Show #6 for some, show #2161 for others. The eponymous message of Frank’s seventh studio album is, of course, “Be More Kind” (Be More Kind 2018). If you had any concerns that this evening might be at all sub-par to the usual brilliance of not only a Frank Turner gig but that of any Xtra Mile Recordings artist, they would be rectified by a quick glance around the Great Hall moments before the man himself came on. Without sounding too much like Hugh Grant in the opening credits of Love Actually, Frank’s newest mantra was upheld in the crowd’s singing and swaying along to Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” which appropriately prefaced the night ahead of us. Although I arrived by myself, you are never really going solo at an Xtra Mile gig.
Before we were graced with the classic white-shirt-black-tie combo any Frank Turner fan is fond of, he was supported by the swoon-worthy Arkells and punk-rock-protest-song-troubadour Derek Zanetti (AKA The Homeless Gospel Choir). Any fans of AJJ or the like need to hear Zanetti’s stuff as a matter of urgency. “Musical Preferences” (I Used To Be So Young 2014). Listen. Now.
And then the circle pits really did hit me in the face
The promotion of tolerance and progress was maintained by these great acts in anticipation for Frank’s 2161st setlist. “1933” was the first single released from the new album and opened the set well, followed by “Get Better” and “The Next Storm” (Positive Songs for Negative People 2015). In these, Frank and The Sleeping Souls urge us to do, be and expect better from our external world as well as ourselves. “Recovery” (Tape Deck Heart 2013) was quickly tailed by a second new release: “Make America Great Again” which is an empowering reappropriation of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. For this track, the stage featured a handful of monitors displaying clips from the accompanying music video shot at SXSW 2018 earlier in the year. While it’s not my favourite track, I’m totally behind Frank’s donning of an Uncle Sam-inspired suit and star-spangled bowtie along with a video that reminds us to “make compassion in fashion again”.
Now it was time for “Be More Kind”. A simple track and yet so completely pure in its intentions that it is truly touching to see live. I must admit at times I think Frank’s newer stuff can get carried away in production at the cost of the same calibre of lyric we see on albums like Poetry of the Deed (2009). This, however, is not true of “Be More Kind” and I think it excels at its purpose in a subtler way while maintaining a “The Angel Islington”-esque (PSNFP 2015) simplicity. What followed then was a few of Frank’s earlier songs after some convincing of The Sleeping Souls guitarist Ben Lloyd to “play some old stuff” by the crowd. The opening chords of “Journey of the Magi” (PotD 2009) hit me in the face with nostalgia for when my closest friends and I were still getting to know Frank’s music over the summer of 2012.
And then the circle pits really did hit me in the face.
Ah, “Out Of Breath” (PSFNP 2015). Frank showed his Million Dead roots with this heavier track and later with “Four Simple Words” (TDH 2013). However, the increasingly rowdy atmosphere didn’t stop the kind folk who put Frank’s words into action and kept each other (me) safe, albeit slightly squished.
The night ended with the Songbook (2017) rendition of “Polaroid Picture”. The song drew to a close another characteristically great show and perfectly encapsulated the reason why shows are so crucial. Earlier in the evening, Frank took the time to perform “Song For Josh” (PSFNP 2015) which is an excruciatingly painful but beautiful elegy for Josh Burdette who took his own life in 2013. A credit to Washington’s 9:30 Club, Burdette, and his death are at the forefront of many music-lovers’ minds especially those who have heard Frank’s tribute live. The escapism of a gig is never more poignant: the good-kind-of-overwhelming you get from live music that suspends the world outside a venue for hours that will never be quite long enough. The lyrics of “Polaroid Picture” upheld this to the absolute final moments as we are told, “to remind yourself that everything changes/ but there was this one time/ there was this one time /when things were okay…”.
Overall, this set was nostalgic and painful and cathartic and empowering but mostly hopeful. So, thank you to everyone involved who made the Great Hall feel like my bedroom circa 2014, with MVP going to the security guard who was in his element jamming to “The Way I Tend To Be” (TDH 2013). You sir, as Frank might say, were “ace”.