Splendour Preview: The Slow Readers Club Talk Festivals, Longevity, and New Records | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Splendour Preview: The Slow Readers Club Talk Festivals, Longevity, and New Records

The Rise and Rise of Manchester's Best Kept Secret

Jun 21, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Splendour opens its doors for the 12th year on Saturday July 20. The Nottingham-based festival has firmly established itself as one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the UK. Situated in the idyllic grounds of Wollaton Park to the west of the city, Splendour has attracted a wealth of internationally recognized names from the world of music and comedy since its inaugural event back in 2008 and this year is no exception.

Topping the bill are Manic Street Preachers and The Specials, while the likes of The Slow Readers Club, All Saints, Ash, and The Rifles are among the names announced for the 2019 edition. Split between four stages, Splendour regularly sells out well in advance so we'd urge you to purchase your ticket now! 

In the meantime, bass player Jim Ryan of Manchester four-piece The Slow Readers Club spoke to Under the Radar about their summer festival plans, recording a fourth album, and continued longevity in an industry that's forever changing by the day. The band's most recent album was 2018's Build a Tower. The band also features Aaron Starkie, Kurtis Starkie, and David Whitworth.

Dom Gourlay (Under the Radar): How was your set at Bearded Theory last weekend? You seemed to be enjoying yourselves?

Jim Ryan: We really loved it. Whenever we're booked to play a festival we always have a look online first to see who else is playing. So when we saw the rest of the line-up we thought it would be alright, but by the time we'd finished playing we were buzzing. It looked rammed from the stage, then we set up a little merch stand after and loads came and bought music and T-shirts, which obviously helps us out, but then hopefully they'll also spread the word to more people as well. So yeah, it was bang on.

There was a really nice vibe over the whole weekend which was quite unique compared to a lot of other outdoor UK festivals.

It definitely wasn't one of those festivals where people go to spend the whole weekend sticking pictures on Instagram! Its just full of people who love music. You could just see that from walking around in the day.

You have quite a busy summer of festivals ahead. What are you doing in between times?

We played Neighbourhood festival in Warrington on Sunday. That was the last gig of our tour. We've played over 40 shows since the start of March. We did 30 dates touring around the UK then another seventeen around Europe straight after, and it ended with Bearded Theory and the Neighbourhood Weekender. That was quite surreal as we played to 24,000 people! The crowd was huge. We've got time off from gigs now so it's all about writing. We'd already written a few new songs at the start of the year as we had two months before our main tour kicked in. So with all of our summer festival shows being scattered around weekends we're aiming to write as much as we can during the weeks in between. Some of the schedules are really busy. There's one weekend where we're doing Rock Werchter in Belgium, then one in Amsterdam the next day before finishing off at Mad Cool in Spain. Most of our festivals are around Europe this summer but we have got some UK ones as well. The plan is to then have enough songs ready for an album by the end of the summer so we can start recording around September and October with the intention of putting it out early next year.

You're playing Splendour Festival in Nottingham in July. Are there any other acts on that bill you're looking forward to seeing?

Apart from us I don't really know! When we play a festival we try to get there as early as possible, especially in the UK, so we can have a walk around and hopefully catch as many bands as possible. Normally, we'll have a look at the line up and if there's someone we specifically want to see playing before us we'll make sure we're onsite early. We have a gig in Romania the following night at Electric Castle, so we'll probably have to leave straight after our set. We've not really had chance to study the line up yet, mainly because we've been focusing on the tour we've just done and also because we've been trying to find a flight that's cheap enough to get us all over to Romania!

Do you tailor your live sets specifically towards the places or events you're playing? So for example, would a festival set or support slot be different to a normal headline show?

