FRANK TURNER - Hatfield Forum - 22 August 2013
Ploughing the old-fashioned way, Frank Turner plays his only UK indoor headline show between April and February with a one-off pre-festival show at a Student Union. The Hatfield Forum is the kind of venue a band would headline inbetween around 40 or so other dates, the type of circuit indie bands feted by the NME used to play two decades ago, before a rock bands idea of a tour was a single headline show at the O2. Times change, people change, but does time change us, or do we change over time? Certainly, I'm a lot more aware of age than I used to be, the crowd ranging from 18-21 year olds to 40 year olds, to at the upper end, circa 60 somethings. All ages, all types, all of the world is here (well,mostly).
Doing it the old way means taking to the road as a second home, driving, flying, and going a thousand miles without sleep, grafting as an badge of honour. The singer delivering his songs to any stage that will accommodate him. For the road is the only way he knows. It's the old way, but it has a certain dignity of labour. A man for whom a week off involves laying down vocals for his 'other band', Mongol Horde, and having major surgery.
So, show 1,478ish in a 250-gigs-a-year world makes you wonder. For the things of which he sings are out of time, timeless, made for time immemorial. For people like me, for whom music changed me, saved me, rescued me from a life without light, Frank Turner is a beacon. A modern day Springsteen, or Joe Strummer, a man who lives and breathes the sound. Hence, Tape Deck Heart as the title of his latest record : and tonight as his first band show ever without a guitar around his neck for most of the evening. As he shows us, a slipped disc in your back, and a doctors note suggesting you take three months off touring is no excuse at all. Tonight is, instead, an opportunity to break a new guitarist in on at temporary basis.
Not that he listens : for two songs – a mid-set “The Real Damage” and an encore of “Rock N Roll Romance” - he plays guitar as a man alone. Music is a form of medicine, after all. It heals. From the teenager for this is a Road-To-Damuscus conversion, for he was deaf, and now he hears the light, to the grizzle old road dogs past their 1,000th show as a paying punter (I'm on about 661, on checking).
But these songs. Opening with “Four Simple Words”, it's one of his shortest shows (a brief 95 minutes, aided by a new guitarist and only a week to learn the songs), but is it not about what happens in the time, not how much time there is? And,without really knowing, these songs are a manifesto to values : every song has a heart, and a big one at that : with every song eminently quotable. Instead, his band whip up a storm as he, armed with just a microphone, turns the show into a communion, where the only difference between band and crowd is that of a stage, no artificial division, no broken distance, where the crowd are as much part of the show as the band.
Perhaps more important in the universal appeal, where Frank has risen from headlining toilet pit touring stops to announcing a headline show at the cavernous O2 in February, are the words. These are not songs of age, or of a certain world, but songs for all of us, like Bruce or Joe, these are songs we can all relate to, about the common things we all have – the eternal questions : is this who I am? What is it to be? Is this love or just another mistake? What is my life going to be? And, of course, the odd song about how music will make it all better. William S Burroughs last written words are “Love is the greatest painkiller.” He was not wrong.
four simple words
if ever I stray
try this at home
long live the queen
way I tend to be
the real damage
plain sailing weather
I am disappeared
peggy sang the blues
one foot before the other
rock & roll romance
I still believe