REVIEW: Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, Newcastle University

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

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If ever there was a way to demonstrate how music can be a powerful unifying force in the wake of events like Friday night's terror attacks in Paris, this was it.

A good gig brings together people of disparate genders, races, creeds and religions, and it's one of the tenets behind what folk-punk singer Frank Turner is all about.

He's a man who puts his heart and soul into his songs, lyrics and performances, and that's never been more apparent than tonight.

On Friday night he played to a sold-out Barrowlands in Glasgow, but cancelled a planned club DJ set afterwards when he heard that a friend had been injured in the Paris terror attacks.

Sadly, the friend, Nick Alexander, who was merchandising manager for the Eagles of Death Metal, whose gig at the Bataclan was targeted, was later confirmed as the first Briton to die.

Rather than cancel this show, and the mini-set earlier in the day at the new Pop Recs store in Sunderland, Turner decided the best way to beat the terrorists was to carry on doing what he does best.

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

His message to the sold-out crowd in the Students' Union venue was simple: "There was some bull**** in Paris last night, and I lost a friend, Nick. This whole set is for him."

He urged fans to stick together, and look after each other, and he and his band The Sleeping Souls rattled through song after song in a two-hour set.

I've seen them three times before, and they always put on a good show, but there was real passion in this performance – and, I dare say, more than a little anger.

Turner - a nicely-spoken chap prone to the odd expletive - stopped mid-song during Peggy Sang The Blues when a fight broke out to berate those responsible, saying "if you're going to act like ****heads get out, I'm really not in the ******* mood for that tonight".

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

The flashpoint was instantly quelled and Turner and his band got back to the business of putting on the sort of show you'd expect to see in an arena, never mind a 1,200-capacity university venue.

The gig, which sold out in hours, had two fine support acts, singer-songwriter Will Varley, and shanty-punk band Skinny Lister, who get better every time I see them.

Both were well-received, but tonight was all about Frank Turner, who was playing his 1,784th gig since leaving hardcore band Million Dead to strike out on his own 10 years ago.

It was part of a tour promoting his sixth solo album, Positive Songs For Negative People, so it naturally contained several new songs, notably the opening Get Better, Glorious You, Mittens, and The Next Storm, which closed the main set.

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Notable by its absence was album highlight Song For Josh, which is a real tearjerker about a friend who died. Perhaps emotions were too raw after the events of the previous night? If that's the case, fair enough.

Another from-the-heart favourite, Long Live The Queen, about another friend who is no longer with us, was included, but instead of being a sad song, it was turned into a celebration of her life.

A solo segment, where the band left Turner alone with an acoustic guitar, in a real return to his roots, saw him play three stripped-down songs, of which The Ballad Of Me And My Friends, from his first album, was the highlight.

I lost count of the number of songs played in a mammoth set, but the ever-reliable setlist.fm informs me it was 27, including songs from all six albums.

From Poetry Of The Deed we were treated to The Road and Try This At Home, while Love Ire & Song gave us I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous and Reasons Not To Be An Idiot.

Photosynthesis, from the same album, was one of the high spots of the night. Turner got everyone to sit down on the floor, and spring to their feet for the final chorus of "I won't sit down, I won't shut up, and most of all, I will not grow up!"

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Highlights from more recent albums included If Ever I Stray, which was a treat just two songs in, I Still Believe (part of a three-song encore), and Tape Deck Heart highlight Recovery, which all prompted huge singalongs.

This was the perfect venue, and the perfect night, for Frank Turner to remind us why music can be such a positive force. And as a tribute to a lost friend, it was superbly fitting. RIP Nick.

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Will Varley opened for Frank Turner at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Will Varley opened for Frank Turner at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Skinny Lister were the main support for Frank Turner at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Skinny Lister were the main support for Frank Turner at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford

Frank Turner performs at Newcastle University Students' Union. Pic: Gary Welford