“Live in Newcastle” – Frank Turner, 2020 (Album Review)

We aren’t just artists, we are something more:
We’re entertainers.
(Balthazar Impresario ~ Frank Turner, 2011)

Well… it looks like I felt the urge to write down some thoughts about the new Frank Turner Live album after all. Even though I already poured my heart and soul out about these nights and what they meant to me and how Frank’s words once again impacted me, when I wrote the “No Man’s Land” tour review half a year ago. With this post I try to focus less on how much I love the song – though this plays into it of course. But I rather hope to shed some light on how different these arrangements were and what that evoked in me. All the while still often lacking the right terminology for describing it adequately, I’m afraid. I don’t know anything about making music, I just love listening to it…

I think I wrote enough about the amazing narrative structure in my tour review. I just have to once again say that I was and still am in awe of everyone’s performance. Frank was incredible. Open and honest and emotional and funny. The scaled back arrangements let each of the band members show off a bit and it’s so nice to actually hear more the varied and nuanced sound. On the albums or at the regular gigs that sometimes can get a bit lost in all the “big production / fireworks” kind of style. After having jotted down some of my first thoughts, I now feel the need to state, that Benjamin Lloyd is an incredible guitarist and a lovely person and I like him as much as the rest of the Sleeping Souls. But for some reason, the electric guitar seems to be the instrument my auditory sense notices the least in any arrangement. My mind goes “Oh cool bass line” and “Neat percussion” and “Oh my God, this piano bit is lovely”. But I often don’t seem to notice the guitar parts and I feel really bad about that. So, Ben: Please know, it’s nothing personal. I love you ! ;-)

01. The Ballad Of Me & My Friends ★★★★★
Doing this opening song in a so completely different way was such a great idea. I don’t think I ever heard a full band version of this anyway. It’s a typical solo / singalong song with usually just Frank on his acoustic guitar. It’s often ending the solo interlude of a gig and the Souls coming back on after this. So it was a bit weird to have a full band sound and backing vocals to this, but in a really good way. The most astounding for me though was, that this slower and more spoken presentation from Frank gives this song a whole new vibe. Where the original to me feels still optimistic in a juvenile and naive way, this one is feels more dismayed and a bit jaded. In a “Been there, done that. Got my bruises. But I’m still here” kind of way. Grown up! Which is fitting for 20+ years on the road, I guess.

02. I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous ★★★★☆
To have the Sleeping Souls on for the beginning of this song is a change from the usual, where they often come on half-way through. I love that the full band sound makes it a bit more uplifting from the start, while Frank is doing the intro. I notice a bit more of Matt’s piano all through the song, which is always nice. I’m very partial to the piano as you might notice throughout this review. I also quite like the interspersed backing vocals lending a bit more gravitas to some of the lyrics. Not the regular harmony backing vocals of a chorus or such. Ugh, I wish I knew the proper words to describe it. Here for instance at “English boys with banjos”. There are quite a few of these moments in other songs and I really enjoy that. Also the driving percussion and bass in the second half from “I’m sick and tired of people…” ? Ace! 

03. Journey Of The Magi ★★★★☆
This is one of my favourite songs. I love the simple, even rhythm of the song in general and I always love the backing vocals, especially when they do it live. This version is not so much different from the one they usually do, but it’s so very beautiful. I love that the instruments join in bit by bit after the first chorus and the backing vocals after the 2nd chorus are just absolutely beautiful. They then “up” their instruments even more before toning it down while joining in vocal harmonies again for the last bit and letting it end with Frank and his guitar again. Perfect.

04. Substitute ★★★★☆
One of my favourite songs and I love that this version feels a bit more uplifting, which is probably a weird thing to say about an “Anti-Love” song, but there it is. It’s another song I mostly remember Frank doing solo, so I love the full band here: the driving rhythm in the chorus and the backing vocals and … the piano. Again. 

05. Isabel ★★★★★
I’ve always liked this song quite a bit and I’m glad that they’ve reached a point in their post-romance relationship where he felt comfortable playing it on occasion. Once again a lovely piano part and absolutely stunning backing vocals. My favourite bit though? How from the 1st chorus on Nigel on drums creates this perfect thumping ‘modern technology’ / machines kind of rhythm. Blew my mind from the first time I heard it.  

06. Redemption ★★★★☆
Here they are back with the interspersed backing vocals lending more gravitas and I love it. I think the piano already features quite a bit in the original version, but I love it either way. My favourite part here probably is the bridge – “and the sound comes clear…” – because most of the instruments step back to let Frank’s voice come clear and he puts all his emotion into it and he sounds so devastated, because he knows he really fucked up that relationship. 

07. Reasons Not To Be An Idiot ★★★★★
I really enjoy this blues-y version of one of my favourite songs. And yes, Ben on the electric guitar, I hear you :-)! But everybody is doing great job here and can show off how amazingly they master their instrument. I’m so glad that Frank finally found a good replacement lyric for “…after she had kids”, because that line always bothered me a bit. I absolutely love how he sings the last verse up to “…I’m just like everybody else”. Ending with great backing vocals once again.

