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LIVE REPORT: Sleaford Mods
Michaela Drapes , December 19th, 2014 18:09

Michaela Drapes reports from New York. Photo by Xi Weg

I've been an unrepentant Anglophile since birth, I think; weaned on the best UK imports that 70s and 80s US PBS stations had to offer (Poldark, anyone?). I passed through truly odd stages of this rampant obsession – internalising the books of Noel Streatfield, having inappropriate thoughts about Ian McShane as Lovejoy, becoming hopelessly devoted to Roxy Music – that sort of thing. Over the years, I randomly filled in the blanks of my knowledge with Derek Jarman's films and Simon Schama's History Of Britain series and endless, endless books, too many to list, filled with stories and language and history that seemed almost like fairy tales to a girl from far west Texas. Thanks to Morrissey, I knew about Thatcher and miner's strikes and three day weeks and the end of grammar schools. And, for better or worse, I was that smug girl who pooh-poohed the Blur vs Oasis clash, and swore allegiance to Pulp and Suede and Elastica instead. But it was all a pose, you know. I secretly loved the Gallaghers' kitchen sink dramas and Damon Albarn's floppy fringed pseudo-intellectualness just as much as the sterner stuff. I loved it all.

So, imagine my surprise, about five songs into Sleaford Mods' set when a stereotypical bearded Brooklyn hipster-bro in an expensive anorak came careening through the crowd screaming along with 'Jobseeker'. The first few songs had blazed by in the blink of an eye, leaving all 500 of us punters in the crowd at newish performance space The Wick, breathless and near-shellshocked (the only blip coming early on from a pint-tossing idiot – "Who was that cunt?" Jason Williamson half-breathed, half-bellowed into the mic – displaying an admirably long fuse at at an indignity that would have sent lesser performers into a fit of rage). But this kid, in his excitement, managed to jostle us all out of our stupor, inciting a small tangle of semi-polite slamdancing that persisted through the rest of the show.

Yet I was still uncharitable and smug: "The closest you've ever come to understanding the indignities of living in a welfare state and visiting the old Job Centre, friend," said a catty voice in my head, "was that time you watched The Full Monty?"

Then again, I could be wrong. Maybe he, too, was made to suffer a visit to a career counselor at the New York Department of Labour during a stretch of unemployment, as I was a few years back, to justify the continuation of my terrifyingly insufficient $405 a week in benefits. And you bet that echoes of 'Jobseeker''s fury trigger the still-unhappy memory of a well-meaning middle aged civil servant who reminded me not to be a victim, to push myself, to triumph over the minor career setback. Advice that I neither solicited or required, to be honest.

Sure, we'd all heard the songs, knew all the lyrics, were ready to shout along with 'The Corgi' and 'Donkey' and 'Pubic Hair Ltd.', but nothing could have prepared us for the reality of Andrew Fearn out Bez-ing Bez in his Officer Wiggum t-shirt, armed with a six-pack and fresh magazines of rhythmic ammo tucked into his sprightly PC laptop. And really, were we actually ready for the vitriol and glistening id of Jason Williamson, the sweaty, aging mod geezer with a stunning oral fixation? Or the fact that the perfect doggerel of his diatribes doesn't so much live in his mind, but in his body? Each physical tick it seems – the raspberries, the lewd tonguings, the flicks of sweat, the occasional glances as his mechanically swinging limbs, as if he's forgotten they're attached to his body – all seem to hold the key to the muscle memory of the words.

We try to find our analogues to parse it in hopeless American idiom – beats like Public Enemy, words like The Hold Steady's Craig Finn (by which people must really mean poet John Barryman, perhaps). But these comparisons are never quite right. We just don't have fiercely nationalistic artists who gleefully spit in the eye of fascists and hypercapitalists and the entirety of the government; we are, as a nation, too young, too jaded, too greedy, too lacking in a true poetic tradition that's millenia-deep to pull this off. Kanye's rants, for instance, seem more whiny and self-involved than ever in comparison; he's trying to make a flimsy Camelot of his own while we're all enraptured watching Mr. Williamson turn into a modern Fisher King instead.

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