Sleaford Mods and Invisible Britain
November 2015 sees the release of Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain in Cinemas around the UK. A documentary which follows the Nottingham band on a tour of some of the neglected areas of the UK in the run up to the 2015 General Election. LSD caught up with the one of the Directors; Paul Sng and Producer; Andrew Tiernan to discuss the film and the state of Austerity Britain.
Unless you’ve had your head up your arse for the past year, you won’t have missed Sleaford Mods’ rapid onslaught on the music industry. In June, their set at Glastonbury Festival was televised by the BBC and brought them into living rooms en masse across the country, while their appearance at Banksy’s Dismaland in September saw them playing to a more familiar alternative crowd. Last month their no-nonsense performance on Later… With Jools Holland was one of those seminal TV moments, a rallying cry to the faithful, a wake up call for the un-initiated and a two-fingered salute to the naysayers (many of whom took to Twitter to voice their contempt).
Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain is similarly direct in its approach. Part band doc, part state of the nation, it avoids the usual tour documentary clichés and instead focuses on what the individuals and communities in the towns and cities which the band visited are doing to resist and campaign against social injustice and so-called austerity measures. Among the subjects explored in the film are the fatal consequences of the controversial Atos Assessments, the rise in Homelessness, the decline of British Industry, and the draconian Joint Enterprise doctrine, which has been used by the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to target the lower classes and ethnic minority communities.
The project was directed and conceived by Paul Sng and Nathan Hannawin, who accompanied Sleaford Mods on tour for a few weeks in February and March. The project caught the attention of actor/director Andrew Tiernan, who contacted the filmmakers to help fund the project as Executive Producer, and who also acts as the film’s narrator.
How did the film come about?
Paul Sng: We met Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn of the band in October 2014 and interviewed them for a music website called Gigslutz. Andrew Fearn mentioned at that time that they would be doing a tour of small towns and places that most signed bands don’t usually go to, places like Scunthorpe, Wakefield and Colchester. I thought that it would be a good basis for a documentary to follow them on tour and take a look at what was happening in these communities, the problems that they’re facing and what they’re doing to resist austerity.
Where did the name ‘Invisible Britain’ come from?
Paul Sng: It’s a reference to the neglected and supposedly less attractive areas of the UK, which aren’t shown on TV and that many people aren’t aware of. It also refers to the disenfranchised and those who don’t have a voice in modern society, or people who have become the scapegoats and victims of ‘Broken Britain’. Those who’ve suffered from what are euphemistically termed austerity measures. People like Mark Wood, who had a number of complex mental health issues and starved to death four months after his disability benefits were cut, following an Atos test that judged him fit for work. We interviewed Mark’s sister, Cathie Wood, for the film, and the details of how her brother was treated by the DWP are shocking.
Andrew, how did you get involved in the film?
Andrew Tiernan: I’d just finished working on the post-production for my feature film, Dragonfly, which I’d directed and kind of felt that I hadn’t said everything that I wanted to say within that piece. It was hard within the confines of a drama. I’d been looking for something to do, which had a political content to it. I’d been listening to a lot of Sleaford Mods, who I felt were my secret band, no one else I knew even liked them at the time. Luckily, I saw a tweet that the band had put out about the crowdfunding campaign for the documentary. When I realised that the film-makers needed a producer, I emailed them straight away.
Paul Sng: Andrew has been brilliant and has helped us with advice and introduced us to people like Shaun Dey from Reel News, who was good enough to let us use some DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) footage free of charge. Andrew also brought in Shona McWilliams, who came on board as a Producer to help us out with various elements of the post-production. They’ve both been great to work with and we’ve become good friends.
What are Sleaford Mods saying that has enabled them to give a voice to the disenfranchised?
Andrew Tiernan: Specifically, that’s hard to answer. If you listen to their albums it’s just the feeling that you get; I related to Jason’s lyrics and Andrew’s music/beats, they just felt raw and they’re saying a lot more than anyone else. I felt like they were the group I was looking for, for quite a few years. I’d rinsed my music collection, so thank god for a new band, best of luck to them.
