The Frank Experience [Frank Turner, O2 Academy Birmingham, 24/11/11]

I have seen Frank Turner play over five times now. I’ve seen him with a hundred other people, I’ve seen him with about twenty thousand people. Every time I’ve ever reviewed him, I’ve never had a bad thing to say. I still don’t. It’s impossible to give this show a proper review without repeating myself, so I’m just going to tell it straight. I’m going to tell you about The Frank Experience.

We got there way later than I had planned. Two of my friends forgot their tickets, so we dealt with that, stood in the doorway of the Bullring and pissing everyone off. As it turns out, you CAN just waltz in with a barcode number, but I didn’t care about that. I was a bit tense. Not only was Frank playing, but Against Me! were in town. If you’ve never seen Against Me! play live, you’re missing out. But we’ll get to that later. I had been planning on getting right to the front for that set, so we hurried on to the venue, did the obligatory Snapbooth pic and got into the crowd.

First of all, this was the weirdest crowd I had encountered in a long time. Weirder than the last Gaslight Anthem show I went to. I was surrounded by forty year old middle class women with their husbands and kids, chavs, indie girls and hipster guys. The last time I saw Frank headline, I was surrounded by sweaty punks with checked shirts and lumberjack beards. The last time I saw Against Me!, it was pretty much the same. “Excuse me, are you going to be stood there for the whole thing?” a well-to-do woman asked me as I tried to push forward to the front, sipping on her rose wine. “Nah, I just want to see this set. One of my favourite bands. Do you like punk?” She looked rather unamused by the whole endeavour. I turned around, ignored her, fended off some people who were trying to get past me, and waited for the band to come on.

Tonight was not a good night for Against Me!. Although Tom battled bravely with his throat (some tea made an appearance in the background halfway through the set), you could tell he was wrecked. The band also battled bravely with the crowd, who didn’t seem to care at all. From where I was stood, I could see about two people who were into it. I’m presuming a couple more over the other side of the stage. Usually, when I see Against Me! play, I’m surrounded by people who adore them, much like myself, and we sing as loud as we can, dance as hard as we can. There’s nothing quite like being linked arm in arm with guys who have more tattoo than skin and belting out Baby, I’m An Anarchist. But regardless, it was the first time I’d seen them with Jay behind the drums and they’re better than ever. One of the best setlists I’ve ever seen them play – Turn Those Clapping Hands Into Angry Balled Fists was a personal highlight – and an absolutely insane performance. They tried really hard with the audience they had. But one thing was clear – they were all here to see Frank and nobody else.

So when Frank came on and broke into Eulogy, the entire place erupted. I had relinquished my place on the barrier in order to find my friends. Admittedly I could barely see a thing, but I didn’t care as long as I was with my friends. Who would I be able to tell my story with when I end up in hell if not them? Even though I’d gone to find them, I barely realised they were there. It was clear to me then that Frank no longer needed my admiration – he had the admiration of the nation right there. The band burst into Try This At Home, and I realised that half of these people here tonight probably knew nothing about punk rock and how it makes such a difference in your outlook, in your life. But right then, it didn’t matter. Because they cared about something, they cared about it enough to stamp their feet and shake their bodies in time to the music. I thought back to the train station – a few guys from my uni were there on their way to the show. Too hip to talk to the likes of me, I wondered if they too had lost their nicotine cool and were going as mental as everyone else.

The Road is such a powerful song. It’s not something we can all relate to, though. Frank yells out at the start, that if you know the words to anything, you have to sing along. So, I look around me and almost the entire room is belting it back to him. My friend Mike can’t sing, and he has the loudest voice of all. It makes me grin, because he’s having a good time and doesn’t care about anyone else. I sing too, but I have classical training and am at least in tune. I always feel self conscious at gigs – are people going to look at me when I sing, try and decipher where the racket’s coming from? But nobody ever cares – they’re too busy doing it themselves. If Ever I Stray gets the band going in full force and an even louder singalong; there’s a lot of the ‘new’ crowd here tonight. But as soon as Frank breaks into Reasons Not To Be An Idiot, the whole room explodes. It’s the ultimate feelgood song, and so quintessentially British. Every time I’m moping around in the house, I put that on and I go outside. I think of home – it’s been a while since I’ve been back. I still can’t see a lot of the stage.

