Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls: Live at O2 Academy, Sheffield (19/11/15)

As fans of all ages poured into the sold out venue, anticipation steadily mounted for some of rock’s most celebrated live musicians, Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls. Although the night is to celebrate Frank’s sixth album Positive Songs for Negative People, some sport shirts from previous tours, proof that Frank’s ever-growing carbon footprint and notoriously astounding live performances pay off – clearly, Sheffield O2 is in for a night that will leave fans wanting more.

First to grace the stage is Will Varley, the seemingly hairier, acoustic guitar-wielding cousin of comedian Louis CK. Launching into the marvellously cynical Advert Soundtrack, Varley employed hilarious lyrics and gritty charm in order to seize the attention of the adoring crowd. Throwing in hard-hitting political songs alongside rib-breaking tunes such as The Self-Checkout Shuffle, Varley is a welcome breath of fresh air on the scene and this is hopefully just the beginning for the endearingly sceptical folk singer.

Skinny Lister burst on stage in a fit of gang vocals, accordions and furious strumming of strings. This Is War was a perfect opener – loud, vivacious and full of energy. This vigour remained throughout their set with front-woman Lorna Thomas dancing wildly on stage and Dan Grey crowd surfing whilst clutching onto his double bass. Trouble on Oxford Street was a highlight along with the crowd-raising John Kanaka, and the crowd were left in anticipation for Frank to place the cherry on top of what had already been a wildly entertaining evening.

Turner began his 1789th show as he meant to go on: loud, robust and thunderous. Opener Eulogy raised every hand, opened every mouth, and was roared back at the grinning songster with a passionate vigour that can only be found at a Frank Turner show. Embarking on a hefty 28-song setlist is no easy feat for the most accomplished live performers but Turner managed this effortlessly, expertly weaving in and out of ripened material and new releases, anthemic crowd pleasers and solemn solos. Wessex Boy earned an ear-splitting appreciation from the crowd and fans willingly allowed themselves to be tied into Turner’s ridiculous calls for star jumps during the chorus of the undoubtedly popular Recovery. The on stage quips between Frank and The Sleeping Souls immersed fans into a fiercely competitive battle of which half of the venue would be the most energetic throughout the night, and everyone obliged in sitting down and standing up to Photosynthesis.

The elated mood was momentarily punctuated at Frank’s mention of the previous week’s attacks in Paris. He dedicated St Christopher is Coming Home to his friend Nick Alexander, telling the crowd to ‘value what you have, take care of each other and put the petty bullshit aside.’ The crowd were just as chillingly silent during his tear-jerking solo of Song For Josh. It’s a testament to the fans that they allowed Frank to have these touching moments of grief with a polite, knowing stillness before erupting into a frenzy of supportive cheers.

Perhaps the most magical thing about the evening was that the entire venue was united under Turner’s thumb. The tireless energy which both fans and performers poured into the set was almost tangible, and this was underpinned with closer Four Simple Words. A crowdsurfing Frank joined frenzied fans in riotously culminating the evening and not a single person stood still as the songster left the stage to a deafening rumble of cheers. It’s clear that Turner has perfected the art of live performances – not a single face leaving the O2 embraced the cold November air without a sweaty forehead and a satisfied grin, anticipating Frank’s inevitable seventh album when they get to do this all over again.

Frank Turner – 19/11/15 [Interview]

The lovely Frank Turner is in the middle of a monstrous tour promoting his sixth album, ‘Positive Songs for Negative People’. I caught up with him before he and The Sleeping Souls tore Sheffield a new one with their sold out show at the O2 Academy. We talked about the new album, current events, and Netflix & Chill; easy Frank, we’ve only known each other ten minutes!


How’s the tour been so far?

It’s been great! The shows have been fantastic, we’ve got great support bands and it’s lovely to be back in the UK. The events in Paris have been pretty heavy for everybody who’s involved in live music and the touring community, but that aside it’s been great.

I guess that had quite an effect on the mood of the tour in the few days afterwards?

Yeah, I knew Nick Alexander quite well and I know quite a lot of other people who were shot, all of whom are thus far still alive, so that is good news. But yeah, I was doing a gig when it happened and I was doing a gig the following evening and it’s like, ‘this is what I do, I do gigs’, and it’s mad to think about what happened.

