Aaron Starkie, (seen here second from the right), lead vocalist with English band The Slow Readers Club, chats with Kevin Cooper about being championed by Steve Lamacq, having to sleep in the back of a van, their latest album Build A Tower and their forthcoming tour of the UK.

Aaron Starkie, lead vocalist with English band The Slow Readers Club, originally started in a band in 2003 called Omerta. Having released three singles and being championed by the likes of Steve Lamacq, the band dispersed in 2007.

However, Starkie regrouped and formed The Slow Readers Club, with Kurtis Starkie on guitar, Jim Ryan on bass and David Whitworth on drums. They released their self titled album in 2001 which included some old Omerta songs as well a trio of killer singles, Feet On Fire, Sirens and Block Out The Sun.

Slowly but surely that buzz about them that had been lost started to return as their live audience around Manchester started to grow as word spread about them aided with shows supporting the likes of Catfish And The Bottlemen. They introduced new songs into their set, each one feeling like a major triumph in its own right as they slowly but surely wrote the tracks that would make up their second album Cavalcade which was released in 2015.

In 2016 Jim Glennie of Manchester legends James tweeted a video of Aaron and Kurtis performing an acoustic version of I Saw A Ghost in Manchester Central Library for video blog Matter Of Sound produced by Radio X’s Hattie Pearson. One thing led to another and The Slow Readers Club were asked, at the personal invitation of Jim and Saul Davies, to support James on their Girl At The End Of The World tour in May 2016.

Announcing that they are about to release a studio album and a tour to promote it, Aaron Starkie took some time out of his busy rehearsal schedule to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Aaron good morning how are you?

Hi Kevin I’m very good thank you, are you okay?

I’m fine thanks and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my pleasure.

And just how is life treating you at the moment?

Life at the moment is very good. I really can’t complain. We have been pretty busy. The last two years for the band have been very good. We sold out the Albert Hall in Manchester towards the end of last year; we played The Rescue Rooms down there in Nottingham as well on the last tour which was great. Now this year, as you know, we have got a new album out so we are going bigger again on this tour which means that this time around we will be playing Rock City, which will be amazing, hopefully (laughter).

That’s a big step-up for you from The Rescue Rooms to the Main Hall in Rock City.

(Laughter) thanks for pointing that out (laughter). I have to say that ticket sales are going okay so hopefully it should be a busy night.

I have to ask you, where did the name come from?

When I was changing over from junior school to senior school we had an orientation day and we were being taken around all of the classrooms; the science lab, the English room and all things like that. On the tour we came to a room that was labelled as being Special Needs so I asked what was that all about. I was told that was where you were sent if you fell behind with your work, and I found that to be a quite frightening concept that at that stage in your life you could be taken out of the mainstream of education and subsequently taken out of the normal passage. So as a rejection of that concept together with championing the underdog I came up with the name The Slow Readers Club.

You briefly mentioned the new album; well I have to say that I have been playing Build A Tower for the past few weeks now and I think that it is great.

Thank you.

Are you and the band happy with it?

Absolutely, yes. The official release date is Friday 4th May and I have to say that we all feel as though it is a step-up from the last record. The singles that we have released off the album have all received a really good response from our fans and radio DJ’s alike. So yes, we are all really pleased with the album and there is still stuff that most people still haven’t heard as yet. There will be some stuff on there that will surprise a lot of people; there are a lot of tracks that will get people moving, so yes, I am really excited for people to hear the album when we tour it. It’s weird really because the album comes out a few days after the tour starts, so there are a few dates where people will be hearing the songs for the first time (laughter). That will be interesting for both of us. We will just have to play some of the familiar tracks from the previous albums (laughter).

From writing to recording, how long were you working on the album?

It was about two years I think, from start to finish. It was a lot more intense but we did it around our day jobs. So it was not as contained as it would be for other bands I guess. It was a more contained period than it was for the previous record as that was written and recorded over a four year period. So to me, this album feels more complete and more consistent than the previous record for that reason. There is more of a common tone to each of the tracks. We are proud of all three albums that we have recorded but the last two in particular the band have really come on as musicians and we now feel that we have found our own voice.

Would you say that it is your best work to date?

(Laughter) well what can I say, there are certain tracks on there that I consider to be our best singles but as a complete body of work it is difficult for yourself as an artist to say that really. The other members of the band are a bit more bullish about it and will say “oh yes, most definitely, three hundred per cent” (laughter). However, I can’t look at it objectively, but I would have to say that I think so. The response to the tracks that have been out there so far has been really positive so let’s just hope that the rest of the album lives up to that.

