It seemed like a bizarre experience, rushing down a busy Nottingham street on the night of the gig and overhearing at least 2 different groups of people mention Frank Turner’s name; but in reality it wasn’t strange at all, considering the fact that this small goatee’d man with an acoustic guitar in hand had managed to fill the cathedral-sized Capital FM Arena. Having played his previous Notts show at a small venue, which sold out in minutes, he had come under criticism for playing larger, mainstream shows; something he felt he had to defend onstage with the assertion that he never wanted to be an exclusive, elitist artist that you have to “be on the right mailing lists” or “know the right people” to see live.
Beans On Toast, a charming “drunk folk” crooner with a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice, was the first to grace the stage. With songs about the ethics of chicken farming, American neoimperialism, moon phases and blowjobs, he had the audience choking with laughter from the first chords. A Celtic punk 7-piece, Flogging Molly, followed, led by an inconspicuous-looking greying man in a suit who proceeded to jump around the stage in a violin-backed frenzy for a good half hour, with the fervour and charisma that most rockstars can only dream of.
By the time Frank & The Sleeping Souls had come on stage, it felt like most of the county had turned up at the Arena – and what’s more, everyone seemed to know all the lyrics to even most obscure songs, which they then proceeded to belt out for the entirety of the dizzying, electrifying night. Even I (a firm believer in standing awkwardly at the side at gigs), by the time the chorus of Try This At Home had kicked in, had elbowed my way to the front and was jumping in time with the crowd.
Having started out modestly, as the evening progressed, Frank went from serenading love songs while bathed in a column of white light, which made him look positively angelic, to dancing around in laser beams, green smoke, and briefly crowdsurfing. Though no doubt he will attract even more scorn from his more indie fans for this, I felt that the lighting effects and flippant rock-starring absolutely complemented the jubilant, life-affirming tunes and lyrics which accompanied them: “The storm has lifted and there’s nothing to lose/So swap your confirmation for your dancing shoes/Because there never was no God”.
By the end I was sore and exhausted and absolutely, fantastically exhilarated. There is something reassuring, on an existential level, about bumping into all sorts of people – twentysomething cool kids, pimply pre-teens, small ladies in their 50s, a punk with an impressive fire-engine-red Mohawk – all joyfully belting out in unison that they “can fuck up anything, anything.” Because Frank plays songs that are honest and unpretentious and that you can’t help relating to whoever you are; because his defiant anthems about being a screw-up, and unashamed of it, are for everyone.