I’m absolutely kicking myself about Frank Turner. Really. This blokes’ been around for ages, plying his upfront, punk rock influenced yet accessible, lyrically totally incisive singer songwriter stuff in the pubs and small venues of England – he’s even played at Swindon's Vic, 12 Bar, Riffs and the bleedin’ Furnace!!! And yet, given that it was only last year that I really – really – gave him a listen and realised what a talented, visionary wordsmith he is, the first time I get to see him is at the cavernous Motorpoint Arena! Unbelievable. Kicking myself. Really.
OK, enough self-flagellation. Having finally been clued in to Frank’s talents via last year’s splendid “Tape Deck Heart” album (and having gotten 3 of his previous albums off my kids for Father’s Day!), I was just too late for his sellout Bristol date last Summer, but jumped all over this one as soon as the pre-sale occurred. I had a new gig buddy for this one too – my musically like-minded work “big boss” Matt. Left the office at 4.30 and drove up in horrible weather to Gordano, meeting Matt there and leaving my car there after an attack of paranoia about it giving off steam! Drove onward in Matt’s motor, parking up in St. Davids’ car park and hitting the venue just as Beans On Toast was bringing his acoustic strumalong set to a close. So we were firmly ensconced, halfway in, stage left, for main support Flogging Molly at 8. They played a relentless attack of Oirish punked-up fiddly diddly stuff’n’nonsense, which mainly felt like everyone onstage was having a “who can play their instruments the fastest?” competition –penny whistle and all! Nevertheless, they warmed the place up nicely.
Chatted comics before the lights darkened, dead on 9, and, after the intro music faded, the black “F T H C” curtain fell to reveal the uniformly white-shirted band already onstage, immediately bursting into busker-strumalong opener “Photosynthesis”. Nice touch! Franks’ modus operandi was evident from the outset – all-inclusive singalong agenda-setters which sum up exactly how everyone present feels about life. “I won’t shut up, and most of all I WILL NOT grow up!” “Plain Sailing Weather” followed in short order, this darker amped-up anthem perhaps lacking a little oomph from the band, but certainly not lacking in Dashboard Confessional-like bleeding raw passion from Frank himself.
“I was counting earlier – there’s fucking loads of you!” announced an incredulous Frank before bursting into “Losing Days”, a jaunty mandolin-led rocker again containing truisms which speak volumes, “I’ve been losing days which used to last a lifetime, in the blinking of an eye…” This one, announced by a voluble Frank as being, “about being old and fucked up but not really caring,” was an early highlight, as was the subsequent “Try This At Home”; the line “there’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music, and some of them are just like us, and some of them are DICKS!” again totally nailing it, Frank expressing exactly what he thinks and capturing the mood and views of his audience as a consequence.
The set liberally scattered old and new material from his considerable canon of work; the medieval tubthumper of “To Take You Home” was preceded by his backstory of writing this song for a Parisian girl, travelling to Paris to play it for her, finding he’d been dumped, then getting the Eurostar straight home! That “seize the day” attitude nevertheless came through in many of his proclamations tonight (“it’s not about wallowing in nostalgia, it’s about making new memories”), as did his drive for full inclusiveness (“we have to discuss the room that we’re standing in… [I’m playing arenas because] no-one is excluded; every single person is welcome!”). A soaring, anthemic singalong of “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” preceded a punked-up “Long Live The Queen”, the stripped back slow singalong finale nevertheless proving an emotional highlight, as I thought of old Level 3 friend Jane, recently lost to cancer.
Some “A Level audience participation” was called for, for “Recovery” and its’ fairgroundesque middle 8 and strident chorus, Frank by this time having divested himself of his battered acoustic, and leaping about the stage like a dervish. Then encores “I Still Believe”, a folky call-to-arms for the disenfranchised, and an almost hardcore “Four Simple Words” brought a near 2 hour show to a ragged, dramatic close. Breathless, excellent, all-inclusive stuff; the slight early thinness of the band’s sound the only slight blemish on a superb performance. “Who’d have thought that after all, something as simple as rock’n’roll would save us all?” Who, indeed?
I grabbed a surprisingly easy set-list (Frank’s own!) before a quick run out of the city and back to Gordano, and an onward aquaplane along an utterly awash M4, home by 1. So, Frank Turner; spokesperson for a generation who’ve not only been failed by the system, but also their so-called idols and by the conventional means of rebellion and protest. An excellent performer, mass-communicator and perhaps the most important lyricist of our time, because he tells the truth and damn the consequences. Self-flagellation and kicking over, I’m glad I’m finally on board with Frank!