Saturday November 07, saw me jump the train for the 60 minutes journey to Southampton to see Frank Turner for the fourth time this year. The previous Turner gigs I have caught this year have all been festival gigs so I was looking forward to catching a full length Turner set in a decent sized theatre.
Southampton’s O2 Guildhall is just five minutes walk from the central train station and is a lovely, ornate theatre with a capacity of around 1800. With Frank Turner being supported by Will Varley and Skinny Lister this was definitely a gig to look forward to.
Doors opened at the Guildhall and entry was breeze. Acoustic singer-songwriter Will Varley took the stage at 7:20 for a short set. If you don’t know Will’s music you owe it to yourself to check him out. Will plays a nylon stringed Classic guitar, it has a lovely tone, beautifully clear and rich and is well suited to Will’s predominantly finger picking style of playing.
25 minutes isn’t long to win over the audience if they are not familiar with your music. Varley accomplished this with aplomb. Will is fast becoming one of the best songwriters around. His songs are often witty, sometimes very deep, occasionally they are even dark. Varley is a very engaging performer, he plays with a smile on his face and enjoys every moment.
Sadly Will’s set was just five songs, but we did get to hear three songs from his excellent third album, “Postcards From Ursa Minor” which is available on Xtra Mile records.
Change over was pretty slick as it should be between a solo acoustic act and a band who set up and sound checked just before the show. Skinny Lister have fast become one of my favorite bands. They are a mass of energy with their brand of folk-punk with a nautical twist. From opening tune “Raise A Wreck” until the end of their set they kept the crowd enthralled with their antics.
Until you have seen a double bass player crowd surfing with his instrument you simply haven’t lived. If there is any justice at all in the music business these guys must surely hit the big time. Their latest album “Down On Depford Broadway” from whence the majority of their set was drawn, is a fantastic piece of work. Safe to say that by the end of Skinny Lister’s set the crowd were most definitely warmed up. Skinny Lister had the whole room jumping.
So on to the main event. Frank Turner has an enviable reputation as a live performer and with good reason. In the dozen or so times that I have seen Turner perform he always gives 100%. Whether he is playing solo, with the Sleeping Souls, or with Mongol Horde Turner gives it all he has got. Saturday was no different.
Turner having played close to 2,000 shows through his career is now a master at opening a show. The three songs I was allowed in the pit for photography passed in a blur as Turner had me singing along with the kids as Frank and the band belted out “Get Better,” “If I Ever Stray” and “Losing Days.”
The show carried on at a fierce pace with Frank swapping guitars after every song after seven or eight tunes we hit crowd favorite “Peggy Sang The Blues.” Above all these days Frank Turner is an entertainer and a crowd pleaser. Frank was handed an electric guitar and entertained us with a few gags about how he always dreamed of growing up to become an electric guitar player. Frank then treated us to a little medley of Metallica riffs before trying to move on. The crowd were having none of it and booed and jeered until Frank treated us to the first verse of “Enter Sandman.” It was a great moment.
After a couple of electric guitar tunes Frank went back to his normal acoustic and we were treated to a few old favourites including “Polaroid Picture,” “The Queen Is Dead” and “Wessex Boy.” this before Frank went solo for “The Real Damage” and “The Way I tend To Be.” With the band back we were hit with another 30 minutes of high energy offerings from across Turners back catalogue. The moment that really hit me and by the numbers of people I saw in tears a lot of other people was Franks first encore song.
Frank returned to the stage alone and the lights dimmed whilst he told the story behind “Song For Josh.” Turner has himself suffered from depression and losing a close pal a couple of years back has obviously hit Frank hard. Josh was the head of Frank’s security team in the USA and sadly took his own life a couple of years back. Frank using a very heartfelt and emotional song to encourage anyone suffering depression to reach out. It was a real measure of the respect the audience had for Turner that you could have heard a pin drop as he sang this song.
To that point the evening had been raucous as the crowd sang along to every word of every song but a respectful silence enveloped everyone, the loudest noise was people sniffling as they cried along with Frank. It was clear that Turner was hit by the crowds reactions he was fighting back tears by the end of the song.
Turner and the band brought the mood up again immediately as he closed out the show with “Prufrock,” “I Still Believe” and the now customary “Four Simple Words.” All credit to Turner he played for just over two hours, an all too rare occurrence these days. Other artists take note. You had the impression that Turner wanted to play all night but in the days of the 11PM curfew he wrapped it up at 10:59 PM.
I make no secret of the fact that I will never stop trying to be first in the queue when Turner tickets go on sale. Long may he continue to turn in stellar performances like this. Anyone who came away from a night like this feeling short-changed must be dead. If all artists put in as much effort as Turner does we could all join Turner and sing at the top of our voices “Come on now lets fix this mess, we can get better because we’re not dead yet.”