Richard Nevin watches Sleaford Mods and local heroes Big Special.
Sometimes you just need to go your own way, plough your own furrow, take no heed of others, and trust your instinct. These occasions have led me to attend a handful of gigs alone, on my tod, on me jack, a lone attendee if you will. Once in you’re anything but alone, the sense of a shared fancy and feeling of camaraderie tend to kick in.
The artists tend to be rather niche or of an acquired taste, hence their exclusive appeal. I aim to see Billy No Mates on my own just for the sense of irony, an artist introduced to me by an act that I saw on my own a few years ago, Sleaford Mods, and when you are talking acquired taste, this duo fit the bill perfectly. I saw them unaccompanied in Digbeth a few years back and although I was in company when they supported the Stone Roses at Wembley, I still ended up alone as my companions drifted away for something to eat or drink, my enthusiasm failing to convert.
A gang of young lads close by did not need to be persuaded and the thumbs up between us demonstrated that camaraderie around music once again. Eventually you find a kindred spirit so I had someone to guard my pint when I needed to attend to a personal matter in the Academy, as Sleaford Mods pitched up on their UK tour.
Emerging locals Big Special were up first. Lots of swearing and shouting ensued so they made a perfect accompaniment to the main attraction but they are much more than just that. Front man Joe Hicklin also possess a fine voice and it’s great to hear machine gun rapping in a Brummie accent that isn’t Mike Skinner. Joined by Callum Moloney on drums who told us all that they were playing the biggest gig of their short career, the duo, complimented by an on-stage sign language interpreter, displayed an energetic enthusiasm that bought the crowd firmly onside.
Sleaford Mods are a band I should not really like. I’ve always been something of a purist when it comes to live music, and apart from the vocals, everything comes from a laptop. But from my first glimpse of them on Jools Holland’s BBC show, spitting out Jobseeker, I was hooked. The invective, aggression, social commentary and satire of Jason Williamson’s lyrics and diatribes, alongside the hubris of Andrew Fearn who just stood next to said laptop drinking lager marked this as exceptional and the duo are now on their fifth album, UK Grim in a career spanning over ten years.
The title track opened up a night featuring much of their latest record with various nods to past material not least in the final triple salvo of Tied Up In Notts, Jobseeker and Tweet, Tweet, Tweet. As unconventional as they are, the time-honoured trick of saving the classics to the end was certainly in evidence here. Fearn now leaps around like a man possessed, no lager in hand to spill, Williamson continues his strutting, twitching and roaring, fierce but sometimes almost camp, it’s a hypnotic watch at times and nothing else comes close to this on the current music scene, apart from Big Special perhaps? The brandishing of his bottle of water atop his head on a regular basis reminiscent of a strutting parrot.
It’s an exhausting watch at times, not least for the interpreter trying to keep up with the break neck speed of the lyrics, the sparse stage and lighting not reflecting the density of the subject matter and it’s almost something of a relief when the house lights come on although a minute later, having got your breath back, you are ready for more. Plenty of people are not, or never will be ready for Sleaford Mods but for those of us already converted, nights like these are to be treasured.