It's always a relief when you meet musicians that you admire that they are, well just grounded and personable really. Sure they are on a trend mill of going media rounds, asked the same questions again and again. If you catch them on a bad day or they are just full of their own self importance - it can stop you from enjoying their music so much in the future. As Frank said himself "There is no such thing as rock stars, there is just people who play music. And some of them are just like us, and some of them are dicks" Frank fields the questions about life on the road, the new album, the Olympics, the comparisons with Billy Bragg and mixing pop with politics - all with good grace and he is just as genuine and polite when the recording equipment is stowed away. Lyrically he wears his heart on his sleeve, I feel like I know him already. So it's a bonus that the 15 minutes I spend in his company is enjoyable and relaxed. You'd enjoy going for a pint with Frank, no worries. Anyway on to the gig itself……
Support comes from Larry & His Flask, who have supported Frank Turner in the States. This six piece band from Portland, Oregon have an infectious mix of bluegrass and punk, bit like The Pogues took traditional Irish folk and punked it up and made it their own.
The pure energy of their set is infectious. The Kirk Skatvold, the double bass player seems to have a limitless amount of untamed vigor as he bounces around the stage like a man processed. His double bass even goes crowd surfing at one point. A good proportion of the crowd may never have heard of Larry & His Flask before but this is music it is impossible not to move your feet too. The set might be a bit unfamiliar – so why not throw in a Marvin Gaye cover with a punked up bluegrass version of What’s Going On, sounds a bit random but it works.
A quick look around and you’ll see everybody seems to be grinning from ear to ear. This is great party music and a fantastic find, great choice of support. Larry & His Flask have an EP out called Hobo’s Lament with a full length album to follow in June. I was planning to catch up with Larry & His Flask prior to the gig but due to time pressures at sound check I caught up with singer Ian Cook later – to listen click link: Larry & His Flask Podcast on Pure 107.8FM
Now it’s time for the main event. There is great sense of expectation as Frank Turner takes to the stage and launches into Four Simple Words - a track from the new album Tape Deck Heart, a download of which was made available early to those preordering the album. So when Frank sings "Because we're all so very twenty first century. You're probably listening to me on some kind of portable stereo..." He's right - they have been listening, five days before the album is released it seems that almost everybody in the crowd has learnt the four simple words he has asked you to sing back to him like they're the only ones that you know, next time you come to a show. And they are singing it back at Frank with real gusto "I Want To Dance". I'm witnessing the cult of Frank - the show has began and it's an exciting place to be. There is further proof that Frank has the Academy in the palm of his hand as five songs into the set the crowd there is a rousing sing-a-long of "There is no god" to Glory Hallelujah. It's almost evangelical humanism, you wonder if this number was dropped from gigs in the Bible Belt during his recent US tour. I can imagine John Lennon looking down thinking how is he getting away with this.
It seems Frank can do no wrong. He's a great performer, his band the Sleeping Souls are tight and the whole performance has an infectious energy that both the band and audience seem to be feeding off. His adoring fans would be willing to forgive him anything - well almost anything. "I'm from the South" says Frank as he introduces Wessex Boy; for which he is roundly booed. "But I love Manchester, in fact when I'm abroad most people think I'm from Manchester anyway as they have never heard of Winchester" Frank quickly reinforces his honorary Mancunian status by changing the setting in the lyrics from Winchester Cathedral grounds to the Academy's famous pre/post gig drinking den, Big Hands.
Half way through the set the Sleeping Souls take their leave as Frank treats us to an acoustic rendition of a trio of songs. Starting with The Real Damage, the first track on his debut album Sleep Is For The Weak accompanied only by Matt Nasir on the keyboard. There is a switch from Matt to the mandolin for a new song Good And Gone before leaving Frank solo to play the haunting break up folk ballad Worse Things Happen At Sea. The Sleeping Souls return for the rest of the gig. A couple of songs before the encore, Frank promises that this is the last new one tonight, despite having only played three songs from Tape Deck Heart so far, it's his current single Recovery and it is greeted like an old favourite - which it is fast becoming.
The last number before a short break is Photosynthesise as Frank gets to the middle eight he takes the opportunity to address his audience. It's slightly surreal, as the mosh pit takes it's cue to sit down. Personally, I prefer any audience participation to be spontaneous, but this has become a bit of a traditional at Frank's gig, so let's roll with it and enjoy the communal experience. Then Frank makes an appeal; we all have different baggage in life - let's leave it at the door and celebrate what brings us together rather than what set's us apart. What's happening here? Has our punk poet turned all hippy dippy?
He gave an interview in the NME published that day in which he expressed very negative and sweary opinions on David Cameron and countered assertions in the Guardian that he was a closet right winger stating "My politics are 100% based on punk rock, freedom, independence and voluntary co-operation between people". We shouldn't be surprised, although Frank's lyrics often display a healthy cynicism of commercialisation of society; there is no rallying call to take to the streets to smash the system.”It was worse when we turned to the kids on the left, and got let down again by some poor excuse for protest... So I hung up my banners in disgust and I head for the door" (Love & Ire Song). As Frank told me earlier, politics is by it's nature is divisive. He is it the business of creating magical shared experiences through his music - once you introduce politics you can break the spell and Frank is interested in creating it not breaking it. He doesn't have a political message, he just has lots of opinions and he is sharing them through his art form. Is it any surprise that this resonates more with many people than traditional political philosophies? Anyway, popular music is full of people who have nothing profound to say about anything - let's listen to the one's who have something worth saying rather than trying to put them in a box.
So Frank isn't the new Billy Bragg, he doesn't want to be the reluctant spokesperson for a generation, he is not a flag bearer for the new left and he isn't a closet right winger either. He'd rather just be a spokesperson for Frank Turner. Just because he plays an acoustic guitar, it doesn't mean he's a protest singer but he still has plenty to say. Four more songs to bring the evening to it's climax. Starting with a b-side ‘Sailor's Boots’, before playing, arguably the stand out track from each of his previous three albums; ‘I Knew Prufrock’…, ‘Try This At Home’ and his Olympic triumph ‘I Still Believe’.
Frank Turner is a crowd pleaser - a great performer with no nonsense just great songs. He tours so much that wherever you are, the chances are you'll get to see him at some point - take my advice - take that opportunity.
Review/photos by Paul Holloway.
Paul Holloway presents The Guest List (Tuesdays & Thursdays 7pm) & Fuzzbox (Fridays 10pm) on Stockport’s radio station Pure 107.8FM. Listen anywhere www.pureradio.org.uk
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