Simon Parfrement

Can of Strongbow, I’m a mess / Desperately clutching onto a leaflet on depression / Supplied to me by the NHS

Articulating his experience of working as a temp in a factory, Jason Williamson – one half of British punk band ‘Sleaford Mods’ – captures in darkly comic and numbing detail the human face of austerity-era Britain in his song ‘Jobseeker’. The song, a fan-favourite but now over a decade old, will be made available alongside unheard tracks with the release of All That Glue this May.

“That song is timeless, isn’t it? Back then, I would work two days here and three days there and come out with seventy or eighty quid a week. It was about how even in employment you can still feel lost and skint”. 

On stage, Williamson is intense: a manic spectacle, spitting out his lyrics over the electronic, grime-esque beats produced by bandmate Andrew Fearne – who is always, as is customary for the band, at the corner of the stage nodding along with a beer in his hand.

Conducting our interview over Zoom allowed me to get a glimpse of a more mellowed-out Williamson. Dressed in a majestic multi-coloured dressing gown, he spoke to me from his home in Nottingham where he lives with his wife and two children.

"Williamson’s nonconformist attitude extends to his refreshing set of musical influences."

His home in a “middle-class, affluent” area of Nottingham is a far cry from his childhood town of Grantham.  Being the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, the Lincolnshire town is a great tourist destination for fans of the Iron Lady – with an exhibition and plans for a statue of her to be unveiled for visitors this year. Williamson, however, expressed his detachment from the people and places of his childhood.

“It’s quite an oppressive place. It’s very small and most of the people who I grew up with are either quite racist, have drink problems or are just very sheltered and narrow-minded. Tommy Robinson has been a massive influence on a lot of working-class people there. It’s not all swastikas – he comes across to a lot of people as being a little bit intellectual.”

This environment, one that Williamson described as “optionless”, has no doubt been integral to music the duo produces. As the title of their most recent album Eton Alive suggests, the band have never shied away from making scathing remarks about why society is in decline. “We called it that because the pool of politicians who have more or less ruined the country over the past few years have largely been from Eton,” he says.

Their attacks on the political elite have led to an easy characterisation of the Sleaford Mods as the band who “rants for the working class”. This is a label Williamson now resists. “I don’t want to keep plugging the class thing because people expect you to be like that all the time,” he says. “They automatically assume that you’re going to be interested in their class concern.”

In these longs days of lockdown, Williamson confesses he has developed a mild obsession with Boris Johnson’s controversial chief advisor Dominic Cummings. His interest piqued with Cummings’ notorious job advert which beckoned “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply for jobs in Downing Street. “It’s f*cking incredible,” he laughs. “It made you think, I wonder if I could do that?”

"Life encourages violence, doesn’t it? No prospects, alienation, abuse and poverty – these are the things that encourage violence."

He holds up a copy of Cummings’ essay “Some thoughts on education and political priorities” that he has at his desk. “I just want to know what the mind-set behind this conservative government is,” he says. “It’s no good to just say Boris is a posh b*stard.”

Williamson’s nonconformist attitude extends to his refreshing set of musical influences. With the likes of Tennessee-born rapper Bbymutha and UK drill artist Loski on his personally updated Spotify playlist Tunes, his taste in music deviates from what you might expect from the frontman of a British indie band.

“I’m really into hip-hop so I’m immediately interested in any music that’s loosely connected to that idea. I think a lot of indie bands, particularly white middle-class indie bands, are not into that. They tend to just get off on seventies and eighties stuff which is fine I suppose.”

UK drill, which Williamson suggests has become a “pop music” for young people, features prominently on his playlist. Since 2018, court orders in the UK have criminalised the predominantly young black artists who produce drill music, citing that its lyrical content encourages gang-related violence.


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Aggravated by this censorship, Williamson says: “Yes, they’re talking about f*cking people up and it’s aggressive. But life encourages violence, doesn’t it? No prospects, alienation, abuse and poverty – these are the things that encourage violence. It’s a beautiful form of music.”

Using staccato rhythms and expletive lyrics, the Nottingham duo have spent years narrating what it’s like to be at a dead end in Britain. In light of the political and cultural shifts our world has undergone during lockdown, I wonder what kind of society their music will portray in post-virus Britain.

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