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28th March 2023

The Slow Readers Club come home to Manchester

The Slow Readers Club returned to the Albert Hall, and brought their brand of doom-pop to the masses
The Slow Readers Club come home to Manchester
Photo: Trust A Fox Photography

Look for music history in Manchester, and you’ll find it at every turning. The Smiths‘ Iron Bridge in Stretford sit a few miles away from the ex-Hacienda building, in turn not far from Hulme Bridge, synonymous with Joy Division. Just a few streets down from Central Library, where Stephen Morris found the cover for Joy Division’s first album Unknown Pleasures, sits The Temple Bar, the “hole in my neighbourhood” Guy Garvey sorrowfully recounts on Elbow’s ‘Grounds for Divorce’. This is a city that lives and breathes music, across multiple generations and even more genres. At Albert Hall, however, it was time for The Slow Readers Club and their astonishingly faithful crowd to be celebrated.

The Slow Readers Club are interesting, and hard to pin down. They’re a very adept band that draw influence from Manchester indie music, as well as post-punk and elements of goth rock. The lyrics are often bleak and take pleasure in the morose, yet the euphoric guitar lines and vocal range of frontman Aaron Starkie make the tunes catchy, and so much that it’s easy to forget the gloom.

The mix of the morbid and the elated speak to a generation accompanied by The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, and the aforementioned Joy Division, of which made up most of the audience. St Patrick’s Day in Deansgate saw Manchester’s mums and dads as vocal as they would have been in teenagehood.

Support came from Newcastle-based Andrew Cushin, who brought his own brand of acoustic anthems to an already rammed Albert Hall. Stone Island clad, and flanked by a bottle of whiskey, Cushin sang on several hard-hitting topics, always tying songs together with a hook that could easily be sung back to him. With a crowd happy to oblige, and entertain back to his entertainment, it made for a suitable warmup for the main event.

As stage time came about, an ambient intro coupled with a monochromatic light show announced that The Slow Readers Club were about to take the stage. Opening with ‘Modernise’, the first track from new UK Top 40 album Knowledge Freedom Power, the band were immediately a unit of force, imposing their brand of doom-tinged rock onto the fervent crowd. Matching yellow guitar straps fit thematically with the new album cycle, standing out from the all-black coordinated clothing.

As soon as the song ended, a cacophony of “Readers”, from all corners of the balcony right down to the front row. This was only to be curtailed by diving into fan favourite ‘Fool For Your Philosophy’, but the chorus of adoration would be reprised between every single song for the rest of the set.

the slow readers club
Photo: Alex Cooper @ The Mancunion

Criticisms can be levelled at The Slow Readers Club. The brand of music that they showcase doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance or improvisation, and at places it did feel somewhat one tone. However, gigs are not only about artistic intricacy, but also about crowd enjoyment. And the defiant Manchester crowd participated in every note of the set. Their reciprocation of energy elevated the band higher, and the homecoming headline show, the first of its kind in over three years, became a festival for the community The Slow Readers Club have brought together.

The live set featured slick transitions, and extended outros to give the stage show a narrative. Every now and then, Starkie would thank the crowd profusely with genuine care and gratitude and make sure to name everyone that worked on the tour. The band have been together in some iteration for nearly 20 years, and only in the last few years have gone full time. It has happened for them, and it’s beautiful to see people’s dreams come true through perseverance and dedication to their craft.

The main set featured heart-wrenching laments in ‘Forever in Your Debt’ and ‘Block Out The Sun’ to post-punk disco songs in ‘All I Hear’ and ‘Jericho’. Knowing how to work their crowd, the incredibly catchy riff to 2018’s ‘On the TV’ persisted in the collective noise of the crowd long after the song had finished, prompting a layered reprise from the band.

The beauty of the set came from the interactions between band and crowd, of which it became a dialogue. Playing ‘Feet on Fire’ as a main set closer, a song they wrote when they were “angry young men”, the ‘mums and dads’ pointed with purpose and raised their arms aloft, embracing their part of the process.

The encore featured ‘I Saw A Ghost’, introduced through another extended ambient track that flowed into the hit. This was followed by new song ‘Knowledge Freedom Power’, which while carried the energy forward towards a grandstand finish, felt a little overt in its dystopian imagery.

This was soon forgotten, however, in the last track ‘Lunatic’, with the crashing drums of the chorus encouraging the crowd to bounce around. Strained cries from Starkie and characteristic intensity from the rest of the band saw the song’s end transition seamlessly into receiving their well-earned applause. Manchester is home for them, and it is wholly evident why.

The Slow Readers Club are compelling in their regard for community, and also their understanding of being proficient musicians and producing great songs consistently. Despite creating music of the same vein across their discography, the live show captivated for the most part, and was saw home by the love that so many fans have for the band. Music is about people, and The Slow Readers Club make a lot of people very happy. Music and Manchester will forever be intertwined; this band are perfect evidence for this.

Alex Cooper

Alex Cooper

Deputy Music Editor for the Mancunion, covering music and gigs in the Manchester area. Once walked past Nick Cave abroad. I’m contactable via Twitter (@alex_cooper25) and Instagram (@ale.xcooper).

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