Does it make you reflect on your career and appreciate it a lot more?

It does, it makes me pretty angry in places as well, people talking about this with reference to Western foreign policy it’s like ‘what the fuck do people at a death metal show have to do with Western foreign policy?’ It’s not to do with that, it’s to do with totalitarian death cults and… yeah, fuck those people.

You’ve played well over a thousand shows now, what number is tonight’s show in Sheffield?

1789! We’re gonna break 1800 by the end of this year.

Has the reception to your new album been any different to your previous albums?

Well, it’s an interesting question because it’s my sixth album and there’s a degree to which people have made up their mind about an artist by the time you get to a sixth record and I’m slightly kind of bored by… You know, there are some people that will just go ‘oh I fucking hate that guy’, and won’t listen to it. And then, I don’t want to be disrespectful or ungrateful, but there are people that are gonna love it because they love what I do. I’m more interested in people that have a kind of rational, reasonably critical response to it. But I feel quite strongly that it’s one of the best records that I’ve done, if not thebest record I’ve ever done. It struck me that I really needed to not just release a run-of-the mill ‘me’ album.

When I listened to it I did think that you’d branched out in a lot of different places and experimented with new sounds.

Thank you, I’m glad we agree! You know, if I just did a me-by-numbers record on album six, a lot of people would kinda go, ‘probably not gonna bother listening to the next one.’ You need to keep interesting people.

In ‘The Angel Islington’ you mention the writer Samuel Johnson, is there a book or poem that you’ve read that’s completely changed your outlook on life or that you’ve taken inspiration from when writing yourself?

Yeah, hundreds! I’m a very bookwormy, poetry kind of guy. I was just talking about a writer called Clive James who is my favourite writer, he’s an Australian who’s lived in London most of his life and it’s very sad to say that he’s nearly dead – he’s got terminal cancer. He wrote a book called ‘Cultural Amnesia’ which reordered my entire thinking about art, but that’s just one of many that I could choose.

In ‘Get Better’ you say the lyrics ‘she took a plain black marker, started writing on my chest.’ Speaking of ink on skin, what’s your favourite tattoo and why?

On me? It’s difficult to pick favourites. I really like the backs of my hands, partly because I see them all day every day. The idea came from a song from a band called mewithoutYou, sort of via Aesop’s Fables, and the drawing was drawn by my friend Keenan and the inking was done by my friend Ian, so they’ve got a lot of personal attachment.

Okay, in relation to ‘The Opening Act of Spring’, what are you most looking forward to about 2016?

We’re gonna be in Europe a lot in some places we haven’t been for a long time and I’m really excited to get back to Scandanavia and places like that.

You talk about postcards and travelling a lot in ‘Mittens’, where’s one place you haven’t toured yet or don’t tour very often that you’d love to visit?

South America! I’ve never been south of the River Grande and we’re going to Mexico next month which I’m crazy excited about; obviously Mexico isn’t in South America but it’s a little bit closer. I get tons of emails from Brazil, Chile and Argentina and places like that and I would love to get down there.

Glorious You’ – what’s been the most glorious thing about releasing ‘Positive Songs for Negative People?’

You know what, it was a real battle to get this record to come out the way I wanted it to. There were lot of people who were trying to get me to mitigate a little bit, or just round the edges off, or change up what I do and I was really, really fierce about fighting that. It was very stressful. The record was supposed to come out in February but it came out in August because we were arguing about when and where to record it and all those kind of things, and I’m really glad that I stood my ground.

So you’re very certain that the album reflects you specifically rather than the interests of other people?

Yeah, definitely. I mean that’s always true but just particularly this time around. I think some people didn’t quite get what it was I was trying to do and were trying to change what I do, and that really fills me with rage so I was really quite keen to just ignore all of that.

In ‘Love Forty Down’ you mention fears about reaching forty, is there anything that you’re determined to achieve before you do turn forty?

Oh, God! I’m right at the very beginning of planning to write a history book. I shouldn’t really say any more than that right now but it’s gonna be an extremely difficult thing to do because I don’t really know how to do it, and I don’t want it to be a history book that people like because I’m a musician, I want them to like it because it’s a history book, you know? I’ve got a plan and if it comes out before I’m forty I’ll be very pleased.

