It seems remarkable that, on a Wednesday night in Edinburgh (a city whose gig-going population is often unfairly accused of being the stay-at-home types), several hundred people have turned up to see a band like Sleaford Mods.
This is a Nottingham duo comprised of two 40-something blokes who have spent years on the pub circuit and toiling in former acts; who write songs about life on the dole and combine tales of austerity-fuelled social decay with everyday minutiae of the most British kind (“Jobseeker / can of Strongbow, I’m a mess / Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression / Supplied to me by the NHS”).
It’s precisely this devastating cocktail of biting state-of-the-nation anger and laser-guided, self-aware wit that has marked out Sleaford Mods as so utterly unique in today’s musical merry-go-round. You could go looking for comparisons from the more politically-engaged bands of the early ’80s, a few of today’s musical outliers or the odd punk-poet, but in truth they exist in a niche of their own making.
Which brings us back to this sold-out club venue in the Scottish capital on a crisp Autumn night, where vocalist Jason Williamson and musician Andrew Fearn are greeted to a hero’s welcome and the now-familiar terrace chant of “Sleaford Mods, Sleaford Mods, Sleaford Sleaford Sleaford Mods!” within three songs.
And, strangely enough, the atmosphere is a bit like a football match: the onlookers are predominantly male, spanning a few generations, and every one of them is following Williamson’s lyrical output with the unfaltering intensity they might follow the ebb and flow of their team on a Saturday afternoon. Just without the pies, bovril and inevitable disappointment.
Sleaford Mods may not be newbies in any sense of the word, but they timed their breakthrough with 2013’s Austerity Dogs to perfection. While other bands continue to navel-gaze and indulge in nostalgia for decades gone by, they have filled a void for outspoken, defiant music of the here and now, following up in quick succession with last year’s Divide And Exit and the recent Key Markets LP.
Live, their intransigent authenticity is borne out through Williamson’s stage presence. Even when he’s complaining about being too hot between songs (“Can someone turn the fan on? We ain’t roast chickens”) he’s seemingly unable to ever sound banal or uninteresting. And when he’s delivering his staccato, concrete poetry (and poetry it is, just not the kind you read in school) he absolutely owns every spittle-framed line, injecting a shot of sarcasm here and a gut-punch of disgust there. It’s no wonder he’s an in-demand guest vocalist for the likes of The Prodigy and Leftfield.
Tonight’s set is relentless, covering all bases including recent single ‘No One’s Bothered’ (which they performed the previous night on Later… With Jools Holland, in the same room as Burt Bacharach), the visceral ‘Tied Up In Nottz’ and the almost singalong (though not in the Disney sense) ‘Jobseeker’.
An encore may not really be their style, but the fired-up crowd were never going to leave without one, so they return for a quick one-two combo of ‘Tarantula’ and ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’.
As the fans filter out, many clutching newly acquired vinyl and t-shirts, there’s a real sense that this is a band with momentum. How long that momentum lasts is anyone’s guess, but, while they have a stage and a mic, Sleaford Mods will just continue doing what they do, whether it’s in front of two dozen or two thousand.
Main image: stock photo by scannerFM / CC