FRANK TURNER & THE SLEEPING SOULS + EMILY BARKER – DE LA WARR, PAVILION, BEXHILL-ON-SEA 29.11.19
The first time I saw Frank Turner was Reading Festival 2016. He was the first act on the first day, and as a naïve nineteen year old. My breakfast had consisted of two vodka orange juices (with bits, not pulp but glitter). Whilst I was sat on my 6’3 friend’s shoulders like the cliché girl you see in all festival coverage, Turner called for a ‘wall of hugs’ which essentially was meant to be a friendly wall of death. In a desperate panic to get me back on the ground we all got crushed in the crowd. One of my friends fell and had her sunglasses broken from someone stepping on her head! It was quite an experience and was definitely the most violent mosh pit I ended up in all weekend.
Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion is rather different to Reading Festival – flushing toilets, people who’ve had showers in the past few days, and far less cheap cider mixed with blackcurrant squash! Perhaps the biggest difference is this was a completely seated concert. Tonight’s gig was Turner’s 2430th, where better to celebrate that milestone than Bexhill?
Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls consists of Frank Turner (vocals), Ben Lloyd (guitar, mandolin), Tarrant Anderson (bass), Matt Nasir (piano, mandolin) and Nigel Powell (drums). Having performed 2430 concerts in 48 countries over 21 years, Turner has had quite the career. From performing at the London Olympics pre-show in 2012 to winning two AIM awards and one Kerrang award, Turner has worked hard to create his brand and find his feet within the music industry.
Turner began his musical career in alternative and hardcore bands, but now it’s difficult to categorise Turner’s music to one genre, straying the border between folk punk, rock and roll, and acoustic rock. Turner openly expresses his left wing politics and is actively involved in humanist groups and charity work. This theatre tour is promoting his new album ‘No Man’s Land’.
The night opened with Emily Barker, a friend of Turner’s who has been touring with him on and off for eleven years. 38 year old Emily is from West Australia, but has now settled in Stroud. She is best known for writing and performing the theme tune to the BBC crime drama ‘Wallander’, and also won the Americana Award for UK Artist of the Year in 2018. Barker encapsulates a style I can always get behind: powerful and emotional girl power music. As a self-proclaimed sad girl, when she introduced ‘Number 5 Hurricane’ as “yet another sad love song” she got me on side!
Her acoustic performance of ‘Precious Memories’ was breath-taking, her voice is incredibly powerful and it filled the whole of the De La Warr which is a large venue. I do wish more people had come early to hear her, as she is both a talented singer and songwriter, and not even forgetting her own lyrics could take away from that!
Playing the harmonica during her cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ was a lovely touch and not something you commonly hear at gigs. It was nice to hear her personal attachment to this song, it being the only song her family could agree on listening to on long car journeys through Australia as they headed to a different town for a holiday.
Her stage presence and musical ability meant she could hold the audience’s attention with just herself on stage and no extreme background staging. She fitted well with the atmosphere of the evening as like Turner does later, she tells stories about her songs. Her song about Sister Rosetta, ‘Sister Goodbye’ was powerful and she was quick to let us know that she wrote her song about Rosetta Tharpe before Turner wrote his!
I loved that she wrote songs inspired by books, as writing short stories based on lyrics that hit hard is something I do! It’s nice to see my style in reverse, and who knows, perhaps she’ll write a song based on my stories one day!
The setlist reads as follows: ‘Geography’, ‘Number 5 Hurricane’, ‘Tougher Than The rest’, ‘Sister Goodbye’, ‘Precious Memories’, ‘Disappear’, ‘Breath’, ‘Sunrise’.
