2015 has unquestionably been The Slow Readers Club's year. Finishing off in their home town in style with a show at Gorilla that sold out weeks in advance, their second album Cavalcade finally being released to universal acclaim, the likes of Steve Lamacq and XFM picking them up and an ever-growing live following has meant they're no longer of one the city's best kept secrets but a player with the world laid out in front of them for 2016. Completing one of the best line-ups in town this year were Delamere, Barron and Etches.
We'll start with The Slow Readers Club. A year ago they played Band On The Wall to about 30 people, tonight they're playing to 650 people and the show they put on they could be playing to ten times that given the effortless way in which they've made the step up this year. Their sets are crammed full of huge anthemic songs, delivered with a power and panache, that it's impossible to resist tapping your feet, dancing and singing along to. There's a darkness to many of the lyrics, but like so many of Manchester's greatest bands such as Joy Division, The Smiths and James the music turns Aaron's words into a powerful catharsis. The most poignant and telling moment is when the whole room sings along to I Saw A Ghost, a song that deals with depression and self-loathing, it's a communal declaration that we've all been there at some point and can relate to every word.
The strength of The Slow Readers Club and the reason for their growing appeal is that they don't have any weak songs and they have a continuity of purpose running throughout their work. Cavalcade is an album that manages the neat trick of being varied in style - contrast Forever In Your Debt, Start Again, Don't Mind, I Saw A Ghost and Plant Your Seed, the quintet of singles it's born into the world and you'll find songs that are unmistakably them and have the same impact on the audience, but which each have their own personalities. Throw in the outstanding broody Days Like This Will Break Your Heart, possibly better than the Fab Five, Fool For Your Philosophy and the album's title track plus the epic album and set closer Know The Day Will Come and mix in the four stand out tracks from their debut - Sirens, Block Out The Sun, Feet On Fire and One More Minute - and you'll see what we're getting at. This is alternative rock music electronic indie, call it what you like, of the very highest order.
And the band. Well in that short twelve months they've blossomed. Aaron Starkie is now a confident strutting bold front man, sometimes losing himself in the music, others looking us straight in the eye as he delivers his message. Brother Kurtis, the band's guitarist and pin-up with his own screaming bunch of admirers, exudes effortless cool and his backing vocals add to the potency and power of the songs. The rhythm section of Jim Ryan on bass and David Whitworth on drums create that fearsome groove that drives the songs along, Jim often lost in a world of his own until he provides the impetus for a song to change direction, to lift or drop. And they're tight, a band of brothers that have finally gelled after the line-up changes around their first album that possibly hampered them at the time. They're clearly a little shocked at the turnout, although heavens knows why, Aaron quipping "where the fuck did you lot come from?" at one point.
Tonight The Slow Readers Club are all powerful, a band at the very top of their game and finally getting the acclaim and attention they've deserved for so long. At the cheers subside and we look around there's hundreds of grinning faces, exhilarated at what they've just seen, whether old school fans or virgins experiencing it for the first time. 2016 will bring new challenges, firstly how to keep the snowballing momentum going with an album that's already spawned five singles, but that's for another day. This was their moment, a gig that people will be telling anyone who'll listen that they were at in the future.
What preceded them set the scene perfectly and the bar high. Opening the night were Liverpool's Etches, a band whose first gig we reviewed back in 2013. Now signed to Fierce Panda and starting to make waves of their own, they thrilled an already packed venue with songs from their forthcoming EP including the vibrant new single Do Nothing with which they concluded their set.
Front man Ross takes lead vocals for most of the set although they do interchange at times which adds a twist and variety. There are shades of Everything Everything and Dutch Uncles in their sound, which is never a bad thing in our book, but the five-piece have the personality and the ear for a tune to make us think that 2016 could see them headlining venues of this size on their own.
Next up are Barron and they already have the vision and ambition to be playing much bigger venues. Front man Alex already has very evident poise and confidence to make that step, think Chris Martin, but without the smackable face, full of drama in the delivery of the set whether being sat at the keyboards or stood in front of us. They're enhanced tonight by a three-piece string section that add to the tightrope walking intensity of the songs.
It's refreshing to hear a band so unafraid of sounding this big. it's even more pleasing to report that they manage to pull it off. Debut single We Can Run is an obvious highlight, but there's plenty more where that came from (although they don't tell us the names of any of them), each one anthemic, strident and full of a justified self-belief in its ability to win over an audience, as evidenced by the response they get at the end of each song and the rapturous acclaim they get at the end of the set. Stardom surely beckons for them.
There's a lot of love in the room for main support Delamere and it's evident why. They're not a big show-off band, they don't make brash statements or go in for big rock poses, their weapon is their music and it disarms us all. They know exactly what makes a great song that will tug away at your heartstrings until they give in and their set is full of beautifully melodic examples of this. Their recent single Heart is simply the tip of the iceberg for a band that aims to melt your heart - Rain and opening track Regress sound like very obvious future singles and ones that will cement them as a band to keep a very close eye on in 2016.
They don't take themselves too seriously either despite the beautifully crafted nature of their songs. There's an infectious energy to their step, no more so than when they present their own take on Luther Vandross' classic Never Too Much and make it very much their own. There's a feeling of innocence to what Delamere do that makes it impossible to fall for them.
Then the stage is set for our headliners to deliver what, along with last week's LIINES show, one of the gigs of the year. The Slow Readers Club deserve every little bit of the attention they're getting at the moment.
The Slow Readers Club can be found at their website. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Delamere's official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.
Barron's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter.
Etches are on Facebook and Twitter.
Photographs by Shay Rowan and are all his copyright.