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A Quietus Interview

Life In Hell: Sleaford Mods Interviewed By Taylor Parkes
Taylor Parkes , July 15th, 2015 07:21

Jason Williamson, one half of Sleaford Mods meets up with Taylor Parkes to chew the fat, and the gristle, and the bone. All photographs by Duncan Stafford

The hottest day of the year, and I'm on a train, halfway up England, still with that chilly, dispiriting sense of two nations, two different worlds. Out the window, scrolling by: shimmering green, enclosed fields and gardens, distant churches bending back and forth in the heat-haze. Alternating with that: dead cars, cooling towers, retail parks, shipping containers, Leicester. Backs of houses, falling off; the hills, keeping things hidden. Two worlds, two nations. Sometimes I lose track. What's theirs, these days? And what's still ours?

Baking, up against the glass, I'm thinking that this isn't really Sleaford Mods-type weather – surely it would make more sense to meet up on a dark and rotting day, full of unfallen rain, the kind of day we spend three-quarters of our lives inside; all of England's rage and pain mashed down beneath the sagging sky. But Sleaford Mods are changing, and perhaps that stuff's a bit old hat. Now they're finding newer moves, a more surprising line, a less predictable attack. Their vision's expanding – as it must, because the despair and hopelessness are growing, what with one thing and another. They don't want to get left behind.

The sun is burning hot, but it's winter in Britain.

At a time when most bands are happy as courtiers, Sleaford Mods are still a swinging fist of resistance, a force. A sharp retort to the concept of culture as someone else's property, somebody else's business. They're a planted flag, a claim on extraordinary territory: this is ours.

Maybe this is why they're so often discussed as though they were some kind of freak show, some sort of regional comedy troupe; their anger patronised, all their achievements missed or misunderstood. Sleaford Mods are mocked because they will not disengage from their own lived experience – that alone should tell you something. Worse, they're constantly being reduced. People think they've got them pegged. Here, after all, is a familiar Britain: a Britain of squalid little rooms and hovering violence; surly stupidity, burrowing anxiety, lousy housing and awful food, unidentifiable objects “battered in a blanket of cheap meat”; people being treated like animals, then behaving like animals; people with crepe paper lungs, wheezing; people who reek, people who snap – out of nowhere, just like that. All the terrible things endured and perpetrated “just to keep the job / Just to keep fuck all from turning into a fucking nothing blob.” The lack of solidarity. The sheer fucking misery.

It's like that other mardy Midlander Philip Larkin once said, isn't it: “Deprivation is for me what daffodils were to Wordsworth.” Right? Well, in a way... but no, not really. That's a bit too easy. What makes Sleaford Mods so good, so exciting – anti-depressing – is that unstoppable energy flow, that crazed creativity, all that life. An ongoing eruption of imagination. A hot tap, blasting; unanticipated thoughts, a breathless logorrhoea. And what's more, this isn't a peep show – some of these lines may well be scraped from the corners of lives where 200g of Cathedral City is a treat, but they're entirely free of the usual kitchen-sink cliches and A-level English condescension. Neither are they merely “gritty” tales of “life on the street” in “austerity Britain”. This is something deeper: austerity as a psychological landscape, as a way of life, a way of living, a way of not really living.

Under cover of all those “fucks” and “cunts”, Jason Williamson has developed into a writer of bewildering skill and originality. Sure, the new album's loaded with those tart one-liners so beloved of hacks from the dailies, who'd have you believe that's all there is to Sleaford Mods (they're hilarious, too: “Throwback's all right if you're doing something decent / But I put your CD on – it's fuckin' Shakin' Stevens!”). But that's only a tease. When he really gets going – which these days is most of the time – his use of language is extraordinary. Each song is a cascade of contorted syntax, images, insights, curses, gags, grotesqueries. A polluted stream of consciousness. Even when it degenerates into yapping, snapping Tourettian babble, anyone who's concentrating – and who has a dog in this fight – can feel exactly what it means. The single finest lyric of the last five years, right there: “Weetabix! England! Fucking Shredded Wheat Kellogg's cunts!"

These songs do to the English language what Pete Townshend did to his Rickenbacker – this is a rhetorical racket, lingual feedback; noisy resistance to well-ordered, market-friendly thinking. The same goes for that furious scatology, that feverish obsession with the abject; Jason Williamson's mind is a cloaca, discharging torrents of weaponised filth, scooped up and catapulted out of the cage, a logical response to alienation and confinement... yeah all right, I know, I know. But seriously, listen: this is the best British lyricist to have emerged so far this century.

