Already after I’ve seen the first show of Frank Turner’s No Man’s Land Tour in Bexhill-on-Sea last Friday I started contemplating how to write a blog post about this. Reviews and recaps have been done by more eloquent and knowledgeable (about music) people already. A generic song-by-song or story-by-story recap from me wouldn’t do this amazing experience justice anyway. So I’d like to try something different and hope this will makes sense to anyone. This is going to be a very long post because among other things I’ll be including quite a lot of lyrical quotes. So… I suggest you either grab a drink and get comfy or bookmark this for another time ;-)
If you’re reading this without knowing why this tour was different here is a quick introduction: Unlike a regular Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls gig these shows happened in theatres. All seated. Seats which the audience stayed in until the last four songs. Frank and the Souls sat on stage for the whole time as well, which is quite a change from a regular energetic show with lots of jumping and dancing on stage and in the crowd. The concept as Frank so aptly explained it in the beginning each night: In the first part he played a few songs from the No Man’s Land album and told stories about the women he was singing about. For the second part the band would join him and they did a “deep dive into the old shit”. But not just any random songs or the greatest hits. The songs they picked and especially the order in which they played them formed a well structured narrative arc about Frank’s almost two decades on tour and the life he lived on and off the road and what he learned from it.
Earlier today when I started jotting down my thoughts about these amazing last few days I thought…. why not take some of those songs and create my own narrative? Of this trip. Of my experiences, but of course even more so of why some of these words mean so much to me and why I felt so blessed to hear (and be able to sing along) to them several times in company of people who get it, because these people feel the same way about these songs. These nights felt and consequently this post as well feels a bit like a therapy session. Where I am talking to myself, so make of that what you may.
My narrative follows a different order than Frank told it each night – obviously, because his life and mine are not the same. Far from it. And I might have taken a different meaning from the words he wrote at some point in his life. One of the aspects that make his songwriting so fascinating to me is that even though our lives were and still are so different I still can relate so much to many of these songs. It might just be my interpretation of his words, but that’s just as valid. Frank has stated often enough that any released song is open for interpretation and that he doesn’t claim to be the only one who knows exactly what the song is about.
But now let’s give this a try…
But in the end journey’s brought joys
That outweigh the pain
(Journey of the Magi, 2009)
I must have used these lyrics a few times when I was trying to express why on earth I’m taking it on me to travel hundreds of miles and many hours, to spend money on petrol, train tickets, airfare and/or rooms to sleep in, just to see some guy play some songs. Thanks to my smartwatch I know that for the last five nights on average I didn’t sleep more than 5 hours. My body is exhausted. My vocal chords are strained. I had too much sugar and junk food. But at the same time… I had so much fun. I learned quite a bit about myself again. I made so many wonderful memories. I was inspired. To hear Frank sing the words that mean so much to me always feeds my heart and soul and that’s always, always worth all the “pain” of travelling around Europe.
“Once more to the boards,
One more curtain call,
Give the crowd everything they’re asking for and more.
Always make them laugh,
Try to make them cry,
Always take the stage like it’s the last night of your life.
We aren’t just artists, we are something more:
(Balthazar, Impressario, 2011)
Frank himself states often enough that he considers himself not just a singer / songwriter, but an entertainer. We all know that even singer AND songwriter are two separate professions or talents. Frank’s quality for getting the crowd – any crowd – interested and engaged and emotionally involved has been one of my favourite things about his gigs from the start. He’s so so good at it and this format let him shine in so many ways. I love to hear him tell stories, because he’s witty and funny and has great timing. But he was also endearingly honest in these stories, which I found incredibly inspiring. It’s one thing to bear your heart and soul in a song, which still can be considered some sort of shield to hide behind. It’s quite another to actually admit and talk about (if only just briefly) mental health issues and addiction and messing up and all that directly to the audience.
Frank wasn’t alone on stage and even though none of the Sleeping Souls was bearing their souls to the audience (ugh, bad pun, I know), they were as always an integral part of the show. Because of their incredible good work on all these arrangements and because of the entertaining banter on stage. Yes, I know some of the bits are / were staged, just as Frank obviously in advance had thought about what to say about each song. There was a narrative after all and that needed a more structured approach. It was still fun to watch each night and especially interesting to see how they turned an accidentally funny moment in Bexhill into an entertaining bit the following nights and caused the right amount of laughter. At least that’s what I thought happened…
But there are some more credits due for the guys in the band. The new arrangements were often mind-blowingly good even if they were also mind-blowingly different from the original. They all are such amazing musicians and I was so glad to be reminded of that in this stripped down setting in venues which were built for musical performances and thus offered an amazing sonic experience. I was so glad I could do more than just one show as it allowed me to focus my attention on different aspects and details each night. Every night though the lovely harmonies of the backing vocals might have been one of my favourite parts. The lighting on stage was also incredible and very fitting each night. So… Kudos, Sleeping Souls, all the (technical) people involved and of course all the crew for making every night an amazing experience.
