I’ve been looking forward to seeing Frank Turner for months. I have sort of a weird history with him. I originally heard his name during my Glastonbury trip prep, but I never got him fully onto my radar and listened to any of his music before I headed to England. He opened for Green Day and Joan Jett at Wembley, but I arrived late because of the long train ride and missed his set. Then, he played a couple different stages at Glastonbury and I was just never in the right place at the right time to see him.
But, I kept hearing some buzz and finally looked up his live iTunes stuff from 2010. It sounded pretty good, so I picked up his newest disc “England Keep My Bones”….and I was hooked. Loved the writing, loved the passion and loved the music. So, that backstory in place…here’s how things became even cooler.
A few weeks ago I signed up on his website forum and found that he actually self moderates the board and answers questions….very nice. As anyone who has read the blog knows I love shooting concerts. So, I decided to take a shot and ask if it was allowed to bring an SLR into his shows and shoot. Some artists are a bit protective of that sort of thing. Well, his answer was to send him an e-mail and he’d work something out. So, I ended up exchanging e-mails with Frank himself and with him leaving a photo pass for me at the door. Suddenly I’m allowed center stage, inside the barrier to shoot with the press and the professionals….wow!
After a brief detour on the way…(I totally forgot the exit and went about ten miles too far and had to circle back…oops) I parked and got my photo pass and went inside. I was allowed up front to shoot the first three songs of all acts. So, I took my place and shot the opening act “Into It, Over It”.
“Into It, Over it” is basically a nice kid from Chicago who told a few interesting stories…the best about a former friend who used inside information from their friendship to date one of the singers ex-girlfriends. The music was okay, but I can’t say hugely memorable. Nothing really grabbed me and made me think…”I need this guys CD”. Sort of your generic opener….style matches close enough and music doesn’t suck….but, not going to make you stand up and forget the headliner you came to see.
That being said, I went to his Soundcloud and gave his new CD a listen to be fair. I think he improves in a full band setting. There’s some potential there and he came across as a decent guy…so if you’re interested, here’s a link to stream a track called “Where your nights often end”:
Next up was Andrew Jackson Jihad, a Phoenix based duo who served a nice undercurrent of humor with their punk based material. There’s always been room for some humor in punk music and personally I think it really works when a group can find the right balance. To me Andrew Jackson Jihad did just that. For someone who wasn’t familiar with any of their songs I walked away able to recognize a few of them and thinking generally “hey they’re not bad…”
Sample lyric from “Hate, Rain on Me”. “….I hate songs about the summer and I hate everyone…” (Sort of sums it up, doesn’t it?)
Anyway, they were nicely slotted between the “opening ernest guy who can’t afford a tour band yet” and “the headliner that you came to see”. Basically filling the role of “the slightly better known band with a bit more polish and deeper catalog….”
Here’s a link to their latest CD off their website where you can even download “Hate, Rain on Me” and “American Tune”….(Which is decidedly NOT a cover of Paul Simon). And one more tip….I wouldn’t recommend streaming those tunes at work…unless your boss is an old punk at heart or VERY open minded about music…
After a short wait it Frank and his band the Sleeping Souls hit the stage. Playing “Eulogy” from his newest release then segueing into “Try this at Home”, his call for everyone to pick up pen and paper and make their own music. It also contains one of my favorite lines…”There’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music….some of them are just like us, and some of them are dicks….” Having met a few musicians over the years…that line totally rings true to me. That quote also speaks to one of the things that has really hooked me about Mr. Turner. There is a very direct honesty to his lyrics that seems to grow from his punk background. And, even though he describes his music as “Folk-Punk” anyone looking for Mitch Miller isn’t going to find it here….although I will add that you are very encouraged to sing along with Frank. Folk music, just like Punk music was/is at it’s heart story telling and protest again injustices of all types. So to me it’s really a perfect fit and a balance that he deftly pulls off. (Although I won’t say effortlessly, the man works his butt off on stage.)
“I Still Believe”, his salute to the power and history of rock music came next followed by “One foot before the other” and “Love, Ire and Song”. Then came one of the best one-two punches of the set…”Peggy Sang the Blues”, a salute to his late grandmother with the brilliant line “…No one gets remembered for the things they didn’t do…” followed by “I am Disappeared”, a haunting song that is as enigmatic to me as any great Bob Dylan song (who is referenced in it)…and while I haven’t figured it out, I am totally drawn into it by the piano hook during the chorus in the song (played quite ably by Matt Nasir of the Sleeping Souls). The thing is, I’ve always loved songs that don’t just slap you in the face, but reveal themselves over time. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever heard I’ve reevaluated multiple times on multiple hearings and “I am Disappeared” has that sort of effect on me.
Then came a terrific slice of storytelling “I knew Prufrock before he was famous”. A great reference to T.S. Eliot who I have a connection to via my roots in the same village his family hailed from (East Coker if anyone cares.) The title made me love this song from the moment I heard it. But beyond the cool title reference it’s a wonderful vision of youth and idealism that could be set in any place that a bunch of students gather, drink and plot how they will be the ones to fix the screwed up world that they’ve been handed.
