If you’re a regular on Glasgow’s pub scene, it’s likely you’ll have witnessed local blues-rocker’s the Works in action, in some form or another. Over the last few years, the band have honed their sound, providing a fresh and entertaining rock ‘n’ roll experience for local punters. Much is made of the trials and tribulations bands have on their way to legendary status, however, the Works exemplify the importance of evolution and determination at the unsigned level. This is an aspect of music performance that, I think, is often overlooked. Often, all we see – as audience members – is the final, polished product at live shows and/or through EP and album releases. And so, we are unaware of the significance everyday life has in shaping the sound of our favourite local bands. I know, from personal experience, how bands can change and develop along with its members. However, as in life, our experiences vary. So this week, I sat down with the Works’ guitarist Gareth Moffit to discuss their ongoing journey as a band and attack on the local scene.
I have been familiar with the Works for quite some time now but, even so, I was surprised to realise the length of their career; ‘I was in first year [at school] at the time’ explains Moffit, when he was asked to join by the band’s line-up at-the-time – drummer Bal Sandhu, bassist Arfan Iqbal and Moffit’s lead-guitaring older brother Robbie. At the time, the band were yet to meet current vocalist Phil Anderson (who’s voice is now imperative to the Work’s sound.) Instead, they were fronted by another school friend of theirs, a fellow known for his ‘terrible James Hetfield impersonation.’ Moffit remembers him well; ‘he was a sound guy and all that… he just couldnae sing.’ But, for a while, they worked with it and ‘gigged around as a metal band’ to gain some performance experience. So when did the Works become the band we know today? ‘We’ve been changing all the time’ says Moffit, and not just musically. After recording their first demo, Iqbal left his bass duties in favour of university and was momentarily replaced by a guy with the peculiar nickname of ‘Naked Bob.’ ‘He played bass for us for a bit and we did a couple of gigs. He used to take his top off at gigs and just play half-naked. He liked to show himself off, he was mad into Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.. aye, one of them… It was alright but it just didn’t quite click.’ And so ended the saga of Naked Bob.
Eventually, left without singer or bassist, the Works were down to three members – Bal on drums and the brothers Moffit on guitars. Though missing a few integral elements, I’d suggest that this was the time the band found their true spirit. ‘We got really into jammin’’ says Moffit, ‘I picked up a couple of improve stuff from my [school teacher]… eventually he showed me this twelve-bar-blues thing… and we’d just jam for like twenty-minutes at a time… I was starting to show some of it to Robbie but he was always brilliant at lead guitar.’ I suggest to Moffit that the band has developed naturally as each member has grown personally – ‘aye’ he says, ‘we all grew as musicians along the same time’ and, naturally, their shared growth worked as a catalyst for the band’s evolution. ‘We can guess two steps ahead what the other guy’s gonna do’ Moffit explains, cementing the importance of a regular jam schedule. They’ve constantly raised the stakes in their competitive philosophy; ‘whenever somebody else would up their game a little bit you’d be like ‘fuck, I better do the same!’’ And now, of course, ‘we’re all way better than we were years ago.’
After a while, ‘Arfan came back.’ ‘He’d been away at uni… getting’ into weird music… he’s always been a brilliant musician… and he took to the jammin’ really well.’ The return of their old friend signified a positive change for the Works as Moffit uses it to pinpoint the beginnings of their current incarnation. Of course, this was supplemented greatly by another new addition when, ‘eventually, Bal brought in Phil.’ Again highlighting the grind of unsigned musicians, Phil Anderson was a busker before joining Moffit and co. ‘He’d go out in the street, play chords and just sing out lines about people that were walking by in the street… they’d go ‘hey, that guy’s doin a song about me’ and give him some money… he was good.’ Fitting perfectly with the rest of the band, ‘he was really good at improvising’ and it wasn’t long before his lyrics and vocal melodies were merged with his new comrades’ instrumental arrangements. ‘Pretty soon after that we started gigging.’
