The last time I saw Frank Turner in April it was in the Cosy, intimate and humble surroundings of Wembley Arena in London. Tonight there was a change of city, change of country, change in the vast majority of audience members and size of venue; however the constants of passion, energy, a sense of community and shared purpose from Frank himself, The Sleeping Souls and the crowd were evident to everyone who packed into the venue like sardines in a crumpled metal tin.
Just after 9 o’clock the house lights dimmed and a big cheer rang out from the sold out crowd that had swarmed on mass into the HMV Picturehouse on a Sunday evening. Frank and The Sleeping Souls took to the stage to deafening shouts and applause bathed in pale blue spotlights from their ever more impressive and grandiose lighting rig. The distinctive guitar strumming intro of “I am Disappeared” got the night off to a perfect start as Frank got into his Bob Dylan chauffeured car and drove off into the sunrise. A mid song shout of “Let me see your hands” sparked a sea of raised hands clapping along happily in time at Frank’s behest to what is undoubtedly one of the highlights from “England Keep My Bones” (although there are plenty of them to be honest).
There was no time to catch a breath as Frank and the band steamrolled into “The Road”, which now having seen it played in England as well as Scotland I’m quite sure we sing the line “to the North, to the North never to be caught” louder than anywhere else. “One Foot Before The Other” then came to life with bursts of blinding strobes and completed the fast paced trio of opening numbers that merged into one another without a seconds rest to address the baying audience.
The welcome then came with a “Good evening, how you fucking doing?” as Frank invited us all to sing, dance and get involved in adding to the atmosphere of the gig. It’s safe to say everyone sheltered beneath the high ceilings of Edinburgh’s HMV Picturehouse tonight grabbed that opportunity with both hands and ran with it. The first taste of the night from his breakthrough album “Love, Ire and Song” came as he introduced the brilliant “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot” by saying it was written about “a mates pain in the arse ex girlfriend”, a subject which I’m sure we can all relate to at some point in our lives.
The atheist anthem that is “Glory Hallelujah” then caused a massive sing-along among the crowd as the lines “There is no god, so clap your hands together, there is no god, no heaven and no hell, there is no god, we’re all in this together, there is no god, so ring that victory bell” were shouted back at Turner with collective spirit and passionate zeal. The now customary fast version of “Long Live The Queen” saw Sleeping Souls drummer Nigel Powell proceed to clamber up onto the tall speaker stack at the right hand side of the stage to lead the crowd In yet more handclaps. It sounded great as its frantic punk rock pace slowed to break down in speed in the middle section as the claps of the crowd echoed around the lyrics “We live to dance another day, it’s just now we have to dance for one more of us”. No matter what version of the song is played its poignant lyrical content never fails to tug on the old heartstrings.
Being one of the most prolific songwriters of his generation and with a new album ready and loaded to be released early next year Frank of course had a couple of new songs to share with us. The first of those came in the shape of “Plain Sailing Weather” which Frank introduced by asking the crowd if they had seen the film Amelie, going on to say it was “a good film but complete propaganda”. His reason for bringing up the movie only became apparent when he sang the line “Amelie lied to me, it was supposed to be easy” in the middle verse. It very much followed on in the same vein musically as the likes of “I Am Disappeared” and sounded like yet another great addition to his ever swelling collection of songs.
Even though it isn’t about our home town “Wessex Boy” received a spirited reception from the Edinburgh crowd with the “bababababababababa” refrain ringing out loud and clear back at Frank and the band. As He asked us the question “who’s seen me before?” I bet he already roughly had the answer in his head as about 90% of the crowd enthusiastically shot their hands up in the air. Frank definitely is the kind of artist who instills that kind of loyalty in his fan base, and that is in no small part down to the fact that he takes the time to make you feel that it is more than just a gig and you are part of something special. It’s a gift that many performers try to replicate but fail and end up coming off as formulaic and disingenuous, but Mr Turner has no such worries he is the real deal.
