“But in the end, the journey’s brought joys, that outweigh the pain”
(Journey of the Magi, 2009)
I will get to the “pain” part of this crazy weekend later on, but first… a few photos of Frank at the Songbook Signing at RPM Records in Swindon on Saturday afternoon (Click on thumbnails to open gallery).
Gregg and Karrie from RPM Records had pulled off a brilliant event here. It was very well organized with orderly queues (we are in the UK after all) and I saw lots of excited and happy faces. From what I gathered during the time I spent outside and inside the store I think everyone there had a wonderful time. Prior to the event I had asked for permission to spend some extra time outside of the queue to take photos during the event. I had asked, because I enjoy photography and I thought this might be my only chance to bring my good, large, super zoom camera to a Frank event. I could never sneak that one into a concert venue and I actually can’t be bothered with applying for a photo pass to spend the first 3 songs in the photo pit instead of singing and dancing and jumping and focusing on Frank’s music from the start. Thus it was a treat to be able to take photos on this occasion. Perfectionist that I am I have to admit, I had hoped more photos to turn out a bit sharper, brighter, better, but… I’m still a rookie and the lighting was a bit tricky for my camera. Plus, Frank doesn’t stand still for long. But I should have known that :-)
Even though I’ve met Frank a few times in the last couple of years and thus might not be as nervous and tongue-tied and freaked out than I have been the first few times, I’m still excited and a bit nervous each time. But most of all, back then and still now: I’m always, always happy to see him and in complete awe, because he is just such a kind and lovely human being. It’s a joy to watch him interact with his supporters and I think he really enjoys these interactions. Not in a self-centred, narcissistic kind of way, which could be assumed of any pop/rock/sport/whatever star who is interacting of his fans. But in a simple enjoy-interacting-with-other-human beings kind of way. And yes, it probably helps, that the people who he was interacting with that afternoon liked him and came to see him, because they liked him and it was very lovely to witness.
I spent around 30 minutes in the store and looking back now two statements from the Get Better film come to my mind. Tarrant who stated that he finds the one-on-one contact draining after a short while, whereas Frank feeds off on it. And Frank’s mum who said something similar about how much of a strain these interactions can be and that she hopes that Frank handles these with great charm in 99.9% of the cases. Both statements are so so true. After a while I was exhausted just watching Frank do his thing. After a gig I’m usually chatting with my friends or other people around while waiting for Frank, but in the store I was focused on watching how Frank interacts with the fans who wanted to chat with him for a moment. It was fun and exciting and lovely, but I thought “I would NOT have the energy to be Frank Turner” ;-) Because there were so many people and he had to focus on someone new every one or two minutes. And even though Frank’s time clearly was limited at the store, he never ever sent out that vibe. Neither did his tour manager Tre who was herding the crowds a bit and asking / advising fans to already unwrap the CD, LP whatever they want him to sign. She also offered to take photos with the fan’s phone or camera etc. This all helped with moving the lines along nicely without anyone feeling rushed.
Frank himself definitely didn’t rush anyone, he took his time for each and every fan and listened to their stories and signed stuff diligently. One of the things that struck me the most while I was watching it through my camera’s viewfinder while trying to get a good shot of the scene in front of me: Frank is so present in these moments and focused on the person in front of him. He’s listening and he’s really paying attention, he’s making sure to spell the name correctly. He’s giving out hugs and posing for pictures without any complaints or the slightest sign that he might be a bit tired of doing and saying the same thing over and over again. Nada! Not one bit! It seemed to me like he enjoyed every encounter as much as the fan in front of him. Which goes along with everything his sister, band members, friends and family say about him in the film. And which I have experienced on many occasions myself. It really is a joy to behold. He is awesome in the truest sense of the word.
That was the small set Frank played before the actual signing. Not everyone could watch it from inside the store, but they had left the doors open so the people in the queue / crowd in front of the store could listen in and it was fun The one and only gig I’ll probably see from behind Frank’s back. I didn’t care and am just happy I can add another surprise show to my list of shows and a few more “heard live” songs to my nerd-y spreadsheet. I think he started with a new song “Don’t Worry” that afternoon, which was cool. He ended with “Photosynthesis” as a request for the shop owner’s daughter. He had the audience inside the store “sit down and stand up” which was fun to watch from the other side of the window. Nice short set.