I Am Disappeared, although similar to The Road to its content, is something more relatable. I take a peek to the side. My friend Kari is singing with all his heart, fists raised. That middle section, that one line – “And come morning, I am disappeared” – runs shivers down my spine. It feels liberating, which is essentially how the entire evening feels. I give up my impartial journalistic tendencies, which only happens for the rarest of performers, and I am liberated. Love, Ire And Song, the title track to the first Frank album I ever bought, becomes even more rousing in the O2 Academy than I’ve ever heard it before. Polaroid Picture, a new song, is a total rock anthem. This is the first tour where The Sleeping Souls have been put on the main event title and their importance in Frank’s sound is now completely apparent. It’s a great song, but the minute it’s over and Wessex Boy starts, it’s almost completely forgotten. Wessex Boy appeals to the ‘new’ crowd, I guess. Although Frank’s lyrics have always been fairly focused on Britain, England Keep My Bones is as patriotic as you can get. Wessex Boy, in particular, is all about your hometown. I hate my hometown at this point in time and I don’t remember the place I was born all too well, but Wessex Boy makes me miss them both.

Nights Become Days is accompanied by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo. The raucous singing lessens a bit, even though everyone still knows the words. In particular, the couple in front of me are holding hands and singing, occasionally glancing at each other and smiling. I remember the first time I saw Frank, and a few more. I was with an ex. We never shared a moment like that, but even so, I think back to those shows. But the emotions don’t come flooding back. I know that the real test will be the Brand New show in February, but right now, I know that I am not in love with anything but the string section and that’s perfectly fine with me.

Frank confesses that he doesn’t really remember the words to the next song and had to Google them earlier. Must Try Harder was always a song I skipped on Sleep Is For The Week. Not that it was bad, but it was almost at The Ballad Of Me And My Friends so inevitably, off it went. Frank doesn’t do too bad a job for not remembering the words though. And then, we’re back in our element as I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous gets played. All I could think throughout this song was that my sister should be there. I’ve been to about 75% of the Frank Turner sets I’ve been to with my sister. She’s probably one of those indie girls I mentioned earlier (my housemate declares her as “Topshop”), but she’s got the most incredible wit. Nobody makes me laugh more than my sister. She wants lyrics from Prufrock tattooed on her. She hasn’t done it yet, but no doubt when she does, I’ll be there and I’ll be taking her to Modern Body Art. My mum will probably love it because it’ll be feminine and beautiful, whereas my AFI nephilim is just “cute, but were you sure you wanted that for life?” What Mum doesn’t get is that AFI are my INXS, my Bon Jovi. AFI, and punk in general, led me to make the life decisions that got me into a top class university, to start writing, to be who I am and not give a damn what everyone else thinks I should be. I don’t know if that’s how my sister feels about Frank Turner, but if she can remind herself that life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings, then I think she’ll be doing just fine.

Sons Of Liberty seems so relevant now, so much more than ever before. The Occupy movement is one of the biggest political statements we’ve seen in such a long time. It’s not quite coherent enough for my taste, not yet, but Sons Of Liberty seems so appropriate. For the first time in ages, it’s accompanied by the proper violin, courtesy of the Red Clay Halo. I sort of missed Frank’s guitar substitute, but I stood together with my brothers and sisters. I felt like I should be doing more. I always feel like I should be doing more. Punk rock shouldn’t be sitting around waiting for the lights to go green. It should be barrelling through red and asking why the fuck not. (As it stands, I’m writing this on the day of the civil strikes. My mum’s striking today, visiting my sister while I type in my sickbed.) This is the year of discontent, let alone the summer, and it is marked well here tonight. One Foot Before The Other gets fists equally raised. Will Frank be our legacy? Will we be playing his records to our children, telling them that this is what inspired us to keep going? I probably will be, alongside reading them Black Coffee Blues before bed.

