Tracks Monkeys With Lasers

Frank Turner @ Shepherds Bush Empire – 29/10
November 7, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: gigs | Tags: , , , ,

It’s easy to forget just how Frank Turner has come in such a short amount of time. That line doesn’t quite capture the truth as he’s been writing, touring and recording for a few years now but if you were to chart his ‘popularity’ as a graph, the last 6 months or so would see the line go through the roof.

I’ve not followed Frank from the beginning of his solo career, only hearing of him after the release of ‘Love, Ire & Song’ but I seemed to have got involved just as this wave of (well deserved) popularity began to surge. As such, in the last year I’ve gone from seeing him play small in-store shows and free gigs at the music Mecca of the Flowerpot to this; his biggest solo headline show to date, in front of a sell out audience of 2,000 fans at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

Heading down to the venue and teaming up with some familiar faces from other Frank shows, Lexapalooza events and the like, we made our way into the venue to grab a good spot and catch the support acts. The first of these was a guy I’d seen only weeks before in Beans On Toast.

As he came out, the crowd was only just starting to build, which was a bit of a shame as he deserved a few more people to be there for his set. With a newly released album with 50 tracks, he had a lot of material to draw from and played a good all round set of tunes I’d heard before and ones I hadn’t. The stage here suited him much better than the one at the Flowerpot from Lex Lite and he seemed much more comfortable than when I’d seen him there. Perhaps he’d finally found his groove (as such) with this being the last date of the UK tour which he’d been on with Frank but he definitely seemed more confident up there with some good chat between him and the audience too.

This meant that his acoustic tracks all came along a lot better with the crowd all getting involved (and in one case, even stopping clapping as he told them to) and the atmosphere was great. The only thing missing was the backing vocals his girlfriend had provided at the Lex Lite show which gave some of the songs an extra layer which worked really well.

But one thing that did make a reappearance from that show was the raps that he’d just started performing and these definitely worked better on the bigger stage. This was also helped out by the fact his accordian player could make it on this occasion and, as I alluded to in the last review, with everything going right, these were probably better than the guitar tracks. A very solid opening to the night.

After Beans came a band I’d seen support Frank when I saw him play the New Slang night at McClusky’s in Kingston a few months ago in Fake Problems. Now, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they didn’t really do anything for them on the night and I’m quite surprised at this as I thought that they were quite good overall. Maybe it was because I knew their material that I enjoyed their set but I also enjoyed them at the previous show when I’d never heard of them before.

Anyway, I enjoyed them a lot more this time round as I was now familiar with the album ‘It’s Great To Be Alive’ and thing that there are a few great tracks off the album. The strong songs like ‘The Dream Team’ and ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ all got a play and sounded great with the vocals as ‘snarly’ as before. As I mentioned in the previous review of them, I think the frontman of the band is pretty good and that the band all work really well together on stage. A decent enough performance from them to get me ready for the main event.

With both support acts been and gone, it was again time for Frank to make to the stage with the band. They did so to great applause and then launched straight into what’s becoming the traditional set opener for the band with ‘Live Fast, Die Old’ which always sounds amazing live and always gets the crowd going (with this gig being no exception).

From there on, the first half of the set consisted of a lot of material from the new album with ‘The Road’, ‘Poetry Of The Deed’ and ‘Dan’s Song’ all being played, the latter with the guest appearance on harmonica as has been the case through the tour, but there was also a smattering of older material including ‘The Real Damage’ and ‘Substitute’.

The most striking of the older songs during this part of the set, however, was the ‘punked up’ version of ‘Long Live The Queen’ which is completely different from the version of LI&S and sounded great. It’s a strange song to hear reworked like that because of the story behind it but it did sound fantastic, the crowd loved it and the band all seemed really happy with it too.

After these tracks came a song I’d never heard before and it was something of a surprise to heat with ‘Nashville Tennessee’ being played and, again, this sounded great with the full band.

Soon after that came two polar opposites for songs when it comes to Frank’s career. The first of these was the reworked cover of ‘Smiling At Strangers On Trains’ which was originally performed by Million Dead (Frank’s old band) and is a fantastic song in it’s own right. The reworked version was, unsurprisingly, a lot more like the acoustic version off ‘The First Three Years’ but was one of the highlights of the night with myself and the little group I was with singing along at the top of our voices. The mini-talk beforehand about his days in MD and how it got him to where he was today was also quite poignant but said without being egotistical as it may have come across. After that came the fantastic ‘Sons Of Liberty’ with Frank playing the fiddle section as a guitar solo which worked really well.

