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It turns out after all that kids these days do like listening to guitar based music. Who could have guessed that? This shocking discovery was made in the heart of the Finger Lakes at a venue nestled in the Lake Cayuga basin called “The Haunt” in the college town of Ithaca, New York. Last night the Rouse-Master General and I went there to see a bloke called Frank Turner. Backed by a band called “The Sleeping Souls”, he came out with guns blazing, confidently stamping his identity on the crowd in an instant and was one devastating tornado of singing and guitar strumming and rocking round the intimate stage. He sang of love, youth, friendship, hard drinking, doing what you want, living life to the full and his love affair with the cultural richness and natural beauty of England.
His music is a combination of rock, folk and some derivation of punk. It’s always upbeat, which of course means it’s of little artistic merit. All of his songs have endless verses and it’s truly mind blowing how he can remember all of the lyrics. The show lasted for about two hours and it was as if he was giving a rambling, fast-paced speech that he’s committed to memory like a demonic itinerant preacher. Not only did he own the stage but he owned the whole place and everyone’s attention was rooted to Frank as if smart phones had never been invented. I didn’t see one college kid stare blankly at their device, a sincerely revolutionary fact, and one I’m sure would be of acute interest to parents and professors alike. The crowd was right there with him the whole way and I couldn’t believe how many people knew a load of the words. I had no idea there were young (ish) bands from the rock tradition out there who are writing passable songs to a wide and youthful audience. Although it wasn’t my cup of tea, I partially felt quite hopeful about the future of pop/ rock music which I’d assumed was on the way out. “Not so”, says Frank Turner, “I’ll carry the fucking torch if no-one else fucking will”.
In fact, all his little speeches (spoken in his upper-class English accent) between songs, announced that he was going to do fucking this and going to do fucking that, and we won’t even tell our fucking parents what time we’re coming home. After a while this grates on your nerves, and then the next song starts off again and he’s running all over the place like a boundless puppy, and the students think he’s adorable, and even though you love puppies too, you start to fantasise about putting him down because he looked cute in the shop but it’s cold and wet outside and it gets old taking him out in the evening and cleaning up his crap in the dark.
One preposterous story was about visiting his doctor and it went like this; “and I said, hey doc, I’ve got another injury, and he said to me, hey Frank, in the last two years you’ve had a sprained ankle, a ruptured Achilles, a tweaked groin, two knee ligament tears, shin splints, and a dislocated shoulder, will you please take it easy and stop assaulting your body, and I said hey doc, no fucking way, I’ve got a fucking duty to punk rock and I fucking need to perform and I either do it FULL FUCKING THROTTLE OR NOT AT ALL!!!!!”. (Cue cheers). I seemed to be the only person in the place who found all this a bit embarrassing.
Naturally, his band was fucking tight (damn it, now he’s got me doing it). All the breaks and time changes were done to perfection. His surly looking bass player twirled his bass guitar over his head and jolted it up and down and side to side all night. His little lead guitar player in his suit and tie, like Frank, tracked every inch of the stage. His keyboard player was hugely impressive; his rolls garnished the songs which is also noticeable when listening to the studio albums (if you can get through one); in fact, they make the songs. The drummer played the most minor role imaginable, which considering Frank Turner’s spurious connection to punk-rock, is unforgiveable. But if we’re being generous, perhaps we can say that the simplicity of Turner’s song-writing only requires the basic drum rudiments, and I don’t use the word simplicity as an insult.
Frank Turner likes to fabricate mayhem. The likeable support act, Will Varley, is actually an introspective poetic folk singer and “the best fucking song-writer” Frank has ever met, apparently. But on tour with Frank, he needs to play the role of a stand-up comedian, and he was invited by the man himself to crowd-surf from the stage to the bar and back again with (predictably) two Jack Daniels shots before running off the stage with an affable smile and a joyful wave to the crowd, presumably to cry his eyes out, and ask himself how did it ever come to this?
Everything about Frank Turner seems too neatly arranged for me. Although there’s no denying that the man has unbelievable energy, and he can hold the crowd in the palm of his hand all night, I also detect that there is something disingenuous about him. I got so sick of the “Hey Ithaca, how the FUCK ya doing?” at the end of every other song that I couldn’t approach his music with any level of commitment. However, it should be stressed that I was totally alone. Everybody else seemed to love him. Maybe if he dies young I’ll begrudgingly and belatedly agree that he did have some degree of authenticity. I guess I just want the man to show some humility and a hint of self-deprecation, but then why would he care an ounce about what I think? However, it’s at times like these that I deeply miss Bert Jansch.