Saturday 25 November 2023

The Slow Readers Club / May Payne - Manchester Yes Basement - 24th November 2023

The Slow Readers Club opened up their three-show Manchester Mash Up with the most intimate hometown gig they've played in nearly a decade. Eighty or so lucky fans got the chance to watch them up and close and personal and pick the setlist for a show in the basement of Yes. With songs selected from all the way back to their self-titled debut through to this year's Knowledge Freedom Power and including a few real rare live gems, they delighted an ecstatic crowd. Support came from the very excellent emerging Manchester artist May Payne who performed a half hour solo set on keys and guitar.

We doubt any of the audience have heard of twenty-two year old May Payne before the show, but by the end of the set May has won a new set of fans. These support slots can often be a hiding to nothing, an excited crowd waiting for a special intimate show from the headliners. But May, armed with just a keyboard and a guitar and a voice that brings these songs to life with the depth of their emotional resonance and lived experiences, is a compelling singer as well as songwriter, for whom these songs tell personal story in a way that words alone couldn't. It's a talent that not all musicians possess, but one that marks out the best, or should we say most important ones.

May tells us the background to the songs. One of the best is about feeling second best in a relationship to an ex who's like there's a third person in the relationship, whilst the exceptionally brave I Don't Want You To Touch Me is about personal experiences of sexual abuse and the conflicting impacts it has had as a victim. May explains it's a song that's always played solo even when accompanied by a band with her, because it's a means of trying to come to terms with such a life-altering (and far too common) event for women these days. The half-hour set very much marks May down as one to watch, with just the Sane EP out there right now and it'd be fascinating to see how the rest of the set works with a band on stage too.

There's a real sense of anticipation, buzz and camaraderie in the crowd, with the exception of one gentlemen at the front who's so off his face he threatens to ruin the night for everyone, as the familiar sounds of I Feel Love echo around this tiniest of venues. Some here won't have seen The Slow Readers Club in venues of this size, but one time this sort of space was their home, where they honed their craft, road tested their self-titled debut and its follow up Cavalcade and slowly but surely began their ascent through the city's stages to Gorilla, The Ritz, Albert Hall and Apollo, the venues that are now their natural home. 

This particular show is special for many reasons. Firstly it's the smallest home town headline show in almost a decade - they could have gone for somewhere like The Pink Room or the Deaf Institute, neither of which we've seen them play and it still be classed as intimate with double the number of people in the room - but more importantly because it's a fan-picked set. That means there's songs that haven't been aired in a long time, and in the case of Seconds Out, never. Aaron jokes that if the set becomes boring or has a lull then that's our fault not theirs. Of course that was never going to happen.

Songs that are resurrected for the night are the strident and powerful One More Minute from their self-titled debut that goes all the way back to Aaron and Jim's days in Omerta that preceded The Slow Readers Club as well as the more angular almost post-punk of Learn To Love The System, another song from that era that last made a rare even then appearance at a headline set at a bizarre dance festival on a fish farm on the outskirts of Burnley in 2015. Both are dedicated to fans who requested them as are a number of others throughout the night including You Opened Up My Heart dedicated to a fan who was attending her hundredth The Slow Readers Club show. Whilst the days are gone where they can stand round a merchandise table and talk to each and every one of their fans who wants a chat they haven't forgotten the bond between themselves and their dedicated fan base.

The fan-chosen set touches pretty much all bases. Their most recent album Knowledge Freedom Power is represented by its opening track Modernise, its best track (in our opinion) the should have been the lead single Afterlife and the aforementioned Seconds Out making its live debut and the set stops off at most calling points from the debut to there.  

For a fan-chosen set there's a lot of set regulars in it. Feet On Fire, a rare and very popular outing for Lost Boys (with Kurt taking lead chorus vocals to huge roars of approval) and Block Out The Sun represent the debut, Forever In Your Debt and Fool For Your Philosophy its breakthrough follow-up Cavalcade. Build A Tower saw them break the charts and found them a much wider audience and its three key singles On The TV ("you can sing the rift to this one), You Opened Up My Heart and the set finale Lunatic have been chosen alongside the album's final song Distant Memory, one of the band's most ambitious songs to date.

The Joy Of The Return, their top ten album just as COVID hit and derailed their momentum completely has All I Hear and The Wait, whilst its fan-loved companion 91 Days In Isolation has The Greatest Escape and the hard-hitting Two Minutes Hate taken from it. There's no lull and the order in which the band have chosen to play them helps keep the momentum going and remind us of just what an impressive catalogue of music they've put together.

The intimacy of the room makes them seem more relaxed too. There's often pressure on a band on a tour cycle to have the feeling that they need to impress every single time they step on stage with every single song. Tonight is a one-off show and you sense that pressure is off a little and they're enjoying the evening more, lots of little knowing nods and glances, Aaron laughing off having to have lyric notes for Seconds Out having probably not sung it between recording it and rehearsing it for these shows. Intimate shows by bands who regularly fill bigger spaces can often be an anti-climax but tonight The Slow Readers Club deliver exactly what they promised - a set of fan favourites in an intimate space that makes those present feel privileged they were lucky to catch one of the eighty golden tickets for this very special occasion.

The Slow Readers Club played Cavalcade, Modernise, Lost Boys, All I Hear, The Greatest Escape, The Wait, One More Minute, Afterlife, You Opened Up My Heart, Seconds Out, Two Minutes Hate, Forever In Your Debt, Feet On Fire, Block Out The Sun, On The TV, Distant Memory, Fool For Your Philosophy, Learn To Love The System and Lunatic.

The Slow Readers Club's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter. They finish the year at Manchester Canvas (December 1) and Manchester New Century Hall (8).

May Payne's website can be found here and she is on Facebook


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