Sometimes, especially at festivals. We tend to look at who's on after us, so at Neighbourhood we were on before Gerry Cinnamon and we knew he'd bring a rowdy crowd. So we did tailor our set, as we knew it probably wouldn't go down too well playing a load of ballads. If you don't tailor your set its possible to end up doing yourselves a disservice, because a lot of those people might be seeing you for the first time. It also depends what time of the day we're on and how much time we've got. It's not so much about handpicking your songs. It's more about being clever with it. The most difficult thing about choosing a setlist is knowing when to introduce new songs, even to your own crowd. Until recently, we've literally only ever put one new song in at any point, purely because we don't want to switch people off and kill the vibe by putting too many in there. It's not necessarily that people don't like new songs. It's just they don't know them, so we avoid doing that if possible. That's why we want the album to already be out next year a good month before we start touring it because by that time, hopefully everyone that comes to see us will be familiar with the songs.

Slow Readers Club are another band like IDLES and Sleaford Mods who've amassed a large and loyal fanbase over the years via word of mouth and playing live. Do you think attitudes are changing now and it is becoming a lot more of a common occurrence for bands to grow on their own terms without media or industry hype?

I do. Whether it's through online mediums such as Twitter or Facebook as well, every little bit helps. We've found that most people who've come to us came because their mates told them to listen to this band. So they've gone away and played our music on Spotify then bought a CD and come to see us play. It's still probably the slowest way for a band to grow but long term it probably has more impact because it proves we're not a flash in the pan. Then when their mates go and tell more mates and so on, it has a domino effect, which keeps growing. Plus, it's more likely that your mates will know what you're into, so then you're more likely to give it a listen than if some random reviewer recommended us online or in a magazine. I'm not saying we've made it or anything like that, but it has taken us longer to get where we are because we've not had the backing of national radio play or specific playlisting off Spotify or being on someone's YouTube channel. A lot of these younger acts that go from nothing to being massive just because they've had that little bit of exposure-whether it's a track on an advert or being played on [BBC] Radio 1-might be doing okay now, but then a couple of years down the line they've disappeared and no one knows where they are because it all happened too quick. Whereas with us, it's been gradual but we're still plugging away and eventually we'll get there. When we play festivals like Bearded Theory and see everywhere packed out we appreciate it a lot more because it's took us a lot longer than most bands to get that size audience.

Do you think there is a regional divide in the UK where acts from London and the south are given more and better opportunities than those from other regions?

I'd say so because most of the music industry is based in London. If you live in Manchester you've got to drive, whereas if you live in London you can just roll out of bed, and there might be some of the industry there. If we need to have a face-to-face meeting with someone in London we have to travel to them. The internet has made it easier for bands from outside of London to get their music out there but if you live down south it's already on your doorstep. You can just leave your house and be there in the thick of it. But we don't try and cash in on that whole "Look at us, we're a band from Manchester, we're northerners" thing either. That's not what we're about. Don't get me wrong, we're proud of where we're from, but the amount of times we get asked about Madchester is ridiculous. That whole baggy thing happened in the '80s and '90s and it is a historical thing, yet a lot of people just assume because we're a band from Manchester we're directly influenced by those bands when it's about so much more than that. There's loads of great music in Manchester at the minute, but a lot of people that aren't from the city don't know about it because they've just packaged everything up and given it a name which makes it difficult for people to promote themselves, especially outside of Manchester.

Musically, the only Mancunian reference points I'd draw from your music would probably be Puressence or The Chameleons. There's probably more viable comparisons to your sound with American bands like The National or Interpol than anybody else from Manchester.

I'll take that, especially Puressence. Whether Aaron's [Starkie] vocals are as good as James Mudriczki's is open to debate, but they're very similar as both can really hit high notes then comfortably hit low ones as well. The Chameleons use a lot of delay noises off their guitars and so do we, so I can see why we get compared to them as well. Also, because we're from Manchester and all wear black on stage people automatically make that connection to Joy Division too. I do get why people compare us to other bands because people need a reference point of some sort, especially if they're discovering your music for the first time. Otherwise, people just wouldn't be arsed. Ideally that would make them more inclined to listen and hopefully like us as well. So far we've been fortunate in that none of the bands we've been compared to are shit! So it could be a lot worse. 

