Kitted out in cargo shorts and black tees, Sleaford Mods get right into it, kicking things off with the title track from their latest album, ‘UK Grim’. While producer Andrew Fearn raves exuberantly behind his drum machine and sampler set-up, James Williamson crab walks, balancing a water bottle on his head and squawking like a demented crow. Against a backdrop of metal screens fixed with LED lights, the band maintain this energy throughout the duration of their 25-song long set.
Following impressive sets from Belfast’s Robocobra Quartet and Birmingham’s Big Special, the Nottingham-based duo manage to draw from all eight of their studio albums. The setlist is, however, dominated by their latest offering. Williamson rants relentlessly about all things class warfare – his lyrics take aim at austerity, inequity, malaise and alienation. However, on this occasion, one can’t help but feel like his messages are lost in the mire, victims of a poor sound mix.
New tracks like the opener and Smash Each Other Up, are classic Sleaford Mods. On the former, Williamson bemoans how “in England, no-one can hear you scream”, while on the latter he rants over room rattling bass, taking the concept of class warfare to a whole new level. (“Everybody’s getting well narky / Fist fights near Sainsbury’s car park”), meanwhile old favourites like Tied Up In Nottz and Jobseeker still feel as vital and poignant as ever.
The energy in the room is interesting. Something of a midlife miracle, Sleaford Mods draw a crowd similar in age to themselves, and while those on the ground strain to hear Williamson’s sermon on the mount, those in the stands dance with gleeful abandon. Chat and banter are kept to a minimum. The band come out, play, give thanks and leave.
One can’t help but feel like this is a deliberate choice. Earlier this month, Williamson stopped a show after a fan in Madrid threw a Palestinian keffiyeh on stage, later tweeting about his neutral stance, prompting a heated online debate. A longer, clarifying statement did little to satiate the disappointment of a number of fans. Not to be deterred, the band rant and rave on, though.
An energetic performance no doubt, but one can’t help feeling like Sleaford Mods were stymied by the poor sound quality and self-censorship.