Since abandoning hardcore punk to become an acoustic troubadour ten years ago, Frank Turner has earned himself a huge crowd following. So much so that he sold out his headlining gig at Wembley Arena in 2012, and he hasn’t let up since. This show at Sheffield Academy, in support of latest album Positive Songs For Negative People, sees the room filled with people of all ages and types, all united by one man.
It’s a cheerful, supportive crowd too, who take extremely well to both support acts. Kicking things off is Will Varley , another acoustic solo artist. And he has the crowd wrapped around his little finger and laughing from the get go with the cheeky, witty lyrics of Advert Soundtrack and the frankly hilarious The Self Checkout Shuffle. While sweet political songs in the middle of the five song set slow things down a bit, he pulls it back with a half-improvised I Got This Email, ensuring those unfamiliar with him before the set will want more.
Skinny Lister  follow with their pub-performer folk, and sadly, technical issues with the microphones prevent opening tracks This Is War and George’s Glass from sounding like more than noise. But the six-piece more than make up for it by both getting the crowd involved for a raucous John Kanaka, and in terms of showmanship with Lorna Thomas’ dabbles in Irish dancing and Michael Camino’s ridiculous crowd surf with double bass in tow, making the set a visual joy.
But everyone is undoubtedly here for Frank Turner , and he and his band The Sleeping Souls arrive onstage to phenomenal applause and cheering. And from opener Eulogy, there is an audible echo around his vocals from the crowd, who lap up every moment. Frank himself is obviously happiest to be there, though. Along with being note perfect throughout, he smiles warmly pretty much constantly, and it’s clear he’s having the best time of his life. And he seems genuinely thrilled at the scale of crowd participation, relishing in his self-proclaimed cult leader status during The Opening Act Of Spring after everyone sings when his guitar is raised.
But despite the ridiculous amount of crowd participation, it’s all pulled off well, with the jovial crowd more than happy to sit down and jump up during Photosynthesis or do starjumps along with a member of Frank’s crew during Recovery. It’s this community feel and the high spirits of the few thousand in the room that make this gig feel so special. Frank and the Sleeping Souls keep banter flowing throughout, and joke about how Sheffield are taking the nightly “Tarrant / Ben side of the room” stunt a lot more seriously than other audiences. But the material doesn’t harm anything, although there is arguably too much of a focus on newer tracks than old. But nevertheless, every moment earns a colossal reaction, be it passionately singing along to The Ballad Of Me And My Friends or the dead silence during the tear-worthy Song For Josh and the rapturous applause afterwards.
The reaction to closer Four Simple Words sums up the night, though. Everyone, including Frank who’s ditched his guitar, bursts into euphoric dancing and there isn’t a straight face in the room. It’s this ability to bring people together and provoke such emotion that has kept Frank in the hearts of so many for so long. And it’s what will keep him there for many years to come.
Words by Georgia Jackson