Frank Turner operates in that most ambiguous of roles, the singer-songwriter, with his output being classified variously from punk to folk. This live-work reveals that this is not entirely accurate, he is foremost an entertainer – the genre is irrelevant. This digital release is the complete live show number 2429 including the chat between songs covering his autobiographical journey. He immediately makes this intention clear ‘Good evening friends and welcome to the show… tonight we are going to tell some stories’. The structure frames his personal journey and how his experiences have been incorporated within song.
The stories include unhappy love, mental health issues, addiction and the importance of music ‘that record that you heard at the right time that saved your fucking life’. Fortunately his open and engaging personality balances the directness of some of the subject matter, ensuring the whole experience is overall positive, leaving residual feel-good emotions.
‘The Journey Of The Magi’ provides insight into his primary motivations. ‘I could have played safe, but in the end the journey’s brought joys that outweigh the pain’. ‘Isabel’ beautifully incorporates the possibility of modern technology leading to societal collapse within the auspices of a love song that seems particularly poignant at this time ‘and so the world has changed, worse or better’s hard to tell, but my hope remains within the arms of Isabel’.
‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ is revamped as a rock and roll number with a short reggae interlude. ‘Telltale Signs’ is a brutal confessional covering the relationship between love, suffering and self-harm. ‘Balthazar Impresario’ is a poignant reflection on the highs and lows of the journeyman artist ‘Give the crowd everything they’re asking for and more, always make them laugh, try to make them cry, always take the stage like it’s the last night of your life’.
‘Be More Kind’ is the finale of the set, which succinctly encapsulates his overall philosophy ‘In a world that has decided that it’s going to lose its mind, be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind’.
The tour was an experimental venture to capture the deeply personal nature of his written material. The musical style of the songs are extensively revised to become more laid back and acoustic than his studio releases, which fits well with the intimate conversational structure. The quality of the songwriting is compelling, throughout the gig he seamlessly and humorously integrates references to Dostoevsky, Steinbeck, Carl Sagan, the resurrected spirit of Gram Parsons and Bob Dylan’s driving.
If you don’t know his work, this would be a great place to start – there are numerous excellent versions of songs resulting from his restless energy and the quality of his backing band The Sleeping Souls. Stick on your headphones and listen straight through, you have got a top gig with a great performer, a cool backing band and a fantastic setlist ahead. That emotional roller-coaster from wistful air to lusty sing-along with the essential sweat and tears, noise and intimacy of live music are all captured here. This is ideal listening for these lockdown days, but in the end what comes through most clearly is the persona that is Frank Turner.
He’s always lived up to that line from “Balthazar, Impresario” in his live performances, which have often (like Springsteen, whom he clearly admires) starting his sets with the intensity and energy that others might have for the end or the encore. Having seen him live a few times, both with The Sleeping Souls and solo (including one of the multi night stands of his “Lost Evenings” weekend festivals) this set came as bit of a surprise, being dialled down from what others have called his “shouting into a bucket” arrangements. As such though it’s more in line with the tone of his most recent albums, “Be More Kind” and “No Man’s Land”. It’s a bit odd that the tour this is taken from was to promote the latter album, yet this release features no songs from it.
I’d recommend a listen to his podcast “Tales From No Man’s Land” where he talks through the tracks with people who have an interest in the subjects of the songs, which focus on Mata Hari, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Christa McAuliffe and others. There is a gem of an episode where he talks with his mum, who insists on calling him “Francis” throughout.