Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls, The Homeless Gospel Choir, Arkells: O2 Academy, Liverpool

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Frank Turner

Frank Turner

Frank Turner and his band the Sleeping Souls brought love and good times to the O2 Academy and Getintothis’ Jackie Lees was swept up in all the emotion.

Due for release on 4th May Frank Turner’s forthcoming album is entitled Be More Kind and that theme permeates everything he brought to Liverpool’s O2 Academy.

The audience know what to expect, tickets for his shows far outstrip demand, he could and has, played to packed Arenas but chooses more intimate spaces to engage with his enthusiastic crowd. Consequently, the comparatively lucky few who managed to secure their places were primed and knew exactly what was expected of them. Dancing, singing and good behaviour.

Opening for him was The Homeless Gospel Choir, wearing a bright floral suit he introduced himself as being from Pittsburgh, ‘Derek Zanetti, thirty five years old and 5ft 8 on a good day‘. His introduction to every song was, ‘this is a protest song’, all of them were, but not the kind that make you feel uneasy, serious messages delivered in a comfortable, humorous manner and all the better for it.

The room was filling rapidly and the audience warmed to him from the outset, impossible not to when his opening song was a protest against Donald Trump. His messages of being non-judgmental ran throughout, reinforcing that everyone should get to be whoever they want to be – he illustrated this with a song from the perspective of musical tastes – it’s OK to like a person who loves the music you hate.

For his final number, Normal, he was joined onstage by the second support, Canadian alt-rock quintet, Arkells. The tempo shifted up a notch as they played together leaving us with the message that, ‘you’re never gonna be normal‘, then Derek, The Homeless Gospel Choir, left the stage leaving Arkells to seamlessly follow on into their colourful and competent set.

Arkells vocalist Max Kerman explained that their day in Liverpool had involved a trip to The Beatles Museum and how thrilled they were to be playing in a city with such a legendary musical heritage. Their set included new single People’s Champ and also A Little Rain which they felt was a fitting choice given the weather they’d encountered here on tour. Mixing-up the tempo and to a degree the styles of music only served to demonstrate Kerman‘s vocal range as he switched from funkier sounds to songs with a distinctive 80’s pop vibe.

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By now the room was absolutely packed, with anticipation building, Frank Turner‘s arrival onstage is met with an enormous roar and they are off, this audience needs no encouragement they are here to participate. For this tour Frank is playing with his full band The Sleeping Souls.

A couple of numbers in, he pauses to introduce himself as if anyone could be in any doubt. He laid out a couple of ground rules for the gig 1. Don’t be an arsehole and make sure that the way you choose to enjoy yourself doesn’t detrimentally affect those around you, and 2. ‘If you know the words, you’ve got to fucking sing them‘ – and that they did.

Observing that there are now people who have A’ Levels who weren’t born when he started touring almost twenty years ago, it’s clear that building his following to the devoted levels witnessed here certainly hasn’t happened overnight. They understand the passion, the sense of inclusiveness that is part of his ethos and are eager to be members of the community having seemingly suspended any external frustrations while they immerse themselves in this positive shared experience.

Of course, Turner’s music is central to the message, he delivers carefully crafted songs which are rousing and honest with relatable themes further uniting the spirit such as Peggy Sang The Blues, about his grandmother

Turner has such an extensive back catalogue that you can easily get a crampy finger scrolling down the list. It must be a constant challenge to whittle them down into a manageable set-list but obviously, this skill is also honed by experience. The set he played was somewhere in the region of twenty three songs in length, it included old favourites such as Reasons Not To Be An Idiot and Recovery, right up to songs from the yet to be released album, 1933 and the latest single Blackout.

His stamina is all the more remarkable as he has been suffering from a severe chest infection, hard to reconcile given the unfaltering energy he put into his performance, crowd-surfing and even at one point asking the audience to clear a space on the floor while he came down to dance with a lady from the crowd.

As with previous albums, this one will be released by his label Xtra Mile, there is a sense that Frank Turner will always go the extra mile in whatever he sets his mind to tackle, demonstrated here – not only with an outstanding performance but with the thought to partner up with organisations such as Safe Gigs For Women and also Stay Up Late, who enable people with learning disabilities to share the experience of live music. There is even a policy on the tour where the water bottles are refillable in support of the campaign to reduce single use plastic.

Be More Kind is the name of the tour and the title track from the new album. Be More Kind is definitely the message to take away from a Frank Turner gig. As the sweaty audience made their way out, strangers swept each other up to dance spontaneous waltzes. If that camaraderie, goodwill and personal responsibility trickles out even a little beyond the confines of the ticket holders – wonderful things might happen.

Photos by Getintothis’  Warren Millar

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