated body and smug overfed face of Philip Green stands as a synecdoche for all that's wrong with Britain at the moment. It seems wholly appropriate that as the able bodied vultures monitor and pick out us, and we hope for the knuckle dragging exodus, that we should dance, sing, and drink as we do so. That's something they'll never understand.
Cheers to Darren for inviting me along to this gig, to Cheryl for getting the tickets, and to Ben and Tracy for getting another round of beerz in. Yeah, with a z you cunt.