What do you know of Carlisle?
Football, maybe? Jimmy Glass. A penalty away from getting Brendan Rodgers his P45.
It’s in the north – the real north, not Harrogate. If you stand in one of the car dealerships on the edge of the city and crane your neck you can pretend to see Scotland. I like to joke, privately mind, that it’s only been on loan since 1745. A poor city in many respects, but one which, by virtue of its geographic isolation perhaps, was less physically scarred by the industrial upheavals of the 1980s, even though a once thriving manufacturing base has shrunk. Out of sight, out of mind. Big employers? The Pirelli tyre factory. McVities. On a clear day all you can smell are gypsy creams.
Once, on a platform at Crewe station, we were mistaken for mods by a frazzled young man who’d never even heard of Carlisle. (It was later mutually agreed the parka look didn’t really suit.) A little insular, behind-the-times – although it’s catching up. Craft beers? Check. Jizz Burgers? Check. If Primark ever come to town – as is often rumoured – there will be no reason to ever leave. A city notionally on the up.
Sleaford Mods are not from the north, but from Nottingham. They are of the city. Frankly, from what you read – and how lyricist/ranter Jason Williamson tells it – the East Midlands tourist board have a hard sell. Accordingly, Sleaford Mods are a “pungent … blast of British street life.” They’re also a hot ticket, with a red-button Glastonbury Festival appearance beaming their cuss-inflected beats into every living room in the land. It’s enough to make you want to kick the telly in. The opening 15 or 20 minutes take the breath away: ‘Arabia’, an apoplectic ‘Bronx In A Six’, ‘Live Tonight’. On paper: man presses ‘Start’ on laptop, other man shouts, first man takes occasional swig of beer – there’s no reason to think it would work, but blimey, it works.
That they give the quality press a hard-on is no surprise – a “lone voice of working-class political disaffection in contemporary pop” – but they’ve grafted (this year’s Key Markets album is their eighth) and connected with an audience. Williamson is aware of the constituency. Some of the references (‘Tiswas’, a TV show that last aired in 1982) are for no-one under the age of 40. A couple of new tunes come with suggestion the crowd indulge in a bit of “dad dancing”. They are, indeed, looser. Lonsdale louche. Sports Direct disco. Happy Mondays? Don’t be a twat.
New: the bile of the broken. 20 years on minimal wage. Going home to an empty flat. Taking the little princess to MacDonalds every other weekend and the fear of being back on the dole (“I got the sack! / Didn’t do nothing!”). Williamson might be dismissive of the retro-modernists but he understands the tribe and where it comes from. Sleaford Mods tapped into an audience that never went away. If you were/are a punk or a skin or a mod you know. A community. The death of the tribe, the idea that everyone just likes a bit of everything, means fragmentation. Divide And Exit. Repercussions go further than the lack of decent headliners or wondering where the next ‘Ghost Town’ is coming from: it explains who’s in Number 10 and the rush to embrace the old fella with the beard. The Sleafords might not be reaching the really poor – who have other things on their mind – but behind tonight’s UK Subs shirts and close cropped heads there’s an understanding that poverty is just a broken boiler or new exhaust away. The kids are disunited. Real life is middle aged. “Bang – and the grime is gone!” You reckon, Barry?
If they don’t quite maintain the same level of intensity throughout, it’s no failing – and with new national anthem ‘Jobseeker’ and ‘Tied Up In Nottz’ in the arsenal the dip is minimal anyhow. No encore – Andrew Fearn hangs around and gives the impression that one was planned – but the point is more than made. Killer.
Gloves off, gauntlets down. The ball is in your court, youngsters.