I had written another review for this and then the jury from the Hillsborough football disaster inquiry released their final judgement today. On the very same day that the UK’s junior doctors are fighting a Tory government who are trying to force them into contracts that the doctors have said are dangerous, and all the while said government are selling off the entire NHS to private enterprise (their business associates), where the sole focus will be profit over care. For reference just look at every other service that has been privatised to see the dreadful (and hugely expensive) results, and then look to the USA where over 700,000 people go bankrupt every year because of medical bills. If the Tories have their way, it won’t be long before it’s immediately £8,000 to call an ambulance. That’s if you live that long.
Football is at the core of a great deal of British society (as is the NHS), and pretty much has been since it’s inception. It unites the country on multiple levels, across generations, nationalities, families, friends and strangers who become friends. I’m not even a fan of the game and I recognise the beacon of hope, unity, love and aspiration it can be. I’ve family who nearly played for my country (Ireland) and my housemate at one point was going to play for Leeds, but she decided (& absolutely would have risen to go on to play for England) to follow another career. Her passion aboutand for football is a beauty to behold.
It was a Tory government lead by Margaret Thatcher who perpetuated their historical and traditional contempt for society and particularly the working class when disaster struck at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on 15th April 1989. 96 football fans having a family day out at the FA Cup semi-final died (another 766 were injured). Family watched family die in front of them. I watched it live on tv. It was always known and said by any fan that was there that it was police actions that caused the deaths. That has finally been proven today after 27 years of lies and cover ups.
Thatcher had the backing of the Murdoch press who perpetuated lies promoted by the police to try and cover their actions/inactions. Today we have the same Murdoch press and more (including the BBC), and we have another Tory government led by David Cameron maintaining the same vicious ideological policies directed at the weakest of society, whilst the ruling elite focus on their tax exempt off shore accounts.
Thankfully today we are not wholly reliant on mainstream media who just regurgitate without question government press releases on a daily basis, which of course suits and supports their agenda. Using the mediums available to them we have the likes of musicians Sleaford Mods (Jason Williamson/vocals, Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn/music, programming) releasing ground breaking albums such as ‘Austerity Dogs’ (2013), ‘Divide and Exit’ (2014) and ‘Key Markets’ (2015) which harness the righteously vitriolic words of Jason and meld them to Andrew’s minimalistic stark beats and noises that almost mimic the brittle elements and noises (the sounds of pub games machines remixed with clinking pint glasses) that can be found in working class pubs throughout the country.
The subjects they speak of on their songs are the daily topics that they would speak of in the pub with mates and family. It’s a colloquial poetry of terraces, beers and beautiful honesty. There’s no shallow airs and graces, they offer candor, respect, laughs and friendship. Having grown up in ‘Thatcher’s Britain’ they watched the political zealous destruction of their peers, families, neighbours and regions. Then they watched it happen again with subsequent governments, through the smoke and mirrors that was New Labour (Thatcher was a hero of Tony Blair), the coalition of Conservatives/Liberal Democrats and right up to the current tyrannical Conservatives ruling with abject indifference and omnipotence. At each juncture the weakest were stripped a bit more, a slow death by a thousand austerity cuts. The Mods saw this and they weren’t going quietly, nor politely.
Also using a medium available to him (and equally not going quietly) were first time directors Paul Sng and Nathan Hannawin creating the outstanding (and factually horrific) ‘Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain’ (2015). Part concert tour movie, part documentary and a hell of a lot of essential debate about the abusive policies of the Tory government in the run up to the 2015 general election where they gained overall rule with minimal voting numbers. It fantastically and starkly emphasises/echoes the clarity of the raw elements of the music, the subjects and the actual realities of what is happening to ordinary people of Britain behind the well composed and ‘presented’ White Hall press releases. In no uncertain terms, people are dying due to the actions of this government.
