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Frank Turner - First Direct Arena, Leeds 27.01.2019

Music is a peculiar thing. It has no physicality yet it has a massive power over people. It has the ability to make you remember days and moments. There's its power to make you laugh or cry, to heal or hurt. It can bring together so many like minded souls in congregation and still be a tie that binds a few close friends together. It’s both intimate as well as communal, speaking directly at times to your soul. In the past few years Frank Turner’s music has become something more than a collection of albums, they are a guide to how to live my life, to blueprint on how to help others and myself. They provide me with solace when I feel lonely and direction when I feel lost. The show was also about closure and healing, about being part of a group of people that are connected through a commonality, even though they may not directly be aware of it or even, for that matter, each other.

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls rolled into Leeds First Direct Arena this past Sunday. It was the second leg of his UK tour on the back of 2018's album "Be More Kind", a record that appeared in many best of year lists. As befitting his constant touring and performing over the past few years quite a few of these dates are in arena settings, a step up from his last jaunt that saw him play smaller venues, quite possibly for the last time. It just goes to show that patience and developing your fan base organically can pay off if you're the right artist doing things the right way.

Frank has put together a solid bill for this leg, something to appeal to older fans and newer ones. Opening up tonight's proceedings is Grace Petrie, a Leicester based protest singer. She strides onstage quite confident, if she has any nerves about being here she's certainly not showing them. She jokes that as a protest singer she’s not very successful as there’s still quite a lot of protesting to be done before starting her set with ‘I Wish The Guardian Believed That I Exist’ (a response to their belief there were no more protest singers). She thanks Frank for asking her to be a part of the tour, adding that they are some of the biggest audiences she’s played to. But she holds her own and manages to captivate the audience that are there in a way that connects to you in a way that, even in a large arena, you feel like she’s performing to you personally. ‘Black Tie’ from last year’s album “Queer As Folk” lands home in ways that makes you wonder why you’ve not had her song in your life before. She’s touring quite a bit over the next few months playing some more intimate shows. Do yourself a favour and get yourself along, you’ll thank us later. Grace needs to be welcomed into your heart and music collection.

Jimmy Eat World have been tagged as Emo for many years now, a label they really grew out of a long time ago. They’ve been touring and recording now since the mid nineties, an infectious blend of Pop and Rock that saw their popularity peak with the album “Bleed American” that was released In 2001. But this is no nostalgia act as they’ve been releasing music steadily ever since. The fact that the audience visibly increases as they start their set shows that they are definitely a draw for this tour.

They open with ‘Pain’, flooding the stage with light. Frontman Jim Adkins looks as though he hasn’t aged at all, looking pretty much the same as he did when I first saw the band on Kerrang! TV. There’s not much in the way of chat from them, they’re focused on the job in hand. Their set works as a great introduction to the band, eleven songs picked to represent their music to fans and new listeners alike. They even manage to add ‘Lucky Denver Mint’ to the set tonight, a fan request especially for this gig. They close off their part of the night’s proceedings with the three songs that most people would know. ‘Bleed American’, ‘Sweetness’ and ‘The Middle’ all sound as fresh as they did the first time I heard them, and their infectious hooks pull any straggling listeners in. Chatting to my girlfriend (who’s seen them three times before) and friends afterwards we agree that they were good but something stopped them taking it to the next level. Was it the venue or the lighting production (the band were often backlight with amp level LED lights) or something else? I’m not quite sure. I enjoyed them but still feel, even sitting here a few days afterwards, that something didn’t quite connect.

Frank Turner has connected to a good few of the audience on a personal level over the years, and I’m sure that many of us have stories we could tell. For myself and fellow 3 Songs & Out photographer Neil Vary our story is intertwined with each other and Frank’s music. A few years ago we were both travelling in some dark places mentally at slightly different times to each other. One of the common factors we had was his album “Positive Songs For Negative People”, an album that connected to us and helped shine a light when we needed, providing help, companionship and support. Speaking for myself, these songs helped save me from that time and place mentally, something that last year’s album “Be More Kind” has also helped with. We’d also both emailed Frank himself separately in the past to thank him for his music and what it’s meant. Frank was kind enough to do an email interview with me a few years ago for my blog about mental health, whilst with Neil he told him to get back in touch the next time he was touring Leeds and he’d sort out a pass for him to come and take photographs at the show. And so we both find ourselves here, ready for tonight, both slightly wary of how much this show will affect us personally.