Getting gigs and worker with promoters, as this article states, is ‘another huge issue.’ Though for the Works, it seems, getting out there and performing to new audiences was more important than ticket sales. To begin, as is usual nowadays, they played ‘mostly pay-to-play’ gigs in Glasgow city centre and often put up the money themselves and tried to sell tickets to as many friends as possible. It appears to have paid off; after a six-month period of regular gigs, they landed a regular slot at one of Glasgow’s most famous venues, Maggie Mays. Coincidentally, around the same time, they were offered fixed residency slots in Suchiehall Street’s Box – hour long sets on the first Saturday of every month. And, on top of that, mid-month gigs at McSorley’s. Moffit reminisces over this time as he came to the realisation that the band were playing more than ever before – ‘it was quite extreme’ he explains, as they were performing ‘four or five times within the month’ – while keeping their day jobs. While they may have been reaching a wider audience during this period, though, the heavy schedule took its toll. ‘We got into a bad habit of not coming up with anything’ Moffit remembers, as gig rehearsals replaced most of the time that could’ve been spent working on new material – a creative process that seems to have pushed the band forward at times, keeping their enthusiasm alive. It’s unfortunate to realise that, with a bit more spare time and money, the Works could’ve carried on these regular gigs while making new music at the same time. Such is life as an unsigned band. It’s interesting to note how unrelated aspects of band members’ lives can affect the band both positively and negatively. Take bassist Arfan for example; earlier in the Works’ career, he had to leave to band due to university commitments. However, when he returned, he brought new influences and inspiration to the Works’ jams, picked up over the period of his absence. So, all in all, the struggle may be worth it. These are obstacles unsigned bands must overcome in order to achieve their ever-present goal of making music for a living.
The Works, it is clear, are truly fans of music. Their eclectic tastes show in their own music and, in talking to Moffit, I am able to uncover the details on their vast influences. He tells; ‘Arfan… he’s got the weirdest taste in music… Reggae and jazz and funk… Robbie… heavily into his Rory Gallagher and all that sorta thing… that big powerful lead sorta thing… Bal, he’s always been into different stuff… I always think his drums sound sorta hip-hop as well… and Phil fuckin’ loves the 90’s.’They don’t always agree on their favourite musicians, though, as Moffit highlights occasional disagreements with his brother; ‘he can’t stand the Flaming Lips and I fuckin’ hate Metallica,’ but they know and share eachother’s tastes well enough to make it work. In this colourful array of influences, the Works find their own niche by choosing not to limit themselves to one particular style and, instead, crafting their own. This may prevent them from fitting in to a specific scene as Moffit states ‘there’s no scene that we’ve ever belonged to – in Glasgow, anyway,’ though I get the feeling they’d like to keep it that way. They do, of course, have comrades on the local circuit ‘like Sergio Sergio, we love them and have played loads of gigs with them… and Feet of Clay’ but they’ve never settled into one particular circle. ‘It can be a constraint, it can be quite limiting… that’s always something we’ve been against. We’ve never buckled to that or anything.’ For the Works, ‘it’s usually just how the songs come out… If it’s something I come up with it might be a bit more punky and a bit more ragged. And then something [Robbie] would come out with it’ll be a bit more heavy.’ As always, it comes back to jamming together. ‘That’s just more the way that we write songs and the way we’ve always written songs.’ Moffit explains, ‘a jam will just sort of take off around the room, somebody comes up with an idea and we’ll bounce it about.’ This ethic is the exact method used in the Works recent EP release, In the Oven, which I have reviewed here. The result is a versatile and highly entertaining record that I’d most certainly recommend. And, if this article doesn’t express the Works philosophy well enough, their record will.
This is just one exemplary story of an unsigned band and there are certainly many more. This buzzfeed article lists some of the struggles faced by unsigned bands and I’d hazard to guess that the Works have experienced them all. So, next time you see a new band in your local venue, think of the trials they’ve been through just to play that show. And, most importantly, support them!
The Works can be found on facebook HERE.
Listen to In the Oven HERE.
Listen to my full interview with Gareth Moffit HERE.