His right forearm has a tattoo of Elvis punching the air in the 50’s, his left a tattoo of Freddie Mercury doing the same in the 80’s. Right here and now, at 8.15pm on 29 June 2016, at the Brückenforum in Bonn Beuel, Frank Turner has his own arm raised, hand balled into a fist. And it’s only the second song in the set…
Okay, own up time. I’m an Englishman who’s never heard of Frank Turner. When I walk across the bridge linking Bonn centre to Beuel I only recognise the man outside of the Brückenforum backdoor with a cigarette in hand because I’ve just seem him on Wikipedia. I wish him luck and give him a 3songsbonn card. I’m not sure if he wanted the latter but he sure didn’t need the former. Three hours later I’ve seen one of the best live concerts I can remember in recent times and Mr Music’s CD shop will be seeing me on Saturday when I intend to buy everything they have from Frank and his band The Sleeping Souls.
Frank Turner has been rather unlucky prior to tonight’s show. After a successful American tour the band’s flights through from Atlanta to Hamburg were variously delayed or changed, they temporarily lost their guitars, and then arrived to find that the Southside Festival had actually been cancelled. The following day saw them get to within 4 minutes of going on stage at the Hurricane Festival before that was also cancelled. All due to bad weather, so with a slight danger of storms, tonight’s Kunstrasen show has been also moved to the safe indoor cover of Beuel’s Bruckenforum. It turns out to be ‘Glück in Unglück’ (Luck in bad luck) though as the walls and ceiling create an atmosphere of sweaty anticipation – the very thing for legendary Rock n Roll performances in fact.
Getting the evening off to a 5 star start was Belgian band The Douglas Firs. Based around two brothers, Gertjan Van Hellemont (vocals/guitar) and Sem Van Hellemont (keyboards). Their first release ‘Shimmer & Glow’ put them in the spotlight in 2012. Latest disc ‘The long answer is no’ follows time spent in Canada and the West Coast of America and it certainly shows – I initially thought these guys must be from those parts and chatting later to the very friendly Gertjan discovered the band roots are in fact the Flemish City of Ghent.
The band’s music is light and melodic, somewhere along the line I found myself thinking of a young Bob Dylan or John Cougar Mellencamp. They made a great impression with personal songs like ‘Don’t Buy The House’ (a plea to singer Gertjan’s ex-girlfriend) and ‘Tell Her I said Hi’. I loved the swooping vocals that go from deep to almost falsetto within each verse and create a texture to thoughtfully written songs. A great band to listen to live and very definitely one to check out on disc.
The break between bands is almost over and I’m standing in the photopit not really knowing what to expect. Research has suggested Frank Turner will be electric Folk and that early Dylan image slips into my mind again. He looks a little like Springsteen too, so maybe there will be a sprinkling of Rock backbeats and chunky riffs to enjoy but coming from Portsmouth myself I’ve been up the road to Frank’s quiet hometown of Winchester so what I’m definitely not expecting is The Pogues meet Billy Bragg.
“Who’d have though, that after all, something as simple as Rock n Roll would save us all?!” Turner shouts as much as sings the opening lyrics to ‘I Still Believe’. I immediately realise that there are some biting lyrics being hurled 150 mph at my ears as my camera is trying to decide if it’s shooting a musician or a space rocket. Turner is running around the stage and jumping up and down. One thing he is NOT doing is standing still. Is this political?…
“”Hear ye, Hear ye, Friends and Romans. Countrymen, Punks & skins and journeymen. My sisters and my brethren, the time is coming near”
To left and right guitarist Ben Lloyd and bassman Tarrant Anderson are throwing guitar poses seemingly with every change of note. Jesus, I’m exhausted already just trying to keep them in my viewfinder. What’s following? ‘The Next Storm’? Things are not going to slow down…!
Things do quiten down later when Turner switches to just his acoustic and plays what I’d been expecting – well crafted Folk-pop songs with good tunes and the hoped for biting lyrics. An angry young man from the 70’s almost – Should I add Tom Robinson to that list of comparisons? The acoustic set actually allows new listeners like myself to take in the depth of the songs on offer. ‘Redemption’ gives a nod to The Boss:
“I was walking home to my house through the snow from the station,
When the Springsteen came clear in my headphones with a pertinent question:
Oh is love really real and can any of us hope for redemption?”
There was a pared down version of ‘Josephine’ that also hit the lyrical and musical spot. This guy would be pretty enjoyable even if he played Folk music all evening – only he doesn’t sit still musically or physically that long…
A pleasant enough looking guy named Dave was instructed by Turner to give a high five to the barman hall right, a man in a grey t-shirt hall left, and another man in a white t-shirt somewhere in the middle of the crowd. Oh, and he had to be carried around the audience heads to do it – and be finished by the end of the song. “Don’t drop Dave!” were the last words I heard before the mayhem began. No-one would DARE drop Dave for sure. Turner had single-handedly shut up a rowdy group of football fans only minutes before “If you’re not going to listen, then shut the f*ck up!”. Needless to say, Dave made it around the hall and later, when Turner himself decided to do some stage diving he was safely caught and carried. Security had threatened to eject me or anyone else with a camera after the first three songs, so take my word for it, this was wonderful stuff.
As an Englishman, the Brexit couldn’t be avoided of course. “I like it when people come together, not when they come apart!” was Turner’s simple but spot-on observation of recent events. To underpin this he even had the crowd doing a variation of Heavy Metal ‘Crashing’. I can’t imagine anyone else getting a crowd of 1500 people to “just run to the middle of the hall and hug someone” when I give the sign” One of those ‘Wish I could take a picture’ moments followed. ‘Crash-hugging’ must remain undocumented I’m afraid. In a time when England is fragmented more than it has been for decades I advocate Frank Turner for Prime Minister and ‘Crash-hugging’ to be mandatory after every meeting of Parliament.
An evening of pure magic then. The fact that a feared for storm outside never happened didn’t matter in the end. The storm happened INSIDE. It was called Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and if you missed it – you missed BIG!
Finally, this is an indication of what you missed…