London’s favourite troubadour and songwriter Frank Turner returned to his hometown of choice for the last gig of his UK tour. Turner’s tour kicked off in the US in September just after the release of his latest album Positive Songs For Negative People and a small in-store gig tour just before that. Playing the biggest standing room in the UK is a well-deserved achievement for the guy that knows exactly what it’s like to have band and crew make up more of the room than the actual crowd.
Alexandra Palace was packed on a Thursday evening for a nearly sold-out show with an army of Frank Turner fans who were ready for a good time. The doors are at 7 and the show starts at 8 – a few precious hours in a space of our own. While the timings slightly changed, the lyrics remain true. With support from British folk music talent Will Varley and London-based folk-punk band Skinny Lister, the fans were in for a serious treat. There really aren’t a lot of support bands that have most of the crowd sing along to their songs. Will Varley and Skinny Lister had both the full attention of the crowd and their backup vocals. So rather than waiting impatiently for the headlining act to finally come on, the entire room had a massive party before the main show. That’s how great gigs are made – three and a half hours of pure enjoyment.
After a smashing opening with Get Better, the first track from the new album, Frank divides the room into two teams. Apparently there is a competition going between Sleeping Souls members Ben and Tarrant as to which side could make the most noise throughout the gig. Challenge accepted! If I Ever Stray is up next and shakes the good old Ally Pally, the people’s palace as they call it, to the core. Two things you will never find at a Frank Turner show: a quiet crowd and people not dancing. Even in a room with nearly 9,000 people, Turner’s London show still feels like a small venue gig where everyone know everyone while at the same time having the grandeur of a stadium show. How he does it? It’s the near worship-like following of his loyal fans and the guy himself being just as approachable as your regular busker around the corner.
A few songs into the show Frank tells us that there are only two rules at his show, which long-term fans know by heart: a) we’re all going to be nice to each other and b) if you know the words, you have to sing along. Done, and done. If you ever find yourself going to one of his shows by yourself, fear not. The Frank Turner army are a super friendly bunch, you’ll find a gig buddy in no time.
The set list is an enjoyable mix of old and new songs, fast and slow songs, and it is a full 28 songs long. As the Sleeping Souls member Matt picks up his mandolin The Opening Act Of Spring hits the speakers. Another of a total of 8 songs off Positive Songs For Negative People. After the cheerful tunes of The Opening Act Of Spring the band leaves the stage, leaving the Wessex Boy to his own devices for a few songs. Turner plays the all-time crowd favourite The Ballad Of Me And My Friends, admitting that the song isn’t really meant to be played in rooms like Alexandra Palace. The Ballad Of Me And My Friends is a song about the singer’s musical cradle days and about the fact that not every musician will make it big (“None of this is going anywhere”). In line with the sentiment of the good old days, comradery and grassroots music support, Frank Turner plays a new arrangement of the song Demons (also on Positive Songs For Negative People) in memory of his friend Nick Alexander who tragically died in the Paris Attacks. The singer explains how sometimes songs and their lyrics take on new meaning over time. Demons is a song about battling life’s demons and living life to the fullest and “not delivering a perfect body to the grave”. The originally very up-tempo tune is stripped off all its drums and “jazz”, to a bare and honest arrangement. The entire room is silent as Frank plays the first riffs, and he asks the audience to take out their phone lights (the photo result of which is an incredibly stunning reflection of peaceful protest). Turner’s voice is clearly choked up, and while the audience whole-heartedly sings along, it is obvious that all 9,000+ people at Alexandra Palace at that very moment felt with the singer. “You won’t get everything you wanted, but you will never be defeated.” Frank Turner emphasizes as the last lines of the song echo through the room.
credit: Ben Morse
With all the hits and new songs like Plain Sailing Weather, Photosynthesis, Mittens and Recovery the show seems to be flying by way too fast. We get two more dance-alongs to Try This At Home, a song from Frank Turner’s 2009 Poetry Of The Deed album and a true homage to his punk-rock days, and The Next Storm, the second song released from his latest album, in the video of which he gets beaten up in a boxing match by WWE star CM Punk.
Event after having just played 24 songs and given it his all, Frank Turner still treats us to an encore. Starting off with the beautiful love song set in his favourite part of London, The Angel Islington marks the first track on the new album and a follow on from The Fisher King Blues on Tape Deck Heart. “By the waters of the Thames, I resolve to start again” are the first and last words of the song, making it a sort of mantra for the new album. Four Simple Words closes the show and it is the perfect, spot-on choice for a last song. The almost punk-ish up-tempo Four Simple Words is about your favourite band and seeing them live, about the grassroots bands that had to work for their keep, and the fans who were there to support them all the way. It’s an ode not only to his own career but to his fans as well, a thank you of sorts.
And with that Frank Turner’s Positive Songs For Negative People UK tour comes a close at London’s Alexandra Palace, and we really can’t wait for the next time we get to see the boy from Winchester with his guitar on a stage.
We won’t sit down, we won’t shut up, and most of all we will not grow up as long as we have Frank Turner touring our country’s venues.