Sunday, July 10, 2011

Live Review: Frank Turner, Whitley Bay Playhouse, 07/07/2011

Music is a divisive art, so it’s virtually impossible to be liked by literally everyone. Saying that, I for one can’t think of any act that has attracted such universal adoration as former Million Dead frontman Frank Turner in his increasingly successful career as a solo artist. Currently riding high on the back of excellent recent album England Keep My Bones, Turner has been a cult hero in some circles for a few years now, all while slowly edging up festival bills and converting more followers. Such success is usually met with a backlash of some sort, but that hasn’t materialised for Turner, perhaps because the man – and the music he makes – is virtually impossible not to like.

A humble and sincere character, the Winchester-born singer combines the best of both folk and punk rock to create songs which, while simple on the surface, bubble with an electric energy not dissimilar to his hardcore beginnings. Lyrically, though, is where his greatest strength lies, with each and every one of his earnest words entrenching themselves in the hearts of fans everywhere. It’s the kind of music that literally anyone can relate to, and if you’ve not familiarized yourself with his work yet, you’re seriously missing out.

Despite his rapidly growing army of followers, this particular tour saw Turner visit some of the UK’s more obscure locations, providing a chance to see the man up close and personal – a privilege you feel that will become less and less common in time. While acoustically sound, the all seated Whitley Bay Playhouse was hardly the ideal venue for a performer who generates so much energy, but the somewhat abnormal setting was something that he adapted to both swiftly and confidently. It helped that the majority of the crowd was ill-at-ease sitting anyway, but Turner’s invitation for everyone to leave their seats was met with a predictable cheer, and saw him and his remarkably tight backing band The Sleeping Souls build on a slightly uncomfortable start.

Of course, he does have the advantage of a phenomenally strong back catalogue to draw from, with each and every song qualifying as a crowd favourite in it’s own right. Clearly some are more popular than others, but every last one was greeted ecstatically, and bellowed along to as if there was no tomorrow. There were definitely a few sore throats come the end, and that was in no small part down to the likes of "Songs Of Liberty" and "The Real Damage," which drew particularly loud singalongs. The setlist provided an ideal blend of old and new, with the recent tracks drawing an unbelievable response given that they have been in wider circulation for little over a month.

Best received of all, though, was the material from Turner’s 2008 album Love, Ire & Song, a favourite among most fans which has spawned some undoubted classics. As good as they are on record, though, these songs truly have to be experienced live, with the backing of hundreds who hang on Turner’s every word. It was this effect which made the rousing "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous" even more special, and enhanced main set closer "Photosynthesis to truly inspirational levels. Arguably the highlight of the entire night, though was "Long Live The Queen," usually a reflective tear-jerker but here punked up and given a full band rendition. Even with added instrumental bite, it lost none of its raw emotional punch, and even though he’s played it at virtually every one of his shows for the past three years, Turner still looked genuinely moved by sight of his audience bursting its lungs to the immensely uplifting chorus.

Actually, immense is a word which could be used to accurately describe both this performance and Frank Turner himself. As well as his fantastic songs, Turner posesses an infectious onstage persona, with both he and his band conveying an admirable energy throughout while never letting the smiles leave their faces. He's fully aware of just how lucky he is to be doing what he loves for a living, and it's this as much as his music that endears him to his followers. When such shows come to an end, you inevitably feel a sense of disappointment, but the knowledge that I have the privilige of seeing him another two times this summer certainly helped to dilute that negative emotion. In fact, it filled me with nothing but optimism, and although this set the bar to an almost unreasonably high standard you get the feeling that this is a man that is simply not capable of letting you down.

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