The 2018 gigging year started with a Frank Turner gig, but not the one I was anticipating… scarcely believable news broke at the end of last November, that Frank Turner, as part of a (very) low-key series of solo shows as a “thank you” to promoters who helped him on the way up, was going to play Swindon’s Level 3, my 80’s and 90’s “spiritual home”! Given that Lev holds 350 at a squeeze, and the first time I saw Frank was at the 8,000 capacity Cardiff Motorpoint, demand was going to seriously outstrip supply, no messin’… I sought permission from my boss to try nonetheless, and had 4 web pages open for the ticket agency 5 minutes before the appointed hour of 10 a.m.; one went into the “Buy Tickets” page, then I got the spinning circle of death for a couple of minutes, followed by a message saying insufficient tickets were available, thence being unceremoniously turfed out to the front page, now bearing a “sold out” legend. At 3 minutes past 10… Fuckity fuck fuck fuckington!
Salt was rubbed into the wound by news that Level 3 was closing down after the show, thereby depriving me of a chance to say one final farewell to the old place; however a small glimmer of hope for some Frank face time came with the news that he was planning to make a signing appearance at recently-opened Old Town vinyl emporium RPM Records that afternoon. Hotfoot it up there instead, methought… however, a hiccup to that came with the announcement that he was going to play a short set (yay!) but it would only be open to people who’d already bought Frank’s current “Songbook” compilation record from RPM (boo!). I’d not done that, intending to do so on the day, but a phone call to immensely accommodating RPM proprietor Gregg at least got me the record bought and a “queue jump” promise, which might develop into more if there was room…
Fingers crossed, Rach dropped Logan and I off at 2.30, an hour before Frank was due to play his set. Quiet early doors, but we whiled away the time with a nose through the racks, unearthing some gems which I’ll definitely go back for when I get a record deck again – hopefully soon! Queued up outside thereafter as Frank turned up to set up, then, after the lucky few were allowed in, RPM co-owner Karrie checked the capacity and luckily there was room to squeeze a few more into the shop – so we were in! Double yay!
“Good afternoon Swindon… c’mon, a town that can cope with The Magic Roundabout can make more noise than that!” announced Frank at the appointed 3.30 hour, kicking his performance off with a melancholy yet pointedly observational newie “Don’t Worry”, boding well for some barbed and acerbic lyrics about the currently crappy state of the world on his new album, mayhap? A raucous “Recovery” followed, and from my front row, stage left spot leaning against the racks (to keep an eye on Logan, who joined the other kids sitting on the floor right at the front) I was struck by just how loud Frank sang – a real full-on, lung-bursting, neck-bulging, lionesque yet completely tuneful roar, and the packed audience responded in kind, everyone swept up in the all-inclusive mood. Frank then regaled us with a story of his old hardcore band Million Dead supporting Pitchshifter at Level 3 (then The Furnace), a disastrous stagedive during said gig taking a chunk out of his face and prompting him to grow the beard which he sports to this day! “Love Forty Down” and a brilliantly hushed and poignant “I Am Disappeared” followed, before Frank then offered to “hang out” afterwards after playing one more number to ensure this performance met his two criteria for counting as an official show; one – the audience outnumbers the performers (“which hasn’t always happened!”) and two – at least 5 numbers are played. So, this was “show 2129!” the qualifying fifth number being a request from the RPM Records owners’ daughter, also happily Logan’s favourite “Photosynthesis” which he sang along lustily to! This was a wonderful way to end a superb strident set, everyone taking a seat then leaping up at the, “I won’t sit down…!” final hook. Brilliant!
That wasn’t it, though, as Frank then made good on his promise to hang out. And I’m pleased to report that rumours about Frank Turner being one of the nicest guys in rock were proven to be totally true. After a wait, we got to chat and get pix with the great man, Frank greeting Logan with a high five and commenting that his singing along down the front was, “one of the best things about the gig”! A chat about Gaz Brookfield and Logan’s nascent gigging days ensued, Frank also commenting in wonder about my gigbook Volume XIV that I’d taken along for him to sing a couple of set-lists, “wow, I wish I’d done [something like] that!” Our turn reluctantly ended and we bade farewell, then ran into my friend (and Frank uber-fan) Rich Carter in The Tuppenny next door for further confirmation of Frank’s general niceness; after receiving a message, Frank had earlier popped into the Hospital to hang out with on-call paramedic Rich before this show. Wow!
Home, then on the sofa with the missus and a couple of episodes of “Peaky Blinders” for me tonight while Frank wowed the capacity crowd at Level 3. However, thanks to the wonderful people at RPM Records, my shining little man and Frank himself, I wouldn’t have swapped my Frank Turner experience earlier for a Level 3 front row spot!