Frank Turner @ Southampton Guildhall, 7/12/2010

With the weather outside taking a turn for the worst, and snow sweeping in across the country putting half the population on hold, it’s good to see that people still make it out for a good gig when they see one. It’s nothing short of a miracle that half the bands have managed to make it to the Guildhall this night with icy roads taking out all transport, but made it they have and Southampton welcomes them into the cavernous hall for tonight’s show.

The crowd is pretty thinly spread and half still in their outside coats when Oxford’s own Dive Dive open up the show, and even though their lyrics come across as perhaps a little overly simplistic, their mix of heavy and angular indie rock gains a pretty fair reaction from the sparse crowd. Their new single Liar and The Point Is (a song, ironically, about playing small venues) get people to pay attention rather than drink, and especially their song they wrote about Planet of the Apes to which they promise anyone who can spot a second Sci-Fi reference in the song a free piece of merchandise from their table. Dive Dive have managed to bring a crowd together despite people obviously being more interested in getting warm from the outside, which is no easy job, so it would be interesting to see what would happen when they add more dynamics to their songs and lyrics.

On the other end of the musical scale, main support Ed Harcourt appears on stage looking very dapper and surrounded by a veritable orchestra of different instruments. It’s fair to say that from the get-go, Ed Harcourt’s music is absurdly haunting and slightly magical as he comes on stage, picks up a guitar and just starts playing without any introduction. Ed Harcourt’s songs like the instruments he uses, constantly change tone but always stay complex and moving and straight from the soul. His impressive variety of music consists of him starting with a guitar, then moving to a piano, then a piano and a guitar, to a banjo and a vocoder, to a piano, drum, guitar, vocoder AND a trombone put through a loop. As if all of this wasn’t impressive enough, Ed Harcourt manages to do everything he does with such a tinge of soul to his songs that you end up wondering exactly what it is he’s writing about when he makes songs like Heart of a Wolf where he gets the audience to howl at the moon with him. Before clearing the stage for the main act, Ed Harcourt treats the audience tonight to a Christmas song to start getting people in the spirit of the season, questionably titled Devil Came Down The Chimney, a slightly dark and twisted tale of Christmas joy. Christmas Number One material it might not be, but nevertheless it still manages to impress.

Because the lights in the Guildhall stay dimmed before Frank Turner takes to the stage, when he does so it’s completely unannounced as he and his band appear on the stage, all dressed in white shirts and suited up for the evening. “I’m Frank Turner, and I’m from Winchester. I’ve got some good news and bad news,” announces Turner to the crowd anxiously waiting to hear what he has to say. “I was talking to my doctor before the show, and he said that I’m too sick and I shouldn’t play the show.” Every member of the crowd at this point is understandably preparing themselves for disappointment. “The good news is I told him to go fuck himself!” Ecstatic cheers from every member of the crowd ensues as Frank Turner starts out his set with Eulogy, before moving on to Poetry of the Deed, the lyrics of which truly set the tone for the evening, and then on to latest single Try This At Home.

Frank Turner’s recently released 5 track EP Rock and Roll is still selling well among those already familiar with his work, but that’s not what he’s pushing on here tonight. Instead we get an eclectic mix of some of Frank Turner’s most meaningful and heartfelt of songs, perhaps best shown in the way he goes from new EP release I Still Believe, to a song from an album he wrote with a friend of his in America in 4 hours entitled The Ballad Of Steve (about a true story of a pilot that walked off a plane before take off after getting fed up with his job), to his famous Love, Ire and Song.

One of the biggest appeals of Frank Turner live, besides his obvious ability to lead a crowd in his amazing array of true-blue punk rock songs, is his ability to tell a story. And so, when he recalls an anecdote about his recurring dreams of sitting and talking with Bob Dylan who says absolutely nothing to him in his dreams, it’s like he’s talking to a crowd of people who have all been his personal friend for years. And perhaps that’s exactly how he feels. Either way, this leads him to play his song about Bob Dylan for everyone in the room as a personal thank you for putting up with his illnesses.

“I’m really sick, so I’m going to need everyone to sing as much of the next few songs as they can for me,” Turner kindly asks of the crowd before he finishes his main set with the anthemic rise to arms of Sons Of Liberty and the highly well received insight into the life of a travelling musician The Road, both of which the crowd know entirely off by heart and take Frank Turner up on his offer of singing the words as loudly and proudly as they possibly can. To round off what has already been an incredible set despite obvious setbacks of illness; Frank Turner and his band grace the stage once again for an encore of Ballad of Me and My Friends and ending in the huge sing-along of Photosynthesis, the chorus of “I won’t sit down, I won’t shut up” being reflective of the entire attitude of the evening as a whole.

 “If this were anywhere else in the country, I wouldn’t have played the show, but this is my home” Frank claimed before the end of the show, and it’s fair to say that each and every member of the crowd tonight thanked their stars that he did – because this is a show you wouldn’t have wanted to miss!

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