Working Men’s Club: ‘It was a strange time but I got a record out of it’

Written and recorded in the midst of the pandemic, Fear Fear, the second album from Working Men’s Club, is a dark, uncompromising record that is reflective of the climate of uncertainty swirling around Britain as it was made.
Working Men's Club.Working Men's Club.
Working Men's Club.

“It was nice to get it off my chest,” says Syd Minsky-Sargeant, the Todmorden techo rock band’s singer and driving force, recapping the broader context while they were working in the studio with Sheffield-based producer Ross Orton, famed for his work with Arctic Monkeys and Jarvis Cocker. “It wasn’t a particularly nice, glossy, heavenly time.”

To an extent, the album is an attempt to make sense of the ‘new normal’ we were all having to adapt to, but its songs are also a deeply personal reflection on where Minsky-Sargeant found himself as he exited his teenage years and entered his twenties.

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“There was a lot going on and it was quite hard to comprehend at times; to me it was easier to put that into song than to gnaw at it in other ways,” he says. “It was quite cathartic to get it out in that sense, but it was all very confusing and quite hard to get a grasp of, as I’m sure it was for a lot of people.

“It was conflicting all over the place. The fact that there didn’t seem to be any imminent resolution to what was going on and what was being talked about was obviously quite doom-impending. It was a strange time, but I got a record out of it.”

Amid everything, the singer discovered cause for hope. “At the end of the day, I think there’s hope in all kinds of bad periods and bits of darkness, when you’ve reached the bottom you can’t go any further to an extent,” he says. “There’s bits of revelation in there as well, definitely. I think it made people appreciate other elements of life more and take a different viewpoint, which is actually really good and kind of needed in society and the way we do things. We need to re-set every now and then. It’s just a shame it took a pandemic to do it.”

The song Widow was actually left over from their eponymous debut album, which marked Working Men’s Club out as ones to watch in 2020. “That was written around that time but it feels far more suited to this album, I think,” says Minsky-Sargeant. As Fear Fear progressed, he began to write in a more conscious vein, saying he thinks it would have been “lazy” to have tried to approach this record in the same way as he wrote their first.

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“Obviously I’ve grown up a bit since writing that first album and I felt like I have a bit more peace of mind to be engaged with what I was saying and to think about it, perhaps for it not to be a flow of consciousness which I just wrote down and moved on.

“I think there’s more precision in the writing process and more precision in taking time in the studio to voice the other side of me in the lyrics in a clearer way. It was kind of picking up from where we left off but trying to progress the lyrics in a more mature direction.”

The influence of techno from Detroit and Chicago that crept into their debut album is here more noticeable, with Minsky-Sargeant citing the likes of anti-corporate collective Underground Resistance.

“Those records sound great and futuristic from 30 years ago,” he says. “But when we get in a studio and start making music we’re not referencing anything, it just feels very much our own space and we’re trying to project a visionary sound. We’re not trying to be pigeonholed in what we’re doing and I guess it is quite militant – that’s perhaps the middle ground where those similarities are with what Underground Resistance are doing, especially in Detroit, it’s a very militant movement and a serious approach to making music.

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“I don’t see it as protest music, it’s about being as full-on and to the point of what’s going on inside and trying to express that through tunes. It can be quite healing to do that, you can get a lot of that repressed anger out through making noise; I think that in turn is quite soothing. It was a nice way of doing that, making quite a militant stance with the production and the songwriting.”

Working again with Orton felt a natural fit, with the former Add N to (X) drummer among Minsky-Sargeant’s most trusted musical foils. “I think the biggest factor with this album was that we had more time and a bit more invest into Ross’s production methods and my songwriting and the bits of pre-production I’d done at home then brought into the studio,” he says. “We paid more attention to the drums and the textures and the sonics. It was nice to have more time to sculpt our own sound.”

The band now have a new line-up, with Rob Graham, who had been on loan from Peak District band Drenge, departing. Besides Minsky-Sargeant, they now comprise Liam Ogburn on bass, Hannah Cobb on guitar and synth and Mairead O’Connor on guitar, keyboards and vocals. “I think it goes without saying that we have a revolving line-up,” the singer quips.

Minsky-Sargeant’s latest musical ally is Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods. “I like Jason, we seem to really get on, I love Sleaford Mods and what he does besides that as well,” he says. “It’s nice to get a mature viewpoint and I really respect what he stands for. I’ve got a few older affiliates that I really respect – Jason being one of them, and Ross and my manager as well, Sarah (Brooksbank). I’ve got a good network of people whose advice I take on board.

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“For me, I’m bothered about longevity and making music forever, so it’s nice to speak to people who have been doing that for quite some time now to get opinions from different sides of the ballpark.”

Working Men’s Club’s next gig is as guests of Primal Scream at their show at The Piece Hall in Halifax. “It should be good, it’ll be nice to play in Calderdale,”

Furthering their South Yorkshire connections, the band are also due to release a limited-edition Steel City EP, featuring remixes of tracks from Fear Fear by Sheffield producers Toddla T, Ross Orton, Forgemasters, Charla Green and Diessa. The bonus CD will be available exclusively through Bear Tree Records in Sheffield.

Fear Fear is out on Friday July 15. Working Men’s Club play at The Piece Hall, Halifax on July 8 and have an album launch gig at the Brudenell Social Club (with Jumbo Records) on July 17. They also play at Tramlines festival, Sheffield on July 22, Live At Leeds, October 15 and No Bounds Festival, Sheffield, October 16.

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