Tonight’s set is a great balance of songs from every part of his career. Opening with ‘Out Of Breath’ Frank and the Sleeping Souls are in top form. They are like a well oiled machine at this point in their career, each and every one of the musicians are at the peak of their game. Drummer Nigel Powell is possibly the bands secret weapon, nailing the beat and backing vocals whilst being one of the finest dressed drummers around. Matt Nasir on organ and keys adds some many different colours and tones to the songs while bassist Tarantino Anderson jerks and pulls at his bass in such a unique manner in front of him. Ben Lloyd swaps between guitar and mandolin, dancing from one side of the stage to the other that suggests that someone has filled his shoes with drawing pins. Frank himself in a constant blur of energy, singing, dancing and leaping around the stage. He even finds himself diving into the audience on several occasions, notably in the encore closer of ‘Four Little Words’ where he decides he needs to find a woman to dance with him. But, I know, I’m getting ahead of myself.

This is no singer songwriter whinging fest of sadness and self pity. Even in the night’s darker moments there are shining lights of positivity, there’s the infectious energy of Frank and his band to pick you up and charge you along. Song’s are loaded with meanings for most people here. ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’ was requested to Frank privately in memory of a fan’s father as it was his favourite song, something that he obliges without fuss. It’s only in one of the fan forums that I find out later the reason why it was asked for.

Turner has played Leeds several times before as he lists the local venues he’s performed at leading to tonight’s arena show. It doesn’t just make you realise that he’s been playing for a good while now and that’s he’s certainly paid his dues (both completely true by the way) but also the fact that these small venues help create the people that you’ll be going to see in the future. The fact that these venues are slowly disappearing thanks to lack of funds and people turning up to see local bands that need to be nurtured is shocking. Yes, we can always blame councils for refusing applications or greedy owners who want to sell up and make a profit, but without these places to go to all we’ll have in the future are manufactured acts and bands that will be force fed to the public in an easy consumable manner.

The Sleeping Souls are given a slight break as Turner takes his traditional solo slot part way through the set. ‘Long Live The Queen’, ‘There She Is’ and ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ shows that Frank can hold the audience in the palm of his hand in such an intimate way that makes you feel like he’s talking directly to you, that he’s recounting some incredibly personal stories and revelations directly to yourself and nobody else in the room, a major feat considering the size of the room. The band come back to the stage, helping close the main set with an energy that helps lift and guide us as an audience before a raucous ‘I Still Believe’ caps the main set.

A short break allows us to draw breath before the four song encore. ‘Be More Kind’ has taken on a life of it’s own beyond the last album. It’s not just a rallying uplifting call to us all, but it’s now a mantra to us all to look at life to see how we can improve it in ways that we have control of by being just that little bit more kinder to all around us. It’s also possibly the most poignant song of the night for myself, it’s soft and soothing melody and words help deliver a meaning that helps lift you. ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ gives you an opportunity to look back on things with a feeling of melancholy before the anthem ‘Get Better’ injects you with pure adrenalin, it’s chorus of “we can get better as we’re not dead yet” shouted and yelled back to the band as communal “fuck you” to whatever is holding you down or holding you back, making you realise that you are certainly not alone in these feelings, especially when there are so many people around you that are plainly feeling those same feelings as yourself (or myself in this case). The previously mentioned “Four Simple Words” is the perfect end to the night, tying up any loose threads that run throughout the audience before it’s closing refrain brings an end to the night as confetti cannons are set off in celebration. Arms are raised to pluck confetti from the air as a momento of the night as Frank thanks us from the stage. The lights come up as the “Red Dwarf” theme song plays over the PA, a projection onto the back of the stage reminds us that this is show number 2304 of Frank’s career, something that he’s been keeping track of since the start of his career. It’s a testament to his tenacity and persistence that the life of the travelling troubadour is something that runs in his veins.

Afterwards a few of us sit in a local bar, talking about the night. I know as soon as I see Neil that it’s acted as a kind of closer to us both for what we both went through, we don’t even need to say that to each other. But, it’s more than that too. It was therapy and medication, something to help us in any darker future times that we may have to endure, a reminder that we are never alone in these situations. We have people around us and, more importantly at times, we have these memories. As Frank sang “I’m trying to get better as I haven’t been my best”, something we can all hold onto in these times.

Review - Scott Hamilton

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