Those who still see Sleaford Mods as some kind of novelty – some kind of joke – should hang their empty heads in shame. They don't deserve their ears. But leave them to what's theirs. Sleaford Mods are ours.

So welcome to Nottingham. It's fucking boiling.

Andrew Fearn – the lanky farm boy who provides those booming, sizzling instrumental tracks, just a little bit darker and a little bit deeper, these days – can't be with us. So you're going to have to forgive the relative lack of chat about the actual music (and there's lots to say... ah well, another time). It's just me and Jason, looking around for somewhere to sit on a day when it's too hot to think, too dry to talk. I could do with a drink.

We head for a city-centre cafe-bar where Jason played his first-ever gig, but when we put our heads round the door it's trinkets, candles, ugly sculptures, cabinets of tat for sale. “Fucking hell,” he mutters to himself. “It's changed in here...” And so we turn on our heels and head round the corner to a pub which was – or so it claims – the starting point for Nottingham's first successful hot air balloon flight, back in 1813. Personally, I'd rather locate the end-point of Nottingham's first unsuccessful hot air balloon flight, but time is short and the lunchtime sunshine's vicious. We get a table out the back, next to the canal. Jason settles down beneath a canvas awning with a chip cob, coffee and a Nicorette.

He's instantly friendly, courteous, on the level, though maybe slightly more reserved than I was vaguely expecting. I don't think that's shyness, more like shrewdness – he's got plenty to say, but he's careful never to venture out of his depth, lest he become just one more gobshite, one more barn door banging in the night. You wouldn't want to fuck with him, but you get the feeling straight away: yeah, this bloke's all right.

Let's go back to the start, then. You'd have been a Mod in the early 80s, right?

“Yeah, yeah. Thought I was, anyway. Whatever my idea of a Mod was.”

I don't think very many of us really grasped the concept at that age.

“No,” scowls Jason, “and a lot of people never did. It ended up as a kind of consumerist trap, really. Quite patriotic too, quite right-wing. And still is, in a lot of respects – I was speaking to someone the other day, quite a well-known person in that field of music, and when I mentioned that I'd been in Germany all week he did a Nazi salute. I thought 'Jesus Christ! It's not the fucking Freddie Starr show.'”

Once an escape from that kind of doltish Brit parochialism – an assimilation of European and black American influences – Mod soon became a reinforcing loop for hard-knock lads, a peacetime uniform.

“Yeah, it was taken over by the terrace mentality quite early on. I think for me it was just snippets of stuff that got through – Weller on The Old Grey Whistle Test when All Mod Cons had just come out, the look of the clothes... I didn't really get too deep into it at the time myself. I did a bit more reading later. Then when fucking Britpop came around, some of those ideas came back, supposedly. 'Clean living under difficult circumstances'... but people just used to use that as a soundbite, didn't they? I don't think they understood it, or bothered to look into what it meant, or think about it for themselves and work out what it might mean to them.”

The way I remember Britpop, there wasn't much clean living under any circumstances.

“Right,” says Jason, darkly. “I was in a band in London myself at that time, trying to do something. Too many people too into smack...”

So you took off for a sojourn in San Francisco...

“I went there just to get away. I was maybe thinking about doing some music, but mostly I just had this romantic vision of America. But I ended up getting a job as a security guard, and I didn't have a Green Card so I was working for some guy from Liverpool who mostly used to employ Mexicans coming over the border, and these real fruitcakes who wanted to be coppers. And there's a big gun culture over there, obviously – you'd hear people firing off rounds in their back garden on their day off and all that stuff, totally alien to an Englishman. Quite an intimidating place to do that job, especially for someone who hadn't really ventured out of Grantham. I tried to get in a couple of bands but I just ended up working really, so it kind of backfired. But in another way not, because it was an experience, and I grew up a little bit. But at the time, it was hell...”

Back in Britain things got even worse, as they're generally prone to. Until finally, around 2006 – already well into his 30s, and living in Nottingham with nothing to lose – Jason chucked in the Fred Neil-type folk music he'd been messing round with (“You had bands like Turin Brakes coming out and making it sound like shit, and anyway, what was this music really saying about me?”), got together with an engineer called Simon Parfrement, and started up the original Sleaford Mods.

What inspired you to make that change, from pretty trad guitar stuff to this bony British reinterpretation of hip hop?

