A Frank Blog: Gig review – Frank Turner, Wolverhampton, 19th October 2009
Yes, it’s kind of odd to be reviewing a gig nearly five months after it happened. But then, this isn’t really a gig review. This will either be quite good or the most pretentious piece of twaddle I’ve yet written. It’s very much about music, so much so that it comes with its own Spotify playlist.
We’d broken up a few days before. Technically I’d ended it a few weeks ago, tired of having my heart trodden on over and over. But then she’d convinced me to give it another go. Then changed her mind yet again, and we weren’t talking. We could both be quite stubborn, but I had the Frank Turner tickets and needed to know if I still had a girlfriend to go with. So I called her. I didn’t.
I first encountered Frank Turner through Chris T-T’s championing of him. Normally people discover Chris T-T through Frank, but I tend to do things a little backwards. I first saw him live in the Leftfield tent at Glastonbury and was somewhat disappointed, not by him, but by the ‘fans’ I was stood next to who were more interested in bragging to each other about how big a hard-on they had for Frank and how many times they’d seen him live. Little backwards me just wanted to listen him sing. This is what happens when you’re interested in someone that’s popular with the cool kids. Going to see him on my own in Birmingham earlier in the year turned me around entirely. It was one of the greatest gigs I’d ever seen.
So to say I was looking forward to this show was an understatement. I was more than a little messed up, but it sure as hell wasn’t going to ruin this. One other thing you need to know: I’m very easily emotionally manipulated by music. I’ll get teary at the cheesiest Hollywood endings if the score is heart-breaking enough.
So along with an old school friend of mine who stepped in to take the spare ticket last minute, I headed to Wolverhampton. First support act, Beans on Toast, was brilliant. The second support act, Fake Problems, were mostly just loud. We were stood behind a gorgeous and stunningly cute blond girl. For the first time in a year or so, I could think that without feeling guilty.
“I used to act like none of this mattered, I used to say that I didn’t care, that we wouldn’t be doing this whatever, but then the truth is that I was just scared.”
There’s nearly always an imbalance in a relationship. One person cares more or less than the other. In the early days she cared about me more. I was unsure. She was the first to say “I love you”. Of course, she lied. I’m not one to drop those words lightly. Over time, I just fell for her more and more. She was the first I’d ever said them to. But by then we were already falling apart.
Frank burst on to the stage with that crazy energy that you so rarely see in live music these days. He gives his all in every show, it’s inspiring. There’s this story, it goes that on the last tour Frank had a very bad case of food poisoning. He played the gig, but had to run off five songs before the end where he promptly passed out backstage. His response the next day? To apologise profusely and promise to play a free make-up show in that town as soon as he could. Meanwhile Oasis pull half of their tour for no good reason and, rich as they are, don’t so much as offer to underwrite the fans’ lost booking fees. The fans love Frank, and he knows he’d be nothing without them, so he shows them an astounding level of commitment and respect. As we “ba-da-ba-ba-ba” along with the first song, it’s that energy that encourages you to shout it out as loud as you can – and the volume on the band is high enough that no-one minds.
The next song, Long Live the Queen, is one I find hard to listen to. It’s a story about losing someone to cancer. And it does what some of the most emotionally charged songs on these subjects do: includes just enough personal details that you’re left in no doubt that every word is from experience and not just imagination. I generally skip it on the album. Its message is wonderful and upbeat but it’s just so sad. But they’ve done something with it for the tour. It’s played a little faster and bit more rockier. It’s only subtle, but it changes a mostly sad song into an upbeat affirmation and celebration of life. It’s transformative. It turns the sad emotions in to something positive.
“I wish that she had either cared for me or let me be, but she chased me from my mind and from my home”
We had a wonderful few months before we even met. It was a relationship built out of two Ben Folds fans failing to meet each other at Glastonbury. From there it snowballed. Does it only start being a relationship when you meet each other, even if you talk for hours every day? From first kiss to first fight it was five months. Five glorious months of perfection. If I could go back and live in those five months forever I would. And I had shorthand classes back then.
The song asks the question “can music be a substitute for love?” The two have never quite gelled for me. Every girl I’ve ever dated has shared a love for, and a somewhat similar taste in, music. Yet when we go to gigs there’s always a remoteness to it. We’re there for the music, and not for each other. We have our own individual relationship with the music, it’s never a part of our bond. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll never forget a bizarre fifteen minutes spent in a rushed, sweaty embrace with a total stranger in the crowd of a James gig. You might think I’d remember the kiss, or the intimate dancing or the inappropriate touching, but what I remember most vividly is when we held each other at arms length and yelled the words to Johnny Yen at each other as the band played. The music was the connection.
