Having won a scholarship to study at Eton College, Frank Turner always had potential. Along with his work ethic, sincerity and willingness to get people to participate and come together, his impact has been nothing but positive.
When COVID-19 struck in 2020, Frank, more than most, was tirelessly involved with live streams, collaborative projects and efforts to keep grassroots music alive. As Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls addressed Brixton Academy to play show number 2688, collective admiration was instantly felt for this hardcore gentleman.
Frank opened the set with “Four Simple Words”, the Tape Deck Heart classic about the desire to dance and that it’s ok to dance your own way and not worry about what anybody else has to say about it. “Four Simple Words” saw Brixton’s positivity levels instantly soar as everyone joined in to sing “I Want to Dance” and were pleased to be present at this punk rock show. Turner then went on to play “The Gathering” from his latest LP, FTHC, which maintained momentum whilst laying down some ground rules that this was “a participation event” and summed up the need for mutual respect and the need for people to look out for each other by concluding “Don’t be a fucking dickhead”.
Crowd elation quickly reached a new crescendo when he played his “anti-fascist song” “1933” from Positive Songs for Negative People. Despite being written to reflect the political zeitgeist seven years earlier, one could feel that “1933” had an even more chilling and poignant impact in 2022. The next standout moment was when Frank opened up about how he had a complicated relationship with his father, which ended up in Frank not having contact for a prolonged period until his father reached out to him and came out as a trans woman in 2015, adopting the name Miranda. In the new song, “Miranda”, Frank shows how this change made his dad a better person and helped Frank work through his own challenges. “Miranda” was so well received because one could see how these events had made Frank a better person.
The bass dropped on the new song “Farewell to My City” about saying goodbye to London and moving out to Essex two years ago whilst saluting London as the “greatest city in the world”. Frank used this as an opportunity to say that moving to Essex allowed him to discover the “underdog” bands out there, including Colchester’s Pet Needs, the second of three support bands who opened for Frank that evening.
Following “Farewell to My City”, Frank played a three-song solo set beginning with “Love Forty Down”. Whilst a song about being in a rut and hoping for people’s support, “Love Forty Down” was received as a love song. Couples held onto each other, and the remainder of the crowd, without prompting, turned on their phone torches to conduct synchronised waving. The final song of this solo set, “Be More Kind”, touched the audience with its message and James Taylor-style ambience.
Frank continued to connect with “The Way I Tend to Be”, “Polaroid Picture”, and “Get Better”, the playout before the encore. The following four songs included “Recovery”, “The Ballad of Me and My Friends”, and “I Still Believe”, which featured Frank’s wife Jess Guise on harmonica. The standout was “Try This at Home” from his 2009 Poetry of the Deed. Despite a packed, lively and jumping audience, Frank instantly spotted an audience member who was in trouble and stopped the song, calmly asked people to move back to allow a medic to attend, which was swiftly given. “Try This at Home” was restarted and played out in full.
Artists are often told not to look directly into the crowd. Frank’s appeal and success are that he looks directly into the audience, reads them and senses how they are feeling and what needs to be done to achieve collective harmony. Frank with the Sleeping Souls does this not through complexity and glamour but through simplicity and sincerity. By wearing white shirts and black jeans, being honest and kind and encouraging this in return, Frank continued to prove he was still hardcore.