Welcome to Tunbridge Wells. Royal Tunbridge Wells. The embodiment of Conservative Middle England. Tory since 1974, when the consituency began, it’s perhaps the last place you’d expect to find a Sleaford Mods gig. But sleepy towns like this need waking up, and there are few bands more up to the task than the Nottingham duo of Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn. Tonight is the final night of a tour of untrendy towns and venues that exist on the fringe of the usual gig circuit. On the other side of town, the Bootleg Beatles are playing at the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall, a venue run by the local council. By contrast, the Forum is a converted public toilet that’s been threatened with closure by the council and described as a blot on the landscape, a harsh indictment given the wonderful space the venue’s owners have created here.
Support tonight comes from Joeyfat, a five piece group from Tunbridge Wells that combine spoken word stream of consciousness monologues with post-rock sound collages (think Jarvis Cocker backed by The Fall). If Sleaford Mods are writing the soundtrack to a Britain on the brink of a nervous breakdown, Joeyfat appear to be narrating the symptoms: desperate, frantic, confused and teetering on the verge of falling apart at any moment. Yet, through all this they sound meaningful and urgent.
“Bunch of cunts / bunch of / bunch of fucking absolute cunts / bang banging on the sharpened front.” By happy coincidence, Jason Williamson’s opening lines coincide with tonight’s Leadership Debate, a gathering of seven ideological dwarves battling to win the status of least dislikeable party chief. Sleaford Mods may reject the notion that they’re a political band – and who can blame them for disassociating themseleves from a term that has such negative connotations – yet, nevertheless, in 2015 they have given voice (and hope) to the disaffected and disenfranchised silent majority, those who’ve suffered at the hands of ineffectual government policies, are marginalised by a blinkered media and patronised by the dross served up as popular entertainment.
New song ‘Live Tonight’, a bass-driven groove with lyrics that reference the Michelin Man and Shakin’ Stevens, is one of the evening’s less incendiary numbers, though no less enjoyable. The 250 capacity crowd take a while to warm up, but by the time ‘Jolly Fucker’ arrives they’ve loosened up and it’s not only the die-hards down the front who are singing along. ‘A Little Ditty’, ‘McFlurry’, ‘Fizzy’ (“This one’s dedicated to your manager”) and ‘Routine Dean’ follow, before a spirited ‘Tied Up In Nottz’ recieves the biggest cheer of the night.
In the run-up to the General Election, the Conservatives’ manipulation of employment statistics has masked the rise of zero-hours contracts and low pay, but songs like ‘Jobseeker’ and ‘The Wage Don’t Fit’ explore the gilded cage of gainful employment with a greater insight and understanding of the human condition than anyone currently working in Westminster has ever managed. An encore of ‘The Brixtons’ and ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’ closes the tour and another chapter in the story of Sleaford Mods. Their time is now.
Photograph © Duncan Stafford @