Last night I achieved one of my ambitions.
Ever since I started gigging at the tender age of 14 I have wanted to watch a band on the balcony of the Refectory at Leeds University, (one of my favourite venues along with The Apollo in Manchester and the Rock City in Nottingham). Yes since I was 14, I have looked up at the people leaning over above my head, and wondered who they were and how they managed to be there. I always thought they must be with band and lead glamorous and exciting lives. And last night when we gave our names for the guest list, the girl said “These are for the balcony” almost as if we would be disappointed. Of course I managed to walk away very nonchalantly as if this happened all the time but inside my 14-year-old self was whooping and cheering and clapping her teenage heart out.
So up to the balcony we went, and it was not a let down, in fact I think I am now spoilt for life. It was amazing. Front Row. Perfect view of the stage. I love the Refectory at Leeds Uni because it is large enough to create an exciting atmosphere and yet intimate enough to allow you to feel part of the gig. And Frank Turner and the Stepping Souls put on a show that takes over you entirely until you are dancing, sweat running down your face, arms aloft with pure exhilaration.
I had been lent his album, England Keep My Bones and I must admit it didn’t grab me at first, but it was a true grower. Somehow though those tunes, and then the words seeped into my head and my heart and drew me in. Slowly at first but then very surely and entirely. So by the time an offer of tickets came up I was very excited.
Frank Turner is an artist you need to see live. The album is wonderful, but he is at his best live. His music is folky singer-songwriter, a man in a white shirt, jeans and his guitar. There is a similarity to Billy Bragg in sound, but live the power and energy of the band is surprising. It is raw, intense and infectious. The bassist player rocked out in a way that could be described as freaking out, such was his passion. There were quieter songs too, when it was just Frank on his own, just his voice and his guitar and he held the audience in the palm of his hand.
As I was above the crowd I watched the patterns they made. The way they stood so patiently before the band came on, gave no clue to how much of a moshpit it would become the moment the first chord was played. It was like watching storm coming, waves of people crashing into each other. But a very good-natured English storm, a couple of times people were on the floor, but hands were extended straight away to pick them up. You could imagine the “sorrys” “no no my fault”. They would make massive circles, and then all run into the middle during a very rousing chorus, like an adult and quite physical version of the oke cokey! They also all sat down during one song and then jumped up in unison. Frank commented on the sitting down thing, so it must be a regular occurance at his gigs.
I don’t know all the songs but I recognised Peggy Sings the Blues, I am Disappeared, Recovery (the new single), Wessex Boy, Glory Hallelujah and my favourite If I ever stray. They were on stage from 9.15 until 10.45 with customary 3 song encore taking it to 11 pm.
The music, it is folk, but with the power and energy of punk. The tunes made me think of sea shanties. When the crowd were singing along with Frank, word-perfect, maybe an English Pogues is the closest description I could find. There is something spine-tingling isn’t there listening to a crowd that love the artist performing so much and you hear the love and the passion in every syllable. These treasured songs listened to over and over again, in the car, in their bedrooms, in the headphones. As Frank says Rock and Roll has saved us, there is a song for every time we win and every time we lose too. Frank Turner and the Stepping Souls certainly won my heart last night.
This is a version of If I ever stray recorded at Wembley, Frank’s voice does sound a little hoarse but it doesn’t detract from the performance. Do download England Keep My Bones, you won’t be disappointed in these English folk songs, these lyrical ballards telling tales of our ancient and modern times.