Frank Turner’s cult following got a chance to see him play in Croydon for the first time on Friday as he delivered the Wreck’s first sold-out live gig, and GRAY DORIAN was there to witness it
Outside the toilet paper aisle at the local supermarket during a coronavirus scare, there’s a couple of words that you don’t see every day, especially not when used in conjunction with the Fairfield Halls in the post-refurb era.
Yet that’s just what we had on Friday night, when The Recreational, the hall that replaced the Arnhem Gallery, hosted the folk-punk maestro that is Frank Turner.
With a capacity of 750, you might have thought that this, in the wider media sense, relatively unknown artist, might have struggled to fill the place. Not a chance.
Turner, a one-time winner of The Hardest Working Artist Award, has been touring almost constantly for the best part of 20 years (this was gig No.2464) and he has built up a faithful following for his songs about broken hearts, broken promises, lost loves, missed chances and tattoos.
Turner’s usual band and partners in rebel-rousing, The Sleeping Souls, had been left at home (bar one), yet although he was a solo act, he wasn’t alone. Support came from as far afield as Columbus, Ohio, and north London in the shape Micah Schnabel and Jess Guise.
Guise stepped up first, warming up the slowly-filling hall with heartfelt and melodic songs pulled from her personal history. She balances the bittersweet of her lyrics such as “Too Far Gone” with disarming, almost comedic interjections between songs.
As of last August, Guise is also Mrs Frank Turner, and wryly suggested her place on the bill is down to blatant nepotism. Although sleeping with the headline act is certainly one way of getting on in the world, I’d suggest she earned her place, and her closing number, “Brother in Arms”, taken from her newly released EP “The Fun Part”, is a touching piece about the relationship with her brother in the aftermath of her father’s death. It was played on her father’s guitar. The same one on which he taught her to play…
Micha Schnabel is an electro-acoustic poet from the American MidWest. In bargee cap and blinged-up heavy-framed Michael Caine specs, he looks like Alan Carr does beatnik.
But with “Art or Die” emblazoned on his guitar, and probably tattooed elsewhere (possibly on his heart), he performs with a desperate intensity intertwined with sadness and whimsy. Whatever side of the tracks Schnabel is on, it’s the wrong side.
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With “Filthy Cash” and “Emergency Room”, Schnabel peels back the lid on an America fixated on money, knowing the price of everything and caring about the value everything that doesn’t matter.
In “How to Ride a Bike”, he declaims, “Life is so expensive, but death is a lousy alternative”, and though it seems sometimes like he’s aiming squarely at Trump’s MAGA America, it’s clear that Schnabel knows that this is no four-, or eight-, year wonder, but a state of mind long embedded in the American psyche. The echoes of what might be in for us in Britain resonated clearly with the audience.
There is an energy about Frank Turner and his music that transmits almost electrically to the people who have come to see him.
Tall, lean and rangy in his rock ‘n’ roll standard-issue black jeans and white T-shirt, he has a quick smile and an easy way about him that belies the darker themes he explores in his songs, delivered at frenetic pace.
As a kid growing up with a love of Iron Maiden and evolving through hardcore and bands like Knuckledust, speed and power are crucial. Yes, sometimes a bit of texture would add to the overall effect, as we get to see when he performs the gentle “Be More Kind” in the immediate aftermath of the far more urgent “1933”. Both are political numbers and yes, you know where Frank stands, but these are cries of protest at the position we find ourselves in without pretending he has the answers.
If I was of the greatest generation I’d be pissed
Surveying the world that I built, slipping back into this
I’d be screaming at my grandkids, we already did this.
Be suspicious of simple answers
That shit’s for fascists and maybe teenagers
You can’t fix the world if all you have is a hammer
So Young Conservatives (or even older ones), if any had decided to look in, might have been better advised booking for one of the multitude of tribute acts that help fill the Events listings at this, “South London’s second-biggest arts centre”.
In The Rec’s defence, though it’s a bit new and squeaky clean and doesn’t really feel like a proper music venue (at least, not yet), where else is there to go in Croydon? The Gun, The Cartoon and the Scream Lounge have all gone. The Oval is great, but small. This was Turner’s first visit to Croydon, ever. He wondered out loud how and why this had occurred. The answer is simple, we just didn’t have the venue for him.
Thankfully we do now, and he took full advantage.
The audience revelled in a good-humoured tribalism, call and responding to familiar numbers, singing at the tops of their lungs to their favourites like “Recovery”, “Polaroid Picture” and “The Way I Tend to Be”.
“There She Is”, a moving tale of the redemptive power of love, was dedicated to his wife.
“Lioness”, from his recent “No Man’s Land” album about leading Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’arawi, was prefaced by the news that a percentage of our ticket money was going to Way Out Arts, a charity working with the vulnerable and conflict-affected in Sierra Leone that Turner actively supports.
The penultimate song of the night, “Photosynthesis” summed up Frank Turner quite nicely, and, I suspect, a number of others in that room.
And I won’t sit down
And I won’t shut up
And most of all I will not grow up
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