“The first three songs off the first Wu-Tang Clan album, really. I was working in a warehouse and there was a guy there who was a hip hop nut. So I was just listening to the Wu-Tang album all the time, and it struck me how un-hip hop it was, in a way. Unlike what I thought of as hip-hop, anyway. It was so chaotic, I started to really relate to it – those little inserts where they're talking, and you could just sense the desperation. I mean, they're talking about someone getting shot round the corner or something, but in a way it felt really familiar to me. Just that sense of being faceless – nobody cared about them.

“Then a bit later, I was working in a Little Chef” – he taps a tattoo on his forearm: the company logo, with the words “Little Chef” replaced with “SLEAFORD MODS” – “and that was when I got back into a lot of the punky stuff I was into as a kid, English Dogs and stuff like that, the first Meteors album – and the idea of combining all this stuff suddenly seemed really obvious and natural. A fast-paced spoken-word thing with a kind of aggressive English vocal.”

Jason never refers to himself as a rapper. He's never been a hip hop purist.

“Oh, fucking hell no. That's why I got pissed off with all the old bands, like Weller and Primal Scream and all that. The purist thing. You're not fuckin' Sonny Boy Williamson, mate. You're not Iggy Pop, Bobby. You're just fucking not. It's not gonna work, mate. No, I never got like that about hip hop, partly because I didn't agree with what a lot of them were like – 'bitch' this, 'bitch' that, the bling, that kind of stuff. I wasn't interested. I just liked the flow, the approach to it. I like the early stuff, it's all right. I mean it's brutal, it's a lot harsher than a lot of the stuff we're doing now in some respects...”

More obviously tuneful though, with all those samples from soul and r&b and Mod-rock records (cheerfully uncleared, mostly, which precludes a major re-release – if you find a copy of Retweeted, the limited edition compilation from last year, you should probably buy it). It's funny stuff, in every sense: a fusion of desperate melancholy with a relentless, wilful unpleasantness. The words are simpler, although there are hints of the sophistication to come, if sophistication's quite the word for lines like, “I woke up with shit in my sock outside the Polish off-licence." Down in the stinking depths of 'Graham', Jason plays himself (harrassing a hapless DJ) and a mate who's trying to drag him away. As he starts to go backwards and forwards (“Leave him, Jay!” “FUCK OFF!” “Leave him, Jay!”), you realise something special is beginning to happen here. “If I had the money I'd go away / If I had the bollocks I'd completely change / But my hens are caged, ain't free range / And I will rot in this shithole, gonna die a young age...”)

It's rarely comfortable listening, but there's a wonderful, disgusting honesty about this early stuff, and it rarely gets a mention these days. Seems a bit of a shame.

“I know,” says Jason. “Well, it did last night – somebody accused me of being homophobic. First he started slapping loads of stuff on Facebook about how I was brilliant and this is the new This Is England or some dogshit” – he waves two fingers in the air, vaguely, at no one in particular – “then suddenly he turns round and says 'Oh, no, you've just broken my heart because I've found out you're actually a vile homophobe. I've just listened to one of your old songs and it had the word “faggot” in it.'”

It did though, right?

“Yeah... I mean, a lot of that really early stuff was quite misogynistic, and I suppose it was a bit homophobic, just because back then I used to use those terms, like 'bummer' or 'faggot', 'slag', 'cunt', lots of violent language about women. I suppose it was partly my mindset back then, but really I just wanted to document that time, because it was so horrible. Just going from crap job to crap job, going to crap clubs, and that was how it was, you know? That's what the environment was like. Just this absolute anger all the time, anger about anything, anger about your own personal failings, anger at everyone else, but at the same time not giving a fuck... that was how it was. Really horrible. I think that was communicated pretty well in it.”

It's a snapshot, not a manifesto.

“Yeah, absolutely. But I tried to explain this to him, and he just slapped my personal message onto his timeline and started to ridicule it, which fucking infuriated me. I mean, I fucking lost it...”

He blinks hard and looks away; takes a few deep breaths, does a bit of on-the-spot anger management. Jason Williamson, you can't help thinking, isn't acting the part of an angry man.

“I need to get over these things, you know. The wife, she went fucking mad, it ruined the fucking evening, and in the end I put a message on Facebook saying, you know, 'If you like this and you're expecting some kind of fucking Gary Oldman film crossed with Twycross Zoo, then fuck off. That's not what it's about.'”