When you stop making music, what’s the one thing you want people to remember about your career?

[Pauses] Well… That’s an interesting question, in some ways I… [pauses] Making me pause is quite impressive, I never stop talking! In some ways I kind of don’t care, in the sense that it’s not really my problem what people do or don’t remember, but that’s actually not strictly true. I don’t think that’s how human beings work – everyone thinks about how they’re going to be remembered. I just want to be remembered as someone who was integral and decent. I mean, I’d love to be remembered as the greatest songwriter in the history of the universe but that’s not gonna happen, so I’d just like to be remembered as someone who was decent to the people around me and stayed true to my artistic aims.

What would be your ideal gift this Christmas?

I’m really into old maps of London, stuff like that and I’d like an old map of London – well, I should clarify, I’d like another old map of London.

What was the last concert you attended that wasn’t your own?

[Pauses] I’m trying to think, we’ve been on tour for a long time! I can tell you the next concert I’m going to attend which is tomorrow night because we have the night off. We’re going to a band called Felix Hagan & The Family who are amazing, and I’m very excited about seeing them live again.

Are there any songs or artists that you listen to that people wouldn’t expect you to listen to?

I don’t really know what people expect me to listen to, or care very much. I listen to a lot of pretty heavy music, I think people generally know that about me. There’s a band called HECK that used to be called Baby Godzilla, they are fucking monstrousand I love them. At the same time lately I’ve been mainly listening to traditional 70s country, stuff like John Prime, George Jones, that kind of business. It’s great, it’s some of the most finely crafted song-writing I’ve ever heard.

Okay just to finish off we’re gonna play a word association game, you know what this is right?

I do, I live in fear that you’re going to discover something about me that we didn’t already know!

Okay, so the first one is pretty easy – Music.

Everything.

Netflix.

Chill!

Dinosaurs. 

Awesome!

Christmas. 

Uh… [pauses] I know I’m supposed to do this quickly! I’m gonna say Mum really, because the deal I have with my mum is that, obviously because I’m not home very often, I go home for Christmas. If I don’t, and do Christmas anywhere other than my Mum’s house she’d fucking hunt me down and kill me. She can cook the shit out of a turkey!

Harry Potter.

Don’t care. That whole thing passed me by hard! I have friends who are die-hard fanatics but it’s not for me.


So we’ve discovered that Frank likes his mum’s cooking, old maps of London and being a decent human being. There’s just one problem – how do we tell him there’s already a historian named Frank Turner?

Frank Turner – Positive Songs for Negative People [Review]

The topic of Frank Turner’s music has often taken a backseat in media due to recent controversy over his political affiliations and the release of his best-selling autobiography, The Road Beneath My Feet. However, Turner is back in true folk-punk style with his latest LP Positive Songs for Negative People, an album which seems set to divide fans and have critics questioning whether it’s time for Turner to change his tune.

The album doesn’t burst into life so much as break softly with gentle lullaby The Angel Islington. It’s a delicate melody that sees Turner crooning of rebirth, singing ‘I resolve to start again, to wash my feet and cleanse my sins.’ Indicating that we can expect a refreshing album of positivity, Turner doesn’t disappoint as he launches into leading track Get Better, a raw and powerful slice of the traditional Frank that we know and love, complete with loud vocals, fist-pumping drum beats and crowd-clapping breaks. The album continues in a similar vein of jaunty pianos and upbeat lyrics with The Next Storm, but following track The Opening Act of Spring is an oxymoronic piece that continues with spirited instrumentals yet is contrasted heavily with lyrics of turmoil and struggle. However, in keeping with the theme of the album, there is a dash of sunshine in Turner’s gloomy vocals, stating that ‘I can dream of going back outside when the rain and thunder’s done’.

Following tracks Glorious You and Mittens are the album’s blinding highlights; Glorious You’s classic guitar intro is reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and is a refreshing tune with upbeat guitar patterns, loud, repetitive choruses and dance-inducing drum beats. It isn’t difficult to imagine this song being played to thousands at a summer festival and seeing those thousands belting back the infectious chorus. Mittens is a sincere ballad that entombs bitterness and sadness yet still leaves the listener feeling cosy. The song culminates with a gloriously gritty and heartfelt climax that transcends into a gentle termination, all the while filled with raw emotion and passion on Turner’s behalf. This is Frank at his best – expressive yet stirring. Far too often we see Turner preaching to the masses, whereas it’s his personal touches that truly make his tracks shine.