I have to tell you that the track that I keep going back to is Supernatural, I think it’s brilliant.

Thank you, well between you, me and this conversation Supernatural may very well be the next single.

Putting you on the spot, can you pick one track and say that it is your favourite track off the album?

Well Supernatural is most definitely one of them, and the current single You Opened Up My Heart is another. However, I think that I would probably agree with you and say that Supernatural is the one track that we all seem to agree on as being our favourite. So I would have to say that you picked a good one there (laughter).

I keep telling anyone that will listen, I may be getting old and the ears may be failing but I can still pick out a decent track (laughter). Too many years spent sitting far too close to speakers in nightclubs I’m afraid (laughter).

It was well worth it I’m sure.

I think so yes. Plus the fact I can’t hear the wife so it does have its benefits (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) I will have to remember that.

You have mentioned the release date as being Friday 4th May, are you now kicking your heels waiting for the album to be out there?

Yes I am a little bit. We are all keen for people to hear it especially the tracks that you have mentioned that no one has heard before. It’s now all down to anticipation and to see where it takes us. The last album was good to us; it has given us an audience all over the country. Hopefully this one again will turn more heads and allow us to go on and play bigger venues. That’s the plan.

The tour starts on Thursday 26th April in Cardiff, are you currently in rehearsals?

Yes we have just started rehearsals for the tour. However, there is still some technical stuff for us to sort out, a few of the arrangements on the backing tracks need tweaking, so we are just sorting them out as we speak. We have rehearsed through the whole album a month or so ago and at that time everything was fine. But we are not resting on our laurels (laughter) we will keep it tight and I am confident that we will put on a good show.

Have you decided which songs from the new album will make it on to the set list as yet?

To be honest I think that all of them will most probably be on the set list. I think that the focus will be on this album but we will also be playing some of our greatest hits too, as much as they were hits (laughter).

You will be playing here in Nottingham at Rock City on Saturday 12th May, what can we expect?

As we have mentioned already, some surprises for a lot of people as the material that we will be playing will be new. For us it will be a big show on a big stage. There will hopefully be a lot of connection with the audience. We have played two independent weekends already this year, both of which sold-out super quick and I have to say that the atmosphere in both of those was electric so we really want to keep that going. I think that we have developed a really good connection with our fans and it is them who spur us on. I think that it will be a memorable night.

What do you think to Nottingham as a city because I always feel that it likens itself to Manchester?

To be honest I personally think that Nottingham is an awesome city. We were there for Dot To Dot last year plus we played our headline show at The Rescue Rooms and it feels as though Nottingham has got music running through it veins.

I think we could put that down to the student population.

Oh most definitely. We have got lots of students here in Manchester but Nottingham has got far more than most cities I think.

Yes we have, in fact we have got too many but don’t quote me (laughter).

(Laughter) don’t worry, your opinions are safe with me (laughter).

Last year I was fortunate enough to interview Steve Lamacq and I asked him if there was anyone out there who we should be looking out for and immediately he said The Slow Readers Club as he believes that you are destined for greater things.

Really, well what can I say, that is fantastic and really good to hear. Steve has given us support on the radio so it is good to hear that he has done that in an interview too.

Putting you firmly on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Well one of them would have to be selling out the Albert Hall in Manchester last year, which really was truly amazing. For those of you in Nottingham who aren’t familiar with the Albert Hall it is a two thousand capacity venue, so to sell that out was fantastic. Also I would have to say that supporting James at the Castlefield Bowl, being able to play in front of eight thousand people was something that dreams are made of. That’s where we have learnt our stagecraft on the big stages really, supporting those guys in 2017. Those are my fondest memories. I suppose that I should mention playing The Ritz in Manchester that was another great highlight.

We had a few years when we were just knocking around when we would be playing to five people and the bar staff, and then suddenly everything has just exploded for us. As you can imagine, we are now extremely happy to finally be getting somewhere (laughter).

You mention the Albert Hall gig selling out, were you nervous at all?

I wasn’t nervous at all really, in fact by that stage I was ill to be honest (laughter). I was a bit nervous that my voice wasn’t going to hold up but playing to a sell-out crowd doesn’t really faze me too much. I mentioned Dot To Dot earlier; we had actually played the Albert Hall for the festival a few days after the Manchester Arena bombing which I have to say was both strange and emotional. In fact it was quite challenging. We are quite familiar with all of the venues here in Manchester which I suppose did help us in what can only be described as an emotional situation. I find that I don’t get nervous these days, but I have probably screwed myself by saying that, I will now most probably turn into a jibbering wreck (laughter).

