1. The Ballad Of Me & My Friends (Live)
2. I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous (Live)
3. Journey Of The Magi (Live)
4. Substitute (Live)
5. Isabel (Live)
6. Redemption (Live)
7. Reasons Not To Be An Idiot (Live)
9. Tell Tale Signs (Live)
10. One Foot Before The Other (Live)
11. The Way I Tend To Be (Live)
12. The Opening Act Of Spring (Live)
13. Love Forty Down (Live)
14. There She Is (Live)
15. Don't Worry (Live)
16. Balthazar Impresario (Live)
17. Photosynthesis (Live)
18. Recovery (Live)
19. I Still Believe (Live)
20. Be More Kind (Live)
2019 was a great year for Frank Turner. A book, album, podcast as well as his usual constant touring. He also seemed to find some personal peace by getting married.
I managed to see him three times last year, each one as wonderful as the other, with each gig being completely different to the other. The last show was part of his "No Man's Land" tour in Newcastle, his set broken into two parts. The first set was centred around his then most recent album, the second a chronological tour through his catalogue, with stories and anecdotes entertaining us just as much as the songs themselves. I happily reviewed the night and even said at the end:
"Show 2429 is done and dusted, but I really hope that he makes some kind of recording of this tour and format. It works well and allows him as and artist to connect in such a great way with the audience."
How excited was I when I found out that he was releasing a show recording? Even more so when I learned it was the Newcastle show. Not only am I able to revisit an amazing show, but I’m able to take more from the night than I was able to be being there and present in the moment.
The sedate evening opens with a slightly reworked version of ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’, which featuring The Sleeping Souls starting the song before Turner walks onto the stage, adopting a spoken delivery for the song which really suits the evening and the presentation of an artist’s back catalogue, which is what this really is.
A good friend of mine (hi Kev!) calls Frank one of this country’s national treasures and he’s not wrong. To quote ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ opening line “let’s begin at the beginning” we journey (of the Magi) chronologically from his first album “Sleep Is For The Week” up to the prophetic “Be More Kind” (last year’s “No Man’s Land” was covered in Turner’s opening set from the night which isn’t included on this release). He introduces the material with a wry sense of humour, taking little swipes at himself. ‘Isabel’, for example, started as a love song before it evolved into a tale of the collapse of society through modern technology, not a great idea if you’ve titled the song after your then girlfriend. “Thanks 2009 me, you’re a card” he says in it’s introduction.
More well known “hits” for catalogue are sometimes skipped over in favour of others that favour the evening. We have the Amy trilogy, a trio of songs that feature the character of Amy who appears in all three, something that really works in this context. These introspective visions work really well as it exposes the raw vulnerability of the song with Turner not afraid to point the finger accusingly at himself at times. They also show just how good The Sleeping Souls are as a band. Each musician brings their unique style to each song they play and, removed of the shackles of the traditional arrangement of each song’s source, they are allowed to reinvent each one where needed. The vocal harmonies at the start of ‘I Am Disappeared’ is worth the cost of the album, each voice working so amazingly well that it will trigger a series of goosebumps.
The chronological journey ends with ‘Don’t Worry’ as Turner then skips back to “England Keep My Bones” for what is probably the core song for the night. He tells us that all he wanted to be in life is an entertainer and ‘Balthazar Impressario’ tells the story of a fictional music hall artist. For me it’s an immediate call back to John Osbourne’s play “The Entertainer” that was turned into a film starring Laurence Olivier in 1960. In the play’s final scene the titular music hall entertainer stands onstage to an audience that has stopped caring about music hall and his performance. There’s a grim atmosphere over the final monologue before it ends with a final spotlight that disappears as the music continues to play. In his song, Turner uses Balthazar to to tell us that, no matter what, he will still be here until the end.
An “encore” of ‘Photosynthesis’, ‘Recovery’ and ‘I Still Believe’ feel like more one of his traditional shows before he tugs away the rug from under us with a dark, somber take on ‘Be More Kind’ that’s matured since it’s slightly more upbeat original version. This one is a bit more battle scarred for trying to live up to it’s manifesto. The past few years may have been tough for people to try and be more kind (as the songs says) but it’s still possible. The more genuine of us will carry on this mantra long after some Facebook meme as asked us to live our lives this way (or for as long as it’s convenient).
Turner has been an artist who’s not been afraid to criticise himself through the night for his youthful naivety but he’s matured a lot through his career. There’s no cynicism, more of an attitude of a song being more of musical snapshot of the way things were in his life then, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“Live In Newcastle” works as a career overview, an exploration of an artist’s catalogue as well as songwriting masterclass. The storytelling format works incredibly well here as it allows both the artist and audience to develop a better, deeper understanding of the beating heart of each song. While live albums are generally a stop gap release, something for the hardcore audience and completist, this works on a different level. Yes, it’s a document of that tour and the Newcastle show itself, but it’s also a companion to his book whilst also inviting us to explore the troubadour as he travels his career. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this album is more important than his last studio release as a way of understanding Frank Turner and why he is the artist he is. It may only be a digital release but it is definitely worth investing your money and listening time to, you’ll look back at his previously released albums in different light. In times like these Turner has again established himself as an essential artist, writer and performer, something we desperately need.
Website - frank-turner.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/frankturnermusic/
Review - Scott Hamilton