08. I Am Disappeared ★★★★★
This audio version is amazing but doesn’t do the live experience justice. To hear the acapella bit after that one piano note felt so intense. I mean quite physically: on the edge of your seat and hold your breath kind of intense. You could have heard a pin drop all through the song. Especially when the stage lights went out for the actual “…I’m gone and come morning I am disappeared” lyrics and I think only a spot on Frank came back on. Haunting and breathtaking. Fully supported by the piano and percussion and those amazing backing vocals. Goosebumps every fucking time. Even just listening to it on the album.

09. Tell Tale Signs ★★★★★
I’m very partial to this song. Deal with it. At the first London show the whole audience joined in so very loudly from the start singing “God dammit Amy” and I almost lost it. Frank singing the words of this song gets under my skin sooooo deeply every freaking time. I can’t even pay much attention to the rest of the band. They are amazing as usual. I also almost lost it at each of my four shows and now listening to it, when the band joins in after the bridge with their beautiful backing vocals. First very subtle, but then more and more. The final harmonies from “…are here to stay” onward are so so beautiful!

10. One Foot Before The Other ★★★★★
Probably my favourite intro, because it’s told in such a hilariously entertaining way. I love how they turned one of their “loudest / fastest” songs into this melancholic gloomy piece. Wonderful piano and percussion work here especially building up to and during the bridge “I’m not convinced of the existence…” Haunting, so very haunting! And so different from this moment at a regular live gig, where Frank stands on the barrier, loudly screaming these words into the audience. Beautiful finale as well.

11. The Way I Tend To Be ★★★★☆
This one is pretty close to the Songbook version – as I like to call it – and I’ve actually preferred that one to the 2013 album version, ever since they released it. It fits the mood of the song much better, I think. Lovely backing vocals and piano. As always. The tiny pauses when he sings “And then I catch myself, catching your scent on someone else…” ? Be still my heart!

12. The Opening Act Of Spring ★★★☆☆
Another song, where the arrangements feel familiar as it sounds similar to the album / regular live version. I’ve always liked the mandolin and they once again do lovely backing vocals here. It’s a lovely uplifting piece and an audience singalong always is a lovely part of any live song as well.

13. Love Forty Down ★★★☆☆
Another funny intro story to this one. “It’s a metaphor!” I admit this is one of my less favourite songs in general. Here it’s got the same drive as the album version which is nice, considering Nigel didn’t have a full drum kit for this tour. But he’s got Tarrant assisting him on bass guitar.

14. There She Is ★★★★☆
I very much love this song for all the things it says about Frank’s personal life. The piano version makes it even more beautiful. The piano is the most romantic instrument, no doubt about it. The Sleeping Souls manage to transform the rather electronic album version amazingly into a regular guitar / bass / percussion piece all the way up to the big finale with backing vocals!

15. Don’t Worry ★★★☆☆
This version isn’t too far off from the one they played on the last tour. I’ve always liked it. Having a good live recording of this is nice, because you’re able to notice the various simple, but effective contribution each member of the band makes to the overall sound. All the way up to the backing vocals of course.

16. Balthazar Impresario ★★★★☆
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a full band live version of this song. Either way, this is a beautiful one. The backing vocals in the 2nd verse are just wonderful. I love how the various instruments set in bit by bit in the chorus to give this a bigger theatrical sound, which they then tone back a bit after the bridge to still all fully be there. If that makes any sense. Lovely all around.

17. Photosynthesis ★★★☆☆
And we’re back to rather familiar sonic territory for the finale. So cool to hear them all count in together and then go all out on their various instruments. Bass, percussion, mandolin, piano and of course beautiful backing vocals.

18. Recovery ★★★☆☆
More familiar territory and not too different from the regular live version. A bit more piano in the chorus and the bridge maybe? Either way, a good one which makes you grove and sing along to.

19. I Still Believe ★★★★☆
Another familiar version with a driving percussion and bass line and I love how much clearer I hear the piano even at the end of the verse and not just during the chorus. It’s perfect during the chorus of course, but it’s so nice to hear it all around. I love that Frank sang “…believe in Jerry Lee and Rosetta” instead of “…and Johnny”. Very appropriate for this tour and maybe even in general in the future.

20. Be More Kind  ★★★★★

Quoting myself from my tour recap post:

For the longest time I considered the album version of “Be More Kind” a perfect piece of music. And I thought no new arrangement could be as good and touch me as profoundly as the original does. Oh boy, was I wrong. The version they played on this tour was incredible.

Somewhere Frank even explained how they came up with this sound, but it went over my music-illiterate head. (They switched the piano and guitar melodies or something like that). I still haven’t figured out why this more haunting version moves me more than the lighter electronic album version. Because you would assume the album version fits the uplifting ‘message’ of the song better, wouldn’t you? Weirdly enough this live version did move me more even back in December 2019 long before the shit hit the fan, so the general Corona gloom can’t be the reason I love this version so so much. But I do. Most surprising for me was that my favourite part – from “the wind blew both of us to sand and sea…” onward – sounds so different here; so much more intense instead of just hopeful and I love it even more. I can’t help it. I’m a fangirl!

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