Last time I saw Frank Turner was at a sold out show at London’s Forum. Next month he’s playing at the 22,000 capacity o2 Arena. Tonight, however, a mere handful of fans were in for a special treat as the English folk singer played a (badly kept) secret show at Camden’s Hawley Arms.
The opening act was Nick Grimes (****), vocalist of The Din, who played a unique set on a twelve-string acoustic, blending elements of diverse sounds from rock’n’roll to gypsy jazz. Sam McCarthy (***) followed, strumming through a set of enjoyable (albeit unremarkable) folk songs. Then there was Canadian singer-songwriter Billy The Kid (****), whose emotionally-charged, punk-folk-rock music demonstrated a lot of talent and passion for music.
Finally, Frank (*****) took to the stage, armed with only his acoustic guitar – it’s a rare thing to see him without his band The Sleeping Souls. The first surprise of the night was Frank’s announcement that for the first half hour, he’d be playing only brand spanking new songs. Most had never been played live, and many were still a work in progress (for which reason Frank made it clear that no videos should be posted to Youtube… or else).
They ranged from upbeat to slow and melancholy, serious to tongue-in-cheek; all the while maintaining that crucial Frank-ness that you can never quite put your finger on. My personal favourite was Get Better, an inspiring song about overcoming all the crap life throws at you, ‘because you’re not dead yet’.
Although it was great to get a first listen of his new material, nothing beats singing along with a hundred voices to the songs you know and love. Frank played us a selection of his best-known songs, including The Real Damage and Recovery, before giving us a few more surprises: the first was a cover of Tom Jones’s Delilah, which went down a treat. Next was a song reserved for ‘special occasions’: The Ballad of Me and My Friends from his debut record, during which Frank clambered down from the stage into the crowd and was engulfed by a sea of fans, euphorically singing ‘We’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell’. This itself would have been a pretty damn good end to the show, but Frank went ahead and one-upped himself by playing his unique take on Abba’s Dancing Queen.
It was a surreal night, and a lot of fun. Seeing your favourite musicians in intimate venues is always an amazing experience, not least when they’re big enough to play arenas. Here’s to hoping that when Frank’s headlining stadiums, he’ll still come back and play tiny, up-close-and-personal shows like this one. Nothing quite beats it.
By Lucy Roth.