“What a weird time to be alive,” says Frank Turner, flanked by his bandmates but separated from them by huge sheets of perspex. With all touring cancelled. Turner has used his considerable platform over the past few months to highlight the difficulties faced by the music industry.
He’s been regularly live streaming solo performances from his home to raise funds for independent music venues and his touring crew, as well as fronting campaigns to encourage government support for those same people. He has spoken eloquently and passionately about those struggles and put himself in a position of leadership some of his higher-profile contemporaries could learn something from. Turner began 2020 expecting show number 2,500 to be a fairly standard gig as part of a wider tour. No such luck.
Show 2,500 came from a corrugated metal hangar somewhere in Oxford. With his band, The Sleeping Souls, he performed an hour-long greatest hits style set. Each musician was in their own perspex-walled area, while a few stationary cameras captured the action and broadcast it online.
Live-streamed gigs over the past few months have been associated with being a little sterile, hampered by dodgy sound mixing, poor internet connections and a litany of other complications. None of these were an issue here though and both production and performance were top class throughout. Frank Turner’s live shows are unique for their audience participation, making an effort like this even trickier. But Turner and The Sleeping Souls struck the balance perfectly.
At times it felt like we had a glimpse into a final pre-tour practice session. As the band joke with each other between songs, the overriding sense was of how important the connection between the five men is and how much they’d missed playing music together. As they ridicule Turner for tuning the wrong guitar, laugh at bassist Tarrant Anderson for not being allowed a microphone to join in the chat and reminisce about their last gig where Turner fell off the stage and almost died, the audience became a fly on the wall to a side of the band we might not otherwise see.
During the songs though, we see what a powerhouse this band really is. If anything, the professional mix allows us to better hear what is sometimes lost in the live setting. Backing vocals come out stronger, Matt Nasir’s wizardry on the keys is more prominent and Ben Lloyd’s guitar playing shines. At one point Lloyd improvises a glorious harmonic dive-bomb – the cameras miss that but pick up Nasir’s cheeky grin of approval. The over-the-shoulder shot of drummer Nigel Powell highlights his showmanship and style on the kit that would be a struggle to see at a live show. Throughout, Lloyd is on the balls of his feet, bouncing around his perspex square. Turner responds and bounces his way towards Lloyd, but the pair are separated by the huge sheet adorned with the band logo. It’s a stark reminder of why this show is being live-streamed.
Turner encouraged singing or moshing along in the front room and kept parts of the set where clapping and back and forth vocals were traditionally used. These touches went a long way to maintaining that unique link he has with his audience. Shots of Lloyd, Powell, Anderson and Nasir clapping or singing along off mic and Turner’s own personable and human way of communicating, albeit through a lens here, encouraged a genuinely collective atmosphere that would have been very tricky to create without it feeling forced.
As a one-off, this was an excellent example of what can be achieved in these difficult times, and as a fund-raising effort for what he calls his “touring family”, it shows that Frank Turner is a performer with a sincere appreciation for everything that goes into keeping his show on the road. It’s also a credit to his followers that he was confident enough to rely on their support for the same causes.
As Turner pointed out though, changes are needed to make it safe for the live music industry to recover and live stream shows are not the long-term answer.