It’s a shame that a track as beautiful as Mittens jumps to the train wreck that is Out of Breath, a two-minute mess that travels at break-neck speed and sits awkwardly next to its mid-paced predecessor. Similarly, Demons is a forgettable and cliché track that detracts from the few gems on the album. The lyrics ‘at the truth we have arrived, god damn it’s great to be alive’ are cheesy at best and tarnish the latter half of Positive Songs alongside tracks Love Forty Down and Silent Key.

However, explosive track Josephine shines bright, and it’s anthemic from the start. ‘Whoa-oa-oa-oa’ pop-punk style choruses and a passionate, goose bump-inducing, confetti canon climax make Josephine a stand-out track from the album. It’s here where we truly see Turner’s progression from 2013’s Tape Deck Heart; it’s experimental and sees Turner leaning away from his folk-punk tendencies and more towards mainstream rock. If released, this song would be the radio’s darling.

Bizarre penultimate track Silent Key tells the tale of Christa McAuliffe, an astronaut aboard the tragic space shuttleChallenger. Esme Patterson joins Turner for an awkward harmony, and the track concludes in a blaze of gritty guitars andTurner’s trademark shouty vocals. Silent Key is an unsettling track of death, contrasting sharply with the album’s tragic finale,Song For Josh, a touching elegy to Turner’s friend Josh Burdette. This is the only song on the album to be recorded live, and it was performed at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC where Josh worked. The track is the most haunting on the record and is faintly reminiscent of Frank’s 2008 track Long Live The Queen. His voice can be heard to be breaking at points and the raw emotion conveyed makes the song a memorable tribute to Turner’s dear friend.

Perhaps the album can be seen as a reflection of life, opening with a track of birth and renewal and culminating with two songs that centre on death. The fact that the album both begins and ends with a heartfelt acoustic melody gives the album a sense of resolution and circularity. Positive Songs seems like Frank’s way of showing us that life, like Positive Songs, has both bright and dark moments that we must try and see positively, because after all, we’re not alive for long.

Positive Songs has its peaks and its ditches, and many listeners will feel that Turner could have done better. However, the songs that are done well are spectacular, and, thankfully, those that aren’t are easily forgotten.

Young Guns – Ones and Zeros [Album Review]

In the past year, Young Guns have undergone an exciting rebirth, exploding back onto the British and American rock scene with the release of their third studio album, Ones and Zeros. With a three and a half year wait since the release of Bones, which saw them rise to the top of the charts and have a seemingly endless series of UK/EU and US tours, it was uncertain whether Young Guns would sink or float in the increasingly choppy waves of the alternative music scene. They could have played it safe, made a ‘Bones II’ and be done with it. But they didn’t.

Opening track Rising Up instantly indicates the new direction that Young Guns are headed, drip feeding a smooth, melodic flow of synth beats before detonating into powerful bass-heavy rock. Immediately, Ones and Zeros oozes confidence and an energy that persists throughout the rest of the record. This is prevalent in I Want Out, a jaw dropping blend of slick bass rhythms, crashing drums, intricate guitars and thunderous gang vocals expertly intertwined with bursts of synth that makes for a show stopping dance hit. Memento Mori is another shining example of Ones and Zeros transcending genre barriers – rhythmic drum beats, repetitive choruses and periodic outbursts of ‘hey!’ are reflective of the more mainstream influences on the album, yet the track still keeps its groundings in rock.

However, although Young Guns have energy and vigour in abundance, they also demonstrate their gentler side with Lullaby and Die on Time. Both songs commence as slow, soft tracks that steadily build up into a ballad-like climax complete with pianos, deafening drums and hard-hitting, elongated notes from vocalist Gustav Wood. Both songs are solemn and emotional gems, the rubies on the treasure chest that is Ones and Zeros.

The peak of the album comes in the form of Speaking In Tongues, an anthemic godsend of a song that’s not only a stand-out track from Ones and Zeros, but is a highlight of Young Guns’ entire musical career. A fiery explosion of deep bass riffs, violent drums, powerful guitars and Gustav Wood’s dynamic vocals, this track firmly cements Young Guns’ place at the forefront of the British rock scene.

