Tracks Monkeys With Lasers

Frank Turner & Friends @ The Union Chapel – 19/12
December 23, 2009, 6:07 pm
Filed under: gigs | Tags: , , , , ,

Now, this is why you shouldn’t do ‘best gig of the year’ type blog posts before you’ve attended all your gigs for the year..

The day didn’t get off to the best start with news that Frank was stranded in France with Calais and the Tunnel both closed and all flights out of the country pretty much fully booked. So with uncertainty as to whether the headline act would turn up, it was time to leave for church.

The Union Chapel was (yet another) venue I had never graced and was surprised to find out that it is still used as a fully functioning church as well as a music venue. After a quick drink with fellow fans over the road and a quick queue, it was time to find the best pew and view I could.

It was a bizarre experience to enter the venue as, on the one hand, it was such a grand place with the stained glass windows, pews and enormously high ceilings but at the same time the main seating area didn’t seem that big. Luckily the place hadn’t filled out too much and we got a seat near to the front and just off centre. The atmosphere was made more odd by the fact that alcohol was only permitted in the bar so people were sat around with cups of tea; not your normal scene at a gig!

It wasn’t long before the first act of the night took to the stage and this was the only artist on the night that I hadn’t seen before in Adam Killip (of the band The Tailors) who played a set with a very ‘music to watch the rain by’ sound in the fact it was very chilled out and quite down tempo but with the acoustics of the venue it sounded rather haunting and was a good start to the evening.

The full band version of ‘Crocodiles’, which he played on the night, can be heard on the band’s facebook page.

With almost no time between sets, it was time for Ben Marwood to take his place on stage. I’ve ‘reviewed’ Ben a few times from the previous Lexapalooza shows and have always enjoyed the big singalong shows that he puts on. However, the Union Chapel atmosphere created a very different show with just the sound of Ben’s voice and guitar filling the venue and I really enjoyed this difference. His set consisted almost entirely of his ‘hits’ with ‘Question Marks’, ‘Friendly Fires’ and the normally irrepresible ‘Oh My Days’ all sounding fantastic in the surroundings of the venue.

At times it seemed even he found the surroundings slightly eerie and that he looked a little lost for words, although this still didn’t stop his normal chat between songs! The penultimate song of his short set was the cover of the Postal Service’s ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ which also sounded fantastic, before he completed his time on stage with an a capella song which filled the hall amazingly. Overall, another top performance and one that was an interesting contrast to his normal shows.

Third on stage on the night was Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halos, who I had seen at Lexapalooza Lite a few months previously. Back then, I didn’t write a lot about their performance as I didn’t listen to it too closely as, I felt, it didn’t suit the day. However, the quartet on guitar, harmonica, fiddle, accordian, flute and cello (at various times obviously) sounded so much better in this setting and their vocal harmonies carried through the hall to really send shivers down your spine every now and again.

The slower tempo, folky sound was quite mesmerising on the night and really blew me away and, like Ben’s set, the contrast between this set and the last time I saw them was amazing.

The next act was yet another I had seen at the Lex shows in Chris T-T. The first time I saw him, he played a full band set with The Hoodrats, while last time he played a solo acoustic set. This time was to be different yet again with him playing a solo piano set. I’d been unable to make his tour dates for his solo piano set so was lucky and pleased to catch him play like this.

He kicked off with a beautiful instrumental song which seemed to have the crowd hooked. From there in, he played a few old songs, such as the amazing rendition of ‘Ankles’, and some of his newer material with ‘Nintendo’ being a highlight for me. In amongst the set he even found time for a quick blowjob joke and his own a capella song in ‘M1 Song’ which went down really well with the crowd.

After a bit of a wait, and with a bit of nervous tension from the crowd and his fellow band members, Frank Turner came bounding on to the stage having just turned up after flying in from France. Bottle of wine in hand, he apologised for his tardiness but promised to make for it which he most certainly did.

Launching into the normal opener of ‘Prufrock’, the crowd were suddenly up for it but as with the previous artists, the singalong element of a normal FT gig was absent. Frank and the band knew that the setting they were in wouldn’t predispose to such a gig though and treated us to a fabulous evening of songs rarely played live and reworkings of some of the more famous songs.

For me, this was perfect as it meant I saw a number of songs I’d never seen before such as ‘Isabel’, ‘A Decent Cup of Tea’ and one of my favourite tracks in ‘Hold Your Tongue’. Some tracks that I had seen before sounded as good as ever with some of the other artists from the night joining Frank and the band on stage; Emily Barker joining in on vocals on ‘Worse Things Happen At Sea’ and Chris T-T playing piano on a reworked version of ‘Fathers Day’ which saw Frank take up vocal duties only. The latter tracks was also one ofonly a few songs on the night where singing along was encouraged.

One of my highlights, however, was one of the new tracks in ‘Journey of the Magi’ which really did make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up; maybe it was the draft from outside or maybe it was the religious connotations of the song mixed with the setting, I don’t know.

The ‘encore’ (not a true one as they skipped the stage leaving part) consisted of the rocked up version of ‘Long Live The Queen’ before all the artists from the night joined the band on stage for a cover of the Wham classic ‘Last Christmas’. After that, the stage was cleared apart from Frank who played ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ with the entire crowd on their feet, clapping and singing and damning themselves by proclaiming “..and we’re definitely going to hell!”

Altogether, it was a simply stunning evening with the venue itself playing as much of a part in this as any of the artists. From all the artists I had seen before, it was great to see such different shows from all of them and to see marterial I hadn’t seen live before; especially from Frank.

Afterwards it was up to the bar to celebrate the end of a great year/decade for music and gigs with some old and new friends.. including Ben Marwood’s mum!

I can’t think of a better way to have ended this year for gigs and can only hope next year is half as good.

Ben Marwood – The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (live)

Christ T-T – Ankles (live)

Frank Turner – Hold Your Tongue (live)

Frank Turner w/ Ben Marwood, Chris T-T and Emily Barker – Last Christmas (live)

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