Not a lot of artists make it to the six album stage of their career but Winchester born Frank Turner is a rare exception. His latest album Positive Songs For Negative People was a reinvention of sorts. With Butch Walker at the helm, the cleaner, radio-ready production beefed up Turner’s simple 4 chord songs to be perfectly suited for stadiums.
Following an extensive tour Stateside, Frank is taking to his favourite intimate locations in the UK – if 2,500 capacity venues are considered ‘intimate’ – leaving us in anticipation of what he’s going to announce for 2016.
The charming Will Varley opens up the night’s proceedings, currently on tour promoting his latest record Postcards From Ursa Minor. His set is reminiscent of attending a local open mic and his comfortable exchange towards the audience gives the room a more personal vibe. The audience is treated to 6 songs decorated in Varley’s charming humour and wit. There are several moments where Varley struggles to carry songs on whilst the room erupts into laughter as he swaggers about the stage akin to a drunken Captain Jack Sparrow. Even during his more composed moments on ‘We Don’t Believe You’, his poignant lyrics making jabs at the current government gain rousing cheers.
“The best way to nurse a hangover is to just keep going” Lorna Thomas from Skinny Lister exhales as she catches her breath after the band finish their first song. Following a line-up change and the release of a new record Down On Deptford Broadway earlier this year, Skinny Lister have had an incredibly busy 2015. With a sound in between Dropkick Murphys and Mumford & Sons, the band get small pockets of the crowd moving. The band mix together sea shanties, drinking songs and Rocky Balboa references throughout their set but it drags on and feels a bit monotonous.
Arriving onstage at the sharp time of 8:55 to the boisterous ‘Get Better’, there’s an unrelenting vocal performance from the audience clambering on top of each other which carries on throughout each song. The overall vibe of the latest record and recurring theme throughout is optimism and overcoming obstacles and that’s the vibe you get from the audience at Rock City, whether it’s the roar of the crowd singing back each lyric or the communal energy of fans looking after each other.
In particular, following the barbaric events that occurred in Paris, the crowd needs the constant affirmation of positivity as a method of suspending reality. During his solo set where the band take five, Frank devotes a few moments to reminisce about a good friend of his, Nick Alexander, who’s life was lost during the attacks and dedicates ‘Journey Of The Magi’ in his honour. There are chills throughout the room and this is perhaps one of the rare moments that the crowd is hushed as they are too preoccupied with wiping the tears from their eyes.
Following the attacks, Frank has been outspoken on social media in not backing down and not cancelling shows in the wake of it. It’s during the refrain of ‘Photosynthesis’ with the crowd sat on the infamous sticky floors of Rock City where he drives his point home by shouting “Those motherfuckers in Paris say they attacked that show because they said it was an apostate prostitution party and I thought to myself, that sounds like the kind of gig I’d want to go to.” before demanding that people “dance for for Paris”. There are cheers, tears and over all, smiles.
With a stacked emotional 29 song set, Frank follows in the footsteps of the greats and brings something for new and old fans to enjoy. Through such an unsettling time where fear and despair are ripe in our minds, it’s music and the supportive community behind it that will pull us back up. We can leave our troubles in the cloakroom and come back for them after the show when we’re covered in sweat and cheap lager.
Photos by Dan Hess.