The days when chart success really meant something are long gone, but no one would begrudge the Slow Readers Club feeling chipper as they came on stage, their new album having just entered the top 20. The Reee-derrrs, as a group of committed fans insisted on chanting between every ruddy song, have been plugging away for a few years now, and were clearly genuinely flattered and touchingly grateful that folk had been sticking their hands in the pockets and voting with hard earned cash.
Before them, however, we had October Drift, and what an unexpected and delightful bonus they proved to be. Starting with a cacophonous racket of guitar distortion and feedback straight out of the Jimi Hendrix song book, they turned their amps up to eleven, and charged fourth, hardly stopping for breath in a blistering half-hour set that flew by. They weren’t better than the band they came to support, but they were the bigger surprise, and therefore arguably the greater pleasure, as any support that defies expectations can be. Flanked by Alex Bispham and Daniel Young chopping away at their respective guitar and bass with almost parodic ferocity, lead singer Kiran Roy proved a commanding presence from the outset. He even went walkabout, hugging folk and high fiving as he meandered about, all the while singing with a sonorous voice and spirit that put me in mind of Ian Curtis. Granted, the absence of a radio mic meant having to gingerly wind his way back the way he came, but you can’t fault his chutzpah. What remains in the memory, despite a very strong set list, is every time the whole band went off on one, with only Chris Holmes’s solid drums keeping the ship on course, to marvellously chaotic effect. They put everything into this performance, to the extent I had to keep reminding myself this wasn’t the headline band. Speaking to Kiran Roy in the break I learned that they are due to open the Main stage, next week at the Bearded Theory Festival. I hope people get up early to see them - on a big stage, in front of a big crowd, I think they might just pull off something truly astonishing.
So follow that, Slow Readers Club!
Fortunately they did just that, with a combination of a healthy back catalogue of great songs, a bright, shiny new album to play with, and some straightforward fine musicianship. In the interval, we had been treated to checklist of retro classics – it’s a brave band that reminds you how good Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Donna Summer were before going on. A few songs in, however, and it all sort of made sense. The Slow Readers Club may have cornered the Indie electro doom pop market, such as it is, but they’ve been clearly influenced by some of the finest acts of the last century, mixing up a cocktail of sounds in a way that is both discriminating and imaginative.
For those of us with a mental play list going back far enough to notice, there were snatches of Blondie its Kurtis Starkie’s exquisite nimble-fingered guitar work, while the drum and bass of James Ryan and David Whitworth harkened back to the magnificent thump, thump, thump of Joy Division. Best of all, gifted with an extraordinary range, Aaron Starkie’s heavenly vocals, along with his synth, impressively called to mind both Andy Bell and Vince Clarke of Erasure. There was even - Lord help us - shades of Flocks of Seagulls in there somewhere, but perhaps we can forgive them that, and discreetly move on. Somehow the band managed to snatch at all these influences, boil them all down, and produce a mighty sound entirely their own. Rarely have I seen so many and so frequent hands raised aloft as one anthemic sing-along followed another. From the opening new song Lunatic to the faux encore of set favourite Cavalcade, the ramshackle all-ages mix of folk you only get down the Arts Centre went increasingly nuts – these were proper fans, worshipping at the temple.
It’s a long way from Manchester to Norwich along some narrow, winding roads - as some good natured whinging from the band made clear. As first time visitors to Norwich they seemed mildly surprised the place actually existed and certainly surprised to be met by such a fervent and loyal fan base. To my mind, the Readers have an almost infuriating knack for turning out one earworm after another, and yet outside of Manchester, they are inexplicably not nearly as big as they should be. The Arts Centre was full, and absolutely the best venue to see them, but you can’t help wonder why one of the city’s bigger venues wasn’t needed. That said, the band seemed happy enough – Starkie amusingly asked the crowd’s permission before taking a photo of the throng – and it was no surprise that the audience responded with the raising of hands one more time. Perhaps it’s better to be loved by the few than liked by the many. Perhaps the one eventually leads to the other.