In the gorgeous surroundings of the Sefton Park Palm House, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby finds the most enjoyable Frank Turner show he has seen in a while.
Having never been to the Sefton Park Palm House for a gig before, this writer didn’t know what to expect from it as a venue. But it turns out that greenhouses are actually incredible venues. The trees and greenery were a thing of beauty in themselves, and as dusk fell and the stage lights became more pronounced the Palm House itself was in danger of stealing the show.
Although part of the X & Y Festival, there is no doubt that this show might as well just be a Frank Turner gig. Even down to some of the support acts, especially Beans on Toast, a long-standing stalwart of Turner’s inner circle.
Paul Dunbar opened up sans his Black Winter Band, meaning he was playing acoustically. His laid back demeanour managed to hold the attention of the early birds. Tom Walker followed, and added a dash of electronica to proceedings, whilst still maintaining his folk-ish credentials.
Beans on Toast had been circling the venue all night, just hanging with the crowd. Ever the delight, he came on stage and started chatting before remembering he only had half an hour to perform, so quickly got on with it. He premiered a song called 2016, which touched upon the recent iconic deaths of the likes of Lemmy, Bowie, Prince and Muhammed Ali, the rise in nationalism, Trumpageddon and that bloody referendum.
Following this, he jumped into the crowd and preceded to play the rest of his set standing amongst us. When someone gave him a drink, he took a bemused sip and promised to give the rest of it to someone underage. Spying someone on their phone during MDMAmazing, he jokingly chastised her for texting (“It’s still light, I can see you!”) and challenged her to sing the rest of the song with him (which she did!).
He checked his phone a couple of times to see how much time he had left, and eventually said “We got time for one more – what do you wanna hear?” He sang a line and a half of The Price of Rice before deciding to switch it up and end with a completely different song with a completely different feel. He may be ramshackle and a bit of a shambles, but that is completely his appeal. He always leaves us with a smile on our face.
Following Beans on Toast, we were shocked to find the venue was out of beer, which amounts to probably the least astute planning in venue history. It may explain why the queue was so large during Theme Park’s set following some reinforcements. The other reason could be how at odds they were with the rest of the bill.
We have seen them compared to Talking Heads a bit, and we can’t for the life of us understand why. They are much closer to a band like Friendly Fires. They don’t seem to quite chime with the crowd, but perhaps that is to be expected.
This writer loathes people who claim to have been into artists before they were big, but I constantly find myself doing that in regards to Frank Turner. But there is a reason for it – his last couple of albums have been much blander affairs. Where early records contained a unique lyricism awash with wry witticisms, we have found his most recent output could more or less have been recorded by just about any singer-songwriter in the country. His last couple of records have hit #2 on the charts and led to an arena tour though, so what do we know?
As a live performer, however, he has always been incredible, whether with his band The Sleeping Souls or solo, he has an ability to hold your attention in the way few acoustically-based singer-songwriters can. This makes the fact that he loads his set with material from these last albums unimportant, and hardly surprising given some bemused faces when playing earlier songs such as The Real Damage.
Welcoming us to show number 1,923, he enters the stage with just The Sleeping Souls’ keyboard player Matt Nasir on mandolin (which he evidently rarely plays) and opens with Love Ire & Song’s Long Live The Queen, before playing Recovery and Get Better. He then announced “And that is all we have written on the setlist, so for the rest of the night, we are doing this on the fly.”
Not being confined to the setlist, he actually frees up and it becomes one of the better Turner gigs we have seen in recent years. He is much looser and appears to be enjoying himself a hell of a lot.
He asks us to keep our smart phones in our pockets during the premier of a new song he has been working on. He explains that he has been fascinated by some of the forgotten women in history, and says that this song is about a woman named Nannie Doss. After the first verse he tells us “Oh, yeah, I should have mentioned that she was a serial killer”.
The on-the-fly nature of the set continued with an off the cuff decision to play some covers, the first being Counting Crows’ Round Here, which Nasir had only ever heard once in his life and featured backing vocals from Turner’s older sister who was a Counting Crows fanatic as a kid. He followed this up with unexpected renditions of Wings’ Live and Let Die and Queen’s Somebody To Love.
Not bothering with the formality of an encore, Turner tells everyone to cheer whilst he and Nasir get a drink and it can act as the encore break. Ending with Photosynthesis and I Still Believe, he ensures the evening ends with the drink-a-long that it was always intended to be, and darts off stage, presumably to avoid being mobbed by the crowd at this backstage-less venue.
He keeps up the pretence of us all being equals, but darting away probably shows us the reality. He is a little too big, with a few too many weird fans (you know that kind) for that to be totally true now. But it at least feels that way in the moment.