Updated: Jan 7
Photo by Andy Nicholson
Compact black squares with a neon green figure started appearing in front of my eyes and cleverly slipped into my conscience. 'What is that?' I pondered. And then there was no getting away from it; this image of intrigue was splashed everywhere, even plastered high and low over Manchester's YES like the good old days. Hushed whispers progressed to outright shouts for the release of electric Working Men’s Club’s self-titled debut record achieving a phenomenal response to say the least.
“The artwork is great. It's all been done by Steve Hockett (Wonder Room). He's an amazing guy and totally understands what we're trying to convey musically and visually. As soon as we got him on board, the artwork clicked for us immediately. From the album to the logo, posters to prints, he's just totally on it.”
Their sound and cause were catapulted way up into the stratosphere, landing on eager and exhilarated ears, addressing the longing to break free from the boredom of small-town life. For others, it provided escapism from their trap, their confinement, whatever that may be. As the quartet is undeniably busy, I was chuffed to catch a moment with bassist Liam Ogburn.
Although they are named after the working men’s clubs in their home town Todmorden, West Yorkshire, where some group members would sneakily enter the venues underage, it doesn't quite appear to be the type of environment that would house the band’s modern ways. Liam reflects on their advancement:“Yeah, our sound has shifted a lot for sure: early days were much more post-punk, Gang of Four and Television. But as time has gone on, it's certainly evolved to more electronic, Syd especially taking influence from the Detroit techno scene. We don't really put too much of a label on ourselves; our sound is a huge hybrid, and I think that makes it quite unique.”
Without being too prescriptive in their craft, the bass specialist says with feeling that everything needs to convey honesty in their art. It's a means to express genuine events and thoughts, comprised of wordsmith Sydney Minsky-Sargeant (vocals, guitar, drum machine, and synth), their lyricist, Rob Graham on guitar and synth, and Mairead O'Connor – taking care of guitar, keyboards, and vocals.“I can't speak for lyrically, apart from I know Syd writes about real life and real situations, nothing fictional. Musically there are influences in there for sure, as with any musicians who listen to music and have learnt an instrument. When writing the album, we were never, "I want the bass to sound like this, or play the guitar like so and so.” All we wanted to do is have each track sound as good as it possibly can be using the tools we've got or were provided with at Ross' studio.”
You can assume that this is not gentle, laid back listening; the audience leaves invigorated and utterly hyped, filed with that invisable magic that takes days to come down from. This was was the intentional plan, but also a natural effect of the four members connectivity, creating and playing in full unity. He continues, “That's fair to say, it's the kind of music we like. A lot of the atmosphere comes from playing live so much, I think; it gives you the energy for each song, which has certainly come through in the record. Then taking what we've achieved in the studio out on the road, has added even more to our sound and feel when playing live.”
Popularity is ever-present for the marrying of guitar music and electronica, and working closely with producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys) they fashioned that seductive, muffled nightclub quality on the album, making us long for that occurrence in reality. This required hardy trust and collaboration.“Well, Syd wrote all the demos at home in Todmorden, and then through the label, we were put in touch with Ross. Without him, the album wouldn't sound anything like it does now, from a producing point of view, recording techniques, and a general good vibe for the whole session. He understands what the band is trying to achieve and that input as well as musically from myself and Syd, the album couldn't have sounded better,” Liam reflects.
The ten tracks on the albums storm into territories of rave and funk and punk, incorporating politics and chaos, with the odd philosophical statement thrown in for good measure. White Rooms and People is perfectly placed as such a poppy surprise in the middle; a promising new relationship is blossoming, but at that cliff edge of becoming serious, it turns sour: “Flowers blooming, people talking shit about you, so confused.” Ogburn discusses a standout song from the collection: "For me, John Cooper Clarke is my favourite. It's been recorded for quite a long time now, and we've played it live a lot. It's a song that never gets boring, the guitar and synth lines particularly, but everything about it stands out to me; it's a great track. Same with Be My Guest: it's a heavy tune and comes across really well live.”
One can only imagine it kicking off in the best of ways in person, where the force cannot be measured, the air boiling with body heat, and the allowance of one's self to enter 'the zone'. He illustrates that the arrangement of their songs allows the album to transcend exactly how they imagined when performing.“We do enjoy playing live a huge amount, and it's the perfect way to get across the energy behind each song. With the current arrangement, the album is playable for sure. We've been playing most of the album for around a year now anyway, so not a great deal needs to change."
We end with Liam considering future endeavours and intentions for Working Men’s Club, while paying attention to our New Abnormal state in the industry. "Everything seems very unsure at the moment, as it has since early 2020 We've played some socially distanced gigs, which have been good, very strange though, especially for a band with our sound. Nevertheless, still amazing to play in front of people instead of live streams, which we have also done a few. Hopefully, we'll be playing live again early in the year. At the moment, we're just glad the LP is out and the response it received; it's overwhelming for sure. We just wanted to make the best album possible, and if people like it, amazing; it certainly seems that way, and we're very grateful for that.”
Article by Beverley Knight