After playing Substitute and one of my favourite songs ever, Try This At Home, Frank asked for someone to play the harmonica solo on Dan’s Song. He chose the aforementioned pretty blonde, Abi. At this point I should make it clear I never so much as spoke to her, but even just kidding myself that I could have succeeded in chatting her up helped changed my perspective. Hell, if not for another even more stunningly beautiful girl showing just the slightest interest in me while I was still with Hannah I would never have had the strength to try and end it in the first place. Oh yeah. The girl this is about is called Hannah. Anyone who reads this far will know me well enough that they know that already but we might as well preserve it for posterity.
Interestingly, rather than just have a solo bit in the middle of the set, the band are coming and going in between songs so we get some plain acoustic Frank, and some full on rock-god Frank. Sometimes you’re surrounded by friends, and sometimes you’re just on your own.
“Oh yes I started out so happy, now I’m hungover and down. It was about then that I realised I was halfway through the best years of my life”
There’s something odd about having someone just a year older than you sing songs about getting old. Maybe that’s why I relate to the music so much, and why I’ve utterly failed to get those who normally share my musical tastes in to Frank’s stuff. Five years ago I’d have been content to be so upset that I’d take a year off life, stop dating, stop socialising, stay in and watch TV. At 26 I don’t feel like I have the luxury of that time anymore. It’s odd to realise that you just don’t have the time be mopey about things.
“Life is too short to live without poetry, if you’ve got soul darling now come on and show it me / Life is too long just to sing the one song, so we’ll burn like a beacon, and then we’ll be gone”
I’m far from perfect. I have issues. Mostly I lack confidence. Which means my life is often either people who already know me being shocked that I do stand-up, or people that see me do stand-up being confused as to why I’m so quiet if they talk to me after a gig. It’s something I try and improve on and I’ve come a damn long way, but it was never enough for her. That’s a realisation that hits you like a truck. There are people in this world that accept me as I am, regardless of anything else. Probably the people that are still reading this. To realize that the person you love isn’t one of them is something of a sucker punch. She was flawed too: pushy, moody and Christian. But I loved her despite all that. And I wouldn’t have changed her even if I could – it’s all part of who she was.
“I keep nearly missing you around corners and in passing trains… and if I’d known, that you weren’t so far away…”
It takes a certain talent to turn an old hardcore punk song into a beautiful, touching, ballad. Frank manages it. It’s quite odd to go back and listen to the old Million Dead version of Smiling At Strangers On Trains now.
We did the sitting on trains thing a lot. She was in Durham, I was in Leamington. Two weeks before we broke up she moved in down the road, just the other side of the park around the corner from me. She just happened to get a place at Warwick Uni, and I just got lucky enough that a really great job cropped up in Coventry and I got the position. It was perfect. Except she’s still five minutes walk away as I’m writing this. Either I’m right and there’s no god that’s still interested in us, or she’s right except that God is just a cruel bastard.
“You’re just not paying attention, you’re sitting in your kitchen and you’re bitching about rejection. We’re cheating the world out of a fairytale of a conclusion. And that’s not really fair on us all”
I do wonder where things might have gone had we actually persisted with things beyond a few weeks of living near each other. There’s bound to be an adjustment period, long-distance relationships are an entirely different thing. But it was dead by then. I think I first realised we were doomed when she travelled down to move some of her stuff in to her new house. I was already in my flat. But she didn’t even want to spare five minutes to say hello. Writing that now, it’s entirely obvious to anyone reading it that she’d stopped giving a damn and had slipped entirely in to being a heartless bitch by then. I can’t for the life of me remember how she later convinced me that she wasn’t. To give her another chance.
“When my wondering meanderings have finally reached their end, yes whatever else may be, I will not forget my friends”
I was kind of disappointed that we just got a solo-version of St Christopher Is Coming Home rather than the big end-of-show sing-along on the previous tour but it remains a favourite nevertheless.
The thing about a break-up is some people will surprise you. There’s those friends that are always there, the ones you’ve been through hell with so many times, that will always pick up the phone and check you’re okay. But then there are others. Ones you didn’t really expect to care that much. Ones that take the time to look after you even though you’ve never really done anything for them. That’s the sort of generosity of spirit that I aspire to. If you’re still reading, thanks Beth.