There must have been some low points?

Not in recent times I am pleased to say. We have been far too busy (laughter). When we were recording the first album we got locked out of our hotel and had to spend the night in the back of the van (laughter). There have been times when we have played smaller towns like Doncaster and have played to nobody really. But you just have to get through those times and move on. You are always thinking that things will eventually pickup for you.

Dare I ask what you got locked out of your hotel for?

We were recording in Surrey actually, and the whole place simply shutdowns at eleven o’clock (laughter). After we had finished the recording session at ten thirty we thought ‘well we have got time for a quick pint’ so we headed off to the pub, had a pint or two, and then headed back to the hotel which had shut at eleven (laughter). If you are not back for eleven you are screwed basically (laughter). We tried to book into a Travel Lodge but there wasn’t one for miles so we found ourselves sleeping in the back of the van (laughter). I have to say that I still have some surreal memories of our then drummer sleeping in the back of the van. It wasn’t great.

You have mentioned supporting James; how was it opening for The Charlatans?

That was great and in fact we are still doing some stuff with those guys this year. They have organised a sort of mini takeover of Northwich which is their hometown. We will be playing a library gig at some stage during the weekend. We supported them at Sheffield last year and we actually met them through James because we did a gig at the Liverpool Echo Arena where The Charlatans were the main support and we were out in the foyer doing our own thing. We have also supported The Jesus And Mary Chain who are heroes of mine so I have to say that was pretty cool. All of those things have been really helpful in us, as a band, getting a whole new audience. I think that it is important that you get those opportunities really.

Back in January you won the Best Breakthrough Act at the City Life Awards, how did that feel?

That felt absolutely brilliant. We have spent a while wishing that we got more press so it felt great. We finally felt vindicated once we knew that we had been nominated. The nice thing was that we won it with a bit of a landslide majority; we actually won 70% of the votes. We were up against some very tough opposition, people like The Pale Waves, Pins and people like that. So all in all I have to say that it felt really good.

And who has claimed the award?

(Laughter) well it’s funny that you should ask me that because I have to come clean and say that the award is actually on my window ledge at home (laughter).

Are there any thoughts on the next studio album?

Yes there are, in fact we all started writing last night for the next album (laughter). We have got a couple of ideas knocking around. There is far less pressure in this period because we will be touring this album for a year or so which means that we are a little bit freer and the writing sessions are less intense at the moment. We can mess about and try out some different stuff.

Where would you like to see the band in five years’ time?

We would like to be getting out in Europe, getting out to the States, and more to the point be doing this full time. We would like to be playing venues like The Apollo, and perhaps even Arenas one day. We want to do what every band dreams of doing really and go as big as we can. We would love this to take us all over the world.

Who has musically inspired you?

Obviously I would have to say James, and as I have already mentioned The Jesus And Mary Chain are massive heroes of mine, Echo And The Bunnymen, LCD Sound System, and more recently bands like Everything Everything, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, The Beatles, and even Abba (laughter). I love a good memorable hooky melody so I would have to include everyone from Paul Simon, The Beatles and all the sort of big acts from the 60s and 70s. Within the band we all have our own influences, for example our drummer David (Whitworth) is a massive fan of Led Zeppelin, whilst the bass player Jim (Ryan) and I are more into Motown type stuff. My brother Kurtis (Starkie) and I share very similar tastes. Those are the ones that I can think of off the top of my head.

What was the first record that you bought?

Oh blimey, if I was trying to be cool then I would say Bleach by Nirvana but I think that it was most probably Bat Out Of Hell by Meatloaf (laughter). I bought it because I liked the cover (laughter). In my defence I was very young.

Who did you first see playing live in concert?

That would have been Shed Seven with Manson in support. It’s been great to see Shed Seven back doing what they do best, especially with new material. I have got great respect for the guys. I don’t think that they ever get the credit that they deserve. Rick Witter to me seems like a top bloke.

What was the last song or piece of music of music that made you cry?

Oh god, I don’t know about cry but there is a song that I was listening to again recently which one of my school teachers used to sing in assembly. It’s by Joan Baez and its called Birmingham Sunday. It’s about a racist attack and subsequent bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. It really is quite a sad song; it is emotionally powerful, and it is the one song that moves me. There is not quite a tear but we are not too far off.

On that note Aaron let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great and I will see you at Rock City on Saturday 12th May.

Thanks Kevin it’s been brilliant. Please do say hello when we get to Nottingham. You take care and see you soon.