Live review: Frank Turner @ O2 Academy

By Jay Landman

Entering the already-full O2 Academy, I found myself drawn towards the stage, on which the spotlight shone on Derek Zanetti; a protest singer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Performing as ‘The Homeless Gospel Choir’, Derek’s captivating wit and charisma exuded from his live performance, making it obvious as to why he’d been invited on tour; he was different enough to bring a fresh sound, whilst remaining relevant enough to be an ideal support for fans of Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls. Setting the bar high for the evening, this opening performance immediately established a bond between the artist and audience, thus setting the groundwork for what would prove to be a fantastic experience from start to finish.

Arkells, a five-piece rock ‘n’ roll group from Hamilton, Canada, were next on stage and launched into an energetic set. Arkells truly won the crowd’s heart right from the off, especially after the band invited a member of the audience to play guitar during one of the first songs in their set, instantly building a significant sense of camaraderie between the audience and those on stage. The band’s stage presence had the audience enthralled; confidence radiated from every member during each anthem they played and further enhanced the atmosphere of the evening. In short, Arkells have a live set ready for bigger audiences, which we are likely to see in the not-too-distant future. It is safe to assume we’ll be hearing, and seeing, more of them as they continue to win new fans each night; make a note to see this band live if you can.

Following Arkells was, of course, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls; the reason many people had travelled to Newcastle from every corner of the North East this evening. Turner has recently released his seventh studio album Be More Kind; this record relates to, as Turner puts it, “everyone needing to be more kind” – with himself setting an example of improving the way he lives. This transparency, and bond, that Frank Turner has with his fans and audience shows his humble nature and reflects his ideals of leading by example, which is always a pleasant touch – particularly from someone who has tasted success but remains very much grounded. This is exemplified by Turner’s continued support for those who require a spotlight, for example, he’s known to have invited organisations such as Safe Gigs For Women on previous tours. In this instance, the charity accompanying Frank was Stay Up Late, a charity that was set up to ensure “person-centred planning for people with learning disabilities and autism”, supporting these individuals to achieve what they want to achieve in life. Once again, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls put their money where their mouths are and lead by example and such acts of “being more kind” resonated hugely with the audience; cheers of support and applaud erupted as Frank gave an insight into the charity, their aims and their work.

Anyone that has been to a Frank Turner show likely knows that the atmosphere of these gigs reflects a communally shared appreciation of Turner’s music; both the songs with their melodies and lyrics, but also of the ethos behind each anthem, ballad, and crowd-pleaser. Because of this, events such as this are less of a ‘gig’ and more of a 2000+ person extended family reunion; this feeling was especially apparent halfway through the set, when Turner asked everyone to hug their neighbour. This feeling of friendship at Turner’s gigs is almost unrivalled and ensures each time he performs is a memorable experience.

In terms of live performance, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls lived up to their reputation as one of the best acts to see live; even as a seasoned gig-goer, I have found them to be consistently brilliant. The engagement with the crowd is an art in itself that has truly been mastered by Turner, who participates with the audience from the moment he sets foot on stage and continues this right until the lights go up and people begin to leave. Each song has a story behind it which is often revealed by Turner, giving further insight into his life and inspiration behind his writing; for example, ‘Glorious You’ is said to be about Turner’s niece at a time when everything seemed to be falling apart for her. These periods of openness are increasingly rare at shows which appear to constantly focus on the commercial aspects of live entertainment; Turner remains true to his vision and wears his heart of his sleeve during these moments shared between him, the Sleeping Souls and his fans.

All in all, the most honest advice to be given is to see Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls live, as it is impossible to truly convey the feeling of such a show through writing; to do justice to such an event, one would have to experience it themselves.

Photograph: Chuff Media

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