The band is followed around on their regional tour of small venues where we get to meet local fans telling us what is happening in their communities. The comments are supported with more detailed break downs of some of the general policies that have affected the country as a whole, and it is as cold and harsh as some of Andrew’s electronic beats. But whereas Fearn is about creativity, humour, inspiration and informing, the Tories are clearly about absolute destruction, waged with their ideologic crusade.
It’s rightly affecting stuff, as it should be. It’s also essential viewing. For way too long there has been a pluralistic ignorance as alot of folk stand back and support the lies and propaganda targeted at the poorer sectors of society. This has happened many times before in history, maybe no more so than in 1940s Germany. They had a situation that slowly developed and folk stood back. It was aptly and poignantly summed up in the words of the German Pastor Martin Niemöller. I suggest you read his words, watch the documentary, tell everyone you know to do the same and find your medium of protest, because it’s only a matter of time before it’s you that’s next.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Pastor Martin Niemöller
‘Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain’ is currently being screened across the UK. There is a London screening and Q&A with Paul at Hackney Picturehouse on 19th May. Check invisiblebritain.com for details and to order a dvd of the documentary. Paul Sng is currently developing his second film ‘Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle’, information available at: https://igg.me/at/dispossession
Using our very own medium to support the inspiring work of Paul Sng and the Sleaford Mods, Flush caught up with Paul to get some background as to how Invisible Britain came about.
FTF: What is your background that has influenced you into creating and co directing Invisible Britain?
Paul Sng: I’m a writer and didn’t have any formal training in filmmaking; I’d never even picked up a camera until Invisible Britain. I’m influenced by thirty odd years of living in Britain; I grew up during the 80s, so I remember Thatcher and the effect of her government’s policies on working class communities. Disappointment with New Labour and then anger at the Tory/Lib Dem coalition also influenced my perspective. I was pretty disillusioned with mainstream politics by the time I heard Sleaford Mods for the first time in 2014; it was like a kick up the arse, and motivated me to make the documentary.
FTF: Were you always drawn to this reportage style of journalism?
Paul Sng: In other people’s work, yes, but most of my writing has been about music – Invisible Britain is the first thing I’ve written that’s political. Patrick Keiller’s Robinson Trilogy was a big influence on the film. And Julian Temple’s Sex Pistols doc, The Filth and the Fury.
FTF: What was the catalyst for the project?
Paul Sng: Meeting the band in October 2014. I interviewed them and they mentioned they were doing this tour of places that are neglected and forgotten by a lot of bands. It sparked an idea for a documentary that would be part band doc, part state of the nation to explore what was happening in communities in places such as Barnsley, Scunthorpe and other towns that are often ignored by the media.
FTF: The funding for it was achieved through a campaign on Indiegogo, itself a somewhat socialistic system were many individuals contribute to the development of a project. Had you sought funding elsewhere and does such a system enable more difficult subjects to be covered that mainstream media deliberately ignore or misrepresent?
Paul Sng: This was our first film, so I doubt anyone would have given us much money! Film funding takes a long time to come through, and we only had 6 weeks to raise the funds we needed to make the film. Crowdfunding was the only realistic way. Fortunately, the band have a passionate bunch of fans who believed in what we were doing and trusted us to do a make a decent film. If you’re making a film that has controversial subject matter or questions authority, crowdfunding is a great way to finance it, as you’re not beholden to anyone else’s agenda.
FTF: What was your first experience of Sleaford Mods? And when did you decide to cover their work combined with the subjects you all feel so strongly on?
Paul Sng: First experience was hearing Tied Up in Notts. I decided to approach them about making the documentary after seeing them up in Scotland in November 2014 and hanging out with Jason after the gig. I had a hunch that he would be interested in the concept, and fortunately for us he was.
FTF: There’s a massive symmetry between the subjects and simple style of the Sleaford Mods songs and the topics covered in the documentary, which each side adding gravitas and power to the other. Especially the immediacy and clarity of the information and message.
Yes, most people are able to pick up on that. There’s only been a couple of reviewers who seem to have missed that.