Social media, though. You may as well give every twat in Britain a fucking megaphone.

“It's right though, isn't it? And a lot of them really are dim as fuck. I mean I don't want to say, but they fucking are. It's like, 'You've not even got an argument mate. Fuck off back to bed...'”

Anyway – I don't say this out loud, because it'd make me sound like a patronising twat – it's good to face down your old prejudices, take them on and win. Maturity's not a word that's often associated with Sleaford Mods, but in a way, perhaps it should be. Christ knows there's nothing sober about them, but there is a kind of seen-it-all, done-it-all, fucked-it-off wisdom, as you'd expect from a man of – what, 44? An age when most musicians are safely cocooned in reverie and abstraction, or else making worthless novelty-nostalgia records, or reduced to a husk. Does it feel weird to leave it so late?

“Yeah. Yeah, it does, but it's probably better. I think that now I'm at least at the stage where anything that comes out my mouth is probably something I'll agree with in ten years. If I'd had this twenty years ago, it might have been a different story. But now I've got a kid, I'm married, things are a bit more level, so I see the mechanics of it all, instead of some romanticised vision. I can control it a bit more. Although it's nice walking down the street and getting a bit of recognition, because for a long time people thought I was just a useless cunt...”

Sleaford Mods have made it now. They must have, right? They just played Glastonbury.

“I didn't really enjoy it, to be honest,” Jason sighs. I don't look surprised.

“I just got radgey with it,” he says, “'cos for a start we'd had some shit with that Slaves band – I'd said something about them in an interview and they got all fucking giddy about it, and they were in the backstage area winding me up. And it's just fucking horrible shit, the amount of bands there that were total crap, and they're walking around like they're fucking Caesar! That all wound me up as well. I had my family with me so I wasn't drinking, and that was winding me up... I mean, it's nice to have your family there but sometimes at gigs you really need a drink and a sit down.”

Did you hang around the festival?

“Yeah. I did a tune with Leftfield as well, and that wasn't till half past twelve at night, so we had from half-four onwards just waiting around. But you know, we came out of the tent where we were playing and everywhere was fucking rammed, and everywhere you looked you had your muscly bearded bloke, and your extremely attractive young girl with shorts up to here, and literally every person was that. Didn't hear any local accents at all...”

Glastonbury's always been a middle class craft fayre, but it was kind of OK when the punters took their attempts at an anti-establishment lifestyle halfway seriously, at least. Now you get the worst of consumerism coupled with the worst of hippiedom. Twee and passive, but cut-throat underneath, because of their real priorities...

Jason's scowling again.

“Well, I sort of don't want to mention the class thing,” he mutters, “because sometimes I get the feeling it's an easy option in a discussion, but yeah, it was like that. That's why I was starting to get wound up when we were playing, cos I could just see we were going over people's heads. I think a lot of people were in the tent just because they'd heard that we were these foul-mouthed yobbos, and I started to think that was the audience we were playing to. I mean, I'm used to a static audience, but for some reason I just got the feeling they were grinning at us in a patronising way.”

Borne out by some of the broadsheet reviews, I think. This bemusement in the face of anger... it's really noticeable these days, isn't it? Anger – as opposed to angry posturing – is the one thing the complacent can't appropriate, and so it becomes the one thing they can't tolerate...

“I'd probably go back next year if they invited us though, 'cos it was good for promotion, hahaha...”

And you got on the telly.

“Yeah, I watched a couple of songs, but it's a funny thing, watching yourself. It's all right if it's some wobbly thing on YouTube, but when it's properly filmed – yeah, I dunno. I was sat there thinking, 'Fucking hell. I can see why a lot of people don't like it.'”

Key Markets is the name of the latest and – so far – the greatest Sleaford Mods LP. Much as I loved last year's Divide And Exit I was worried that musically, they were getting near the end of the bag – how much further can you take a sound that minimal and repetitive? Somehow they've found a way to move on: nobody's going to mistake Key Markets for anyone else's record, but it's a slightly wider world: a few dusky atmospheres, a heavy suggestion of dub, bass frequencies so deep they feel like diverticulitis.

Were either of you worried about how to expand that thin channel of noise?

“Not really. When you go back in to do new stuff you do think about it, but I was still sure the rant approach with the minimal beat was something we should go on with. It's not moved on greatly, but it's moved on as much as it should have. Just a few things – some organ stabs, a bit of ska – and those things are what make it. I don't really want it covered in other shit, neither does Andrew.”

