Review: Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls @ London Forum

It’s not been a bad year for Frank Turner. The former lungs of Million Dead turned underground folk-punk superstar has, courtesy of the Radio 1 playlist, an invitation from Danny Boyle and his many, many years of touring, seen his music catapulted into the mainstream, culminating in his latest release, ‘Tape Deck Heart’ shooting straight in to the number 2 slot in the charts after what he describes this evening as “a battle with Michael Buble”. Tonight’s gig at The Forum in Kentish Town is the last in his current UK tour, and an evening of celebration of what, it seems, he can’t quite believe he has achieved.

Before that though, are support band Larry And His Flask. Hailing from Oregon, they play old school country with a punky edge, but it is the how rather than the what of their music that makes the waiting crowd stand up and take notice. Drummer Jamin Marshall rejects the usual stool-behind-the-kit position in favour of standing up behind them, in line and at the front of the stage with the 5 other members of the band. This, coupled with the matching waistcoats, almost makes them look like a boyband of sorts, albeit that I’ve never seen a boyband member with a full-on ‘Uncle Albert’ beard. That notion is soon dispelled when they start playing and the stage becomes a cacophony of banjos, 5 part harmonies, an upright bass that spends most of the time in anything but the upright position, a drummer who spends as much time stood on top of his kit as behind it and, of course, a brass section. Crazy, wonderful, and just a tad frightening, Larry and His Flask certainly know how to put on a show, and succeed in warming the crowd up fantastically for the main event.

Bounding onto the stage to an explosion of praise, Turner announces “Welcome to show 1379!” and launches straight into new track, but already firm crowd favourite, ‘Four Simple Words’. The setlist tonight is a mixture of old and new material, with the reception he gets for new songs such as jaunty ode to emotional masochism ’Plain Sailing Weather’ just as vibrant as for classic sing-along ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’ much later in the evening.

The crowd’s reaction to each and every song is overwhelming, and a perfect illustration of the relationship Turner has cultivated over the years with his fanbase. Go to any of his shows and you can usually find ten people who saw him play at their mates party, or in a venue the size of a downstairs toilet – that Frank has managed to maintain that level of closeness, given that last year he sold out Wembley arena and played at the Olympics opening ceremony, is testament to his dedication to, and appreciation of, his fans. He plays a request tonight, 2007’s ‘A Decent Cup Of Tea’ sounds beautiful, and actually quite at home alongside his heartbreak tinged newer material. He later dedicates ‘I Knew Prufrock Before he Got Famous’ to “everyone who’s supported me for a long time now”, and with it makes everyone in the room feel like they’ve played an integral role in the road to his success.

It is, as always, with ‘Phototsynthesis’ that this musician-fan relationship presents itself most clearly though, as before The Sleeping Souls have even got to the middle eight, members of the crowd begin to sit down in anticipation of the big finale. This is something Turner began encouraging when he started playing the track live in 2008 but has become so used to the crowd pre-empting him now that he greets it with a simple “oh, so you’re doing the sitting down thing”.

As the closing notes of ‘I Still Believe’ ring out and the crowd begin to dissipate, it’s apparent that whatever’s going on in your life, there’s nothing like dancing your socks off in a sweaty crowd to a musician that’s having just as much fun as you are to put a smile on your face. ‘Tape Deck Heart’ might be a break-up record, but as Frank himself sang, “music is my substitute for love”. Judging by tonight, it’s a pretty good substitute.

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