Peggy Sang The Blues always makes me smile. This is one that me and my sister belt out in the car. “No one gets remembered, for the things they didn’t do” is a line that resonates so much with me. I’m young and optimistic still, for the most part, so I sing every word as loud as I can, but as I’ve got a bit of a sore throat, it actually comes out with that much desired folk punk drawl. The couple in front of me are still singing to each other. Frank introduces Glory Hallelujah as a hymn, and truthfully, as I look around, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone were to call this “The Church of Frank Turner”. The faithful congregation dance and sing in a fashion the Church of England probably wouldn’t approve of. When the album first came out, Kari picked up on the atheistic content of it on our radio show, but it doesn’t seem to stop anyone here having a great time, regardless of belief. There’s a great feeling of community, and I don’t regret leaving my barrier position one iota.

Long Live The Queen is one of my favourite Frank songs, so I’m always really pleased to hear it played live. This was a fully rocked up version, and despite the fact that it’s so sad, it’s also so uplifting. It reminds me that I should be living while I can. So we dance, and we dance for all those who have left. We still believe. Frank reminds us, before he breaks into I Still Believe, that music brought us all together tonight and that it’s a powerful tool, and we should never forget that. I Still Believe is another of my favourite Frank songs, summing up everything I feel about punk, about rock, about music in general. It’s got some bloody great potential for gang vocals as well. And finally, he puts down the guitar and picks up the microphone and does a cover of Somebody To Love. Much like at Reading Festival, in the Lock Up stage, I realise that Frank is every inch the rockstar now, albeit a highly unconventional one. He’s fast becoming a well loved British institution, like Freddie was. And he’s got a brilliant voice as well!

The band and Frank disappear off the stage. The crowd whip up a frenzy, chanting “we want more, we want more!” I don’t join in. There’s two songs I know he hasn’t played yet and two songs I know he won’t leave us without. Frank comes back alone, guitar in hand. He plays us a new song, Cowboy Chords, and then The Ballad Of Me And My Friends. The entire room bellows it back at him, especially the last line. Tonight will be one of those stories we’ll have to tell. Two of my friends have disappeared and I don’t know why. But I remain with the friends who are there. We look at each other knowingly and scream it out – “We’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell!”

The band come back on, and I know exactly what’s coming next. Photosynthesis. My friend Chris comes bounding over and grabs me by the waist on one side, Kari on the other side, and it’s one of those moments that only comes around a few times in a lifetime. Frank pauses in the middle of the song and we think we know what’s coming. We get prepared to sit down and jump up again, but capacity won’t allow it. Instead, two enormous confetti cannons let loose a stream of pink glory. It drops into my handbag and to places I didn’t think it could go. Indeed, when I get home and get undressed, about five or six strips fall from my bra alone. The gig ends and we walk back to the train station, sweaty and buzzing. We run through the streets like nobody else is there, trying to put into words what we just saw. And these ones are mine.

It is very clear that Frank no longer needs my admiration. But he will have it, always and forever.

Live: The Gaslight Anthem – 3/2/09 [O2 Academy Birmingham 2]

The Gaslight Anthem are hardly a well kept secret any more. Without any previous coverage, they graced the front of Kerrang! and sold out their initial slot at the Bar Academy in Birmingham in weeks. However, thanks to an upgrade, I was able to get my hands on some tickets and braved the harsh winter weather to see if the hype was right.

First up on stage were Polar Bear Club, an up and coming band from the US. Polar Bear Club are like the bastard child of Boys Night Out and Stretch Arm Strong. No matter how confusing and potentially awful that sounds, it works insanely well. They’re certainly an energetic bunch and their singer threw himself around that stage like nobody’s business. Their debut album, Sometimes Things Just Disappear is actually really good as well, and the tracks sounded absolutely solid live. Definitely a band to watch out for.