For further information on Emily, visit www.emilybarker.com
The first headline set was Frank Turner alone, performing songs from his latest album ‘No Man’s Land’. The concept behind the album is exploring powerful women throughout history who don’t get the acknowledgement they deserve. Some songs are written about them, others are written from their perspective. Turner is such a wonderful storyteller and I was hooked on every word he said. I learnt so much about underrepresented female history and it made me feel like an empowered woman and a proud feminist. The way he told the stories was easily accessible for anyone to understand
Turner’s Christmas song ‘The Graveyard Of The Outcast Dead’ was definitely the equivalent of ‘Die Hard’ being a Christmas film. If you want to brand this as a Christmas song then it’s definitely a Christmas song with a better message than most you’ll hear! At least we were a late November gig rather than September, so it felt more appropriate for the season!
One of my favourite songs from this set was ‘Rosetta’. Not only was it a brilliant song, but it came with a brilliant story. It was lovely to hear a middle class white man acknowledge his privilege and pay tribute to the forgotten black female founder of rock and roll, the first woman to attribute rock to a style of music. Acknowledging how much she laid the foundations for the current rock and roll scene and Turner’s own music drew attention to an important woman who deserves more credit in the genre.
‘No Man’s Land’ is a wonderful concept album and it was incredible to hear live to get a feel for all the stories behind the songs.
After a quick interval, Turner came back with the Sleeping Souls for an unplugged full band set. This time the stories being told were more personal; nothing screams a light Friday evening like songs about unhappy love, mental health, addiction, and death! One of the things I love about Turner is how open and honest he is about his life, acknowledging where he messes up. It’s nice to hear an artist who isn’t completely ‘woe is me’ and takes responsibility. It’s brave to hear Turner open up about his personal struggles and it’s beautiful to hear his hurt channelled into music which touches so many people.
Turner spoke candidly about his long term ex-girlfriend and how once they broke up, he wrote numerous songs about her and put them out into the public on his album ‘Tape Deck Heart’. After realising he had made their whole relationship very public her wrote her an apology song, ‘The Opening Act Of Spring’. I enjoyed the mandolin in this song, and from now on I’m only accepting apologies in the form of mandolin solos!
When my favourite Turner song ‘Recovery’ came on I wasn’t disappointed. Everyone got up to dance and I sung all the words out of tune. It was one of those precious moments at a concert where you get so swept up just living in the moment. I loved the little personal lyric change of “if anybody ever asks us we’ll tell them we met in the Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion”. It didn’t quite fit the rhythm as it’s considerably longer than “jail”, but it was great fun and gave that touch that makes it so different from listening to songs in your bedroom.
What really made the atmosphere was the incredible use of lighting and minimalistic staging. There were no gimmicks, just pure raw music. When the whole stage went white with smoke and it faded to reveal Turner during ‘I Am Disappeared’ it was a powerful moment where I felt completely immersed in the music. During the ‘No Man’s Land’ set, the colours matched the mood and journey as the stories moved locations.
On my search for the toilets, I came across a stall promoting ‘safer gigs for women’. I was thrilled to see them there as it’s such an important cause tackling harassment at concerts. They had leaflets about how to help women you see being harassed rather than being a bystander. The campaign began in 2015 with their most recent marketing being the four D’s of being an active bystander: Direct (call out inappropriate behaviour you see), Distraction (help get the person on the receiving end out of the situation), Delegate (get someone else involved such as security), and Delay (offer help and support after an incident). You can find out more on their website: sgfw.org.uk. Respect to the De La Warr Pavilion and Turner for having them present.
Turner really engaged with the audience and rid me of my scepticism surrounding a fully seated gig. I loved the little touch of the whole band being seated, it created a more intimate feel, and despite it being a sold out gig, there were moments so touching, I felt like the only person in the room. Turner claimed he played the best guitar solo he’s ever played in Bexhill… his second ever, but hopefully not his last. Turner is always welcome in Bexhill and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone when I say we would love to have him back! The only way the night could get better would have been if he sung ‘Get Better’ but all in all it was a brilliant night.
Setlist One reads as follows: ‘Jimmy Bingham’s Ghost’, ‘The Graveyard Of The Outcast Dead’, ‘I Believed You William Blake’, ‘The Hymn Of Kassiani’, ‘The Death Of Dora Hand’, ‘Sister Rosetta’, ‘The Lioness’.
