As I sat down to write this, Frank Turner was playing on BBC6Music. If you haven’t been living in a cave for the past month then you too have probably seen his face on the pages of music magazines, TV interviews with him or heard his new single being played on numerous radio stations. He’s most definitely been on the PR offensive, heavily promoting his new album Tape Deck Heart which came out this week.
Last night’s O2 Academy date was sold out, and when I arrived the room was heaving and Larry And His Flask were playing. They’re an American punk/bluegrass band, suited and booted and very lively. What are they like? Imagine if Mad Caddies had babies with Mumford & Sons on drugs and gave them a double bass when they grew up – that’s what came into my mind anyway! If you like the sound of that then they are back in Birmingham next month to play the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath. They played a short set that most of the crowd seemed to appreciate; but when Frank Turner tells his fans that the support bands are awesome and to get down to the shows early, the loyal following do just that and enjoy every minute of it.
Frank Turner somehow manages to divide opinion; some fans of his now defunct, heavier former band Million Dead accuse him of selling out and softening up and he catches flack for being an ex-Eton pupil, which, according to some, is just not punk. However, I think he has simply worked tirelessly on doing what he loves; writing, playing and doing a helluva lot of touring and finally that’s paid off. Last year he played at Wembley and took part in the Olympic opening ceremony – gigs don’t really get much bigger than that! He’s now not far off from playing his 2000th show and he’s still only 31 years old! As the years have gone by, the production values of the tours have risen, the band now even wear matching outfits but I just see this a more well-rounded, polished version of what they once were. Some say cheesy, but nobody in that room last night would agree.
He takes to the stage and the crowd goes crazy. The kids, and adults alike, hang on his every word and almost everyone seems to know every lyric to every song, even the new tracks that are played. Frank and his band, The Sleeping Souls, manage to cram 22 songs into the 1 hour and 45 minute set. One of the quieter songs is almost drowned out at the back by the boozy hubbub but Frank humbly thanks those at the front who could hear every softly sung word. It seems, though, that everyone is here to dance and sing and Frank famously encourages this. He seems to be the master of the sing-a-long anthem and insists on audience participation at any opportunity. He tells us stories behind some of the songs and most of us can relate to plenty of them. I think it’s this sense of equality and inclusion that is so appealing to the fans.
Personally, I prefer the slower more melancholy songs, but that’s just me. The stomping, upbeat, punky ones are the biggest hit with tonight’s crowd and he finishes the set with I Still Believe, the crowd are elated and he tells them they’ve won the accolade of best crowd of the tour so far.
Love him or loathe him, you can’t deny Frank Turner’s worked hard to get where he is. He’s taken what he’s learnt from bands such as Black Flag and Minor Threat – a fearless DIY punk ethic – blended this with his political beliefs, lyrics based on every day life experience and a real sense of fun and has created a winning formula for success. The new album however, does seem to have a slightly more American sound to it in terms of production, I just hope Frank remembers that he’s the ‘skinny half-arsed English Country singer’ that we all now know so well.
Review by Eleanor Lawton
Photographs by Steve Gerrard