If the popularity of the Sleaford Mods seems like an unlikely success story, the fact this belligerent Nottingham duo are now headlining a venue as plush as the Brighton Dome is almost absurd. Though the choice of support acts appears to compound the weirdly incongruous nature of the night, it becomes clear that both noise-punks The Cravats and Notts rapper Cappo work well as two sides of the angry and unsettling aesthetic that Sleaford Mods have made their own.
“What a big auditorium,” remarks The Cravats’ frontman The Shend, playing the part of the country bumpkin visiting the city in his Sunday best. The suited five-piece mix pounding punk riffs with oddball sax breaks and vocal lines that flit between vague threats and sarcastic asides. Having originally emerged from the anything goes spirit of ’77 punk rock – despite being too off-the-wall to ever sit comfortably with that scene – The Cravats took a long old break in 1982 only to reappear a few years ago with newfound vigour. Tonight we hear some of the band’s first new material in thirty years. We’re also treated to a note perfect performance from Anal Beard’s MC Sofa who sits on stage reading a newspaper with his back to the audience. Why? We don’t dare ask.
Next up is twenty-something hip hop stalwart Cappo. A skinny figure dressed in black, Cappo casts a lonely figure on such a wide stage, but having started rapping in his teens he certainly knows his stuff. Over the bass-heavy beats provided by the back-of-stage DJ, Cappo lets his dense lyrical flow fill the gaps left by the slow tempo of the tunes. He’s later joined by two sidekicks to form the MC trio Triple V, which injects some energy and provides a welcome variation in style. If The Cravats represent the punky side of the headline act, then Cappo is the spoken word counterpart.
It takes a couple of tracks for Sleaford Mod’s sound to get sorted (surely two inputs isn’t too much to handle?), but their impact is immediate. Jason Williamson commands attention for his fierce delivery as much as for his idiosyncratic dancing, while Andrew Fearn, as usual, is happy to stand to one side with a beer. The setlist is drawn largely from their 2015 breakthrough album ‘Key Markets’ and the brand new ‘T.C.R.’ EP.
The new tracks see Williamson adding the frustrations of fatherhood, via frank and sweary wordplay, to his list of grievances. As a lyricist and performer he’s compelling; mixing slang and slogans, vocal quirks and impersonations to great effect. But, despite all that, by the mid-set point we can’t shake the feeling that something’s lacking.
Audiences accustomed to watching live DJs might not find it so comedic that Andrew Fearns’ contribution to the show is to press play every few minutes (effectively on a par with the guy reading his newspaper), but to everyone else it’s hilarious. The problem is that the music underpinning these aggro monologues is as basic as the lyrics are brutal. Maybe that’s the point, but it doesn’t really work on this kind of scale. Some of the songs are simply two bars on a loop and end up as repetitive as the singer’s endless skull-slapping tic. A short sharp dose of angry honesty is one thing; an hour or so of relentlessly abrasive beats is something else. Of course, those in the moshpit down the front seem to disagree.
After apologising in passing for the time he failed to show up for a 2014 gig at the Prince Albert, Williamson goes on to praise the city in terms that can’t help but sound sarcastic: “Brighton is so nice, the beach is nice, the shops are nice”. It’s one of a couple of hints that suggest he’s fully aware of the contradiction between the subject matter of the songs and the circumstances of the show. Though his diatribes about Britain’s forgotten underclass still ring true, it’s hard to equate that sense of desperation with a place like Brighton, at least in a venue where punters are paying close to a fiver for a pint.
Likewise, when the duo return after faking an encore, Williamson has his cake and eats it by pointedly mocking the stagecraft cliché and proceeding to play three more numbers. We get ‘Jobseeker’, ‘Tied Up In Notts’, ‘Tweet, Tweet, Tweet’ and then it’s over.
On the way out we hear people discussing the show: some ecstatic, some confused. Sleaford Mods are known for being one of the most divisive bands around, but it seems even those who turned out to see them on a Monday night can’t quite agree. Unlike The Jam, one of Williamson’s early influences, this is one band that will never be cited by a Tory MP in an effort to score PR points. That alone is worth something. Are we glad they exist? Definitely. Will we be back for more? Doubtful.
Brighton Dome, Monday 31st October 2016
Words by Ben Bailey
Photos by Ashley Luke Laurence