The Level III was a lovely small venue and it’s a shame that they had to close it (for now) after this show. Both supports were enjoyable, even though Sean McGowan’s set was a bit too emo for my taste. At some point he said “I’ll play happier songs later”, but he didn’t really ;-) It was fine though and he was lovely and entertaining on stage, so I’m looking forward to see him support Will Varley in April in Germany.
Frank’s list of songs is up on setlist.fm, so I’m not going to comment much on which songs he played. He did play a new song, I hadn’t heard before: “Get It Right” which just confirmed to me that I’m going to enjoy the new album so so much, no matter the lack of crashing guitars and possible abundance of electronic beats. These songs are just amazing and I love that the new album will have a variety of moods / thoughts even if it’s all going to be political in a way. “Get It Right” for instance is a clear invitation to reach across the divide and to admit when you’ve been wrong and to see the other point of view. Whereas “1933”, which he played as well is such an angry “How did we fuck this up?” protest song. It hasn’t been released yet so anyone who already knows the lyrics by heart, must have listened to some live bootleg of the song quite often. I know I did, but so must have the guy behind me, because he knew the lyrics just as well as I do ;-) The last new song he played, was “21st Century Survival Blues”, which I was thrilled to hear once more. He had played that in Strasbourg in March last year and I already liked it a lot back then.
That song also prompted a hilarious anecdote about the line “You can’t eat gold” in the lyrics. The story includes a hungover Frank on a commuter plane in Australia and an American who stocks a warehouse in New Jersey with heavy arms and weaponries to be prepared for a civil war. To my German ears Frank’s American accent was quite good, because of course Frank went all out replaying that scene. It was hilarious. So was his introduction to “There She Is”, which he calls his first love song with a happy ending. He ended up talking about all the people who came up to him to tell him they’ve played one of his songs at their wedding and how he is always touched by this in a way, but also baffled, because there were no happy love songs in his repertoire before.
At some other point he explained how this venue actually is the reason he had started to grow a beard, because during a Million Dead gig a stage dive went wrong and he cut open his chin on a barrier in the middle of the room and he had needed stitches and those scares are now hidden by the beard. It’s small stories like these and the entertaining way in which Frank tells these stories and the obvious fun he himself has on this stage, that make his shows so enjoyable. However much truth there is to all those stories, it’s always fun hearing him tell them.
So it’s not just the “singing my heart out” and how that comes with feeling some kind of connection with the people around me. I’t not just the the energy on stage and down in the crowd. It’s the whole package that make Frank Turner gigs worth every mile and every hour of travel. Which leads me to the last part of this blog…
My journey to Swindon
The whole idea was a crazy one to begin with. Spend 10 hours on a Friday on various trains to travel from Germany to a town in South England to see an English guy play some songs on Saturday night. Then spend another 10 hours on various trains on a Sunday to get back home in time for some hours sleep before getting back to work on Monday.
It got a whole lot of crazier when a hurricane passed through Germany on Thursday, causing massive disruption in the rail services. At first it looked as if my trains were still going and on time and then when I already was at the station all of a sudden they were cancelled after all. Which led to my brother picking me up at the station again, driving me home and me getting in my car to drive to Brussels (almost 300 km) to directly board the Eurostar there. It’s a good thing I had looked up all I needed to know on Thursday night, when it became apparent that the trains might still be cancelled in Germany. But it was nerve racking. And exhausting.
From then on some more small things didn’t go as well as I had hoped or planned: crowded trains, hotel rooms with no working WiFi and a change of rooms at 9 at night, a stuffy nose that kept me awake, the lack of a Pret in Swindon, closed down underground on Sunday in London when I had to get from Paddington to St. Pancras and some more… But all in all nothing went really wrong either and everything actually worked out well enough. Looking back I definitely consider this a successful outing and I don’t regret it for a minute. I mean… look at the photos at the top. There were a few moments this weekend in which I questioned my sanity for a bit, but there were even more moments when I thought: you wouldn’t have met that person / experienced that moment / learned that tidbit of information if you had stayed home. And thus I’m going to end this post with the closing lines from “Journey of the Magi”:
Paupers and kings, princes and thieves,
Singers of songs, righters of wrongs, be what you believe.
Saddle your horse, shoulder your load,
Burst at the seams, be what you dream and then take to the road.