Working Men's Club @ The Leadmill, Sheffield, UK, October 15th | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, November 23rd, 2020  

Working Men’s Club @ The Leadmill, Sheffield, October 15th, 2020,

Oct 21, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


2020 is a year the live sector of the music industry will want to forget in a hurry. Left in limbo since the end of March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and with little offered in the way of long term support by this most odious of governments fuelled by one thing and one thing only: Brexit. It's little surprise the UK events industry in general has felt like forgotten citizens. Neglected by those in power with little option but to fend for themselves, it's been a testing time and one that doesn't seem anywhere near abating for the foreseeable future.  


So with venues closed for a large part of the year then left empty when allowed to reopen due to safety measures and unfathomable rules around opening hours and licensing. It's been left to proprietors themselves to use their own initiative in finding ways to stay open and generate income. Inevitably, many venues have been forced to close their doors permanently. Some spaces being physically impossible to reopen or utilise when considering all safety guidelines around social distancing, ventilation and track and trace; another expensive failing of the worst UK government in history. 


One venue that finally got the go ahead to reopen last month was The Leadmill in Sheffield. Having first opened in 1980, it's gone on to become one of the most revered and popular live venues on the UK tour circuit, playing host to early shows by the likes of Pulp, The Housemartins, Suede and Oasis to name just a few of the household names who've graced its hallowed stage. As with most venues of its kind, the student and club night markets are pivotal to its survival even in the best of economic times. So as with many others of its kind, The Leadmill has been hit hard by the pandemic. 


Nevertheless, they've pulled out all the stops here in providing a safe space for tonight's show to go ahead. Yes, you read that right. A show. AN ACTUAL GIG! Albeit heavily restricted in terms of capacity (cut from 900 to just 128 including band members and venue staff) and movement. None of that really matters to those of us fortunate enough to be present in the room. Seats are carefully arranged in groups of two, each pair spread out to adhere with the social distancing guidelines. Movement only permitted when going to the toilet or leaving the venue with masks mandatory prior to doing so. Refreshments all ordered via an App then served to respective seats by venue staff which is also prohibited during the actual performance. It might seem quite regimented but it really is a very small price to pay in order to experience live music for the first time in months. 


Tonight's show, organised in conjunction with local independent record store Bear Tree Records features one of the most exciting new acts to grace the UK scene in years. Working Men's Club have undoubtedly released a genuine contender for album of the year with their self-titled debut. A glorious melange of post punk and gritty industrial techno that's drawn comparison with the likes of New Order, Stereolab, Cabaret Voltaire and A Certain Ratio among others. Originally muted for release in May then held back because of the pandemic and uncertainty around touring the record. It finally surfaced earlier this month and landed impressively at number 26 on the official UK album charts. No mean feat for any independent act especially during these recession hit times.  


Having already played a couple of live streamed shows during lockdown and recorded a film which was screened in selected venues over the weekend of the album's release. Then also played two similar socially distanced shows in London to reduced capacities last week, Working Men's Club have been making the best of a bad situation throughout. 

Working Men's Club


While main protagonist Syd Minsky-Sergeant is based in Todmorden, his current bandmates are based in Manchester (bass player Liam Ogburn) and Sheffield (multi-instrumentalists Mairead O'Connor and Rob Graham) respectively so this home coming show of sorts was unsurprisingly sold out in a matter of minutes after being announced via Bear Tree the previous week. Taking the stage just after the advertised time of 830pm, the four-piece open with an as-yet untitled new song that will be familiar to anyone that saw the album launch film two weeks ago. The same number featuring in and opening that too. While not entirely dissimilar to the likes of "Valleys" or "A.A.A." of their debut, the new composition provides yet another example of Working Men's Club's extraordinary vision when it comes to marrying post punk structures with dizzying electronica. Indeed, that facet has elevated Working Men's Club into one of the most progressive outfits to emerge in recent years from a northern Britain buried under similar constraints and levels of poverty to those experienced by communities during the Thatcher era throughout the 1980s. 


For the next forty minutes they treat those in attendance to eight of the ten songs off their aforementioned debut. The krautrock lullaby that's "Tomorrow" segueing merrily into frantic rendition of "Cook A Coffee". Minsky-Sergeant's polemic rant about the BBC and its political bias and probably the only song where you'll witness seated audience members punch the air resolutely while trying their damnedest not to scream "DEFOCATE!" in unison. 

"Valleys" comes next, its unmistakeable chord sequence and keyboard riff harking back to New Order's "The Perfect Kiss" or as one wag nearby puts it, "How you wished New Order still sounded today." Of course that makes little difference to Minsky-Sergeant, a formidable presence that belies his teenage years. "Stuck, with no ideas, I'm running out of time," he sings despairingly about his hometown. Yet subject matter aside, those sentiments couldn't be further from the truth. 

"John Cooper Clarke" and "A.A.A." follow in quick pursuit, the former an admirable paean to punk's poet laureate that evokes hallucinatory visions of a prototype Human League backing Mark E Smith in a fantasy supergroup. Meanwhile during the latter, Minsky-Sergeant seemingly forgets where he is and leaves the stage to join the front row (anyone that's seen Working Men's Club pre-Covid will know audience participation is a big part of the show where Minsky-Sergeant is concerned) for the main body of the song. It's dangerous moments like this that make the gig experience entirely different to that of a show. While one is rehearsed to the point of military precision, the other is about capturing the moment and can change in an instant. There are no rules even when the rules dictate there might be. 

Working Men's Club

"Be My Guest" and a shortened version of "Angel" show the band's multiple talents once more, Minsky-Sergeant, O'Connor and Graham all switching instruments at various points with consummate ease. Finishing on a de rigeur closer "Teeth", arguably THE single of 2019 and still one of the most excitingly danceable slices of vitriolic electro-pop that's ever been committed to vinyl. It provides the perfect finale to what was a much needed respite from the humdrum of lockdown while also providing a glimmer of hope that normality will return one day, and when it does Working Men's Club will be soundtracking its opening night. 




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