By Kirby Evans
The first half of his show was stripped back to the acoustics, with just Frank, his guitar, and dark, moody lighting. Opening with the folk-punk ‘Jinny Bingham’s Ghost’, Frank Turner has set the somewhat underwhelming, monotone scene.
His latest album revolves not around stories from his own life, but those from influential women in history. With lyrics and meaning aside, the setlist was limited. Limited in variation, excitement and general musical skill. However two songs stood out as some of the punchier performances of his solo set: ‘The Lioness’ (about Egyptian activist Huda Sha’arawi, one of the most significant feminist leaders in the Arab World) and ‘Sister Rosetta’ (a tribute to the black woman who is described as the ‘mother of rock ‘n’ roll’, before her style was adopted by white men – much like, he acknowledged, Frank himself).
The second half of the show returned to what his fanbase knows, shifting from folk-punk back to his usual indie-rock sound, with songs from his earlier albums. In contrast to his sometimes-lacklustre attempts at feminist storytelling, he excels at portraying his personal experiences of heartbreak, treating women badly, and addiction. The audience seemed to come alive for this section, with The Sleeping Souls giving the music more depth, and the singer-songwriter even encouraged us to stand up from our seats and dance for the final part of his concert. For a 2000-strong venue, the gig felt surprisingly and impressively intimate.
Turner has been subject to lots heavy criticism for his attempt at feminism, with some calling him out for his lack of awareness of these women who he supposedly researched extensively. However, credit where credit is due: the man is trying. The album has been produced by Catherine Marks (Foals, Wolf Alice) and features an all-female musician cast. Should we berate a vegetarian for not eradicating cheese from their diet or should we sing their praises for making the difference they can? It is, however, frustrating that despite his good intentions, Turner just hasn’t quite hit the mark with the lyrics. And the instrumentation is certainly not a redeeming factor.
While, there’s no denying that Turner’s got talent and it was an unforgettable evening (for both the good and the bad), if it hadn’t been for the Sleeping Souls with the likes of ‘Love Forty Down’ and ‘Photosynthesis’, Frank Turner’s fan base would certainly be suffering.