Picture: Ewan Spencer
As one half of Sleaford Mods, Jason Williamson is a one-man Wu-Tang Clan, the bard of Broken Britain who brought belligerence back, along with himself, from the brink of bitter irrelevance. In this extract from MOJO’s exclusive interview with Williamson he discusses the formative impact punk, The Jam and Paul Weller had on him…
Did you think fame would save you?
I thought fame would alleviate a lot of the problems. I saw people in normal jobs and I didn’t want that, the bitterness and the narrow-mindedness. My family were terrible for that, particularly the Williamson side. My mother’s side… my grandmother was Greek, my grandfather brought her back to Grantham after World War 2, and they have always been more open-minded. But the Williamsons were terrible. So it put me off normal life. Fame was the way out.
Did the idea of fame arrive before the idea of music?
I didn’t marry the two. When my parents split up my oldest stepbrother was a big Sex Pistols fan and I got into punk music from the age of 10 because of that. I’d been aware of the Sex Pistols before then, because in ’77 they were in the news all the time. I had this memory of them doing stuff that was considered to be disgusting, people hating them. But when I met my stepbrother Martin a little later, I started listening to them and felt really inspired. I never married the idea of music with the idea of fame, though, only with films – that’s where I had this escapism idea from. I don’t suppose the fact that the whole world, all the papers, everyone on telly, despised the Pistols helped. That wasn’t what I was looking for.
Ban this filth.
Quite. The Jam, however, were accepted by my peers so that’s when I got into all things Mod. I loved The Jam, but I still didn’t marry that with the idea of fame. There’s just nothing glamorous about Paul Weller, is there? Absolutely nothing. I mean, he’s very cool. And I’ve learned a lot from him, aesthetically, musically. But he’s not a glamorous person. So The Jam were never a form of escapism, it was a confirmation of my identity.
Did that sour?
I fell out with the idea of Weller after the Heliocentric album. The cover: what are you doing?! It looked like a Top Of The Pops LP cover from Woolworths in the ’70s. Then when he did that work with Kelly Jones [of Stereophonics], I was, like, Fuck you! But I’ve come full circle with it now. I’ve not listened to anything else for the last few months other than Weller. I’ve come back to The Style Council, the first five solo albums, and I’m edging into the later ones. You hear it and you just think, Oh fuck. It’s still there.
Did Weller inspire you to write songs originally?
The first Weller solo albums, particularly Wild Wood. We were listening to The Cost Of Loving by The Style Council a lot. Also Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On, around ’91. This was after I’d given up on acting school. I tried auditioning, but it was just impossible.
I got thrown out of a band in Grantham: Marmalade Jay. Dog shit. Terrible. I was the singer, but I wouldn’t buy a microphone.
I went to auditions, but I didn’t get into any of the drama schools and, after the last refusal letter, I was just broken. I went to my mate’s and we sat there. Wild Wood had been out for about a week. Oh, let’s listen to that. It suddenly dawned on me that this was my calling, because it combined The Jam and The Style Council with this newfound confidence. It meant so much.
So you heard Wild Wood and started trying to write songs in that vein?
I got thrown out of a band that I was in in college in Grantham doing my ‘A’ levels: Marmalade Jay. Dog shit. Terrible. I was the singer, but I wouldn’t buy a microphone. So they threw me out. I got talking to my cousin in California, sent her a few letters. She was, like, “Come over to San Francisco.” So I got a job here in the pet food factory for six months, 12-hour shifts. Brutal, but it was 300 quid a week. Good money and it needed to be: it was pallets of pet food in plastic bowls with lids on. You had to take the lid off to make sure that the foil was intact. When you got a bad one? Horrible. You never forget it. Saved up enough to go to San Francisco for eight months, much to her displeasure. I wanted to start a band over there.
How did that go?
Badly. I got a job as a security guard, patrolling an apartment complex in a place called Hayward, just outside of San Francisco. I’d walk around this complex for five hours a night, from 10pm till 3am. Really scary. Didn’t get a band together and after eight months she told me to leave. So I got a plane ticket back to England and went straight to work in a chicken factory.
“I was convinced we were untouchable…” Read MOJO’s interview with Jason Williamson in full in which he discusses the band’s new album UK Grim, how Sleaford Mods came to be the voice of Broken Britain and what happened the day he met Liam Gallagher.
UK Grim is out now via Rough Trade