A Whiskey and a Wry Smile
What a difference six months makes! Last year you'd have found Frank Turner performing on his own to average sized crowds in small venues like the Retro Bar, tonight he plays Manchester for the first time since the release of his debut album and it's clear that word has got around. The Night & Day is packed out to see Frank return with a full backing band and as someone who has only ever seen him play solo before the difference is quite staggering.
The set begins in familiar fashion as Frank takes the stage on his own to deliver 'The Real Damage', which despite earlier problems with his voice is as strong as ever. The crowd however are slightly tentative early on, they don't quite seem to know what to do but fortunately the ice is broken somewhat with the arrival of Dive Dive to supply backing to the excellent 'Vital Signs'. I can't overstate the difference having a band behind him makes, 'Vital Signs' is a fine tune in it's own right but with the band behind it, it becomes fantastic! From here on in the momentum just builds and builds with the band joining Frank on stage as and when required.
It's good to hear some of the album tracks live for the first time such as 'Once We Were Anarchists' and 'Father's Day', which gets the crowd singing along at the end although bizarrely the front rows are strangely inanimate. The older songs fit in well tonight with a trio of 'Thatcher Fucked the Kids', 'Casanova's Lament' and 'Worse Things Happen At Sea', which is the only song tonight where I find myself preferring the solo version. Over the last year or so Frank has really developed his sound and injected a good variety of styles, best demonstrated by ' Back in the Day' with it's hoe down feel, during which both band and crowd really get going. Everyone's smiling and by now there's a real sense of fun about proceedings.
Songs like 'The Ladies of London Town' just wouldn't have worked like this a year ago, whereas tonight it 's one of the highlights of the set with the full band giving it a real rock feel. Despite the differing styles of the songs none of them feel out of place and the adopted 'When the Huntsman Comes a Calling' really hits home before the predictable ending with 'The Ballad of Me and My Friends' gives the crowd one last chance to sing a long. Having followed Frank since his first forays as a solo artist, during which time I confess I had my doubts about where he could go with it (as I suspect he did too) there's something undeniably gratifying about finally seeing his hard work pay off with dividends. I'm smiling, he's smiling, the crowd is loving it and in a time of so much doom and gloom we can all do with more nights like this. He's found his sound and at last he's found his crowd, Million Dead is a glorious but increasingly distant memory and it only remains to be seen what he comes up with next.