“Let’s refuse to live and learn, let’s make all our mistakes again”
There’s two interpretations as to how the break-up happened. Either I broke up with her, then she convinced me to get back together with her a week later so she could end things on her terms. Or I broke up with her, then slept with her one last time before mostly ignoring her. The real answer is probably somewhere between the two. After that one night she sent me a really sweet message the next day, and I brushed her off. That’s the only “what if?” I have in this whole thing. It was tiny, and probably it’d resulted in dragging things out by just another week if we’re honest. But it was the only time I didn’t give her my best. That I gave up rather than fight for her. I’m kind of okay with that being my only regret.
Love, Ire and Song remains one of my favourite tracks. It’s the one that really defined Frank for me. Early on it’s easy to pigeon-hole him as a lefty with a severe Peter Pan complex. But both his politics and his outlook on life are a lot more complex than that. Chris T-T once called him “my favourite right-wing bastard”, and I’d argue his songs are more about growing up without accepting the inevitabilities of adult-hood when we don’t want them or aren’t ready for them, rather than just wanting to carry on partying ever night in to your 30s.
“Life is about love, lost minutes and lost evenings, about fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings, and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering, they help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live”
That may be my favourite lyric ever. It’s so intricate and clever, it makes it obvious that you’re dealing with a writer that’s far and beyond the majority of artists out there today. And shouted out in a chorus of hundreds of people it’s just so damn life-affirming. In that moment I realised I just had to get on with things. That there was so much more out there and it was better to experience it than mope around.
I wasn’t over it, but I could deal.
Still, with one more song in the set there was time for a little more introspection.
“I could have lived and died an Egyptian prince, I could have played safe, but in the end the journeys brought joys that outweigh the pain”
It may seem a little like I’m bitter. And I know it’s somewhat pathetic I’m still in love with her five months on, while she’s in a new relationship. But as the lights changed and the mood slowed, it was in this song I realised something else: I didn’t regret a moment of it. An awkward moment in a Durham Travelodge turning in to a kiss. A picnic outside Kenilworth Castle. A stolen moment, alone on a balcony in the heat of a 21st birthday party. I wouldn’t trade even one of these to ease the pain. Because that’s the point. It was all worth it.
“If you’re all about the destination, then take a fucking flight, we’re going nowhere slowly but we’re seeing all the sights. And we’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell”
I may not have sung along with this quite so loudly had my Christian girlfriend still been with me. But it is who I am. She was changing me. Possibly not for the better. This is who I am. I still want to be that person.
Ballad Of Me And My Friends sees the band slowly creep on stage as the song segues in to Reasons Not To Be An Idiot as we all sing along a song about getting up, getting down and getting outside. It’s just a song about how doing stuff is better than not doing stuff. It may seem trite. It probably is. But nevertheless it feels right.
“And I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up, and most of all I will not grow up”
The gig ends with a euphoric sing-along as the support acts return to the stage and play along on Photosynthesis. The crowd are singing at the top of their voices, united as one by the music. Everything else slips away as the world becomes about nothing beyond the music, and then it’s over.
I’m still not over her. I can tell because I still think about her every day, and my reaction to finding out that she had a new boyfriend was to hope it crashed and burned spectacularly rather than being happy for her. I don’t think she really gets that that’s why we can’t be friends. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t want her back either. I could have been happy with her at one point. I’d have lived a content life growing old with that girl. But it wasn’t to be and that time has now passed. Without this gig I’d have probably spent a few more months moping after her, probably trying to get her back, and to be fair, quite possibly succeeding. Until it all went wrong again. Instead I started putting together a regular comedy gig and getting in touch with old friends I’d drifted apart from. Everything is coming together now and I’ve met some awesome people over the past few months.
Hannah never saw Frank play, but in my mind the two are intrinsically linked. That night with Frank with Wolverhampton was my post-break-up fling that got me over the worst of it. I’ll be seeing Frank again on Sunday night, which is why I finally write this now, as leaving it any later would be pointless. I doubt I’ll ever see Hannah again – by the time I feel I can deal with that she’ll be back in the north trying to find gainful employment as a teacher.
I don’t think she ever realised, until we talked a few weeks ago, just how much I cared. That all those times I told her I loved her I actually meant it. Maybe she’ll regret it all if she never finds someone else that feels that way about her despite her flaws. Maybe she won’t. I’m moving on though. Slowly but surely. If you read all 3000 words of this, thanks. I hope this meant something or said something to you because for all I know it’s just the height of self-indulgence. But as a writer it seems crazy not to somehow document the most significant thing in the past few years of my life.
Especially since I’m already mythologising and lying about it for stand-up material. “What did you get out this 11-month relationship Dean?” “One really good joke and one that’s fairly good”. I’ll settle for that.