The next act was Frank Turner, ex-guitarist of Million Dead now turned folk punk genius. I was not expecting an act like him at all that night, and neither was I disappointed. In short, Frank Turner is one of the most incredible acts I have ever witnessed and was honestly the best performer that night. He’s essentially a one man punk rock machine – an acoustic guitar and a microphone are all he needs. His lyrics are astounding too, and proof that you don’t need electric guitars and fancy videos to sing about politics these days. The highlight of his set was possibly Try This At Home, a song to be included on his new album. When Turner sings, you can feel the passion in his voice spreading throughout the audience and catching fire in their hearts. It’s truly inspiring stuff, and Frank Turner was the best thing about this evening.

That’s not to say that The Gaslight Anthem weren’t any good though. The band were truly on form tonight and it’s easy to see how they’re selling out venues left, right and centre. Unfortunately, I’d say that was a bad point, because the venue was so packed that it was impossible to get a good place. After trying in vain, I ended up stuck behind some dickhead who jumped around enthusiastically, played air guitar and elbowed me several times. And the pit was three steps to his left. This essentially ruined the set for me, but I’ll give the band their due, they were great. Brian Fallon is possibly the most charming man in punk rock, winning the audience over easily with a cheeky smile. The band are great performers and played a bunch of crowd favourites, all with incredibly abstract names that I can’t remember. At least I’m honest. It’s such a typical thing to say when it comes to punk bands, but there was so much energy coming from The Gaslight Anthem tonight, and it sounded incredible. Watch out for The Gaslight Anthem, because it won’t be long until their eclectic folk punk anthems are filling arenas worldwide.

Review: Frank Turner – Rock And Roll EP

Rock and Roll. The latest EP from Frank Turner is a collection of new material, set to tide us over until a full album release some time next year. Featuring song ‘I Still Believe’, which was previewed at Reading, is this truly as the name suggests? Let me tell you now, this EP rules. Truth be told, Frank sets the barrier for excellence with each release and then keeps smashing it every time. So let’s have a look and see what it is that makes Rock And Roll just so bloody good.

The EP opens with the aforementioned single, ‘I Still Believe’, a wonderfully upbeat folk punk explosion. ‘I Still Believe’ is a call to arms for us all and is definitely danceable. Frank hasn’t forgotten his hardcore roots yet, working in an admittedly less hardcore gang shout which still invokes that feeling of unity in us all. It’s the kind of song that dares you not to sing along and knows you’ll fail at every turn, drawing you in entirely. Harmonica solos abound, ‘I Still Believe’ is the perfect opener. While it’s not quite my favourite song on the EP, it’s one of the best songs Frank’s written so far and definitely bound to bring in a ton of new fans. Just like its predecessor, ‘Pass It Along’ is a shout out to all of Frank’s contemporaries and heroes (even including a cheeky reference to Chuck Ragan!) and a heartfelt recognition of what it is to truly be a music fan. A bit of a slow burner to begin with, starting with some truly beautiful guitar, but building up to an exciting burst of passion at the end. It’s clear that this was written with a live audience in mind, and is perhaps the perfect song for a festival set in the summer – perfectly chilled out to start but gets everyone excited by the end. Inspiring stuff.

‘Rock And Roll Romance’ is a short acoustic ballad, much in the same vein as ‘A Decent Cup Of Tea’ from Sleep Is For The Week. Some clever lyrics combined with a simple melody makes this song a poignant declaration of undiscovered love. At 1:50, it seems a little too short and indeed, if you’re not paying attention, you completely miss it. But if you look at it another way, that’s part of its beauty – walking down the road, not paying attention, suddenly stumbling upon this little gem. It’s an interesting addition to the EP and one that, if you can help it, shouldn’t be missed. ‘To Absent Friend’ ramps it back up a notch and we’re back to the electric. It’s reminiscent of several songs from Love, Ire And Song, notably Prufrock and God Save The Queen, and is a great demonstration of how Frank’s progressed but is still in touch with his earlier material. Tales of going out in the city and… moving to the coast? Why not? Fast paced, punk rock fun. Final track, ‘The Next Round’, is a slow moving piano based song about the dangers of the rock and roll lifestyle. Some of the best lyrics in the record come out in this track, my favourite line being “I tried to live like Hemingway but life doesn’t work that way”, but the whole song is an intricate poetic triumph and displays Frank’s phenomenal talent for all to see. It’s always been my opinion that a release should have a strong opening and a strong closer, and Rock And Roll does far more than that – it opens and finishes on absolute blinders.

