‘Pent-up rage and the hopeless, helpless frustration of a country on the brink.’

sleaford-mods-3
Credit: Duncan Stafford.

Filming just finished on a documentary about the band Sleaford Mods and these trying times  – a tour of “neglected parts of the country” to give voice to the “pent up rage and the hopeless, helpless frustration of a country on the brink.”

Invisible Britain is “part band documentary, part look at the state of the nation,” said student filmmaker Nathan Hannawin. Andrew Fearn and Jason Williamson (aka Sleaford Mods) say “it is is an insight into an ‘actual’ band, fucking about, working, no gloss, no bollocks. This is music.”

In a pinch

After meeting through their work on Gigslutz, Hannawin and music writer Paul Sng came up with the idea to make a film that follows Sleaford Mods on their 2015 tour around the UK. It was to feature raw footage, interviews with fans and document what individuals and communities were doing in these towns to resist austerity measures.

We wanted it to be a “snapshot of the nation,” Sng told me. “We approached Jason and Andrew in December 2014 and we were on the road by February 2015.”

sleaford-mods-4
Credit: Duncan Stafford.

Short on time, the filmmakers had only six weeks to fund and plan the making of the documentary. “Crowdfunding was our only option,” Sng said. “We didn’t know anyone who would give us money.”

After setting up their campaign on Indiegogo, they asked for a humble £7,000, with contributions starting at £5. Within a week, they raised almost twice that amount.

With 80 percent of Indiegogo projects raising less than a quarter of their target, Sng and Hannawin focused on raising just enough to cover travel costs and another Blackmagic 4k camera. Sng puts a lot of their success down to the band’s loyal fanbase.

“Once we knew we were going to the country’s backwaters on the tour, from Lincoln to Scunthorpe, Cardiff to Stockton-on-Tees, we started contacting fans ahead of the gigs to gauge whether they would be interested in being interviewed. But as the crowdfunding site took off, fans often contacted us. As the database grew, people got in touch saying “I’m going to the gig at such and such, if you want to meet,’” Sng said with a tone of admiration.

sleaford-mods-4
Credit: Duncan Stafford.
Backwater city to neglected backwater city

In each city, Sng and Hannawin would bank location footage, interviews with fans, coverage of the gig and enter the wider community to meet inspirational people who in one way or another oppose the status quo.

In Liverpool, they interviewed members of Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGBA), a group to reform Joint Enterprise Law. This law means people who are present during a crime could be prosecuted, even if they were not directly involved. And has resulted in many innocent people facing prison sentences.

In Barnsley, they visited a joint venture between Unite (UK’s largest union) and NUM (National Union of Miners) that wants to open a new community centre to help residents with employment and welfare issues.

And when the band was playing a gig in Oxfordshire, Hannawin and Sng met Cathie Wood, a heartbroken woman who spoke out against the “austerity war.” She said her brother Mark Wood starved to death following a cut to his benefits. Wood has been campaigning for a public inquiry into the decision made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that considered Mark fit to work and therefore cut his disability benefit so he could no longer feed himself.

“Where the cuts make people stink. You smell.” (‘McFlurry’ 2013)

I suspect the band’s support stems from the fact they are part of a generation where over the years political statements such as New Labour’s “Things can only get better” and the coalition’s austerity message “We’re all in this together” were eventually shown to be empty, vacuous platitudes, phrases that unravelled as untruths.

You can hear their anger towards the British establishment, the ones with power, in their acerbic, biting punk poetry.

The band gives voice to public feeling as much as the film will document it. And for Sng and Hannawin, crowdfunding equally made this film possible.

“It’s brilliant in that it puts ability in the hands of beginners. And it’s really democratic” Sng said.

The film is scheduled to be released in October 2015.

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Natasha Cox
Natasha is a television and documentary producer working in London. She has produced documentaries for Channel 4, ITV and the BBC as well as contributing to the award winning film, '(Still) The Enemy Within' released in 2014. Natasha co-founded the action group, 'Art Uncut' for artists and musicians against public spending cuts in the UK.

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