The words have moved on a lot, though. More ambitious this time, more abstract. Seems like you've reached just far enough – the worst thing anyone can do is to confuse pop lyrics with poetry, but sometimes, if you lean precisely far enough in that direction...

“Yeah, if you get it just right the results are quite good, I think. There's a lot of egos though, a lot of people doing this who think they're writers, and you just think, 'You're tripping over before you're walking, mate.' You've got to be careful about that. You've got to disassociate yourself from that idea of 'writing' and just concentrate on saying whatever's going to mean something to you, which is the only place good writing's going to come from anyway.”

Jason catches himself, and looks a bit uncomfortable.

“Not that I'm trying to say that I'm a fucking great writer or anything. But there's obviously something going on with Sleaford Mods...”

Yeah, there is. And I don't have to be so cautious – I am saying he's a fucking great writer. These are the words to 'Rupert Trousers', which is sort-of about last year's Conservative Party conference, where Boris Johnson walked onstage with a brick – to represent the wonderful building work that's going on in London, for the benefit of fuck knows who – and started talking to it, like Yorick's skull. But it's about a lot more, too:

In and outs cause further debate, sod ins and outs / In and outs cause further debates / Sod ins and outs, it's too late / Banished / Smoking tanks near the burnt parish / Entrance of death / Bodies, no life left / Apart from yours / 28 days later, hospital pants, ripped teddies / Teddy bear / I want my mummy / Boris and the brick don’t seem so egg runny / Boris and the brick / Chiselled faces / Delegate / Full houses / Woolly jumpers / Flags from the boat lake / Rupert trousers / Rupert trousers / Nicely cut grass, summer late evening / The purr of Audi cats / Enjoy / Sex is like a feature, a boundless toy / To use / Squeeze the rope's traction / To use / Feel the breath of life start to lose / Big eyes, endless gasps and sighs / Dark movement past sycamore trees in the hamlet of Newton / Or wherever / The separation exists / 'Cos the money bellies been getting clever / Boris and the brick / Chiselled faces / Delegate / Full houses / Woolly jumpers / Flags from the boat lake parties / Rupert trousers / Rupert trousers / High five / Secluded / Deep cuts / Rough / Deep nuts / Fruit & nuts / Blonde bombshell / Road to Dead Man's Creek / Death is speak, English speak / We are dread-fell / Ignored by the well-spoken / Few scraps, few broken promises on telly / Idiots visit submerged villages in 200 pound wellies / Spitting out fine cheese made by that tool from Blur / Even the drummer's a fucking MP, fuck off you cunt, sir / Die trying / Whilst the others just live lying / Rife / All polish, no strife / Boris and the brick / Chiselled faces / Delegate / Full houses / Woolly jumpers / Flags from the boat lake parties / Rupert trousers / Rupert trousers / In and outs cause further debate / Sod ins and outs / Too late.

And, before I totally take the piss with copyright, look at this verse, from the punningly-titled 'Cunt Make It Up':

“A pint and grunt / We won’t win with a pint and a grunt / You just gotta look at the horse-faced cunt / Am I being unintelligent? I don’t care / It's a war you bastards, slash'n'despair! / Flush 'em out there / Ground the family / The servants scream in delight / Tyre, tyre, your wheel's on fire / I’m gonna put a wrestling mask on and stand in front of a mixer and start hitting it with a ding dong / Resort to gimmick / Write for the / And live on me own in a knackered cottage in Limerick / Kate Bush did it – she’s great! / Music for people with a bit of extra money, mate / I’m fighting off comedy Mods, Les Dawson sods...”

OK, so as soon as he says “grunt”, there's a certain inevitability to the rhyme – what you're not expecting is that follow-up punch, that half-rhyme: “Am I being unintelligent?” Fuck me, that's clever. And Key Markets is full of this stuff, these bits and pieces which knock the breath out of you. This is proper writing, with its own peculiar logic and its own peculiar rules. This is the best thing of all: someone really using pop lyrics, taking full advantage of the freedom they provide, doing things which simply couldn't be done in any other form. Halfway between hip hop and The Fall, beat poetry and beating your head off a wall. It's phenomenal; true rebel writing.