Soon after came one of the most surprising songs of the night with the band clearing the stage leaving Frank on his own. He took this time to talk about folk musics and some of it’s roots before singing a beautiful a capella version of an old English folk song ‘Barbara Allen‘ which was simply mesmerising. Thankfully, the section of crowd I was with all felt the same way and stood listening in silence but it’s a shame not everyone could be the same.

After the raptuous applause following the song, Frank went on to ‘Love, Ire & Song’ which is one I always enjoy live. It also works really well as it allows the band to come back on and join him and join in as the song progresses. From there on, we were treated to a few more tracks including the always-brilliant-live ‘Father’s Day’ (which has a completely meaning following Frank’s interview in the Evening Standard), the best performance of ‘Prufrock’ I’ve ever seen and then, to finish ‘Journey Of The Magi’ which is fast becoming one of my favourite tracks off the album.

A brief break and he was back out on stage for the encore, kicking off with ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ which surprised me as I’d only ever seen this played as the set closer. This led straight into ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ (literally leading into it as it seamlessly went from one song to the next) before finishing with an uber-long edition of ‘Photosynthesis’ with everyone who’d played on stage that night making an appearance as well as a few others including Charlie from Xtra Miles (Frank’s UK label) who performed a rather epic stage dive after losing a bet with Frank.

Altogether, it was a truly awesome night. It was almost spoilt for me by some of the almost inevitable idiots you get in the crowd at such a gig (including one group smoking, another who was so drunk he could barely stand but eventually got thrown out for pissing into a water bottle right in front of a bouncer and another 7ft guy who kept trying to bulldoze his way through) and also for the fact that the sound levels weren’t quite right for the first few tracks. Once this was sorted though, the crowd seemed to come alive and the atmosphere was somewhat special. It was also crazy to turn round at times and see the four tiers of the crowd all jumping and singing along (although I was jumping as much and singing as loud as anyone else there!) The band (Dive Dive) are always brilliant at these shows as well and it wouldn’t be the same without them and I wish them luck with the release of their new album immenent as well.

As I said at the beginning of this ramble, it still amazes me to see this sort of crowd having seen him play at much smaller shows only a few months ago but Frank does deserve all the success he gets with his amazing live performances and the fact he puts on more shows in a year than there are days in which to do so.

Only a month and a bit til the next show at the Union Chapel!

Fake Problems – The Dream Team (live)

Frank Turner – Sons of Liberty (live)

Lexapalooza Lite @ The Flowerpot – 10/10

Following the Lexapalooza all-dayer I had attended earlier in the year at The Gaff, I was a wee bit excited to hear about the prospect of a second one in the same year; the first time this had happened. On top of this, it was to be a ‘Lexapalooza Lite’ purely for acoustic artists (on the whole at least). Add to this the fact that it was at what is fast becoming one of my favourite London hang-outs, let alone venues, in the Flowerpot in Camden and you had what could be nothing other than a great time. And, as always, it was all for the breast cancer research as well giving me an even better excuse to go along and spend money.

The probability of it being a great day was only further enhanced by the fact that it would be running from midday to almost midnight which is, quite frankly, a lot of drinking time. Especially when you arrive with a stomach lining of just Weetabix or whatever the Tesco generic cheap version is anyway.

The poor soul lumbered with the task of opening the shindig was B-Sydes. I arrived just after his set had started but didn’t catch a lot of it as I said my hellos to some familiar faces. What I did hear wasn’t too bad but it did show that this was, supposedly, one of the first shows he had done. The music wasn’t anything particularly unique but was pretty solid.

After that set and a quick foray into the beer garden, I made my way back inside to catch the set by Mark McCabe and he was one of the surprise acts of the day/night for me. A slightly sombre fellow from deepest, darkest Aberdeen, he played a rather political set but it was backed up by some great vocals and some sound guitar playing with a little bit of poetry thrown in for good measure. The politics never overpowered his songs too much, as can be the case, and he had a good dose of humour in his tunes to counter this too; a surprisingly good artist for only the second act.

The next act was the only all girl act of the event, fronted by Emily Barker. They had a nice genteel sound with the acoustic guitar backed by the harmonica, cello, violin and accordion as well as some lovely harmonies from the four of them. The music was a bit of a drop in tempo from the first two acts but it still fitted in with the day and was a nice chillout backing for everyone to enjoy a drink on a Saturday morning.

