REVIEW: Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Newcastle University Students’ Union (14.11.15) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Music possesses an immense power to bring people together, especially in times of great darkness, anguish and confusion, and musicians themselves can become great figures of assurance and comfort in times of need. Like so many, I was left in utter devastation at the truly horrific attacks that occurred in Paris on Friday night, in which innocent, perfectly decent people who were doing nothing more than merely enjoying themselves and having a good time, were so cruelly and unfairly taken from the world. The joy and energy that Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls brought with them to Newcastle was more than a fitting tribute, and a true display of how the power of live music can be the greatest form of relief in times of sadness and anguish.

The evening began with a brief but fantastic solo set from acoustic folkster Will Varley. Furiously scrambling out chords over cunningly tongue-in-cheek deliberations on modern life, Varley exhibits immense charisma and is ridiculously hilarious. Between songs, he becomes more of a stand-up comic, swigging beer and swinging off round after round of wisecracks. A highlight was a seemingly improvised song about a cat becoming a viral online sensation due to its unexpected musical proficiency, sung over a rapid-fire menagerie of blues chords.

The folk punk six-piece Skinny Lister, like Varley, are immensely talented and absurdly goofy in good measure. Playing choice cuts from the acclaimed Down On Deptford Broadway, their sound is utterly primal: acoustic guitars being strangled with barbed wire by buzz-saw electric guitars, booming double bass played in effortless tandem with relentless and flawless drumming, all perfectly rounded off by an accordion being craftily played like a lead guitar.

The two support acts perfectly represent the two sides of Frank Turner; one is an acoustic, solitary, politically-driven and rather pastoral, whilst the other is an anarchic, crowd-surfing bandleader, fuelled by feedback, barely able to stand still amidst the furious energy he commands from his backing band. The chemistry between himself and The Sleeping Souls is awe-inspiring, leading to live reinterpretations that fantastically better their recorded counterparts. Opening with Get Better, the first track from his acclaimed Positive Songs For Negative People, the quintet effortlessly encapsulated the glorious sound of the album; the pounding rhythm section acting as the perfect, punkish accompaniment to the immense interplay between Turner and lead guitarist Ben Lloyd. The first half of the set found the collective relentlessly working their way through the finest moments of Positive Songs… and the rest of Frank’s more electric pieces, filling the Union with raw, cathartic and immense energy and brutal noise.

For the second half, the Souls retreated to leave Turner alone on stage to perform a beautifully profound solo acoustic set, which found him paying tribute to every single person affected by Friday’s tragedies with an extensive exploration of a decade’s worth of some of the century’s finest acoustic-led songwriting. The more intimate confines allowed Turner’s intricate and melodic side to be brought to the forefront, an emotional highlight being a rendition of To Take You Home, a song written about a romance Turner had with a Parisian woman. Before he started the song, Turner, sounding almost close to tears, said he had called her and heard that she had been lucky to survive the attacks. Turner also made an emotional tribute to Nick Alexander, the merchandise manager who was murdered in the Bataclan, and the first Briton to have been reported dead in the attacks. By the time the Souls were returning to the stage for the show’s encore, some 25 songs deep into the curfew-defying setlist, I was feeling a kind of profound emotional captivation that I’d never experienced in a gig venue before. Whether with a band or on his own, Turner is an immensely gifted and versatile performer.

The evening was one that was thoroughly enthralling, electric, astounding, hilarious and emotional. Not many musicians can wear their heart on their sleeve with so much brutal honesty, nor can many folk musicians get away with spontaneously playing a medley of Metallica riffs in the midst of their set just to cheekily prove their worth on an electric guitar. Frank Turner is a national treasure, and an unstoppable force of nature on stage; he is most clearly at home when in front of an audience, for he is truly a wonder to behold and an undeniable master of his craft. He never really stops touring, so you have no excuse to pass up the chance to witness all this brilliance for yourself.

 

 

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