And what's it rebelling against? More than anything else, the pressure on those of us not born rich – or pretty, or stupid, or lucky – to fucking shut up. Instead, Sleaford Mods are going to gabble and babble and free-associate until the full weight of that pain and rage and humiliation is right out there in the open air, filthy and awkward, indigestible, soiling the silence and taking up space. Noise and flash: it's a war, you bastards. Not just a war against other people; not just a war against ourselves. A war against the quiet of compliance... the quiet of the grave.

I ask Jason whether he builds these lyrics up from the ground, hunched over a desk somewhere, or just grabs lines from the air, here and there.

“Yeah, I do it as it comes. Once I've got two or three lines, that'll be the anchor and I'll go on from that. Doesn't matter if it connects to what I was saying before, or if it's awkward timing-wise. Doesn't matter. As long as they're words I want to put in at the time. You can come up with one line in the pub or something and then it'll just grow from that. Sometimes I just do it on the spot – 'Silly Me' from this new album, that was done in the studio. I didn't want to lose the melody so I just wrote some lyrics there and then, and didn't really care what they were. Almost like a Gallagheresque approach, isn't it?”

Just the faintest hint of a smirk, there (if you didn't know, there's a bit of history here, ever since the Mods put out 'Jobseeker' – that beautifully futile hymn of hate to the Department of Work and Pensions – in a sleeve with a picture of Noel looking just like Jocky Wilson: a thumbs-up and a double chin, a study in complacency).

Do a lot of people miss the point?

“Yeah, you get a lot of wankers. What's almost worse is people trying to concrete in their own ideas around you. Like their own idea of 'working class' you know – when we never said anything about that. We just talked about getting up and going to work...”

Presumably you can see where they get that from?

“I suppose we're talking about more real things than a lot of bands, so people take that in. But the whole 'working class' thing pisses me off because I had nothing but misery when I was in that situation, and most of the people I came into contact with were complete fucking cunts. What I liked was the humour you get from working shit jobs and that – that gives me a sense of pride. You're making something from nothing on a factory line, it's shit and you're depressed, but then someone cracks a joke... and that's just gold.”

(That's the key to it, really, isn't it? Something a lot of people can't understand, but that's what this Sleaford Mods thing is about, when you get down to it. The icy-cold irreverence required for survival.)

“People just want you to bury yourself in it. This idea that we're crackhead poets, you know, 'touching the vein of austerity Britain'... it's like, no, it's not about that, it's about the pain of actually existing underneath that stuff. I'm far from skint these days – first time in my life I've not been skint – so I can't really comment on that stuff now. That's not the focus of it at all.

“And it's offensive. Not so much to me, but to people who are actually on the fucking borderline, financially and mentally. My grief was self-imposed, really. I didn't have to do what I did to get this view of the world – although I do still think it's the correct view. I mean, times of difficulty open your eyes. But I worry sometimes that we'll get tagged like that and someone who's in real serious trouble now is going to sit and read it and just think 'You pair of fucking cunts.' That's why it's important to move along. Like when people want to take our picture under a tower block. Well, I don't live in one. But the amount of times I've had to do that...”

I'm wondering to what extent this heavy self-awareness comes from recent experience; until last year, Jason was a benefits advisor for Broxtowe Borough Council.

“Yeah, I was dealing with benefits and council tax. Most people'd just ring up and pay, but some people couldn't, so you'd try and help them juggle things about to help them get through... but most of the time all you could really offer them was compassion. I found myself saying a lot, you know, 'Look, things will get better for you.' But you'd get a lot of people who just didn't fucking care. Totally disconnected from themselves, and the only contact they had with the machine, so to speak, was the cheque they got every two weeks. And even that started to get taken off people two Aprils ago, when some of the most severe cuts came in, halfway through the first term. And then you had the other stuff – the historic sexual abuse, the domestic violence which seemed to run through families.

“But in a way I enjoyed the job, because you get a lot of satisfaction just from being there for people, you know. Because the letters that go out, even if it's the first month you've fucked up – say you pay your council tax for 25 years without a problem, then for the first time you miss a month because your bank account's gone wrong, or something's changed, or there's some problem, or somebody else has made a mistake – the letter you get is fucking horrible. You may as well have someone at the door jabbing their finger in your fucking face. It used to freak people out a lot. Half the job was saying to people 'Look, it's OK. You can get through this.'

“Someone had a go at me recently for this, for playing down the working class thing – I flew off the fucking handle. I like the way I talk, and I like my friends and family and I like my sense of humour and the sense of humour my friends have got. That's what it means to me – that's all. The environment I was brought up in and the values within that. And you know, if you really want to talk about it, I've probably been lower middle class since I was about 15 anyway, so fuck it...”