Ones and Zeros is beautifully indefinable. Its irresistible mixing of genres and styles reflect the complicated and often unstable writing process that has consumed Young Guns over the past two years. Ones and Zeros was written between the US and the UK, and this influx of influence is reflected in the final product. It is an amalgamation of the past three and a half years: copious amounts of experience, changes in their styles of writing, the band being torn apart and reborn stronger, louder, better.

It’s different from anything they’ve ever done, but it’s also different from anything most rock bands have done. It’s a beautiful hybrid of pulsating electronic beats and fiery anthemic riffs – it’s bursting with creative genius, and it’s a risk that is certain to pay off. Although this may be an exciting new direction for the five-piece, there are some things that never change. They’ve never lost the energy or the dynamism demonstrated in All Our Kings Are Dead and Bones and, as usual, Gustav Wood’s breath-taking affinity for lyrical poetry is humbling. This album is revolutionary, and Young Guns are going to dominate the world of music like they’ve never done before.

10/6/15

It was a pop-punk fan’s wet dream as the most exciting up and coming bands from all corners of the world joined under one roof to play good music to an angst-ridden crowd, and the excitement and unity within the venue as Trophy Eyes rolled onto the stage was tangible. Though they only had small clusters of fans dotted in the audience, the Australian newbies had a following as loyal as their better-known kin 5 Seconds of Summer, singing every word and shooting their fists in the air to fan favourites such as Hourglass and In Return. Undoubtedly the heaviest band of the night, they certainly created enough heat to combat the icy January winds in which fans had queued for hours.

Seaway were by far the best support act of the evening, proudly flying the Canadian flag with pride through their hit Sabrina the Teenage Bitch. As increasing numbers of the crowd bubbled with activity and new waves of fans surfed over the barrier,Seaway played brilliantly, and recent single Shy Guys earned a stunning reaction from a crowd of ever growing fans. The boys kept energy levels high and excitement brimming, and even as final support act Knuckle Puck graced the stage the audience never grew restless – Neck Deep chose their support acts well, and as Knuckle Puck sauntered through their set, not one person stood moodily in the corners waiting for the headliners. All eyes were on the Illinois quintet and newer songs such as Oak Street gained a reaction just as emphatic as aged track No Good.

At last, Neck Deep strolled on stage. It was as if a slow-boiling kettle had finally peaked – the crowd that had simply simmered throughout the evening exploded, and those that weren’t thoroughly engaged in mosh pits or crowd surfing were submerged in the torrent of foam fingers tossed to fans from the balcony. Kicking off their spectacular set with Losing Teeth, a highlight from their debut album Wishful Thinking, not a single person remained silent, and the infectious energy of the band rolled in waves throughout the crowd. For a band that’s only two years old, Neck Deep have certainly amassed a large and loyal following, and as they played their entire discography bar a couple of songs, the united voice of the crowd resonated throughout. Tracks from their first EP Rain In July were executed with as much passion and fervour as more established singles such as Growing Pains and Crushing Grief (No Remedy), but the highlight of their entire performance was ultimate fan favourite A Part of Me. Dedicated to a fan that sadly could no longer be with us, vocalist Ben Barlow requested that the crowd sing in their honour, to which every pair of lungs obliged. Guest vocalist Laura Whiteside joined the band on stage for the truly moving performance, but both voices were threatened to be drowned out by the 1100 strong crowd. The sentimental touches continued into the encore, which allowed the evening to end solemnly with their tender track Candour. Still, the reaction Neck Deep manage to illicit from the crowd was one just as resounding as if they had finished on a more upbeat note.

Despite their modern twist on the genre, Neck Deep managed to bring out everything that’s great in pop punk, and for an hour it was as if you’d stepped into the early 00’s. The band have never lost their humility, even noting how flattered they were that bootleggers were selling counterfeit merchandise outside the venue. And after all, that’s what pop punk is about – no judging, no standards, just a bunch of teenagers united in the fact that they all love a band of misfits that own too many pairs of cargo shorts.