FTF: There’s some very heavy content and facts in the documentary, particularly in the death of Mark Wood and the additional deaths of 2,380 through the actions/inactions of government policies. It’s exposes a system that could rightly described as acting with contempt for targeted parts of society.
Paul Sng: That was the intention – a lot of this type of information has been published and is accessible by the public, but with a 24 hour news cycle it’s easy for people to miss thins. Film can be a more permanent way of disseminating information, due to its narrative form.
FTF: Given the full spectrum (historical) assault on working class people by the Conservative government, where there many other stories that you had to leave out as their polices have attacked so many?
Paul Sng: Not too many. We had planned a section on the rise of Ukip and organisations such as the EDL and Britain First, but we didn’t have enough time, and it would have taken us on another tangent.
FTF: There’s a lot of information to take in too that I hadn’t known about such as the misuse of the Joint Enterprise common law in particular, necessitating multiple individual campaigns to try and counteract the policies.
Paul Sng: I was unaware of Joint Enterprise – our producer, Andrew Tiernan, told me all about it and introduced us to JENGbA, who are running a great campaign to get rid of Joint Enterprise. At the core of the film and songs is an almost gentrified genocide as whole swathes of society are targeted for removal, if not enabled or allowed to die.
Gentrification is the nice word for it. The description I use is social cleansing.
FTF: Is there a particular Sleaford Mod song that resonates with you?
Paul Sng: Hard to pick just one, but I do like Fizzy. Most of us have worked for a manager “that doesn’t have a fucking clue” and can relate to the lyrics of that song.
FTF: You show many fronts to the battle against Tory actions, especially the effects of the deliberate destruction of the Miners Union. The Conservatives had previously devised The Ridley Report in revenge for them losing power to the Miners Union, and as such it seems like they have devised similar plots to destroy the Junior Doctors, NHS and every other state owned body.
Paul Sng: That’s what they do. Just look at the Trade Union Bill…
FTF: What has the reception been like to the documentary, and in particular regional reactions. Has anything in particular stuck out?
Paul Sng: It’s been great; it seems to have hit a raw nerve with a lot of people. The people in the North seem to be more vocal in their appreciation; southern audiences can be a bit reserved. But I don’t want to get into that whole north/south divide thing, which is divisive. I’m a Londoner, but I’m not biased towards the place.
FTF: There’s a very interesting and valid point raised about the lack of diversity in main stream media, whilst they perpetuate a similar controlled message that serves themselves, and distract, divide and conquer approach. Information is key to counteracting this disinformation. Do you anticipate a rise of a more genuine reporting through the mediums you are using?
Paul Sng: Yes, definitely. Channels like YouTube and Vimeo and having the means to produce content easily will hopefully make it easier to get more exposure for these types of stories.
FTF: Since the documentary was completed we’ve had the exposure of The Panama Papers and Tata Steel. Are there any plans for further expansions/continuations/developments of Invisible Britain?
Paul Sng: The next film I’m making is about the social housing crisis, so while it’s not directly connected to Invisible Britain, it will explore subject matter that many people aren’t aware of.
FTF: The approach by mainstream media to constantly promote general negativity is similar to the Broken windows theory in that everyone develops a warped perspective of their surroundings, in particular the fundamentalist austerity ‘project’ which is a zealous political device. There’s also an element of pluralistic ignorance in that most folk stand back and allow this brutalising of people and environments.
Paul Sng: And they’re fed non-threatening entertainment via popular culture. In the 80s and 90s we had great working class dramas like Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Our Friends in the North as primetime television. Now we have Downton Abbey or poverty porn shows like Benefits Street.
FTF: Not being from this country, I can see that the class structure is absolutely ingrained in every fibre of UK society, especially in the concept of servitude to self appointed ‘superiors’, effectively the elite. It’s inevitable that this will change, but how can it be speed up?
Paul Sng: I’m not sure it’s inevitable; class inequality has existed in this country since Roman times. Getting rid of the institutions which support class hierarchy would be a start; remove the Monarchy, change the Westminster model of government. Rip it up and start again.