The Frank Turner phenomenon is every songwriter’s dream. After flogging through support slots and pub tours for years he was left with many believing Million Dead was his shining moment. But quietly through the endless shows up and down the country Turner has been building an army. Alarm bells should have sounded when the Wembley Arena date sold out or when suddenly you spotted that humbling alt- singer songwriter introducing the Olympic opening ceremony back in Britain’s moment of pride.
But as the dates sell and the albums pass by, we only ever hear the odd flash of Frank as a taste of the underground leaks out. But now there’s a sense the tide is turning. New album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ is bringing his music to the airwaves with new single ‘Recovery’ already Turner’s most played song on Spotify.
Tonight is a sold out gig at The Refectory - once the stage for Fleetwood Mac, T-Rex and most famously The Who. But for many in the room Frank eclipses them all.
Bursting into ‘Four Simple Words’ the crowd erupts into a wave of chanting, overpowering each musical crescendo with woops of applause sounding almost rehearsed like a Saturday night TV show. Burly men chant each word like a football anthem, contrasting Turner’s unassuming onstage persona.
Taking us through a repertoire of punk acoustic numbers, each song details snapshots of a time every audience member can relate to, accompanied by its catchy chorus and sweet guitar strums. With a back catalogue of radio friendly hits Turner is left diluted, trickling down to a huge crowd more used to arena surroundings. Big choruses burst out with Westlife-style key changes intertwined with a political message. It’s not exactly discreet.
Yet with each political tirade the audience cheers louder, screeching every line and, in some cases, rolling out the flags in tribute to Frank. But as the session musicians slump off we do see an edge to the songs that has acquired so many dedicated fans. A heavy rock edge to ‘Long Live The Queen’ brings out the raw vocals highlighting Turner’s ability to paint such a vivid picture with each lyric. Without an alternative message the music is stripped from its pedestal and instead becomes a communal sense of joy. Turner’s kind hearted nature shines through, as he honours requests from fans and spends the night name checking individuals in the audience. After all those years he’s managed to build up a fanbase so dedicated that they cradle every move, every album and lyric with the utmost care.
As ‘Photosynthesis’ prompts a mass sit down it’s clear each fan is proud to be part of this communal group. We almost feel like visitors to Frank’s world hidden beneath the radio playlists and music press. But this close-knit group has reached its limits. Now it’s time for an uprising.
Words by Ruth Offord
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