Sunday 18 October 2009

Frank Turner, Rock City

Here's a bandwagon that I’m unashamedly going to jump on to... Frank Turner. How has the man stayed under my radar from so long? He’s spent a considerable amount of time working his way up, the hard way, since the demise of his hardcore punk band Million Dead. I was surprised to see what a serial offender he is, as regards trips to the various stages around Nottingham since he went solo in 2005. There were two trips to Junktion 7 then once at the Old Angel followed by four gigs at the Bodega Social before graduating to The Rescue Rooms last year where he ended up ill and retching into a bucket backstage rather than finishing the show. Then came a support slot with the Gaslight Anthem at Rock City in March this year, where we finally caught him for the first time. At which point he was already planning his own headlining show at Rock City. So here we are.

The striking thing that night, supporting the Gaslight’s, was just how popular he was and how much of a good sing-along it was for everybody there; only we hadn’t been invited to the party because we didn’t know the script, that is apart from a few tracks I recognized and realised... so that’s Frank Turner. This time I made sure I turned up well rehearsed.

First though, there’s disappointment on the Beans on Toast front. Firstly that we catch nothing but the last few notes of his final song and secondly that the Beans on Toast T-shirts, that my partner so desperately wanted one of, don’t actually have a slice of that delicacy upon them.

Beans on Toast (known to his mates as Jay) is one man with a guitar, who comes highly recommended and is mentioned in the lyrics to Frank’s 'I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous', of which I feel we'll hear more later. So I guess that’s how he got the gig. He even offers his songs for free download on his website. So apologies to Mr Beanz, we did really want to see you, but it was not to be.

We do catch Fake Problems, who are from Naples that’s Naples, Florida not Italy. I like their first track having listened to it on their website but they lose me a little after that. That said they apply themselves to every song with an admirable enthusiasm and consequently get the crowd on board with them. To me they sound like Modest Mouse on some of their less incoherent stuff or perhaps an undercooked Gaslight Anthem, they’re another band with half an eye on Springsteen. The only thing missing is a song about the American Dream and that duly arrives a few tracks from the end.

It’s a bit of a wait for Mr Turner, more to set up this time I suppose as he has a full band with him rather than just his guitar but eventually he’s with us and it’s bedlam from track one.

Frank is promoting his new album ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ and seven tracks from it are interwoven into a set chock-full of Frank classics. Not that the new stuff puts any of the crowd out of their stride, they know all the words to these as well. Album opener ‘Live Fast Die Old’ gives way to the recent single ‘The Road’ before a reworked and up-tempo ‘Long Live The Queen’ raises the bar phenomenally high. No matter, he has plenty more where that came from and the wonderfully observant ‘Substitute’ rises to the challenge. One of his great appeals is that he writes such wonderful lyrics, ones that you can relate to and about everyday things that we care about, making it difficult not to enjoy one of his shows.

‘The Real Damage’ is another song that puts a smile on your face and is another stand out moment. The addition of the band enables him to slot in the wonderfully rocky ‘Imperfect Tense’. Frank impressing throughout the night, by the sheer amount of energy, emotion and commitment that he puts into every song.

He seems genuinely choked by the reaction tonight and the sheer weight of numbers at Rock City. I’d been watching the ‘sold out’ signs go up on his tour dates but Nottingham remained stubbornly ‘tickets available’ but the venue was decidedly bigger than the others on his tour. When we arrived though they were queuing down the street to pay on the door and apparently the last ticket was sold tonight. As he says he’s come a long way from Junktion 7, well about 300 yards but Frank is clearly moved. He alludes back to the last time he played to a sold out Rock City, when the Million Dead supported Nottingham’s own Pitchshifter on what was supposed to be their farewell tour in 2002. On that occasion a Pitchshifter fan requested he did not return promptly, if ever. There’s no such animosity tonight and he celebrates by playing a very un-punk version of the Million Dead single ‘Smiling At Strangers On Trains’.

Another cover follows later, a request from a friend, Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ and then we’re back in sing-along territory and the crowd punch the air and bellow back every word of the classics ‘Love, Ire & Song’, ‘Father's Day’ and of course the aforementioned ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’. Slowing things down a touch, he closes, as the new album does, with ‘Journey of The Magi’.

We aren’t kept waiting for the encore for long, what’s the point, we know what’s coming. A named checked ‘Rock City’ in ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ and tremendously storming ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ before ‘Photosynthesis’ even gets the floor in a mosh. The stage is awash with people as Fake Problems and Beans On Toast come on stage to join the jam and pretty much everyone, from musicians, to sound crew and technicians gets a name check. I’m sure Frank would have worked his way through the crowd had he had time. Then he closed the encore with a stage dive, old punk habits die hard.

As for the singing, well I’ll be well hoarse in the morning. Top guy, top gig. Vive La Frank.

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