Another chance to take Logan along to see one of his – and my – favourite “live” artistes, namely hard-working folk-punk troubadour Frank Turner! The dates for Frank’s last tour, an acoustic band go-round at the back end of 2019 showcasing last year’s loose “concept album”, “No Man’s Land” (a laudable if inconsistent acknowledgement of influential folk through history – who all just happened to be women), didn’t work for us, but this subsequent early 2020 solo stint included an all-ages Friday night gig at the nearby Bath Forum, so tix were duly and quickly snapped up. This was supposed to be more of a family outing, but Rach felt poorly on the day of the gig, so it ended up just being a boys’ night out.
So, we set off at 6.30 and my little man navigated me in perfectly into the car park around the corner from this old theatre venue, getting in at 7.15. After surveying the already-busy front standing area, Logan elected to sit in the rear stalls seats, 2/3rds back, the sloping floor allowing for a good view of the stage. First act on at ¼ to 8 was “the missus”; “I’m Jess Guise, I’m officially Mrs. Frank Turner – also known as that lucky bitch!” No point hiding from it, so Jess skilfully first made light of it (“I’m here because, well, nepotism…!”) then got the Frank massive onside not only with a challenge to their broad-mindedness (“we wanted to see how receptive a Frank Turner crowd would be to my music…”), but also with her set, which from the outset was captivating, charming and lovelorn. Opener “The Fun Part” was lilting, reflective and melancholy, and whilst the next number was slightly more upbeat, albeit still in Sundays and even early Smiths territory, we were soon, “back in heartbreak land – I did spend a lot of time there!” A buoyant, self-effacing manner at odds with her music (well, I guess she’s in a good place now!) and an impressive vocal range were also features of a charming set, at the end of which my 12 year old – that’s 12 year old – son commented, “that was very relatable – she’s been through as many breakups as I have!”
After a short break, next up was a completely different kettle of reactionary radicalism in the shape of Micah Schnabel. Again pounding a well-worn acoustic, Ohioan Micah’s set was much more punky, in your face, full of self-deprecation and emo-angst, and variously recalled early Dashboard Confessional, Brian Fallon (when he’s good!) and even the powerfully rambling stream-of-consciousness delivery of Titus Andronicus’ mighty Patrick Stickles. Pointedly funny too… early number “How To Ride A Bike” featured the hook, “being alive is so expensive but being dead is such a lousy alternative”, and his garbled between-song banter included such gems as, “it’s an honour playing these lovely places; I normally play the dark corners of bars; this is nice, there’s a microphone and everything!” and, “I wish my dad were here to see this – he’d stop telling me to go get a job!” “New Norman Rockwell”, a rallying cry to be a better person, was an appropriate closer for another impressive set. Very good supports this time, Frank!
I’d popped out mid-set to the foyer and had my ear talked off by the very gregarious Ms. Guise, and subsequently took Logan out for a brief (ha!) chat and pics. Back in to a crowded auditorium well before showtime; despite this being my 10th Frank Turner gig, this still felt like a slightly unknown quantity... We know full well what Frank’s capable of with The Sleeping Souls in tow, however my/our only previous Frank solo experience was in front of a few dozen enthusiastic punters shoehorned into Swindon’s short-lived RPM Records (gig 1,067). How would this one go down?
Well, we needn’t have worried as from note one of opener, “The Ballad Of Me And My Friends”, this supreme showman had the audience utterly captivated, raucously raising the roof and singing along to every word. And no one more so than my little man, screaming, “we’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell!” at the top of his voice. We’ve brought him up well, it seems… Welcoming us to, “show 2,470!” Frank informed us that we were all on backing vocals tonight (“the general vibe is that we all sing along!”) inducing a campfire singalong to his self-affirming, empowering folk/punk tunes and maintaining this all-inclusive attitude throughout, reducing this pretty decent sized theatre to the feel of a small pub back room. A rare talent. “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The One Of Me” was ragged and bar-room bluesy; the huge ascending hook of “If Ever I Stray” was preceded with a plug for his Sierra Leone charity: and he informed us “The Next Storm” was, “a metaphor… and an appropriate one at the moment…” But the hushed, reflective “Be More Kind” was the highlight, preceded as it was by a passionate call to hold on to our humanity and be kind and decent people in these troubled times. Wise words indeed.
“The Lioness” (one of only 2 numbers tonight from that “No Mans Land” album) was racey and appropriately teeth-baring, and a new song, “The Work” was about Jess; “we’ve been married for 6 months and I’m still enjoying saying the word “Wife”!” “Get Better” then heralded a quickfire blast to the end of the set and through the encores, with “I Still Believe” and final number “Polaroid Picture” singalong standouts. But everything was singalong tonight, let’s face it, in another stellar Frank gig. A quick exit in the rain and blast home before midnight for a tired but elated little man and his dad. A great boy’s night out!