Paul Sng: I think a big part of their appeal to the disenfranchised is in the way they say things, almost as much as what they’re saying. Sleaford Mods have articulated the frustration and futility of crap dead-end jobs and exposed how naff mainstream popular culture has become, which I think is why a lot of people identify with the lyrics.
How did you determine which causes and campaigns to focus on?
Paul Sng: Most of them came about via people who got in touch when they heard about the film. That was how we found about people like Cathie Wood and the tragedy of what happened to her brother, Mark. We met a young lad called Sam Horton when the band did a gig in Barnsley, and he put us in touch with Joe Hill and the people who run the Unite the Community project from the NUM headquarters. We got to film an interview in Arthur Scargill’s old office with John Coan and Richard Vivian about the work they’re doing to help people in the area to defend themselves against things like zero hours contracts and the Bedroom Tax. The venue which the band played in Scunthorpe, Café Indiependent, was a local project set up to give young people a chance to learn new skills and provide the local community with a decent arts venue.
Andrew Tiernan: JENGbA, was my suggestion to Paul and Nathan. I had known Gloria and Jan (JENGbA founders) and a few of the other families since working on David Blair and Jimmy McGovern’s film, Common, which was when I first heard fully what Joint Enterprise was all about. I knew the late Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four and his connection with MOJO (Miscarriages of Justice Organisation) and I was fully aware of his and his family’s experience of the justice system in the early 70’s, they’d used a form of joint enterprise there to convict all the family members, including his father, Guiseppe, who died in prison, an innocent man. I was shocked that Joint Enterprise was being used again today to convict innocent people, largely due to the 2011 Riots and to prevent gang culture. So I‘ve supported JENGbA and all their courageous work since, and felt that their story was vital to this documentary.
When politics and music are intertwined, the results can often be a bit embarrassing. How did you avoid veering into 80’s style Red Wedge territory?
Paul Sng: Sleaford Mods have never claimed to be a political band – that’s a label that others have stuck on them. In the film, Jason describes it as social commentary, which it is. As far as I’m aware they don’t subscribe to any ideology, they’re just musicians who have something to say about the state of the country. Some people will say, ‘Well, that’s political then’, but I think it’s more complex than that. I think politics is about intent, what you believe in and what you are willing to fight for. As a band they aren’t waving a flag for an ideology or attempting to steer people in a certain direction, which is what politicians do. They don’t claim to represent anyone else.
Andrew Tiernan: It’s not just about the music; it’s also about what affects normal people in their day-to-day existence. The budget cuts, the Atos assessments, the con that is Austerity, like Jason says in the film; “Austerity’s worked for the rich – it’s not worked for the rest of us”. The anger that is in Jason’s lyrics is real, but it’s even worse than that on the streets, and if the Government carries on the way it’s going, there’s going to be utter chaos in this country and they won’t be able to control it. People need to have a voice and be heard and if they pick up on Sleaford Mods, they channel that a bit, it confirms what they’re feeling and if used right it shows what positivity you can get from anger. ‘Only Sleaford Mods can save us now’, as the saying goes.
Paul Sng interviews Jason Williamson (vocals/words) from Sleaford Mods in an exclusive interview.
Paul Sng: The set up you have when you play live is very simple. There’s no gloss, no pretension, it’s just you singing, and Andrew pressing a button on his laptop and bopping about while drinking. How did the idea for it come about?
Jason Williamson: Well, I already had that idea already with being into stuff like the Wu Tang and all that. If you listen to any of their early stuff, RZA’s really good. It’s a real basic fucking set up. The sounds that he gets, they’re all really fucking basic because he didn’t have much money. Obviously, he came from very sort of poorish background, so they were using the best of what they could. That really appealed to me. The way I was changing as a person, my values and priorities were changing, and what I saw around me and gave me a more bleaker idea of what the world was, frustration, etc. That all really suited that approach to music I thought. So it was just a case of purely, basically trying to explain that to Andrew in the basic terms and then he’d just get on with it. And then he started slowly developing his own version of that. And that’s where we’ve come to today.
