Despite the rather annoying cancellation of the midweek Pete Wylie Oxford gig (no reason given, rest of tour is still going on. Bah!), I’m nonetheless hitting the November gig trail pretty promptly again, following the excellent “Shiiine On” weekender, with a weekend double-header! Jimmy Eat World tomorrow night, but tonight a relatively late addition to my Autumn Dance Card, with the ever-entertaining Frank Turner, the hard-working and prolific post-punk/ folk troubadour, whose all-inclusive and life-affirming shows have been a regular staple for me in recent years. No new product to push since last year’s splendid “Positive Songs For Negative People”, but having just returned from a lengthy US jaunt, it just seemed Frank fancied playing to “his people” again. I get that – and I’m up for it!
And, happily, also up for it (and tomorrow night too!) was my sweet Rachey, so off we trundled after Grandma arrived for babysitting duties, wending and winding through inky black country roads and drizzly villages, hitting the occasional massive puddle but parking up unscathed in the (free after 6! Yay!) car park behind the venue at ¼ to 8. Just missed opener Esme Patterson, but we popped into this large sports hall type venue for Felix Hagan And The Family, next up. They were however an unholy mess of bad cabaret, with Hagan, a bearded and head-banded figure sporting a feather boa, being backed up by a couple of tacky female backing singers, the type of which you’d think rock’n’roll had grown up and out of by now. Their best number by miles featured a building crescendo chorus which would have been epic, but for the horrendous backing vocal wailing totally spoiling the effect; penultimate number “I Want You” was a deadringer for Meat Loaf’s overblown “Deadringer For Love”, and set closer “Feel All Right” sailed uncomfortably close to Frank Turner homage territory. The old boy doesn’t half pick some weird supports…
Not long to wait for the main event, though, and the lights dimmed at 5 to 9, Frank immediately taking the stage for the acoustic intro to “I Knew Prufrock”, immediately eliciting a mass singalong as band joined in and the song built to its’ soaring, uplifting hook crescendo. A quite magnificent start, and the tone was set for another all-inclusive night, with the audience and performer as one, feeding off each other’s energy and enthusiasm. “I Still Believe” saw Frank exhort the crowd to roar the echoing hook, before the Winchester native announced, “welcome to show 1,978! [This is] nearly a hometown show for me!”
We therefore had the full-on Frank Turner entertainment and crowd participation package tonight: dividing the room into half to see which could make the most noise and introducing his mum, in the back balcony, as adjudicator; bringing a guy who’d travelled from Lithuania onstage and getting him to nominate a proxy, a girl from the front row who crowdsurfed around the audience to “If Ever I Stray”; and promoting charities “Safe Gigs For Women” (a representative of whom I’d enjoyed a chat with, prior to the gig) and “War Child” with subtle yet heartfelt plugs. But it was the music, as ever, which won out for me; following a tough yet poignant “Long Live The Queen”, Frank announced, “you’ve noticed I’m holding what scientists call an electric guitar… and whenever I do, I have to do this!” then rampaging into the unmistakable riff for a blisteringly messy “Ace Of Spades”; “Polaroid Picture” was preceded by Frank confirming he’d, “fucked myself up in the service of rock’n’roll,” but still exhorting everyone, against his doctors wishes, to keep jumping around with him; and an unexpected “Silent Key”, referencing the 1986 Shuttle disaster and featuring Esme Patterson on haunting, mid-song vocals, was a thrilling yet plaintive highlight.
A solo interlude was capped with the band returning for a deliciously pastoral, Decemberists-like “Opening Act Of Spring”, then it was onto the rousing singalong anthems again, with “The Road” and particularly set finale “Photosynthesis” reflecting Frank’s philosophy perfectly; carpe diem, enjoy what you have, and live every moment. Also, as the man himself put it as he asked the crowd to hug a stranger (!), “by being in this room, we constitute a community,” that community being built on values of respect and looking out for each other. Damn right.
A jolly reel-along “Recovery” encore, and a couple of positively punk rock readings of “Get Better” and “Four Simple Words”, the latter of which saw Frank himself crowdsurf whilst still singing the lead line perfectly, then come to earth in the middle of the mosh to dance with an astonished young female punter, concluded another supremely entertaining set from a man whose philosophy I’m finding increasingly easy to buy into. Great stuff again, an easy set-list and a dry drive home down the country roads, spotting a barn owl on the way. A late addition, maybe, but on this form I wouldn’t have missed Frank Turner for anything!