Frank Turner – The Roundhouse, London – 13th May 2018

Photo by Jamie MacMillan

For the second year in a row, Frank Turner took over London’s famous Roundhouse venue for four nights bringing together a celebration of live music, showcasing new talent and spreading the word on a number of worthy causes. Turner headlines each night, taking a completely different approach each time. It is a sign of Turner’s appeal that every show has totally sold out – including tonight’s ‘Sensible Sunday’ – named after the stripped-back, acoustic nights that London venue Nambucca was famous for. In most other cases, if an artist was to announce beforehand that they were eschewing the hits and playing rarer, more obscure tracks instead, there would be disgruntlement. But Turner and his fans are different to most.

In line with the Sensible Sunday approach, both support acts also dial down the volume but lose none of the intensity. Chicago’s Sarah Walk leads the way, with a set that she describes as being “part angry, part sad”. With her powerful voice soaring over the piano-led sound, it is both effective and affecting – ‘Little Black Book’ in particular sounds fantastic. Following her, Ginger Wildheart shows just why Turner idolises him so much with a set that could have come from either of them. Tales of loss, politics, meeting people and songs of the soul, all told with a grin betweenlong, rich ramblings. Finishing with ‘If You Find Yourself In London Town’ and ‘Pay It Forward’ to a great reception, excitement builds for The Wildhearts’ live show in Brighton later this year.

On to the main event. As promised the show consists almost totally of hidden album gems, b-sides and ‘bonus’ tracks. Such is the deep vein of Turner’s back catalogue, what it lacks in familiarity to the casual bystander it makes up for in other ways. Stood alone on stage for much of the night, there is no escaping the gravitational pull of Turner’s charisma. Admitting that the day has been spent largely revising his older songs (“It feels like an exam tonight” he laughs), any doubt that the audience would not still bellow every lyric back at him are expelled in glorious versions of ‘Mittens’ and ‘Romantic Fatigue’ – both cherished album tracks, but not ones that are often given the chance to shine these days. But the obscure does not equate with the unknown here. It is clear from the number of arms and hands aloft in the air that the sheer passion and love that Turner provokes from his fans will carry the night regardless of what may be missing from the set-list.

With his usual self-deprecating humour it is a light-hearted night. ‘Worse Things Happen At Sea’ is described as, “one of the songs about me being shit at romance, I’ve got a few to pick from”, and he points out that his absolute favourite song ‘Undeveloped Film’ is the one track that nobody ever requests. But underneath all that, and at the very core of everything lies an inescapable poignancy. In a horrendously sad week that saw the tragic passing of Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, as well as taking place on the cusp of Mental Health Awareness Week, the performance of ‘Song For Josh’ tears at the hearts of everyone in the room. Friends away from the stage as well as performers on it, it doesn’t bear thinking about how Turner must have felt singing this tonight.

Overall, the night was an emotional reminder of the power of music to connect, heal and soothe. Something to raise a smile on the saddest of occasions, something that binds a room full of strangers together in a shared spirit. Fittingly, the night closed on a version of ‘I Still Believe’ – if ever a night was made for this song, it was tonight. We still believe.

Jamie MacMillan

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