Frank Turner – Whelan’s (9th December 2012)
When I got to Whelan’s at about half past eight, I thought that I was arriving fairly early—I don’t think I could have been more wrong. I suppose I really should have seen it coming; a sold out show at Wembley Arena and an Olympic Opening Ceremony performance have certainly raised Frank Turner‘s profile since he was here in September of last year. It’s well deserved too, since Turner is undoubtedly one of the hardest working people in the industry, gigging almost constantly, and always with an infectiously cheerful smile on his face.
Despite what I thought was a punctual entrance, I managed to miss a most of the first opening act, Sean Riddick, but from what I saw he seemed to muster a good rapport with the audience who were, for the most part, uncharacteristically far away from the bar.
Jim Lockey (Usually accompanied by The Solemn Sun), a charming fella from Cheltenham was the next to take to the stage. I wasn’t too sure what to expect as my only exposure to him was some light Youtubing, and I really had no I idea if I’d take to the folk-rock-punk troubadour at all. For me, seeing him solo and acoustic was probably the best introduction I could have received! His lyrics were surprisingly poetic and his performance sincere; and despite not knowing his music, I felt totally comfortable amongst the die-hards in the front row who seemingly knew the words better than Lockey himself!
It was a little after half nine when Frank himself strode out in front of the full house. I’ve seen him twice before, but each time with his superb backing band The Sleeping Souls, so I was really looking forward to seeing a different side to my dear Mr Turner. He opened with a favourite of mine, If Ever I Stray, and whilst Frank has never really inspired audiences over here to the same degree as he has back home in the UK, his fans here are loyal and enthusiastic, so it wasn’t long before Turner was able to hand lead vocals over to the impassioned crowd.
As always, it’s Turner’s lyrical prowess which stands to him. Acoustic performances of songs like Try This At Home never fail to form a burning in your soul that makes you feel like you’re on the verge of something fantastical, just waiting to be embraced, whilst Dan’s Song makes you realise that perhaps it is just the little things that matter; an evening spent in the park with your best friends and some beers just can’t be beaten.
The trilogy of “Amy’s songs” were definitely the highlight of the night for me. Beginning witheveryone’s favourite, Reasons Not To Be An Idiot, in which “Amy thinks her life is lacking in drama,” (but is not wrapped up in an invisible llama) He followed on with another personal favourite of mine, the surrealist dream-scene of I Am Disappeared, where Amy, now working in a bar in Exeter, is tormented by her own thoughts and leaves her belongings near to the door in case she feels the need to run away. It was the latest in the series, Tale Tale Signs, though, which took my breath away.
Although I knew that there were countless performances of Turner’s recent unreleased songs surfacing on Youtube, I was doing my best to avoid them. I’d rather be taken by surprise the first time I hear a new song live, and I’m certainly glad I did. The song is utterly tortured, and Frank’s performance was nothing short of anguish, tears, blood and heartache. Ignorant hecklers aside, Whelan’s fell completely silent and the effect was chilling. It was so powerful that this song even topped a brilliant cover of Springsteen’s Thunder Road. If you’re aware of my infatuation with The Boss, well then you know how significant that really is.
It’s hard to explain the atmosphere at a Frank Turner gig; you’re part of a community event. It’s as though you’re suddenly one of many in a big, happy family who are ready to sing and dance their worries away. There’s nothing more wonderful than having a musician sing as though they’re singing straight to you, and that’s exactly what he does. Suddenly you’re one of those close friends he mentions in I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, and you’re ready to celebrate the night with the mass-merriment of air-harmonica and bizarre anecdotes about stalking Kylie Minogue at an awards ceremony.
The final few songs included the fantastic The Ballad Of Me And My Friends, which was on a supposed hiatus, but I was nothing short of delighted to hear it once more as it’s one of my very favourite songs; somehow summarising everything I feel about, well, everything. Sure, I may have heard it at each Frank Turner gig I’ve been to, but it’s still the song I look forward to the most! The laziest yet most impressive encore preceded a rousing cover of Tom Jones’ Delilah and the fantastic audience-participation staple, Photosynthesis, which never fails to inspire a mass sit-in and circle-pit hysteria! All in all, I’ve never felt anything less than adoration for Frank Turner after his perfectly sweaty shows, and I guarantee you won’t either.
All photos © of Isabelle Holt.