Going back to the solo acoustic artists, Elliot Morris was the next to take to the Lex stage and was another of the surprise packages for me. I probably the use the term “technically very good” a lot when I’m describing artists but that phrase doesn’t do this guy justice really as he used the guitar as a percussion instrument as much as he did for it’s normal use and on top of this, he showed off some very impressive finger tapping (and as sod law dictates, the one song I recorded probably demonstrated these skill the least). His also vocals stood up to his guitar skills and made very a really good set which included his own songs and a few covers, including a Reuben one and even a Basshunter one; the former, unsurprisingly, going down rather well.

“L Plates” (live) – Elliot Morris

Next on stage was a TMWL favourite Oxygen Thief who I had seen for the first time at the previous Lex event. He’s an artist I like for being a bit different to your standard acoustic singer/songwriter by almost playing like he’s in a metal band rather than on his own with an acoustic and has some good tunes to back this up with. For this set, he bought the mic so he was practically in amongst the crowd which is a touch I always like. The set had a good mix of his stuff and even had a couple of songs I didn’t know. The ones I did know were all played really well with Too Many Trees and its clappy section going down well. The cover of Spandau Ballet’s “Gold” went down well, as always, with plenty of the crowd singing when they were supposed to. Compared to some of the other artists his set felt a little short though which was the only disappointment for me but otherwise it was a good, fun set like before.

“Gold” (live) – Oxygen Thief (originally by Spandau Ballet)

Anna Madeleine was one of the only artists I didn’t see a lot of as I was more than ready for a breather and a sit down after three and a bit hours. I only caught the start of her first song but found it a little bit odd to be honest and just got the giggles when she started some slightly weird spoken vocals as it only reminded me of an episode of the Mighty Boosh my housemate had been watching the previous night (the only thing she was missing was a shiny silver jumpsuit). Other people have said that her set was actually quite good but the sit down was long overdue for me.

After regaining my composure, it was back inside for Sanjuro who had a sound comprising French folk and indie ska with a singer, drummer, guitarist and fiddle and accordion players making up the band. Their sound reminded me of the band Klezma Villanova who had played at the Flowerpot after Frank Turner’s videoshoot for The Road a few months beforehand. Sanjuro themselves though were a really good fun band and provided the only opportunity for a dance so myself, Ravi, Phil and Mr Dancing shoes himself, Ben Marwood all had a bit of a skank down the front (just like we had for The Popes Of Chillitown at the previous Lex). With the songs bouncing along really nicely, we all had a great time and they looked like they were having one up onstage too and they were the perfect antithesis to the previous artist.

The next artist was a familiar face to regular visitors to the Flowerpot as Beans On Toast took to the stage. I’d never actually seen him live before so had been quite looking forward to his set and quite enjoyed it in the end. His acoustic songs aren’t the most complex you’ll ever hear but are always good fun and lyrically good fun. For a couple of songs he was also joined on stage by his girlfriend and her vocals provided a nice contrast to his. But as well as his acoustic songs, he also performed a couple of his newer rap tracks. Sadly, these didn’t work out too well thanks to an accordion player who was MIA, the backing beats cocking up once or twice and a couple of forgotten lyrics but if they came out right, they could potentially be better than his guitar tunes.

“The Price Of Rice” (live) – Beans On Toast

After that set, it was time for myself and my friends to run and grab our only sustenance of the night as we were all starving and wanted to make sure we could get back into the venue. As such, we missed a fair bit of Dave McPherson but got back to catch some of the second half of his set. From what I heard, I thought he was really solid with some excellent vocals and guitar playing but didn’t see enough to say too much more sadly. The final song of the set was a reworking of the Fresh Prince’s classic “Boom Shake The Room” which was a great ending.

By now, the venue had pretty much filled out just in time for The Leano to start their set. I’d heard a bit about these guys beforehand but hadn’t heard any of their stuff and I was intrigued to say the least. Their music is possibly best described as hippy-hop (that term ©TMWL, Oct 2009) with the “rapped” vocals backed up by guitars and, for some songs, bongos. This sounds like quite an unusual mix and, to be honest, it was but it somehow worked. The first track off theirs was all about smiling and why you should smile and it was actually hard to do anything but that throughout their set. The highlight had to be the improvised number where they asked the crowd for three things to work into the song and anyone who can rap about pandas, helicopters and cake deserves some level of respect. A really enjoyable band and ones that are worth trying to catch live as I can’t imagine their recorded stuff can capture the fun factor that they had on stage.