After these two – sort of introductory for my narrative – songs, I’ll need to get into more emotional and anxious and feeling down and low territory. Which I have been feeling way too often and way too long this year. From the few posts I only ever wrote this year, it feels like 75% were about this vague, unspecific feeling of gloom. Frank has quite a few lyrics which go very well with that state of mind. And even though it might not be really helpful to focus on “how well these words describe the mood I’m in” it was and is helpful to know that other people or at the very least that one person who once put those words down on paper and found a melody to go with them, knows exactly what it feels like. And that alone helps. Here are some of those lyrics…
“And on the worst days,
When it feels like life weighs ten thousand tonnes”
(I Am Disappeared, 2011)
They did this song in such an incredible awesome arrangement. The backing vocals. The lights. The music. And each night the audience was mesmerized and you could have heard a pin drop. Which also goes for most of the other songs. The tales around it and the music and the performance left most of the audience absolutely spellbound. There was no chatter and no distracting noises through most of the set. Utterly brilliant. But I digress…
Some mornings I pray for evening,
For the day to be done.
Some summer days I hide away
And wait for rain to come.
It turns out hell will not be found
Within the fires below,
But in making do and muddling through
When you’ve nowhere else to go.
(The Way I Tend To Be, 2013)
I love the slow, stripped down version of the song so much ever since I first listened to it on the Songbook album. They did it beautifully and the simple guitar picking intro almost made me cry every freaking time. These lines sum up my state of gloom even better than the ones above. I muddled through most of 2019 or at least that’s what it felt like. Sometimes due to external circumstances. More often though, because I was just too lazy or too timid or too preoccupied… Not a character trait I like about myself to be honest. Which gets me to another fitting piece of lyrics
And I have fallen down and I’m so much worse than I have ever been.
Oh the season’s acting strange, and I know that something has to change
(The Opening Act Of Spring, 2015)
It’s getting pretty gloomy here now, right? Sorry, folks, but like I said, it’s been my state of mind way too often in 2019. Disappointed in myself for not getting out of this weird funk. For not having the drive to make some changes. Or to stick to some changes I was trying to make. Some things I started over and over again and nothing stuck. It felt rather pathetic and that feeling didn’t really help with my overall mood of gloom.
…they say there is a calm after the passing of the storm,
So I can dream of going back outside when the rain and thunder’s done.
(The Opening Act Of Spring, 2015)
Turnaround in one song? What? Yay? If it were so easy, why didn’t it just click any of the other times I’ve heard that song this year? I don’t know. And I don’t want to claim that being away and seeing a few shows was the big turnaround for my gloomy state of mind. Though… it did help a fucking lot! Honestly. To hear well known words in a new context or to just hear them in a new arrangement or location or whatever. Even before this tour and before I heard all these songs again I was feeling tentatively optimistic that 2020 will be better. That I can and will do better. Maybe I’m naive to be thinking this without having any evidence to back it up yet. But these lyrics are a comforting thought to hold on to. Just as well as…
Because broken people can get better, if they really want to,
Or at least that’s what I have to tell myself if I am hoping to survive.
I must have been singing / screaming along to this song quite a bit at any of the Frank & the Souls gig I have been to this year. At least I think it was on the setlist often enough. It never really quite hit home as it did on this tour. Maybe I was more receptive, because when they played it as one of the last few songs this time, I had already had more than one epiphany about Frank’s lyrics or how much the new arrangements made me feel.
I only ever have myself to blame.
These failures shift and shake me in the night,
Like a fever I can’t break try as I might.
These lines might have been the biggest revelation for me on this tour. Most probably because of Frank’s introduction to the song, in which he talked about how he used to blame other people for his faults and failures. Until reading “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck made him realize that we all are responsible for our own actions and we can’t blame our failures and bad behaviour on somebody else. In my case it isn’t that I blame other people or circumstances so much for my lack of drive or my failure to stay consistent with habits I want to change. My mind has come up with amazing ways to circumvent logical thinking when it comes to justifying why I do X or Y even though I KNOW it’s a bad decision. And I avoid blaming myself for doing X or Y by just not questioning it any further and… I don’t know why my mind works like that. Maybe a blog post about a gig isn’t the right place to figure it out either. Self-Therapy or not. But Frank’s story about this song definitely made me pause and think “well, I might not blame myself, but it’s still my responsibility and mine alone to make some changes. No one else is going to come and make me do A or B instead of X or Y, that’s what I have to do myself.” Does that make any sense? Probably not, because I’m not sure it does in my own mind right now ;-) So Let’s move on…
When I thought that suffering was something profound,
That weighed down on wise heads,
And not just something to be avoided,
Something normal people dread.