A sincere “Thanks for coming back” was followed by Frank saying “I want everyone to sing this not just the cool kids down the front, everyone is equal and we’ve all been spontaneously brought together tonight by the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Frank got his wish as the crowd sung their hearts out and strained their vocal cords on the venom filled lyrics about lost love in “Substitute”. Having had the pleasure of seeing Frank Turner live on numerous occasions I was aware that he often plans to play specific songs in certain cities that have never been played live there before. Tonight we got the seldom played “Balthazar Impresario” (although it was played at the Barrowlands last year) and the even rarer “Must Try Harder” which Frank introduced by saying “I know a lot of people want to hear the old stuff so I’m going to take a creative risk, I think I’ve only played this live twice before and I’m not entirely sure I know all the words”. He followed this up with “I have to confess I went on a lyrics website earlier today”, this confession and honesty fuelled laughter and big cheers around the venue. Whatever lyrics website he visited deserve some credit as Frank managed to pull a flawless solo rendition of the song out of the bag to great applause from the crowd.
Sandwiched between these two lesser played rarities was a much more familiar “drinking song” from “Sleep Is For The Week” in the shape of “The Real Damage” complete with a mid song shout of “true story” regarding the lyric “Suddenly it hit me – I got paid this Friday last, and so I rifled through my pockets for some change, But all I found was a packet of broken cigarettes and a sinking sense of shame”. We’ve all been there, well the sinking sense of shame anyway, I’m not a smoker. Since Frank was confessing all I must also confess that as much as I love Frank and his music I’m not the biggest fan of “Isabel”, but what I will say about the song is that it is a different animal live and sounds bigger and bolder than on record. The set picked back up pace with the classic “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” which Frank introduced by saying “this song is about the good guys who are in it for the right reasons” while his song about drinking whiskey and playing cards with his Grandma “Peggy Sang The Blues” received a great reaction from the sweaty heaving crowd.
As the main set drew ever closer to a close Frank told us “alright friends we’ve got a handful more songs for you and this one is an important one, anyone who saw me at a festival this summer will know I was doing a European dance contest in which Switzerland came first”. As he finished his sentence a big “booooooo” rang out throughout the venue to which Frank replied in a matter of fact tone “come on you can’t hate Switzerland” to much laughter from the crowd. He then asked us to take part in his UK tour version of the dance contest in which we could use any kind of dancing suggesting “Ballroom, YMCA, or my favourite the drunk uncle at a wedding just do it with passion and aplomb and better than Reading and Newcastle, you might have it in you because Scottish crowds are fucking brilliant”. “Four Simple Words” meandering start got the crowd swaying, and by the time it took off at break neck speed in the mid section they were swelling and bouncing in unison. The slightly theatrical Freddie Mercury-esque slower shouts of “I want to dance, I want to Daaaaaance” kicked back in towards the final minute of the song with Frank holding his chest and gesturing in true troubadour style which gave everyone in the venue a moments rest before going wild again for the final verse. There was then no let up at all as the band careered straight into “Try This At Home” and rounded off the energy laden climax to the main set with an impassioned version of “I Still Believe” that got everyone in the venue singing along to the every line with a raucous cacophony of chants of “I still believe” barking back at Frank and the band at the appropriate intervals throughout the song.
Disappearing off stage to a rapturous round of applause Mr Turner didn’t leave his legion of hollering fans hanging for long before returning back to the stage to be dwarfed in front of the massive praying skeletons that now adorn his band backdrop. To the enthusiastic Edinburgh crowds delight Frank announced “We’re gonna play some more songs and you need to sing extra loud now” before launching straight into “If Ever I Stray” with the crowd dutifully raising their decibel level accordingly. Being the thoughtful, considerate all around legend that he is Frank then took the time to thank the support bands, all the crew and finally “the most important people, all of you, without who the whole thing would be a fucking waste of time anyway”. Reiterating that his aim for the show was to get every single person involved while creating an atmosphere where we are all friends and all equals he added that he loves that “two thousand strangers can get together and do something communal and positive and drink, dance and have a fucking good time”. As “Photosynthesis” sparked into life it certainly felt like he had succeeded in his goal and by the time the rock version of “Dan’s Song” with Frank crowd surfing throughout had finished it was beyond any doubt.
The only slight gripe I had with the gig is Frank’s decision to retire “The Ballad Of Me And My Friends” from the setlist. It became obvious that I wasn’t the only fan to feel the loss of the “Sleep Is For The Week” classic as a small pocket of the crowd spontaneously sang the whole of the song as we shuffled out of the venue into the cold Edinburgh air. This sing along just added to that feeling of community as the number of voices grew and everyone rammed into the venue left with a beaming smile on their face after another special performance from one of the best live acts on the circuit today. Whether it was your first, tenth or twentieth time seeing Frank Turner tonight I guarantee you left wanting to do it all again at the next possible opportunity.