As we entered the home straight, it was all solo singer/songwriters from here on in. The first of this quartet was Ben Marwood who was another I first encountered at the earlier Lex show and had been highly impressed with him then. He has a real knack for writing songs that you just can’t help but like and, quite often, sing along to and the crowd always seem to like him. His songs aren’t complicated or over technical but good, honest songs that you can normally relate to and it’s from this that he gets his popularity.

The set he played this time round had a nice mix of songs I’d heard him play before and had heard on some of his records, such as “Claire” and “Friendly Fire”, but also some ones I hadn’t heard but could still (sort of) sing along to, including the one I recorded (but accidentally cut out too early as I was clapping). I was just a bit disturbed by the random girl stood next to me at the front who kept trying to get pictures of random people with Ben and kept asking me whether I wanted a photo with him at the end. Weird. A great finish though with the cover of “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” which rounded off the set brilliantly.

“Oh My Days” (live) – Ben Marwood

Ben was followed by another familiar face to Lexapalooza events in Chris T-T who was on at a more appropriate time of the night than the last event where he opened due to other commitments that day. For some reason, I don’t own any of his records but liked him when he performed live before and whenever I’ve heard any of his songs. This set was further proof of how good he is with some really strong songs, including his most famous track “When The Huntsman Comes A Marching” which got everyone singing along.

The majority of his set I wasn’t overly familiar with but still enjoyed, including a really well worked piece based on the A.A. Milne poem “Market Square”. He also threw in a new track which was well written but lacked enough pace to stand out. The final song of the set was “Giraffe #1” which prompted Frank to jump up on stage and sing along with him. Chris will be back at the Flowerpot later in the month for a piano set.. but he doesn’t want you to go.

“When The Huntsman Comes A Marching” (live) – Chris T-T

Next up was the penultimate act, Sam Duckworth better known as Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. When I heard that he was playing on the night, I was rather excited as I had got his debut album on the day of release back in 2006(?) and had played it to death and even learnt to play a few songs of it on guitar myself. For some reason, I’d never got his second album though. No matter, I enjoyed his set immensely as this was the first time I had ever seen him in the flesh. He played a couple of my favourite songs from his first album, like “Call Me Ishmael” (see below), and they all sounded really good live.

I’ve always been a fan of the finger picking style of guitar playing and Sam uses the style really well; maybe not as well as someone like Graham Coxon when I saw him but he still does it really well, especially when mixing it in with strumming and his quite distinct vocals. Some of the songs I didn’t know passed me by a little bit but the set finished with what is easily one of my favourite song in “The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager (Part 1)” which was yet another one for the crowd to join in with.

“Call Me Ishmael” (live) – Sam Duckworth (AKA Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.)

And so, after almost ten hours, the headline act and one of the main figures of Lexapalooza, Frank Turner, had his time in the proverbial spotlight on stage kicking off with the standard set opener of “Prufrock”. Anyone who follows this blog (is there anyone?) will know I’ve seen him a few times recently so there plenty of songs I’d heard before but Frank had opened his set up to requests in exchange for a small charitable donation. This meant that there were a few songs I’d not heard before and this went down with variable degrees of success depending on whether he could remember them, such as “Ladies Of London Town” off his first album.

A couple of other unusual songs, including one in French, as did one of my favourite live tracks “Worse Things Happen At Sea” and the universally loved “To Take You Home” also got an airing and made the set a bit different to others of his I’d heard. The crowd down the front were all singing along loudly but supposedly were a bit flaccid elsewhere. They can be forgiven for lagging a bit by this point of the evening but it’s still a bit of a disappointment to hear that.

After the requests were over, the end of the set consisted of the ever popular “Photosynthesis” and a quite poignant rendition of “Long Live The Queen” before ending with the traditional set closer of “The Ballad Of Me And My Friends” which culminated with a stage invasion led by myself and Oxygen Thief for the final section of the song (not the first time I’ve been involved in one of these at this venue bizarrely) which was a very fitting end to the night.

“Try This At Home” (live) – Frank Turner

After the night was all done and the drunken shenanigans that went on in the artists area afterwards, myself, Oxygen Thief and Ben Marwood eventually managed to get back to mine and crash (drunk housemates and random girls not withstanding) and all definitely felt the effects of twelve hours of music and mayhem (especially Oxygen Thief) but I don’t think anyone would deny that they had a terrific time. The lineup was really strong and nicely varied and I couldn’t believe how quickly the event went. I really hope that it managed to hit the target it had for money for charity and I really look forward to the next one, whenever it is. Massive congratulations and thanks to everyone involved in organising and running the event; you know who you are!

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