Once again, Frank has managed to amaze me. I honestly thought that Poetry Of The Deed was one of the greatest releases of all time, but now I know that Rock And Roll is as well, if not even greater. It’s a mere £2.49 on iTunes and if you don’t get it, you’ll regret it. Frank Turner is simply the best thing in British music these days, so do yourself a favour, pick up Rock And Roll and be inspired.

5/5 high fives!

PS – the iTunes EP comes with the video as well, so if you do buy it on any format other than that, here’s the video. Doesn’t he look dapper?

Live: Frank Turner – Cheltenham Town Hall, 23/7/09

Through attending this gig, I have learnt that Frank Turner is a very nice man. Why? Because due to not being able to attend the 2000 Trees Festival as he was supporting the Offspring in America, he decided to put on a very cheap gig afterwards to make up for it. At £5 a ticket, how could I say no? However, it wasn’t the cheap ticket price that lured me in. If you read my Gaslight Anthem review, you’ll know that I thought Frank Turner was the best thing about that show. And this time, I’ll tell you how he fares as the main attraction.

First though, a couple of thoughts on the venue. Cheltenham Town Hall is actually a surprisingly good venue. It’s big, the stage is raised up enough so short people like myself can actually see what’s going on, but be warned, the drinks are extortionate. Even so, I’d definitely consider coming back here if someone good was playing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t really happen because… well… it’s Cheltenham.

Two acts supported Frank tonight, and first up was Joe Summers. Joe Summers looks a bit like a British Kevin Devine, and wore a roguish hat. However, he is no Kevin Devine, and the roguish hat merely served as a distraction for his watered down folk tunes. It was pretty, but it was also self indulgent. Generally, he was a pretty weak act. If you’re into acoustic stuff though, you might like him. Next up was Jim Lockley and the Solemn Sun and they were a lot better! If I could think a genre, I’d say pop-folk? Either way, their songs were catchy and I liked them. My boyfriend, who is ever the cynic, thought they sounded like McFly. Maybe, if McFly were singing about poverty and journeying instead of girls. They did have a lot of unnecessary ba-da-da’s though. And roguish hat man played in this band as well, and he had a tambourine and essentially did… nothing at all!

Both bands were as politely received as possible, but everyone was there for Frank. And I mean everyone. I saw people from all walks of life – even grandparents and their grandkids. Not really to be expected at a gig from the former singer of Million Dead who likes to use various profanities in his songs, but we can go with it. The thing is, I just can’t say it enough – Frank Turner is a fucking genius and one of the best live acts I’ve ever witnessed. He wowed me even more than when he played just by himself at the Gaslight Anthem show, and I thought that was impossible. With a full band, the songs just sound so much fuller and richer. He played a great set, including some songs from his upcoming album ‘Poetry Of The Deed’. Civil Liberties was one such example, as well as new single, The Road. Both of these songs sounded just as impressive as the rest of his extensive back catalogue, and I’m highly anticipating the new album in September. As well as the new stuff, he played a wide range of fan favourites, including The Ballad Of Me And My Friends, Substitute (my favourite!), Casanova Lament and Photosynthesis, all of which went down great with the fans. Frank himself is a very happy and smiley man, and this made everyone else happy and smiley, especially when he came out and played for much longer than he should have done! All in all, it was an absolutely fantastic gig. Go out and see him in October, I promise you won’t regret it.