Setlist Two reads as follows: ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’, ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’, ‘Journey Of The Magi’, ‘Substitute’, ‘Isabel’, ‘Redemption’, ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’, ‘I Am Disappeared’, ‘Telltale Signs’, ‘One Foot Before The Other’, ‘The Way I Tend To Be’, ‘The Opening Act Of Spring’, ‘Love 40 Down’, ‘There She Is’, ‘Don’t Worry’, ‘Balthazar Impresario’, ‘Photosynthesis’, ‘Recovery’, ‘I Still Believe’, ‘Be More Kind’.
A Dad’s View
I have to say that I knew very little about Emily Barker until tonight, but I soon became familiar with her as she took us through her set of peaceful folk music. I prefer to stand up at a gig whereas Emily made it clear that she much prefers a seated gig as she has suffered some heckling in the past whilst supporting Frank Turner.
She enjoyed the appreciative audience who had arrived early to see her rather than watch the local Christmas Light Procession, and there was the added bonus of not having to swear at rude crowd members to get them to shut up. By her own admission she loves sad ass love song and treats us to a few of these in her set. My favourite song was probably where Emily ditched the guitar for ‘Precious Memories’. A finger clicking good song!
She finished off the set with the more upbeat ‘Sunrise’, which went down well with those who had made the effort to catch her performance. If you want to catch her in the UK then you will have to be quick as she has sensibly arranged a tour in her home country starting in a couple of weeks which she has managed to stretch out for a couple of months whilst we freeze!
Once again my daughter Iona had decided to bring me along to see an artist that I was vaguely familiar with but had not seen play live before. I had heard about Frank Turner’s live shows, but this was not what I had expected after she had shared her ‘wall of death’ experience with me.
One of the early comments from Mr Turner was in reference to the theatre style tour and explaining what the deal was with the all-seated theatre style tour. I rarely sit down at a gig, but strangely this actually worked as Frank played his acoustic set covering seven tracks off his latest album. It really was fascinating and educational to hear the stories behind these women from history and Frank added his own light-hearted twist to some so as not to leave the crowd feeling down. When you have a song about a theatre, a brothel and going to prison, then as Frank said that sounds like a good night out, though I would add he was probably in the wrong town if he was after that tonight! A thoroughly enjoyable 45 minute set.
The second set was unplugged and his band The Sleeping Souls took to the stage. Frank laid himself bare as he went through his life from when he left home in Winchester a day after finishing his exams and moved to London, to failed relationships and his battles with his mental health and addiction. It has been documented that maybe he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, which to me makes his rebellion against the system all the more impressive. At least he isn’t playing Polo and out Fox Hunting at the weekends.
He tells of his regularly attending gigs by hardcore Anarchist bands wanting to smash the system, but the system being in place all these years later, which is something I can identify with, though I still do go and see such bands in hope that one day we will. It was amusing to hear of him walking around Tottenham after he moved, in his trench coat and how he wanted his ashes scattered in the reservoirs so that all of London can have a bit of Frank Turner. Sounds reasonable to me.
The story moved onto more recent times and his happier life where he seems to have found contentment in himself. He sung his ‘Grade A romantic sh*t’ song which he wrote for his now wife of three months as she slept whilst on holiday in Rome some time ago, though she did wake up before he could finish the second chorus and he had to get her to go to breakfast so he could “finish off” what he was doing. There was a happier feel to the concert and he then sang ‘Be More Kind’ which is the one lasting message from tonight that he wanted to give to his fans, of which I am now one.
The crowd eventually rose to their feet when they burst into ‘Photosynthesis’ which was just about my highlight of the set, though hearing my daughter sing along word perfect, though possibly not pitch perfect, to ‘Recovery’ just pipped it!
Not being over familiar with his music, I actually enjoyed the first set more than the second, though I’m sure a lot of the die-hard fans were there to hear the back catalogue. I must say that I am looking forward to seeing Frank Turner in future when there is a full mosh pit on the go.
For further Frank Turner information, visit frank-turner.com
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