Well, the canny lower middle class – the kind of people they used to call “grammar school”, sometimes with a curling lip – have been the source of most great British pop, when you get down to it. Just enough education to articulate your anger; just enough deprivation to be angry in the first place. (It's also – and I'm speaking from experience here – a kind of sweet spot from which you can sneer at almost anyone with complete impunity.)

It's all changing now, of course; the lines are moving. Most of those career paths for the bright-but-disadvantaged have been blasted into nothingness. Pop music looks more and more like an adult creche for the landed gentry. Jobs which thirty years ago would have got you a car and a house with a garden now leave you dependent on a finger-wagging, ever less charitable state. It's getting simpler, and harder to avoid: you're pampered or you're brutalised.

“And,” says Jason, “you either get listened to or you get ignored – or ridiculed. And then just because you can afford your dinner, it doesn't mean you suddenly get access to the other side. You get branded, and obviously I'd rather be branded with the background that I'm familiar with. But the people who've really got no hope, the so-called underclass, you don't even see these people. They're walking round looking at the fucking floor. We certainly don't get any of those people at our gigs.”

They couldn't afford to get in.

“True. But also they're just not fucking interested. There's no connection, is there?”

That kind of detachment's going to spread, as ideas are taken out of schools and off the streets. You're left with advertising, and advertising in all but name.

“Yeah, there's something really weird about the corporate culture now, isn't there? A can of Coke's more interesting to kids than reading a book. Seems to mean more. It's strange. And people seem afraid to argue or criticise. You look at music and culture, and you don't get much of an angry, instinctive response to what's going on at the minute. There's grime, I suppose, but even that's still laden with 'I shagged eight women last night', 'Look at me, I'm fucking brilliant' – a lot of the stuff in there is really clever, and a lot of it's really slick and really good and makes you want to listen to it again. But to be honest the more I listen to it, the more I end up hating them. Resenting them. Like, 'Wake up, ya twat'. There's an anger there, but a lot of the time it's either directed at women or it's channelled into bragging.”

It's partly a generational thing. You talk to kids now – kids who aren't posh – and half the time they only seem to understand society as combat. It's happened quite fast, that inversion of community.

“People are very defensive now, as well. These days if you try to challenge anyone, to pick them up on anything about themselves, they can't fucking handle it. I mean I'm the same – if someone criticises me, I can't fucking handle it. But people are like this more and more now, you challenge them in any way and they just go off the fucking rails.

“It's because when you've got nothing, you just get force-fed all these images. You have to connect to one of those images, and then to survive you have to kid yourself you are one of those images. And when someone tells you that you're not, you just go to pieces...”

Hardworking Sleaford Mods were out of the country on election night. They missed all the fun!

“I couldn't believe it. I felt worse than I thought I would, to be honest, considering I don't have any time for any of them...”

Out of desperation, Jason voted Green. Now he slightly regrets it.

“I read something in the Independent where they said they'd chuck the Royal Family out of their house,” he shrugs. “It was the first thing in the whole campaign that gave me a little bit of hope. But what a load of bollocks, really. It's never going to happen, is it?”

The sky's getting darker, all of a sudden.

Do you think we're doomed?

“Yeah. Yeah, I think we are. There's no way, is there? It's just gonna get worse. Sooner or later the benefits system is going to be squeezed out completely, and people will find a way to survive, but it's going to be like an Escape From New York situation. It's getting like that now in some places. There's places where you can't walk – 15, 16 year old kids there, they don't care, they'll just fuck you up. It's getting like Detroit. I mean Detroit is fucked, it's incredible what's happening there and nobody even talks about it. Nobody's bothered. And that's only going to spread over time. Yeah, we are doomed. 'Course we are.”

Right at this second – no word of a lie – a thunderclap seems to split Nottingham in half. Seven hours of sunshine at a time, it seems, is all that heaven (or Britain) allows. Hard rain clatters on the canvas awning. I shift seats to get out of it, moving over to Jason's side of the table. So there we are, two middle-aged men sat side by side, staring out into the storm, discussing their doom. It's like the shittest Samuel Beckett play ever. Slowly, the conversation starts winding down.

“Nobody talks about it, but you get this massive sense of alienation from everybody, when you're walking through town, or anything. You can just feel it. Nobody gives a fuck! Nobody's talking about that, nobody wants to. It's got so much worse, the last ten years.