God dammit Amy, well of course I’ve changed.
With all the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been
I’d be a machine if I had stayed the same.
(Tell Tale Sign, 2013)
I admit I only included the first few lines of this quote here, because when I heard them the first time in 2013 they opened my eyes to quite a few things and thus belong to some of my favourite among Frank’s lyrics. I sang my heart out with this song every night and on the Saturday night in London it was an absolute “goosebump moment” to hear the crowd from the very beginning of the song join in with “God dammit, Amy…”. At least it sounded absolutely breathtaking from the circle. But here I want to focus on the second part of this quote. Because even though I’ve listened to this song a million times, just now this time around I thought to myself “Yep, I have changed.” For the better. And just like I once wrote in a long emotional post in 2017, I can’t exactly pin down, what part Frank and his music and the things I’ve done and the people I’ve met, played in this change. They all did contribute and those changes led to others in various aspects of my life. Because I do have a life outside of being a Frank Turner Fangirl, in case you were wondering. I also wrote about all that two years ago and these changes continued. I do feel more confident around people. I am more gregarious in various fields of my life. I still doubt myself too much and too often and I have quite a few more aspects of my life I want and should work on. But all in all…. Yep. Changed. And that’s good.
Don’t worry, if you don’t know what to do,
I’ve spent a little time in worried shoes,
I wore them out through walking, it wasn’t any use.
When you can’t pull through
I will help you, I won’t push you away.
Don’t worry if you don’t know what to do.
I don’t know what I’m doing, no one has a clue,
But you’ll figure it out, and I might too.
(Don’t Worry, 2018)
This is a wonderful song to remind myself to stop worrying – and when you’ve read so far you might have guessed that I do worry a lot. So this one helps me to instead of worrying focus on what might help me to stop worrying. Other people, but also… inspirational words and music. At least that’s how it works for me and this song sums it up wonderfully.
You’re not as messed up as you think you are:
Your self-absorption makes you messier.
Just settle down and you will feel a whole lot better.
Deep down you’re just like everybody else.
(Reasons Not To Be An Idiot, 2008)
In the introduction to this song Frank got rather personal and talked about his struggles with mental health and addiction and how music helped him through some of it. Not just writing his own songs and with that working through some issues, but to hear that one song or record at that one time when you needed to hear it. And I bet 95% of the crowd wanted to shout back “Dude! We know! That’s exactly what your music has done and still does for me.” I guess that introduction made me even more emotional over this song each night as the song itself already did. Because it meant and still sometimes means so much to me to hear somebody else – and even if it’s ‘just’ a songwriter from England – tell me that “I am not as messed up as I fear I am. That I’m going to be ok!” I think I’ve posted these lyrics as some kind of self-affirmation more than enough all over my social media over the years…
And I still believe that everyone
Can find a song for every time they’ve lost, and every time they’ve won.
So just remember, folks, we’re not just saving lives, we’re saving souls,
And we’re having fun
(I Still Believe, 2011)
It’s this song that started my love for Frank and his music and I always sing my heart out when he plays it. I did it even more so at the end of each show on this tour, because the whole second part consisted of songs for times I’ve lost and times I’ve won. And the saving lives and souls part felt never more true than in these nights. For me anyway….
Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings,
About fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings,
And the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering,
And help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live.
(I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, 2008)
They played this song very early on and thus set the tone for the night, but I’d like to bring my story round with this song, because to me it sums up what these evenings and my whole trip actually were all about. For me these gigs and everything I do and experience because I’m going to them are life-affirming. And I need that reminder every once in a while. And that’s why I don’t plan to stop travelling to see Frank Turner play some songs anytime soon.
But when you’re out there floundering, like a lighthouse I will shine.
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.
Like a beacon reaching out to you and yours from me and mine,
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.
(Be More Kind, 2018)
Last year I wrote a long post about why I love this song so much and what these words mean to me and thus I thought this was the perfect song to end these fabulous nights and also the perfect song to bring my own narrative to a close. In recent years I did my best to be more kind. To others and also to myself, because often enough I’m not. If you could tune into the inner chatter going on in my mind, you would see what I mean. But this also is where Frank’s songs and the comfort and inspiration I draw from those songs come into play. And the validation in form of lyrics that tell me “feeling like this ok, we’ve all been there”. Frank’s songs have been lighthouses and beacons when I was floundering in the past and I assume they will continue to be and for that I’m so very, very grateful.
I feel like I should end this long confessional-style kind of narrative with a real “confession”. 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. Thank you so much for this, Frank. And for everything else.