The most neutral adjective you could use to describe the voice of Sleaford Mods mouthpiece Jason Williamson is probably “distinctive.” His wordplay, as in the opening couplet of the Nottingham duo’s 2014 breakout track “Tied Up in Nottz”—“The smell of piss is so strong, it smells like decent bacon / Kevin’s getting footloose on the overspill under the piss station”—is impressive enough, what with the way he stitches together an in-joke about the band’s favorite grimy Hamburg hotel and a reference to everyone’s favorite Kevin Bacon movie. But Williamson’s air-hammer delivery and thick-as-marmite East Midlands accent—both front and center on the new album English Tapas—contribute hugely to Sleaford Mods’ appeal, even if some non-Limey listeners may require the use of subtitles—and probably footnotes, too.
Indeed, the unabashedly regional nature of Williamson’s voice remains a rarity for any act who’s garnered international attention. The vast majority of British acts have largely stuck with the tradition instituted by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, which holds that popular music should be sung in an American accent or a close enough facsimile. While fellow British Invasion acts like The Kinks and Herman’s Hermits subverted the convention—and the ubiquitous voices of Adele and Ed Sheeran sometimes demonstrate a similar degree of latitude—it can still be jarring to get an undiluted dose of Cockney, Brummie, Manc, Geordie, Scouse or any other strain. Sleaford Mods belong to a proud counter-tradition of vocalists who not only defy the pressure to Americanize but brandish accents that have traditionally been masked as markers of low class in British society.
This quality creates a fascinating connection between an otherwise disparate series of singers, poets, and shouters operating not just in the punk and post-punk styles dear to Sleaford Mods, but in folk, electronic, grime, and even sound poetry. To mark English Tapas’ release and the band’s first North American tour this spring, here’s a selection of these distinctive voices. And if it just sounds like a whole lot of British people—and a few Irish—yelling at you, just remember: You probably did something to deserve it.