“Then you go down to somewhere like Sussex, or the Cotswolds – which I did two years ago for a training course with my wife – and it's like 1932 or something! We stayed with this woman, and she was posh, you know what I mean, really posh – they were rich, she had this beautiful cottage, big grounds, and we stayed in this kind of cabin she'd constructed at the bottom of her garden. Which was lovely, and we stayed there about a week. And I was talking to her, and she was all right. She was nice, you know? But she kept saying 'mate' all the time. And she was trying to put on this kind of false accent, almost... I dunno, it didn't really offend me, I just felt a bit sorry for her. I was like, 'What the fuck do you think you're doing?'

“But then one day I had to give the keys in, and she wasn't there and her daughter opened the door. I'll never forget it – as soon as I spoke, you could just feel it. This kind of... I dunno, she looked at me like that, and I looked at her, and she may as well have been from Saturn or something. The divide really got me then, I think. More than ever. I mean, I don't care, I'll go down to London, go to some posh part of town and I mean yeah, you can feel it – but this was different. I looked in her eyes and she looked in mine, and she was just like, 'Fucking hell.' It's heartbreaking, isn't it?”

Do you not see any hope? (Me neither.)

“You get a lot of people with the fucking information, and the talk, but when it comes down to it – utter cunts. Lot of talk, no action.”

Yeah well, it seems to be a choice between what's left of the radical Left – who are all over the place, quite frankly – and these narcissistic, shit-thick millionaires, keen to prioritise all their own inane, half-baked opinions over other people's experience of real-life human tragedy. They consider this a form of opposition to – rather than an illustration of – the soulless decadence of “The West”.

Jason nods. “Russell Brand, yeah. What I really hate are these fucking video things of Russell Brand at the end of his bed, with all this fucking sign language” – he throws his hands around in an appalled impersonation. “He's gone almost Tony Blair with it now. You know, he waves you in, and then he rolls the ball up, and he goes like this, and then he brings it round here and... ah, it winds me up, man. Somebody interviewed me the other day, from Germany. Said they went to interview him at a book launch or something, and it was quite interesting, they said. They were actually getting pulled in a bit. But then he left, walked two steps and got into a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. And they said 'Suddenly I was left feeling like I'd been invited up to Dracula's castle.'”

There's a second of silence, then Jason throws back his head and cackles. You get a joke. You get a moment. That's what you get. And that's what these people don't, or can't, or won't understand, as they wave their misshapen social conscience in your face. That's what they don't get: the icy-cold irreverence required for survival.

Sleaford Mods don't have any answers. And thank God, they don't pretend to. Try to imagine Jason in a couple of years, gazing into the lens with such exquisitely witless condescension, like that bloody clown, that badly-painted Jesus. Talking to people who have no hope as though they should be grateful for the hope he has on their behalf. Can you picture it?

“Yeah,” barks Jason. “And I'll give you this hope every morning on video, from the edge of my beautiful bed in my beautiful mansion, and I'll try to give the impression that I've just had hot, passionate Russell Brand sex in there, and...”

We start laughing. The sun's come out again, for now.

“I've got to be off, mate. Got to pick my nipper up.”

The storm's passed, the streets have dried and the day is thumping hot again. I've got another half hour to kill, so I stroll around the streets of Nottingham looking for something – God knows what. But it feels like wading through boiling soup, and I'm only a tourist. I haven't a clue. I head back to the station.

And over the road there's a banner on a building, billowing with civic pride: “Our Rebel Writers”, it says. There are pictures of Lord Byron, Alan Sillitoe, DH Lawrence... very nice. Very nice indeed – Notts culture. Lovely. Then I try to imagine Jason Williamson's face up there, flapping in the breeze, and laugh out loud again. There's culture, and there's culture. There are two nations; two different worlds.

Wobby chops wobble at you / Firm men snot the chop, I’ll dob ya / Arthur!! / Sidecar mayhem, cold streets, the hum of the traffic lights, pedal bikes / Do what you want / D'you want that? Have it, Dom / I can’t eat any more / Bought-in cakes that taste like koala waste / Eucalyptus? You can fuck off / Trees / I pick blackberries near the old contact centre, the smell of late summer in spring / We step, they stop – advancement is only regarded as a good day in the money shop / Cheques got cashed / Nowhere money in nowhere land...

We should be thankful for what we've got. Sleaford Mods are ours.

Key Markets is out on July 24 via Harbinger Sound