You've been making music for the best part of two decades now with Slow Readers Club and before that, Omerta. When that band split in 2007 did you think we'd be here talking about fourth albums, sold out tours, and high ranking festival slots 12 years later?

If you'd have said back then where do you see yourselves in 10 years time, maybe selling out somewhere like Manchester Apollo? We'd have said no fuck that, we want to be selling out Wembley Stadium! That's how you tend to think when you're in a band. But one thing we've always done since we started writing music is believe in ourselves, even back then. We've always written music we like rather than for other people or chased a scene, and I think that's what's paid off for us because that translates to other people. Although if you'd spoken to us three years ago and said where do you see yourselves in 2019, we'd have snapped your hands off to sell out the Apollo! We know how hard it's been, whereas back in the days of Omerta we wanted everything instantly because it was a new thing. It's not been easy, so now we have worked hard and got to a point where we can sell 3,500 tickets for a show in Manchester its made us appreciate it that much more.

What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?

Just go out and play gigs. When you start a band, you'll play your first gigs and might look a bit wooden on stage or be really nervous, which is a natural thing. You might not be as tight as you should be either, but the more you gig, the more you end up rehearsing together. Not only will you get better as musicians, you also end up honing your stagecraft as well and become more confident in what you're doing. You'll see the reactions of the people you're playing to change and it inspires you to write more. So the best advice I can give is just yourselves out there, get your music on YouTube and Spotify. Don't get me wrong, you want people to be paying for your music but when you're just starting out it's all about building up a fanbase. If people like it they'll tell their friends and hopefully they'll like it as well.

A lot of bands seem to think getting a manager and a label is more important than writing songs and playing shows, which is still a worrying trend even in the age of the internet.

No it's definitely more important to get your music out there first. Don't get me wrong, we have got a deal with a label but it's nothing like what people might think it is. It's not life changing or anything like that. We have got a manager and it helps, but when you're starting out you don't need all that shit because it just adds to the confusion. Just write songs that you like then get out there and play gigs. It might help you get gigs with certain promoters or venues but if you've not played that much and no one knows who you are it might do more damage than good in the long term. You don't need all that stuff in place when you're starting out. Write songs, play gigs, and enjoy what you're doing. More importantly, believe in what you're doing.

Are there any artists you've discovered recently we should be focusing on at Under the Radar?

Aaron our singer likes this band from Liverpool called SPINN. They're on the same label as us [Modern Sky]. From our point of view, playing with a band like Arcade Fire was a massive learning point for us. Just watching them perform and how they react to such a large crowd. So while it's good seeing and playing with new bands like SPINN and giving them advice, it can also be mind-blowing supporting then watching bigger bands. We also listen to lots of different music when we're in the van on tour. I listen to lots of Motown stuff, probably more than anyone could imagine. David [Whitworth] listens to a lot of heavier stuff like Led Zeppelin or Rage Against The Machine. Kurt [Starkie] listens to a lot of new stuff but then also bands like Interpol as well. Aaron's big into The National but then he also listens to 6Music a lot more than we do. It's just a mad mix but I think that's why it works. We don't all like the same bands. If we did I think it would just end up being a carbon copy. Because there's so many places you can hear music like Spotify and YouTube it's so easy to flip between different things. Sometimes it can be difficult for bands because back in the day you'd buy a record or CD and have to listen to it and eventually you'd like that band. Whereas now, you can listen to something on Spotify and if the first 10 seconds don't grab your attention, switch it off and listen to something else. On the flipside, having something like Spotify makes it so much easier to get your music out there. So it's catch 22.

For more information on Splendour including the full line up, stage breakdown, and where to purchase tickets visit www.splendourfestival.com.

www.theslowreadersclub.co.uk

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