I first saw Frank Turner supporting The Gaslight Anthem at Nottingham Rock City back in March 2009. I had gone to see Gaslight but I left wowed by both Frank Turner’s songs and the incredible crowd reaction to Worse Things Happen At Sea and set closer The Ballad of Me and My Friends. From there I became a bit Frank obsessed buying both his albums and playing them to death. I became that guy who bores people at parties about an artist they have never heard of, insisting they listen to Photosynthesis or Reasons To Not Be An Idiot.
Fast forward a few years to 2012 and Frank is playing to thousands of people at Wembley Stadium. Whilst I still liked the stuff he was putting out his music didn’t feel like it was ‘mine’ any more. There is always a bit of a crisis of faith when your favourite underground act goes mainstream and I never really loved his music in the same way after that…
This brings us to November 19th 2015 and Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls at Sheffield Academy. A mate had asked me if I fancied it and I hadn’t seen Frank live for a good few years so went for it. Frank and his band bounded on stage about 8:45 and went straight into the triumphant call to arms Eulogy before going into The Next Storm – for me the best song from latest album Positive Songs for Negative People. Breathless renditions of Try This At Home and Out of Breath were delivered at break neck speeds before the first big sing along of the night for The Road and Peggy Sang The Blues. As Frank let the crowd sing the closing refrain from The Road I remembered the slavish devotion that I had seen back at Nottingham Rock City in 2009.
It had been a strong start but there was a bit of a lull after that with Losing Days, new single Josephine and a rocked up version Long Live The Queen not really doing it for me. At this point the nagging disconnection from what Frank Turner has become once again hit home but the enthusiastic crowd still lapped it up.
The tide started to turn when The Sleeping Souls went for a break leaving Frank to perform uniformly brilliant solo acoustic versions of The Ballad of Me and My Friends, The Way I Tend To Be and St. Christopher Is Coming Home, the latter of which was dedicated to Nick Alexander who was killed in the Paris attacks.
Part of Frank Turner’s appeal is the fact he has always seemed different to other ‘rock stars’. As he himself so succinctly puts it ‘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’. Turner falls squarely into the former camp so when he starts talking about the Paris attacks and Nick Alexander it comes across as heartfelt and fucking relevant rather than preachy or contrived. No matter what you think of Frank Turner he fucking means it.
From there it was hit after hit. The Sleeping Souls returned for a victorious run through of Wessex Boy, Photosynthesis made the Sheffield crowd go fucking nuts and Glory Hallelujah came across much better live than it does on record.
I have seen Frank Turner six times but the rendition of Reasons Not To Be An Idiot at Sheffield Academy is by far the best I have witnessed and again the audience goes bonkers with mass crowd surfing – Frank himself enters the crowd on numerous occasions. The hit parade is concluded with Recovery and Plain Sailing Weather before the band leave the stage before the encore.
One thing that is striking is that newer songs such as Mittens and the afore mentioned Plain Sailing Weather are met with the same level of devotion as anything off the first two albums with the crowd singing back every word to every song.
When Frank comes back out for the encore he talks about his friend Josh who tragically killed himself and it is moments like this along with bringing out a roadie to take the crowd through star jumps and pointing out the flag that has been passed between fans at every date on this tour that I realize that it doesn’t matter if Frank Turner’s music is ‘mine’ any more. Whether he is playing to 20 or 2000 Frank Turner embodies why music means so much to people and why whole communities are based around a few folks playing guitar and singing the blues.
The rest of the encore is almost akin to a religious experience with I Knew Prufrock…, I Still Believe and Four Simple Words all awe inspiring enough to be set closers for 99% of other bands out there.
While Four Simple Words is just such fucking fun it is I Still Believe that really sums the evening up…
‘Who’d have thought that after all, something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all’
Consider Sheffield Academy saved.