The best word to describe the feeling of tonight’s show would be inclusive. For one, it’s easily got among the most diverse age range you’re likely to see at a punk show, and with a total lack of animosity or hostility between anyone right from the off. It’s definitely appropriate for the lead-up to an album called Be More Kind, but it’s the exact atmosphere that Frank Turner has cultivated at his shows for years now; there’s a universality to both the music and the vibe that anyone can get behind.
And that’s mirrored in his choice of support acts, particularly with Derek Zanetti, aka The Homeless Gospel Choir (8). His one-man-and-an-acoustic-guitar persona is about as unassuming as it gets, but you’re unlikely to see a solo artist in punk with as much character as this. Acoustic jams about family, community and political malcontent are delivered with such warmth and affable vulnerability, frequently breaking into tangents and one-liners that range from endearing and charming to absolutely hilarious. It’s rare to see a solo artist captivate an unsuspecting crowd to this extent, but it reaches a point where Zanetti’s every word is hung upon, and joined by Arkells for a riotous final song Normal, there’s a genuine talent that’s been newly unearthed by so many.
Speaking of Arkells (8), they don’t miss a beat, quite literally – the instant Zanetti leaves the stage, they launch into a set that marries indie presentation with pop-rock bounce and classic rock swagger to fantastic effect. Again, this is another band who are virtually unknown outside of their native Canada, but their near-seismic impact is undeniable. For one, their dalliances through multiple genres, while having little connective tissue, betrays a band with confidence to burn; from the sizzling riff-rock of Knocking At The Door to the lithe, neon funk-pop of People’s Champ to the unabashedly huge radio indie of Leather Jacket, this is a band with all their bases covered, and they’ve reached a point where they can excel at almost every one. Coupled with Max Kerman as the soulful, Brandon Flowers-channeling frontman that he is, Arkells’ larger-than-life magnetism resonates in a major way.
It’s an uncharacteristically excellent undercard across the board, and one that Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls (8) certainly have to work for to at least better. And while they arguably can’t reach that level – the sheer surprise of both supporting acts would make that especially difficult anyway – Turner and his band always manage to hit a level of excellence themselves, and this is no exception. 1933 and Get Better are the sort of rousing folk-punk that set the mood off on the highest possible note, and the affability and community spirit becomes such an encapsulating force.
Of course, the balance between a rampaging energy and deeper, more quiet moments of introspection often provides the framework for Turner’s sets, and it seems to work better than ever here. Turner steps away from his band mid-set for an acoustic trio of Faithful Son, The Way I Tend To Be and new song Get It Right (already destined to be a fan favourite), but returning with an ominously-lit Blackout and a searing Out Of Breath, each possible angle is approached with care and precision. And yet, this is, by all definitions, a punk show, and with that comes an electricity which permeates even when the music itself gets a bit milder. The country rollick of The Road and Photosynthesis might bare some significant sonic disparity from something like Four Simple Words, but there’s heart and passion that runs through every single moment.
And at the very centre is Turner himself, the beaming frontman who clearly can’t be more appreciative of everyone here. Once again, the communality is such a huge factor; there’s no disconnect or faux-rockstar personas here, something clearly exemplified by Turner’s stories about his grandmother and calls to his sister and brother-in-law in the crowd. The atmosphere can’t be overstated either, with a softly-arranged Polaroid Picture to close out as the final salvo for universality and keeping these memories safe.
But of course, everyone here knows this by now; this is show 2000-odd after all. It doesn’t make it any less vibrant and enjoyable though, with Turner and The Sleeping Souls having become a tight, truly exemplary unit now. It certainly won’t be a benchmark moment in their live career, particularly with some huge shows pencilled in for early next year, but there’s no denying the live presence here, and the feeling it creates is worthy of praise on its own.
Words by Luke Nuttall