Paul Sng: What do you think of the state of modern music today?
Jason Williamson: It’s not very good is it? Some things are coming up, I suppose, but it really is impossible to try and answer that fully because you’re not aware of all the projects that are probably starting to come off. I think things are starting to change slightly. It’s certainly been a bit more fruitful than it has over the last few years. There are people starting to try and do new things as opposed to just your old pastiches. But even those that are doing pastiches are doing them in a kind of a fresh way. I quite like The Fat White Family, there’s something new about it . Dean Blunt as well, and people like Ghost Poet. There’s a few things happening, but you’ve still got a long way to go haven’t you? It’s just people’s attitudes towards it, though. If the attitudes are going to remain the same, then the music won’t go anywhere. Still, people are very much concerned with music as a career, as a money spinning idea, as opposed to getting something out of it that they want to say. People aren’t really relying on and don’t really take much notice of their own experiences and how they’re feeling. They’d rather just go for a business model d’you know what I mean? I mean, you can’t tell me that any of these big sellers on these big labels are fucking doing something that they truly wanna do. It’s a fucking day in the office innit? You can’t say that Paloma Faith is integral ‘cause she’s fucking not. Any of those, Sam Smith, the lot. It’s all a day at the office innit?
Paul Sng: What did you think about Paloma Faith having Owen Jones [left-wing political journalist] as her support act earlier in the year?
Jason Williamson: I just found it funny that Paloma Faith has suddenly got this consciousness, and yet her bosses are part of a big corporation. They’re part of the problem. You’ve got this little puppet saying, ‘Oh no my fans, my fans. Getting worried about my fans’. Fuck off. Yeah, you know and then you’ll fuck off and forget about it. You can’t be doing shit like that. You know, I’d have probably listened to her if she’d have come up on her own with her own fucking style of music, instead of ripping Amy Winehouse off. Or letting her bosses make her sound like Amy Winehouse. You know, it’s crap. That’s just crap. It’s just fucking baked cake sentiment innit? It made her look like the geezer of that baking show, what’s his name?
Paul Sng: Paul Hollywood?
Jason Williamson: Yeah, that’s it. Bit like him turning around and all of a sudden becoming politically fucking conscious. It’s just armchair bullshit.
Paul Sng: Sleaford Mods gigs are quite an avant-garde performance, though, aren’t they?
Jason Williamson: They are, but the people aren’t stupid and they’ve had enough of guitar bands. They’ve had enough of Oasis type bands. They’ve had enough of lad, the whole idea of the lad and all this. And yet bands keep coming out like that, but the crowd really aren’t that bothered. And I think what they like about us is the fact that we… There’s a little bit of it in Sleaford Mods in the sense of it’s quite real, but it’s a new package too. You know, we’re not totally original, but there’s something fresh about it. And that kind of goes in line with what people want, I guess. People are looking for something new you know?
Paul Sng: What do you think is wrong with the music industry?
Jason Williamson: Anybody that’s remotely interesting just gets picked up by a label and then thrown onto the O2 circuit, or you know, the big gig circuit. Or gets thrown in as a support band with the big hat you know what I mean? And immediately they can’t cut off from the realities of the club circuit.
Paul Sng: You made a conscious choice to avoid that didn’t you?
Jason Williamson: Yeah, we guide the music. We got the identity together, the formula together. Somebody picked up on us, and fortunately for us had this vision of let’s do it the old way. And that’s how its worked out. That’s how I think bands should be, you know what I mean? They should really think for themselves and try and do something a bit effective, as opposed to just wanting some kind of a career and being lazy about it.
“Sleaford Mods – Invisible Britain” is Out Now in various Cinemas
around the UK and will be released on DVD and VoD soon.
around the UK and will be released on DVD and VoD soon.
For more information on the Documentary and links to screenings:
Trailer on Vimeo:
Andrew Tiernan’s film ‘Dragonfly’ is available now on Vimeo on Demand Worldwide to Stream or Download:
Sleaford Mods – New album, Key Markets out now.