I’m continuing to make up for lost time with Frank Turner! Having only latterly become a convert to this brilliantly incisive and articulate lyricist and extraordinarily hooky folk/punk troubadour (and thus having missed his Swindon gigs in various venues on his way up), tonight marks the third time in less than 2 years that I’ve managed to catch him “live”. That’s Adam Ant pace, at least…! Since our paths last crossed, this prodigiously prolific songwriter had churned out another excellent album, this year’s “Positive Songs For Negative People”, again crammed with huge, soaring anthemic choral hooks and lyrics which seem to speak directly to me (and no doubt many others). I mean, “you’re not delivering a perfect body to the grave… time is not there to be saved” might as well be stamped through my arm like words through seaside rock…! The accompanying tour was therefore an essential, and I jumped on tix for myself and Rach the day they went onsale, eventually securing them despite some website hiccups.
Longtime fan Jenny (who did get to see Frank at the Vic – jealous!!!) also secured tix for herself and first-timer Craig, so, with the kids on a sleepover at grandmas, we travelled down early and met up with our old friends for a lovely meal at Sergios and a catch-up before the show. We hit the large theatre venue at 7.30 and hung out with Craig, Jen, and also my old work boss and fellow Frank devotee Matt and his wife Liz, eventually repairing to the already-packed front stalls for support Skinny Lister. Championed by Frank, they were a gang of Irish-tinged street punks plus a pocket dynamo in a floral dress, playing a ramshackle self-styled “shanty punk” set. Clearly good-time music and rabble rousing stuff’n’nonsense, they went down a storm with the front rows but for me offered little to lift them above the Dropkick Mollys of this world, and left scant impression, apart from their number “This Is War”, during which Craig and I both turned to each other and simultaneously said, “Sally MacLennane!”, such was its’ obvious resemblance to The Pogues classic oldie. So they’re only 30 years behind then, this being underlined by their bringing on Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ violinist Helen O’Hara for a hoedown throwdown final number.
Grabbed a breath in the back bar before we headed back in, finding a pocket of space towards the back of the floor, stage left, for Frank’s appearance, bang on 9 to a huge ovation. And straight into “Get Better”, the stomping tubthumper from his new album, Frank already sprinting around the stage, whirling like a dervish and exhorting the crowd to sing along to the skyscrapingly huge hooky chorus. This set the tone for tonight, as this mightily enthusiastic crowd needed little encouragement to sing – or dance!
Frank was brilliant tonight – “on it” from the outset, the archetypal mass communicator, barely pausing for breath as he whipped through the opening quartet of songs, the band backing him up with an effervescent performance. The jaunty mandolin jig of “Losing Days” gave way to the darker, almost heavy “One Foot Before The Other”, before Frank welcomed us to, “show 1,790!”, promising, “new songs! Old songs! Mid-period songs!” and arranging a dance-off between the two halves of the crowd for “Out Of Breath”. “Peggy Sang The Blues” was introduced with the announcement of “there are two rules at my show – one, don’t be a dickhead, and two, if you know the words – sing along!”, and the brilliant, Hold Steady-esque rocker “Josephine” saw huge “Whoa-oh” singalongs from the crowd which nearly raised the roof.
It wasn’t all anthemic terrace-chant sing-along rockers tonight, though – after celebrating various Bristol venues he’d played (“97 times – The Thekla!”), Frank delivered a gorgeous “Polaroid Picture” featuring a particularly affecting and poignant ending; a punk rock “Long Live the Queen” was fast and frantic until the melancholy stripped-back wallow of the final verse; and during an acoustic interlude, Frank dedicated “Demons” to merch guy Nick Alexander, one of the many to lose their lives last Friday at Le Bataclan, during the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris, this being one of a couple of diatribes tonight against this senseless act, and the fact that it will never – NEVER – stop the rock. “Demons” was replete with voice-cracking emotion, and featured the utterly apposite final line, “we will never be defeated”. Damn straight.
The all-inclusive audience shenanigans continued – Frank requested we all sit down during a superb “Photosynthesis” (I declined to do so due to my dodgy knees), and starjumps were the order of the day for the fairgroundesque romp of “Recovery”, crew member Lee leading the crowd whilst wearing an audience-supplied heart monitor (his heart rate leaping from 88 to 122 in the process!). “The Next Storm” closed a magnificent 1½ hour set, at which point I realised how much my jaw hurt, thanks to my singing along raucously pretty much throughout the set!
“This is the 10th year [of being a solo performer] – I didn’t think anyone would give a shit at this point – certainly not 2 Colston Halls’ worth!” Frank gratefully remarked (referencing tonight and tomorrow night’s shows here, sell-outs both) before opening encore, the touching solo “The Angel Islington”. Then a mandolin-led “Way I Tend To Be”, the rip-roaring manifesto “I Still Believe” and a final kick-ass “Four Simple Words” rounded off a near 2-hour show about as perfect and all-inclusive as it gets, capped by a quickly grabbed set-list and a swift drive back, home by midnight. A lovely evening out in the fine company of good friends, and another brilliant Frank Turner show; more lost time made up!