One of the least likely stories of the last few years in music has been the rise of Nottingham swear-punk duo Sleaford Mods from sweat-dripping bars to major festivals and big shot venues. When Berlin film-maker Christine Franz began to follow the band on tour in early 2015, neither she nor they could have seen the sudden change coming. What a great stroke of luck and timing then that she was able to capture every turn of the rise, in a feature film that is set for release later this month.
The film is called ‘Bunch Of Kunst’ and it is an honest and intimate insight into Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn’s relationship as they record Key Markets and tour the UK, as well as telling the remarkable story of the band’s manager Steve Underwood. It is set for a nationwide release, including a run at Manchester’s Home cinema, starting April 28th. We spoke to director Christine Franz ahead of its release.
This is your first feature, and it isn’t the most obvious project in the world. How did it come about?
Yeah I work as a music journalist for French and German TV. At some point a friend of mine came up to me saying, “I think I’ve got your new favourite band here”, and he gave me the Austerity Dogs album. And he was right – it was band crush at first sight. That album cover, the artwork alone struck a nerve, and then the lyrics and the humour – it’s always underestimated how funny they are. And then I did their very first TV interview, even before the BBC, in Germany. After meeting them in Berlin, I went to see them in Nottingham shortly after and it ended in the worst hangover in the world – we got hammered that night and that was when the idea first came up for doing a film. In the morning it still sounded like a good idea.
I think a lot of people in the UK will be surprised how much success they’ve had overseas. They seem so strangely British and esoteric. I mean, even I find the lyrics hard to understand sometimes. But it seems they’re quite big in Germany?
That’s absolutely true. It’s the genius of Steve Underwood, their manager. Through his label, he was really well connected on the European punk circuit, so he knew people in Italy, Belgium, France and Germany. He organised a tour for during their holidays, and he kept saying that he had to go back home to drive a bus tomorrow morning. You could feel that it was a heartfelt thing, they weren’t there on business. So even if the German fans didn’t get all the references, you feel the anger, you feel that it’s unique and honest. By playing all the underground punk and DIY places, they built their following with a rock-solid fanbase in Europe first. When we did the TV interview, there was a very confused NME journalist who couldn’t believe how big they were here. But Steve knew it was going to work.
Steve is the hero of the film in a way. The film really tells the story of three people, not two. Did you intend to do that?
I didn’t have a masterplan or anything. Who would’ve thought they’d get so big. That was the beauty of it all, we just kept filming and it all unfolded. And to include Steve in the film was a very obvious thing from maybe day three. He really is sort of the hero to the story – he helped them develop and believed in them. Without him, it would’ve been a completely different story. But how it is, it’s like its three guys against the system, and that’s what I loved about it.
You could not have possibly imagined what was about to happen when you started filming at the start of 2015.
When we started, I always said, “If we ever get the chance to film at Glastonbury that would be the ultimate thing”. Because I volunteered at Glastonbury for ten years serving beer, so that was a dream come true for me when Steve mentioned they were going to be playing. My idea was to end the film with Jason walking on stage there, and then fade to black. But obviously after Glastonbury, things went completely mad and I thought, “no, we can’t just stop here”. And Steve asked us to keep going – it was nice that they all trusted us. He said we would know when the story is finished. Now, we’ve been approached about the possibility of having the film shown at Glastonbury, so fingers crossed!
The band seemed a little reluctant to play that Glastonbury show – were they?
Absolutely. As Jason says in the film, he hates festivals. He’d never been there before, and Andrew went in the early 90s and got off his face. They were a bit unsure, because they’re rooted in more punk and underground venues. They thought it was a bit too big and commercial, but when Jason went on stage he couldn’t believe his eyes. He didn’t know how big that stage would be. But it was also the moment when the penny dropped – after that gig, everything changed.
One of the things I liked were the little interviews with fans after gigs. A lot of them come back to the same point – finally having someone to express what’s going on in their lives, and no other bands have been doing that. Were you surprised that so many of their fans said similar things?
That was amazing. You hardly ever get such strong emotions at gigs these days. That anger, that frustration, someone finally has the right words to express that. Especially these days when everything is so highly polished and so safe and just a bit boring, it was about time that someone like this came up. It was beautiful to see the fans’ reactions and to see that they all felt the same thing, it was unifying. The band say that they didn’t expect that – they didn’t set out to be a political band, and Steve said they don’t want to be the voice of the working class. But it’s a label that people come up with for you, and it’s a badge of honour.
The Manchester Ritz pops up in the film – Jason mentions that playing Manchester for them is like a hard day’s work. Do you remember that day?
Absolutely, that was brilliant. That was the first date of the tour, and they couldn’t believe they were playing proper venues like that one. That was a big day, definitely!
How on earth did you manage to get Iggy Pop in the film?
I was with Sleaford Mods at a gig in Cologne, and there was a British guy in front of me, and I asked him for an interview. He said he was at his brother’s stag do, but he happened to work at a radio station in England called 6 Music. It turned out he produced Jarvis Cocker and Iggy Pop’s programmes! He told me that Iggy was a huge Sleaford Mods fan, and asked if I’d like an interview with him. One and a half years later, Steve emailed me pointing out that we were both playing the same festival in Helsinki, and it all came together. Even five minutes before the interview, I still didn’t think it was going to happen!
I have to ask you about the title. Did you have any people trying to change it?
A couple of people were concerned at the beginning, but now they’re all loving it. I did an interview with the BBC last week and they were a bit worried about it. It was an in-joke we had with Steve – he kept saying “you’re a bunch of kunst”, and I thought that’d be a nice title for a live album. But he thought we should just go with it for the film. So we did.
‘Bunch Of Kunst’ rolls out across the UK from April 21st, and will start screening at Home in Manchester on April 28th. Tickets available here