LIGHTS: Brudenell Social Club, Leeds 26/1/15 [Review]

Here in the UK we have a love/hate relationship with Canada (we haven’t yet forgiven them for Justin Bieber), but electropop queen LIGHTS is one of its many treasures. Hitting the Great British shores last week with K. Flay, she embarked on an almost sold-out tour – and she was mind-blowing.

American hip-hop artist K. Flay probably isn’t the support act people expected when they walked through the doors of the Brudenell Social Club, but they soon found themselves bobbing along to the chilled out tunes from Life As A Dog, her debut album that she released last year. Her set primarily consisted of soft rapping, live drums, a keyboard and pre-recorded synth, a combination that worked surprisingly well. However, a lot of songs sounded disappointingly similar and with little fans in the audience and even littler interaction with the crowd, K. Flay couldn’t evoke the reaction that was sorely needed to kick start the evening – but no one was expecting a standing ovation, no matter how talented she may be.

With a performance that contrasted sharply with the softer, more relaxed tones of K. Flay, LIGHTS graced the stage and immediately kicked off the set with the intimate Muscle Memory. Perhaps a sit-down song wasn’t the best choice of entry as the crowd were still floundering, but following track Toes certainly got the crowd on their – ahem – feet. A song from her second album Siberia, it’s clearly a track which fans had waited years to see live, and it’s great to see LIGHTS revelling in the reaction. Engaging in a little crowd interaction, she reminisces on the last time she was in Leeds five years ago at The Cockpit (may it rest in peace), before kicking into the next song. She seems to have a natural modest stage presence, humble yet somehow self-assured – maybe it’s the bright red military style-jacket that adds to her confident image.

Without the manipulation of recording, LIGHTS’s voice is astounding, carrying the resonance and vitality that simply cannot be captured on tape. It’s almost illusory the way she holds every note perfectly, shown especially in Running with the Boys, the video for which was premiered that day. Saying that this song makes her feel young again, she engages the band and the crowd in a discussion of Mario Kart before wielding a guitar (seriously – is there anything this woman can’t do?) and diving head first into the song.

Slowing down the loosely turning cog of the show, she sits down to serenade the audience with Portal, a mellow track from her new album Little Machines, which bewitches the audience into silence before continuing her energy and fervour with Where the Fence is Low and Banner. This is undoubtedly the highlight of the evening with supposedly the best reaction of the tour, and even the middle aged men get involved in the sudden wave of motion.

It’s a shame that the crowd were so sombre, as LIGHTS’ performance was absolutely breath taking – she came, she saw, but she didn’t quite conquer.

What’s this? Another record from Front Porch Step romanticising unhealthy obsessions with girls? And just in time for Christmas! After all, you have nothing better to spend your cash on, do you?

Being a follow up to his 2013 debut LP, Aware, it’s no surprise that opening track A Lovely Mess shows slight progression from what was a spectacular album. Soft harmonies from a backing choir make a welcome appearance and more intricate guitar work show that Front Porch Step, aka Jake Mcelfresh, has matured musically – even if he has the emotional age of a fifteen year old.

Heaven Sent is more of a lullaby, but is nothing new from what was already done on Aware. The Early November’s Ace Enders’ guest vocals are supple in contrast to Mcelfresh’s hardened voice, but the duality is successful and easy to listen to.

Mcelfresh puts a modern, acoustic twist on Bing Crosby’s I’ll be Home for Christmas, but the song tragically falls short of the original. Whereas Crosby conjures the image of a tranquil couple cuddling by the fire, this is one of an over-enthusiastic boy singing his solo in the Christmas nativity. His vocals are too harsh to pull off the aged crooning of Crosby, and you’ll be thankful the track is only two and a half minutes long.

Perhaps the saving grace of the EP is the title track, Whole Again. Mcelfresh is at his best, showcasing his impressive lyrical proficiency with a vigorous passion to a simple but pleasant tune. Whole Again slowly builds up into a full-band instrumental that is far from disappointing. Crashing drums and a blues-style guitar solo culminate the track, and it’s nice to see Mcelfresh experimenting with different approaches to music.

Although there are highlights on this EP, you should probably just buy the LP Aware if you’re interested. It has more variety of theme (spoiler: one of them actually isn’t about an unattainable girl), similar songs and no covers. Congratulations, Front Porch Step, you are Taylor Swift with talent and a beard.

2/12/14