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FRANK TURNER, Dover Booking Hall, 19 January 2018   Print  E-mail 
Written by Mark Reed  
Wednesday, 07 February 2018

Isn't it funny what a song can do?

There are two – or three – artists known as Frank Turner. On one hand, there’s the endlessly touring folk rock anthem singer who, alongside his band The Sleeping Souls, has been driving and flying all over the world the past 12 years playing to increasing audiences. There’s the singular, individual songwriter who plays as just one man and a guitar a dozen or so times a year. There’s also the wonderful, rampaging vocalist and chief screamer who ploughs a glorious hardcore racket (firstly in Million Dead, and then latterly in Mongol Horde). All three co-exist at the same time, and all three are great in their own way. On the eve of finalising his seventh solo album (since announced as “Be More Kind”), Frank took to a small 4 date tour, including the Dover Booking Hall : a converted railway station booking hall (unsurprisingly) that is now a room, a stage, and a bar.

Much as I love Frank Turner’s songs, I much prefer the solo shows – the rawer, more vulnerable side of his songs, and the heart of it. Some bands work best in creating a sound as well as songs, where the arrangements, the delivery, the passion, all combine to create something that is more than the sum of the parts – or sometimes to hide the perhaps and occasionally slight nature of some of the songs. Some songs though, work better stripped of all accompaniments, where the song itself exists naked and bare and strong enough to stand alone.

Whilst The Sleeping Souls are the best band that could deliver Turner’s songs ; and they are built on the tradition of a backing band around a leader, such as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Billy Joel as a near democracy, with a Prime Minister and the band being the cabinet – these songs feel more effective to me alone as a man and a voice. It’s just a matter of taste though. A song such as “Smiling At Strangers On Trains” is just as good as a breakneck hardcore screamathon as when Frank pulls out the song out by its skeleton and plays it with just an acoustic guitar.

In the meantime, and sold out in about three minutes, tonights show is a glorious but rare opportunity to see him alone and in a relatively tiny room. He scatters four songs from the new album – some of which have been barely if ever performed before – as well as the usual clutch of well known songs. And it’s not inaccurate to suggest some of these songs have made my life much more bearable on difficult days. When life weighs ten thousand tons.

I remember very clearly, on the 13th November 2013, listening to the acoustic version of “Recovery” and knowing I had to change my life. The very next day I resigned from my job.

I changed my life in many ways – I wanted to live the resistance and fight in the song when I was in danger of folding after many years of endless (and unwanted) professional battle – and I’m not sure that, without that song, I would’ve made the decisions I did, which turned out brilliantly now.

Each of us have stories that sit with so many of the songs. You’ve all seen someone singing every word to a song and clearly something important inside them is happening. You might be in Brixton or Hebden Bridge, but you aren’t there anymore. You’re somewhere inside – and outside – of yourself at the same time, at a time that is not now, and maybe never existed. The best songwriters communicate – and even if that is something as elusive as an emotion, or a feeling, or a memory – something that can never be touched, or seen, or tasted. Art is communication between humans. Trying to make sense – and add some kind of structure – around what is random noise, random reality.

By the second song, “Get Better”, it does that to me. There’s a line – May I always see the road rising up to meet me and my enemies defeated in the mirror behind. And whilst I hate to say I have ‘enemies’, because I just like almost everyone – I know it’s not mutual. I know some people can’t stand my guts, and hate me. I’m not sure why. Even if I did, I’m never going to change who I am. I have to live with me for the rest of my life, and look in the mirror and know who I am and live with that person.

I’m Marmite. But I can’t be anyone else.

Isn’t it funny what something so simple, so small, as a song can do? And up there, unaware (and rightly so) or any of this going on in my head is Frank Turner singing songs. There’s also quite a few people who think they are seeing Def Leppard in Sheffield in 1993 judging by their behaviour. This isn’t the gig to take your mates glasses off his head, or rest a beer can on your hair, or try to kick off a mosh, or go to the bar during the penultimate song and come back with shots. This isn’t a night with Poison in 1989, mate.

This is the night you lose yourself in the music. It’s a bloke and a guitar : don’t going be a twat now.

There’s all the old songs. And there’s new ones : “1933” in particular is the kind of song that needs to be shouted from the rooftops. There’s an eternal battle between the scientists and the stupid ; between people trying to push mankind forward, and those wanting to hold us back. Those who can only feel rich by making others poor, and those who are trying to conquer inner and outer space. It’s an eternal battle. And “1933” captures this : ...dammit, we already did this!

There’s rare airings for “Mittens” and “Tattoos” and a cover of The Levellers “Julie”. I get the impression that Turner could sing almost any song he’d ever written (and many he hasn’t) if you gave him 5 minutes warning. Whether he would I have no idea. Some people don’t like some of their old songs. I definitely don’t like some of the old ones I wrote many years ago.

The new songs are equal as any he has written before. “There She Is” is an unashamed, romantic song. And like Frank, oh, how I have stumbled on the way to where I am today. There’s no shame in love, none at all. There never will be. To see the best in everyone, and hope. Hope is a superpower. And this, all of this comes from a song. And there’s another 14 left to go.

At the end of it, he is one of the best songwriters in Britain with no sign of any dimming of the creative flame. Album 7 (or 11, depending on whether you count Million Dead, Mongol Horde and Buddies), is likely to be as good as anything else. The great thing about most really great artists is that they grow old as we grow old ; their songs reflect the march of time through life, and both we – and them – grow old together, seeing ourselves in each other. Great artists make life better. And that is the most I can ever hope of anyone. That life gets better. Because we’re not dead yet.

Get It Right
Get Better
If Ever I Stray
1933
The Road
Four Simple Words
There She Is
Tattoos
Redemption
21st Century Survivalist Blues
Recovery
Mittens
Julie
To Take You Home
Rivers
I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
The Opening Act Of Spring
The Ballad Of Me And My Friends
The Way I Tend To Be
Photosynthesis
I Still Believe

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