“Readers! Readers! Readers!” chanted a legion of rafter-shaking music fans at Manchester’s Albert Hall, a former Methodist hall and chapel just down the road from the city’s Central Library.
Then The Slow Readers Club appeared – to roaring so loud it would get the whole audience kicked out of the neighbouring library – and the guitar-electro-pop four-piece began its long march into our musical hearts from the front of the stage, the singer and bassist pacing on the spot to their addictive beats like madmen on treadmills.
The Slow Readers have been on that treadmill for nearly a decade, building up a cult following, but now they’re on the fast track, to the real big time. At the mercy of this black-clad, self-styled “doom pop”, the Albert Hall became a high altar, where all generations were gathered to worship, raise their arms and sing their broken hearts out, to hit, after hit, after hit from their (self-funded!) albums The Slow Readers Club and Cavalcade.
To their fans, The Slow Readers Club are the resurrection, the second coming, of Northern indie greats such as Joy Division and New Order, with echoes also of the Bunnymen and The Stone Roses. And now, as the word has slowly spread way beyond Manchester, the band’s songs will be giving great comfort and joy this Christmas to those who have loved and lost the melodic delights of early Radiohead, Keane, Coldplay and fellow Manchester band James (the latter of whom the Slow Readers supported on tour last year, to the huge pleasure of James fans).
So who’s the lead singer of the Slow Readers? One Aaron Starkie, a charismatic but endearingly modest man who, unbelievably, still has a day job locally as a graphic designer. You can’t help feeling that this intense, introspective frontman, with his arms full of so many bleakly beautiful songs, is no less than the messianic reincarnation of Ian Curtis.
And by the way, there’s no water at the oasis for the Gallaghers now, either, because Starkie stands on stage alongside his kid brother Kurtis, on guitar and backing vox, making the Starkies Manchester’s newly pre-eminent sibling duo.
But Aaron’s the man who feeds this doom-pop revolution, with his killer voice – which ranges from a deep, Ian Curtis/Dave Gahan bass-baritone to a falsetto Chris Martin could only dream of – and his lyrics are to die for (literally so in the song One Chance, with lines such as “aim high, build empires, while the creeping cancer’s chewing at your bones”).
In a week when indie-pop act Pale Waves were being lauded as Manchester’s next big thing by the BBC’s Music Sound of 2018, there will be thousands upon thousands of Mancunians, and non-Mancunians, shouting “Readers! Readers! Readers!”
As for when it will happen – the big time, Glastonbury, the world and all that – well, to quote The Slow Readers Club’s favourite Manchester band, The Smiths, how soon is now?
Images by Chris Payne