One of the musical acts I’ve been into for a couple years now is Sleaford Mods, an inventive duo out of England. Stripped down, it’s observational punk hip-hop with frontman Jason Williamson spouting off about working class struggles with a mixture of humor, anger and disbelief backed by the laptop created beats from Andrew Fearn. It’s brilliant. Iggy Pop himself has dubbed them, “The world’s greatest rock and roll band.”
I caught Sleaford Mods at Iceland Airwaves 2015, and despite the guys themselves being unhappy with the gig for a variety of reasons, it was one of the best times I’ve had at the festival since I started going each year.
Afterward, I got the chance to meet and talk with Fearn, who immediately enthused how my mate and I Rich were “havin’ it.” We were right up front, bouncing about and I, for one, was yelling out the lyrics to every song and Fearn was as entertained by us as we were by him.
Late last year, they finally announced a brief run of dates in North America to take place this spring. That’s good for them, good for us, bad for me – they weren’t coming anywhere on the east coast except to New York where they were kicking off the trek, and it was on a Thursday. I’m all set with heading to NYC – Brooklyn in this case – no more than once a year, and will do everything I can to not disrupt my week when I do. Then I spied show number two, in Toronto on a Saturday. Not only had I never been, but it also happens to be where the Hockey Hall of Fame is located.
I threw out the idea to my good friend Robert, and he was immediately down. He’s not only a fellow Mods’ fan, but loves hockey as much as I do. We made a bold plan: fly out of Boston on Friday morning, kick it in Toronto that afternoon, see the Hockey Hall of Fame on Saturday, Mods that night, roll out on Sunday by driving to Buffalo which is not only the location of Robert’s alma mater, but that very day the Buffalo Sabres were playing his favorite team, the New York Islanders. See the town, the game, fly back to Boston. Ambitious, but yeah, it was gonna go down. I chatted up Williamson for Vanyaland, and made the travels plans.
Here’s a playlist of the Mods:
A bit about Robert, the chill and levelheaded to my off-kilter and powder-keg recklessness. He’s a 10-and-two-hands-on-the-steering-wheel guy and doesn’t cross the street against the light. I’ve always done the inner-wrist at 12 and play real-life Frogger when crossing the street. Like Paula Abdul said to MC Skat Kat, “Opposites Attract.” She was onto something. While he was at the airport two hours or so ahead of time, I calmly rolled in a few minutes before the Air Canada flight was ready to takeoff. When we landed in Toronto and passed through customs safely, I crumpled up my customs form and tossed it, only to find out I needed it to get out of the airport.
A bemused Robert watched me sift through an airport trashcan to avoid my deportation before I even breathed in the outside Canadian air.
Friday was a shitshow weather-wise, raining elk and Tim Hortons, so we decided it was best to do a mini pub-crawl on King Street where we were staying. What other choice was there? The next day was absolutely gorgeous, and we kicked it off by going to the Bata Shoe Museum, which Robert thought I was joking about really, really wanting to check out until the moment we walked into the building. Then it was off to the Hockey Hall of Fame for a few hours which was heaven not only for me, but also my inner-child who was obsessed with the Philadelphia Flyers and couldn’t even imagine stepping foot in that institution.
Afterward, we did the most hockey thing possible, hit up Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant and have a couple Labatts. I mean, what else do you do after posing with the Stanley Cup, which, out of the three in existence, was the second I have touched. The third, and original Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, is in a glass case in the Hall of Fame, and while I considered liberating it from the confines, there were more important events on the horizon than jail.
Nighttime was for the Mods. Their show had to be moved to a larger venue, the Opera House, because they underestimated the fandom they were about to experience in Toronto. Not only was it a fucking blast, an even better show than Airwaves with a packed house of fervent concertgoers – and we were right up front – but afterwards got to hang out with the lads; Jason backstage and Andrew outside. Both were hands down some of the most down to earth, humble and genuine individuals I’ve met in all my years of covering music.
Next morning, it was a shuffle off to Buffalo, where Robert showed me around his college town, the shady biker bar near campus that he used to frequent (no – he didn’t), then we headed to see two of my least favorite teams in the NHL, the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. Robert proudly wore one of the most hideous sweaters in league history, the reviled Islanders’ “fisherman jersey.” We bet on the number of comments/compliments he would get on said abomination, and I correctly prophesized it at four. But hey, it’s hockey, and it was great time with great people. I can now boast that I’ve been to four of the NHL arenas. Yeah, I know, more to go…there will be much more to come. Enjoy the gallery.