Some acts are simply better on record than they are live. Some just can’t quite transfer their songs to the stage in a way which feels natural and exciting. Frank Turner is, quite frankly, not one of those acts.
From the first chords of 1933 to the resounding echoes of applause as he leaves the stage nearly two hours later, Frank Turner delivered an energetic and at times emotionally charged performance at the Great Hall in Exeter. Fans both new and old were given an intense ride through the singers back catalogue as well as a deep dive into a handful of newer cuts from his new album, Be More Kind, which is out on May 4th.
The evening started in fine fashion with two of Frank’s hand-picked support acts, namely The Homeless Gospel Choir and Arkells, both coming over the Atlantic to delight the British audiences on this tour. A short set from Derek Zanetti, better known by his stage name The Homeless Gospel Choir, delivered plenty of acoustic punk, with pretty much every song being touted as a Protest Song by Zanetti. The audience were getting warmed up nicely and when the time came for his final song, accompanied by second support act Arkells, the crowd were clearly itching for the main act. But before Frank could take to the stage, Arkells treated us to their own set of upbeat and catchy rock songs. Sing-a-long choruses and powerful lyrics proved to be a winning combination to get the crowd on board and their set proved hugely enjoyable.
But then, as anticipation built towards 9pm, it was time for the main event, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. With a frenzy of guitars and strobing lights the gig kicked off with a storming rendition of ‘1933’, a brand new song that somehow already feels like a well loved oldie, which transitioned straight into a hugely popular favourite, ‘Get Better’. From here on out the evening was a joyous rollercoaster ride full of songs and singalongs, emotions and euphoria.
Seeing Frank Turner live is often a highly cathartic experience, a chance to let go of the stresses of day to day life and to revel in a crowd of like minded and passionate fans. Standing in the middle of thousands of people singing every word to ‘The Road’ proves to be a particular highlight of the evening, with the ringing words seemingly taking on a life of their own as Frank encourages the crowd to sing even louder. It is moments like this, where four thousand people with entirely different lives suddenly unite with a common interest that you realise what Frank Turner is really all about – community. It’s hard to ignore the fact that everyone here is together in these moments, even the security guard, standing with his back to the stage, singing along every word with the audience.
It would hard to describe a Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls concert without talking about one thing in particular: their energy. It is hard to fathom how these five musicians can give well over 100% for nearly two hours and not show any signs of tiring. It’s difficult to believe that they have played with this much energy and enthusiasm every night for the past several weeks and yet have over a year left on their mammoth tour. Their passion and love for music shines through in every moment of this gig.
The overwhelming message from this gig was that of togetherness and kindness, along with the notion that we are more powerful together than we could ever hope to be apart. Echoing these sentiments from Frank’s new album ‘Be More Kind’, he spends the evening singing about diverse topics including politics, social media, the end of the world and new found love and yet he doesn’t shy away from taking a positive outlook on life.
Towards the end of the evening he stops to chat to the crowd and explains why he feels sp optimistic lately, despite everything that’s been going on in the news. “I think it’d be hard to leave here tonight without a little more optimism about how good people can be when given the chance” says Frank, before launching into final set of songs that includes one of his own protest songs, written shortly after the recent American election, called ‘The Sand in the Gears’.
It is rare to see an group who are so at home on stage, so passionate about their craft and who have the vast catalogue of songs to deliver a different show every time you see them. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls embody everything that is great about live music and know how to keep the audience coming back for more. Frank Turner is an artist who is going to be playing live music for a long, long time to come and I would urge you to go and experience Frank and his band at any opportunity you get.
I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the audience tonight will likely have seen Frank Turner live before. He’s one of those rare artists who seems to spend more time on tour than anything else and who always makes the efforts to play the parts of the country that other acts simply wouldn’t play. It’s well known that Frank Turner has always been an artist who favours smaller, more intimate venues over arenas – despite the fact that he could likely sell out an entire arena run in minutes. His decision to play smaller venues results in his near endless touring schedule, something for which I am very grateful.
Tonight was show number 2161 for Frank Turner and show number 12 for me. It’s safe to say that both of those numbers are going to grow still further over the next few decades.
📸: Jacob Woolcock
📝: Jacob Woolcock & Stuart Wright