Live Review / Frank Turner @ O2 Academy Birmingham (18.11.15)

Rounding off his tenth year as a solo artist with a sold-out UK tour, Frank Turner shows no signs of slowing down. Playing to a packed out crowd at Birmingham’s O2 Academy, the excitement buzzing around the room was impossible to ignore (as were the masses of previous tour tees).

The most noticeable aspect of this was the range of ages in the crowd, becoming clear that Frank’s music appeals to everyone and anyone; the sign of a truly great artiTurner always chooses eclectically wonderful support acts, and this time around was no exception. Kicking things off was Will Varley, a singer-songwriter with a knack for tongue-in-cheek, humorous lyrics. From the get-go, the crowd were on board, Varley playing tracks about everyday life from ‘The Self Checkout Shuffle’, ‘We Don’t Believe You’ (about politicians, no less) and my personal favourite, ‘I Got This Email’. Varley’s performance is small yet humble, winning the crowd over within seconds with a witty rapport and conversational delivery, singing about receiving an email ‘from the prince of some country somewhere / he said his plan could never fail, I gave him all my bank details / and he’ll make me a millionaire.’ Despite failing a Brummie accent attempt, the audience lapped up every word and it was clear he’d earned a new legion of fans.

Following this were 6-piece folk group, Skinny Lister. Coupling catchy, sea-shanty style melodies with oodles of audience participation, the crowd were clapping along with many attempting to sing along as much as possible. With each song, the band appeared stronger and more comfortable on stage, with one member of the band attempting to crowd-surf with his double bass in hand. It was a stunt that was well-received by the Brummie crowd, and coupling this with a rousing performance of ‘Forty Pound Wedding’, we were well and truly warmed up and ready for the main event.

Jumping on stage with his band, The Sleeping Souls, Turner launched straight into things with ‘Get Better’ from his latest album Positive Songs for Negative People. The beauty of an artist like Frank Turner who possesses a back-catalogue as impressively vast and popular as his, is that you never know what to expect at a live show. However, one thing you can be sure of is that no matter what the setlist entails, you’ll be in for a treat. And what a treat it was.

Turner ranged from ‘old songs… new songs… even some middle-period songs’ with ease, each cut being welcomed with rousing applause. His energy is awe-inspiring; the first few songs were over in minutes with no gaps, and with him announcing that this show was his 1,788th, his professionalism shone through. Addressing the audience, he explained how he only has ‘two rules for my shows… 1) don’t be a dickhead, and 2) if you know the words, sing along’. Hear, hear.

Treating us all to favourite tracks ‘If Ever I Stray’, ‘The Road’ and the ever-wonderful ‘Long Live The Queen’, he then took to the stage alone for a few solo tracks. Opening this segment with ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’, he explained to the crowd how he’d taken a Twitter request to perform ‘Wisdom Teeth’. Both these tracks from debut Sleep Is for the Week went down an absolute storm, before Frank addressed the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Having lost his friend Nick Alexander, who had been working as a merchandise manager for Eagles of Death Metal at their ill-fated show at the Bataclan, he spoke of both Alexander and friends of his who had been hurt, and dedicated ‘Balthazar, Impresario’ to them. Wearing a Tricolore wristband, his performance was bittersweet, incredibly sincere and certainly caused me to shed a few tears.

Having spoken at length of Paris, The Sleeping Souls rejoined him on stage to sing ‘about where I’m from’, with the track ‘Wessex Boy’. Launching into ‘Photosynthesis’ (during which the whole crowd sat down before jumping around like loons, propelling me to the front row) and ‘Plain Sailing Weather’ with renewed ardour, it was the turn of pro-atheism anthem, ‘Glory Hallelujah’. I’ll be honest, there’s something strangely beautiful about a room filled with people clapping along and chanting the line ‘there is no God’ in unison. ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ and ‘Recovery’ were two definite highlights, and all the more impressive due to the sheer length of the setlist. It’s marvelling to see someone of Frank Turner’s calibre on a live stage; it’s becoming rare for artists to sound as good on tour as they do on record, Turner being a fine exception to this.

Ending the evening was a four-song encore, with the beautifully simple ‘The Angel Islington’ closely followed by staples (and personal favourites of mine), ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and ‘I Still Believe’. Thanking the crowd for selling out the O2, the largest Birmingham crowd he’s played to to date, the two-hour-long set came to a close, as always, with ‘Four Simple Words’. The song is totally anthemic and gets everyone of all ages dancing, with the lines ‘we’ll sing like the barricades are down, / and we’ll dance like no one’s around, / singing four simple words’ being perfect to finish with. It was clear on everyone’s faces that they’d had an absolute ball, with Frank Turner showing no signs of putting that guitar down any time soon.

[Originally written for Redbrick Music]

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