Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls – Portsmouth Guildhall

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Frank Turner’s place as the masthead of UK Folk/Rock seems not just secure, but guaranteed with this current tour. A man who once trepidaciously left a successful hardcore project (The fantastic ‘Million Dead’ for those slightly less familiar with his ouvre.) to start recording acoustically, he genuinely seems shocked by the reception he’s got.

“I expected to play The Joiners Arms, The Railway and maybe The Wedgewood Rooms TOPS. Thank you for making this so much bigger than it should have been…” He joyously shouts to the assembled mass at the (considerably bigger) Portsmouth Guildhall.

Arriving at the Guildhall, I catch the last few songs from ‘Beans on Toast’. Beans is a one-man folk troubadour, singing tales of love, loss, drunkenness, terrible dancing and sex. He’s a consummate performer, and anyone who’s seen his sets at festivals across the nation will know he can take on just about any crowd and win them over. Tonight is no exception. Everyone is singing along by the final song.

When he first began, Frank was offered an opening slot by the legendary Flogging Molly. and in turn, they are opening for him here. Nobody saw this one coming. Flogging Molly have a huge fanbase, and could easily play venues of this size under their own steam. It’s impossible to deny though that as a pairing, there’s something ineffably right about Molly & Turner. Anyone aware of Molly’s back catalogue will be aware of what to expect here. Celtic infused punk is the order of the day, and those not at least attempting a jig are shunned. The frontman Dave King leads the charge with a charasmatic and driven performance that blasts through a condensed 45 minute set-list of the bands classics, including ‘Drunken Lullabies’, ‘If I ever leave this world alive’ and ‘Seven Deadly Sins’. The outfit’s been going strong now for almost 20 years, and at aged 50, King still has energy and enthusiasm that would put performers half his age to shame. There’s an immense pleasure to be taken from watching a band who still love what they do, and feed off the energy you give them.

Frankly, at £30 a ticket, I’d have been contented with Beans on Toast and Flogging Molly, but the real reason we were here was yet to take to the stage.

Frank was scheduled to start at 9pm, and on the dot the lights drop, and the set begins. He kicks off the set with a rendition of ‘Photosynthesis’ with all the knobs and dials turned up to 11. Odd choice of an opener, given that on the last few tours this has been the encore, but the audience are delighted, and bellow along with the chorus. What follows Is a 2 hour masterclass in how to work a crowd. Frank has a natural rapport with an audience, the banter is priceless, and the show is packed full of surprises, including guest appearances from former band-mates and acoustic outings of more introspective material less often heard live. He’s cited as the hardest working performer in the UK, and on this, his 1529th to date, it’s clear evidence that practice makes perfect. Turner isn’t just a musician, he’s a tour-de-force and a leading light in UK music. Here in tangible form is proof that dedication pays off. Godspeed you handsome bastard. Godspeed.

 

“Because there’s no such thing as rock stars,

There’s just people who play music.

And some of them are just like us,

And some of them are dicks!”

- Frank Turner, Try This At Home (2009)

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