Saturday 9 December 2023

The Slow Readers Club - Manchester New Century - 8th December 2023

The Slow Readers Club completed their Manchester mash-up with the biggest show of the three, a sold out show at the imposing New Century. A career spanning greatest hits set was accompanied by a brand new song in front of an adoring hometown crowd who sang, danced and lost themselves in music for an hour and a half.

This isn't The Slow Readers Club's biggest hometown show. They've played across town at the Apollo, Albert Hall and The Ritz, but tonight feels like the most triumphant. A band that had been plugging away for many years, like so many Manchester bands producing magnificent music under the radar, who got the lucky break that few do by supporting James in 2016 which propelled them to a bigger audience, their ascent, via a top 20 and then a top 10 album, was stopped in its tracks by COVID. 

They've rebuilt with possibly their best album to date, Knowledge Freedom Power, this year. But tonight's show was perfect, the sound, the performance, the lights, the venue, the setlist and the way it built and reminded everyone in the room just how powerful music can be. The "doom laden pop" that Aaron references two songs in might be what this is at face value, but when you delve beneath the surface this is a communal coming together to exorcise demons, to learn that the doubts and fears in your head aren't in your head alone and that for ninety minutes everything else can be forgotten and the world put to rights. Detractors might say that they're doing nothing new - they are, they, and the likes of Ist Ist who face similar accusations, are bringing the spirit of Manchester's heritage of the best guitar music in the world up-to-date far more than the £100 reliving the 1990s in a big arena ever will do. 

The setlist covers all bases from their debut self-titled album represented tonight by a sole track Feet On Fire through Cavalcade, Build A Tower, The Joy Of The Return, 91 Days In Isolation through to Knowledge Freedom Power. They debut a new song - Dear Silence - that has all the anthemic qualities we've come to associate with them that has the crowd clapping along in the breakdown to a song they've never heard before.

The tight-knit nature of the band is evident, having been through the struggles of playing to ten people in the Castle on a Monday night and similar sized crowds in most of the grassroots venues a stones throw away from here, breaking through the indifference of local radio and media to become their hometown darlings they claim to have supported from the start (not you Natalie and Michelle if you're reading) to fill out places like Night And Day as a reminder of the importance of those spaces. 

The Slow Readers Club formed bonds in those places, developed their craft and became one of the most powerful and important modern bands of this era of the city's musical heritage. There's an intuitive bond between them, little glances, in-jokes and an immense sense of connection between themselves and their audience that is unbreakable. Aaron Starkie's voice has never sounded quite so powerful and emotionally raw, whether it be in the most anthemic moments like the should-have-been-a-single Afterlife, the perennial favourite and criminally ignored at the time Forever In Your Debt or their best-known duo of I Saw A Ghost and Lunatic that bring the evening to an end. But they're a band, a gang of friends, greater than the sum of their individual parts.

Looking round the room at friends and strangers, those watching them for the seventieth or the first time all lost in the same moment, each of them having their own personal connection with the music, each of them belting out the guitar riff from On The TV for a good five minutes as they take a well-earned pause for breath. Friends hug as the song that binds them together is played, grown men shed a tear at a song talks to the very pit of their emotions and makes them feel not alone whilst couples embrace to their song.  This might not be cool, but you can't fake this, this is real.

I've heard The Slow Readers Club be dismissed as not being representative of the modern face of the city's music scene but frankly those people are simply wrong.  They're doing numbers in Europe greater than those on 6 Music and Spotify playlists with the right PR, major labels and connections and that's an indisputable fact even without any machine or support behind them. There's a space for so much talent of all genres to blossom in what is, if you forgive my bias, the greatest musical city in the world. Yet this is the music Manchester is best known for around the world, the reason the Northern Quarter is feted and why Chanel were here this week putting our name on the lips of millions of people across the planet and people tend to forget this at times for well-intentioned reasons. The Slow Readers Club open up hearts for all here to observe, make real personal connections that matter, which is what the very best and most important music does. 

The Slow Readers Club played All I Hear, The Wait, Start Again, Afterlife, Jericho, Everything I Own, Tell No Lies, You Opened Up My Heart, Plant The Seed, Lay Your Troubles On Me, All The Idols, Dear Silence, Feet On Fire, Distant Memory, Forever In Your Debt, Knowledge Freedom Power, On The TV, Modernise, I Saw A Ghost and Lunatic.

The Slow Readers Club's official website can be found here. They are also on Facebook and Twitter. They play Castleton Devil's Arse (June 29).

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