Working Men’s Club: the Yorkshire group representing a frustrated Northern youth

Inspired by the bleak winters in his hometown of Todmordon in Yorkshire, Syd Minsky-Sargaent and his band tear lumpy chunks out of the surrounding hills on their brilliant debut album, says Matty Pywell

In early 2019, there was a rush of hype for Working Men’s Club. Their debut single ‘Bad Blood’ immediately stood out from their contemporaries with an addictive hook and the first hint of Syd Minsky-Sargent’s unflinching proclamations – a cry of “be happy when the sun rains! Let it bring you shame!” bellowing across razor-sharp guitar riffs. Post punk/new wave revival comparisons came quickly, but the single was not the roundest representation of who Working Men’s Club are. “It got a lot of hype and maybe that didn’t capture what we were as a band or what we were as individuals,” Syd admits over the phone.

Since ‘Bad Blood’, evolution has been on the cards for the Todmorden-based band. Syd has gone through line-up changes, with original members Giullia Bonometti and Jake Bogacki moving on and being replaced by Drenge’s Rob Graham, Mairead O’Connor of The Moonlandingz and a new bass player in Liam Ogburn. Working up towards a debut album, the sound developed into something new and brilliant – synthesisers and drum machines take charge, like on the harsh metallic clangs and synthetic wirings of ‘Valleys’. The work lent it self to warehouse raves rather than gigs, as remixes from techno maestro Anthony Naples upped the punishment.

To refine their debut album, it was off to Sheffield for the help of producer Ross Orton, (Arctic Monkeys, M.I.A.) who made Syd “think about music in a different way”. The album sounds authentically Northern, something that could only have been made by the influence of its surroundings. The industrial rumblings of Sheffield appear on ‘A.A.A.A.’, while the repetition of ‘Teeth’ gleefully tears lumpy chunks out the hills that surround Todmorden.

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Whilst retaining some degree of that early post punk energy, it is clear that the Working Men’s Club machine has become an amalgamation of styles; their debut album wanders into the weird worlds of electronic and dance music, with even the odd psychedelic blemish. “We’ll see what people make of us after this album comes out and what they make of us after we put more music out and we’ll just continue to fuck with them. I enjoy confusing people”, he says. Even talking on the phone you can sense Syd’s wry smile on the other end.

Something that Working Men’s Club capture effortlessly is small town mundanity, particularly in the North of England. “Trapped inside a town, inside my mind”, Syd growls on ‘Valleys’. The harshness of a Northern winter is no secret, a time in which the sky only seems to evolve into a slightly duller tone of grey, it’s hard to not let that greyness seep into your head. “It’s about trying to be as direct and open to some of my emotions in a way other people could feel”, he says.

“I don’t think anyone can comprehend, unless you’ve lived it, how dark and isolating a Northern winter can feel. I was working in a café and I got to go in at 8am in the morning, it’d be dark, and I’d come out at 5:30pm and it would be dark. I just wouldn’t see any light other than through a window so that itself is quite secluding”. However, Syd has an optimistic outlook on how Todmorden has helped his creativity. “I think that living in a small town has helped me out a lot and the people around me, I think the thing is you do feel secluded within yourself sometimes”.

Instead of being dispirited by some of the North’s idle qualities, Working Men’s Club take any potential frustration and shape it anew, it underlies every weighty pound of the drum machine, each guitar loop and vocal bark. “It’s taken me a while to realise why people have this sort of Northern mentality. I think there’s a lot of characteristics that are quite special about people from the North of England”.

Syd’s allegiance to the North, in every sense, is clear. “If you look at where the best music’s coming from in this country, it’s from the North of England. So, it’s kinda crazy that the whole music industry’s based in London. But maybe it’s just so they can lick each other’s arses”.

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Working Men's Club
Credit: Piran Aston

In the last election, Labour’s red wall in the North famously turned blue, but the Calder Valley constituency – wherein Todmordon is based – already turned to the Conservatives over a decade ago. And if, before all of this, you managed to attend one of Working Men’s Club’s live shows, you may be familiar with Syd donning a T-shirt with the word ‘Socialism’ almost a staple for the band. He’s not concerned about that potentially turning people away, though. “If people see that and they don’t want to come and see the band, I don’t really care. But I think it’s increasingly harder to try and feel any emotion to politics other than pain and defeat,” he laughs.

When it comes to the current ruling party, he’s skeptical of who they really represent in their local communities. “I think it’s depressing to know that in a predominantly working-class place people are fooled by bullshit spouted by the right wing. They’ve given a voice to somebody that has no understanding of who they are or where they’ve come from, just some Eton schoolboy whose had their life pretty easy”.

When probed, he is willing to have a conversation around any subject and to make the most out of his platform, something which some overtly political artists have been criticised for ignoring. “I’m not going to take on those sorts of people, but I think it’s more important to talk about it and actually talk about it rather than just shout about it like an angry man”. If anything it’s all about honesty.

“I think that’s the problem with music nowadays, the way people come across. I think it’s really important to say what you think otherwise it comes back to bite you”. Uncompromising and unashamed, Working Men’s Club say it exactly how they see it and make what they want when they want, no strings can be attached.

Working Men’s Club debut album is out now via Heavenly Recordings. Photo: Steve Gullick

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