Contributing writer for ALT-MU Johnny Bell shares his experience at a Frank Turner and & The Sleeping Souls gig in Portsmouth (UK) last month…
“There’s no such thing as rockstars, there’s just people who play music.”
A line from the upbeat song Try This at Home – one of Frank’s many mantras that fans live by.
Often regarded as ‘the hardest working person in rock and roll’, regularly playing over 200 gigs a year. Frank Turner’s Portsmouth concert in December 2016 was his 1999th. A staggering amount by anyone’s standards.
7 Piece support act Felix Hagan & The Family were a lively bunch…
The band had some great musicianship and two lively and fantastic backing singers. Singer Felix, sporting a feather boa, make up and a v-neck guitar was Marc Bolan reincarnated, which made for an entertaining set. Their standout song was My Lords and Ladies, reminiscent of Maroon 5 when they were actually good!
Frank is one of those strange acts who is both massive in certain circles and yet unknown with the general population. What I find even more perplexing is that he attracts a very mixed crowd from young teens to OAPS, both male and female. His message seems to resonate with all walks of life. Which I think is a tremendously difficult thing to do, but he does it well.
Frank and his band The sleeping souls arrived on stage to a rapturous applause…
Kicking off their set with. ‘I knew Prufrock before he got famous’ A stalwart song for any fan. I love how much energy they have. They put litres of sweat into each and every performance! This is what we pay our money to see. To be entertained by a group of people who put music above everything else.
The energy is reciprocal as the buzz of the crowd is gobbled up by the band, it feeds them and drives them on to perform better every night of the tour. When you’re tired from constant travelling it is a sweet refreshment to keep you going.
Generally Frank plays an acoustic guitar and leaves all the twiddly bits to his compatriot Ben, but on this tour, he’s used more electric guitar. At one point he played a respectable guitar solo between 2 songs. I genuinely didn’t know he had it in him and the crowd went wild!
Mid-way through the set, they slowed things down…
Playing ‘A love worth keeping’ a song from the second album ‘Love, Ire and Song.’ Not often played at the live shows, this was a welcome change to keep the audience on their toes.
His backing band The Sleeping Souls, don’t always get the credit they deserve despite Frank’s best efforts. Ben, Matt, Tarrant and Nigel are literally instrumental in the amount of energy that goes into these shows. They all play tighter together than a python holds its prey.
Their musicianship is utterly astounding, each one adding the perfect layer to the foundations of Frank’s vocals and guitar.
My highlight of the entire night had to be when Frank went solo…
He played a 3 song mini set which included Redemption, Balthazar Impresario (my two favourite songs from the album ‘England Keep My Bones’) and Wisdom teeth.
Frank brought the whole band back and then tried something I’d not seen before; A friend of his was in the crowd and after bringing him up on stage, he proceeded to set him the challenge of crowd surfing to three different points within the audience. Whilst this was enjoyable to see when it happened, I felt the setup took a little too long and the fans lost some of their energy because of it.
Normally getting the balance of not talking enough and talking too much at gigs, on this particular occasion, he did seem to be a bit more vocal than usual. However he used it for good reasons, by promoting a sense of community between the fans and to talk about the sterling work done by the charities Warchild and Safe gigs for Women, who both had stands in the foyer. I just wonder how many people were actually listening.
The ‘real’ Frank Turner
After having watched the film ‘Get Better: A film about Frank Turner’ the night previously. I enjoyed the gig in a slightly different way. I felt I understood the “real” Frank a little better. He writes the songs for himself and if other people believe in the same things, then that is a massive bonus. As singer/songwriter myself this has been a valuable lesson learnt.
The set itself was a mix of the hits and newer songs from his latest record ‘Positive songs for negative people’ released in August 2015. The main set finished with ‘Photosynthesis’ a real crowd pleaser and requires a little bit of audience participation, to which we all duly oblige. The encore ended with ‘Four Simple Words’ getting the crowd into a frenzy.
Drenched in sweat, he smiles and waves us goodbye, yet we’re begging for more… he has a 2000th show to play the following night in Nottingham.
If you haven’t seen him yet. You’re in luck as he’s almost always on the road. Catch him at a venue near you very soon.
Review by Johnny Bell
Photography by Hannah Mesquitta