While a smattering of audience members may be new to a Frank Turner show, Frank Turner certainly isn’t new to the city. Listing off the venues of previous event venues across Cambridge, such as The Portland Arms and The Graduate, the audience cheer with the familiarity of the names, and it’s fair to say the vast majority had been to each and every one of them.
This is show number 2162 for the man who claims to be always on tour – and given he’s racked up around two decades of gigging, I think we can allow him that title. Stood before the Cambridge crowd, Frank seems completely at home on stage, with a cluster of bright lights behind him and a sea of adoring fans at his feet. And despite his declaration that “There is no God” in Glory Hallelujah, there’s something religious and church-like about the room, with Frank leading prayer in the form of well-loved tunes that the audience sing at the top of their lungs. From my front row balcony seat, watching an entire floor of bodies clap in unison to his singing, I feel a rush of something spiritual, and those around me mutter similar observations.
The evening is a mix of twenty five old classics and newer releases from his seven-album discography, and the majority are upbeat and loud, fully-loaded with his clever, catchy lyrics and his band playing full force behind him. Between tracks, he and his fellow Sleeping Souls joke around and reminisce. It’s lighthearted and fun and the audience, myself included, fall in love with his charisma and camaraderie. It’s just as easy to imagine him leading a singalong at closing time as it is for him to be a modern bard upon a stage, full of wit and wicked words behind an endearing smile. Frank is approachable and cheeky, and there’s no question as to why his fans are so besotted with him.
Early in the evening, as he brings a song to a close, he takes to the microphone to outline the rules for the evening. First and foremost, ‘don’t be an arsehole’. The floor is heaving with dancing bodies and his concern is for the enjoyment of the entire room, imploring everyone to take note of their neighbours to ensure each and every one of us has a good time. And secondly, he asks that if we know the words, and the majority do, we’re to sing along. Both are followed to the letter, and even as a circle begins to form later in the evening, there’s a softer awareness to the dance floor tussle, with no sign of bloody noses or broken toes to be seen.
With his new album due for release within days of the event, the audience already know it’s title track, Be More Kind, off by heart and sing wholeheartedly as he stands centre stage with an acoustic guitar.
“In a world that has decided
That it’s going to lose its mind
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind”
As the song ends, he urges each audience member to take heed of the lyrics, agreeing in turn to take his own advice to be more kind in a time where everything feels just a little unstable. Each address to the audience has the feel of a ‘life lesson’ to it, and by closing time, the standing audience are seated on the floor, looking up to him as he continues to address the importance of kindness. When interviewed for Slate the Disco in 2014, Frank discussed how his shows aim for the audience to “have the weight of the world lifted off your shoulders for a few hours” and now, four years later, he’s done exactly that again. With a crowd surf or two and a dance with a fan within a clearing amidst the bodies, the audience leave fulfilled with a sense of satisfaction and the genuine desire to try to be more kind.
Words from Alex Bate
Images from Rich Etteridge