A new song “Polaroid Picture” shows that the well of talent is still quite full and I’m anxious to hear how it develops and hopefully someday makes it onto a record. “Substitute” (Not the Who song, but a song about music taking the place of love) and “English Curse”, a concise history lesson of why you shouldn’t steal from or piss off an Englishman…those both lead to “Dan’s Song” where we were all implored to play our best air harmonica and join in…so, picture a whole room of folks humming through their hands and you’ll have a vision of the moment….Fun stuff and it shows the relaxed charisma Frank can project. He’s one of those guys who really works to connect with the crowd and you totally get the feeling that those two hours on stage are the very best part of his day. I’m a sucker for music played from the heart by someone who’d do the same show if there were 15 or 15,000 people in the crowd. When I see that passion and heart it totally connects and is really the point of why I go to so many live concerts. It’s a spirit that can be hinted about but never captured by a recording.
“Sons of Liberty” one of his more political songs of set came next. Hey, anyone who can write a song that’s both melodic and can name check Watt Tyler and King Alfred (Sending me to Wikipedia in the process) has some pretty cool reference material that he’s pulling from. Powerful stuff.
Of course he still has a bit of punk in him that wants to call out the establishment and rage a bit against injustice. Which is why linking “If Ever I Stray” between the previous “Sons of Liberty” and “Glory Hallelujah” (more about that in a moment) made such perfect sense. Lyrically it bridged the politics to the religion (or lack of religion) by the need for friends and a support system no matter which quixotic path you follow. And, damn…if I don’t love when an artist does that, takes a bunch of songs and slots them together in a clever way to tell a greater message. I’ve watched Bruce Springsteen do it for years and I find it really awesome to see a new young guy who is aiming at such lofty goals.
“Glory Hallelujah” is one of those songs that gets an artists records piled up and burned by right wing radio stations. It’s basic premise…there is no God….Yeah, see if you can sell that record at WalMart…I dare you. Of course the brilliant twist (regardless of whether you agree with the premise) is that the actual message is more about putting fear and dogma aside and taking responsibility for our own lives and how we live and treat each other. Ambitious agenda…I’ll say that about the song…
Here’s the lyrics:
Brothers and sisters, have you heard the news?
The storm has lifted and there’s nothing to lose,
So swap your confirmation for your dancing shoes,
Because there never was no God.
Step out of the darkness and onto the streets,
Forget about the fast, let’s have a carnival feast!
Raise up your lowered head and hear the liberation beat,
Because there never was no God.
No cowering in the dark before some overbearing priest,
No waiting till we die until we restitute the meek.
No blaming all our failings on imaginary beasts,
Because there never was no God.
No fighting over land your distant fathers told you of,
No spilling blood for those who never spread a drop of love.
No finger pointing justified by phantoms up above,
Because there never was no God.
I know you’re scared of dying man, and I am too,
But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t going to see us through.
If we accept that there’s an endgame and we haven’t got much time,
Then in the here and now we can try and do things right.
We’d be our own salvation army and together we’d believe
In all the wondrous things that mere mortals can achieve.
I’ve known beauty in the stillness of cathedrals in the day,
I’ve sung “Glory Hallelujah, won’t you wash my sins away!”
But now we’re singing my refrain and this is what I say:
I say there never was no God.
There is no God, so clap your hands together.
There is no God, no heaven and no hell.
There is no God, we’re all in this together.
There is no God, so ring that victory bell.
As you can see, he’s not one to mince words or pull his punches. And, like some of his other songs, this one keeps evolving as I listen to it. From there came one of the best songs written about dying since Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart”. “Long Live the Queen”, which despite being about dying is much more a song about living and celebrating life while you are here. The best line of the song (in my opinion) being: “You’ll live to dance another day; it’s just now you’ll have to dance for the two of us. So stop looking so damn depressed and sing with all your heart that the queen is dead.” Having lost a number of people through the years I understand the love behind those lyrics and connect with the song.
The set finished with “The Road” (basically a mission statement of someone compelled to travel) and then a fun cover of “Somebody to Love” by Queen.
The first encore was “The Ballad of Me and My Friends” performed solo followed by a raving full band version of “Photosynthesis”…both songs about not getting old without fight and not letting go of your dreams because you’re not a kid anymore….
“…I won’t sit down, I won’t shut up and most of all I won’t grow up…” And, if you need a motto, well…you can do much worse than that.
I stayed a bit after and thanked him for the photo pass. He was obviously tired (they had played Jimmy Kimmel, then rushed to Pomona) but he graciously stayed, posed for photos and chatted with anyone who wanted. Another sign to me that he totally “gets it” on how to build a fan base. And, he’s willing to do the hard work it takes. I would (and have already) recommended him to many of my friends. And, I’ll do so once again here. Check his music out, read the lyrics and catch him on the way up because if there is any justice in the world he’ll have a much larger audience the next time he comes through town.
Here’s a link to some of my photos of the show: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thebigjt/sets/72157627890259856/