Frank Turner isn’t your usual musician, to be present at one of his shows is a real treat, you get the feeling that he honestly wants you there, relies on you to help him sing along to his anthemic folk rock ditties, this was very much the case at Exeter’s Great Hall, part of the university complex where Frank and his Sleeping Souls were to perform in front of a near capacity audience this very evening.
We arrived at the venue early, 2pm to be precise where we were met by his tour manager and ushered through the maze of backstage staircases and broom cupboards to a small dressing room, shortly after our arrival, Frank himself joined us in the room for our quarter of an hour slot where I was going to do as much as I could to shoehorn half an hours’ worth of questions in. We had a great chat and you can read the transcribed interview right HERE.
Afterwards, we were due to meet Esme Patterson at the venue for another fifteen minute grilling, she was nowhere to be seen! I frantically called her PR Manager who explained that she had made some changes to her travel and wouldn’t be onsite until 5pm, this was good as it gave me a couple of hours to go and start to transcribe Frank’s interview and BOY did I need a couple of hours for that!
5pm rolled by, Esme met us in the foyer and we went off in search of her dressing room where we decamped, introduced ourselves and got down to the task in hand, chatting about Esme herself, her music, the making of her video for ‘No River’ and so much more, her interview is available HERE.
After another couple of hours, we were ready to enter the main hall for the evening’s entertainment.
Opening up the show was the aforementioned Esme Patterson, a Denver Colorado born but Portland Oregan based singer-songwriter whose latest record ‘We Were Wild’ dazzled me so much, I just HAD to see her live and I was so glad I did! Her voice snaked around the stage, drifting from sedate, melancholy to a raging bull in a matter of seconds, she controlled it very well and it never sounded out of control despite some sections becoming very deep and dark at times.Highlights from her set for me included ‘The Waves’, with its distinctive vocals, steady pounding beat and melodic lilts, it set up the evening perfectly. Esme appeared completely immersed in the performance, often looking skyward, oblivious to the fact that half the hall had congregated to watch her set.
She announced ‘No River’ as a song written about making mistakes and moving on and despite having only checked it out a few days ahead of the show, it felt like a comfy pair of shoes that I had owned for years. As her set came to the end, she played a song that resulted in a mass wall of noise, a haze of mucky fuzz which reached a crescendo and burst into the very energetic tones of ‘Feel Right’ which is the opening track from her latest album, this had the audience rocking along nicely. She left the stage to rapturous applause and well deserved in my opinion. If you’re looking for an artist to find out more about, I strongly recommend Esme Patterson jumps to the top of your list!
She left the stage to rapturous applause and well deserved in my opinion. If you’re looking for an artist to find out more about, I strongly recommend Esme Patterson jumps to the top of your list!
The next act burst onto the stage, a melee of makeup, feather boa’s and hairspray, they were called Felix Hagan and the Family, they’re a seven-piece band and they were here to entertain!
The main man (I assume this was Felix Hagan) leaped and pranced about the stage in a similar vein to Justin Hawkins from popular noughties glam rock/pop act The Darkness whilst the super tight backing band kept the music alive. Their set was chock full of high energy antics, boyband style key changes and an element of theatrical entertainment thrown in to keep the audience on its toes in preparation for the main act.
After a brief trip to the bar to charge drinks and catch up with friends, we filed back into the main hall along in readiness for the main event. Frank Turner took to the stage and launched into a solo acoustic version of ‘I Knew Prufrock’ before The Sleeping Souls filed out to join him, kicking things up a gear or two. ‘I Still Believe’ saw a section where Frank invited the entire room to help him out and sing along, naturally, everyone joined in and the atmosphere ramped up to fever pitch. Frank mentioned that this was the second time he’d played in Exeter this year, the first being the 25th anniversary celebrations in February at The Cavern where he appeared to play a solo set which went down so well with the capacity audience.
To watch Frank on stage was the chance to see a man at the very top of his game, he had the audience eating out of his hand and every time he ventured near the lip of the stage, people were clambering to reach him, to touch his hand, to connect with him in any way that they could. His music means so much to his fans and I can easily see how they relate to the words he uses to get his message across.
Frank was goading the audience, saying that if they wanted to beat the Coventry crowd, they'd have to make a hell of a lot more noise, this theme went on throughout the show and midway through the evening, Frank spotted a friend called Mark McCabe in the audience and after a little persuading, he managed to get Mark to agree to crowd surf around the room whilst Frank and Co played a song, simple? not really as Mark had to hit a number of landmarks in the audience (a bearded man, someone holding up a crutch and another point in the far corner which I have forgotten!) If he managed this, Frank was sure that we'd have amassed more points than Coventry and the trophy for 'Best Audience' would belong to Exeter..... It's little touches like this that really make a show, everyone feels involved, engaged and at one with Frank and his Sleeping Souls.
Frank invited Esme Patterson up on stage to sing with him on 'Silent Key', a touching moment indeed which received a huge round of applause as Esme left the stage after her performance.
Frank wanted to shake things up a little more and duly arranged for a circle pit to be formed, the fans duly accepted the challenge and started running around like a bunch of possessed madmen (and women) and then disaster struck, I'm unsure what happened but the house lights came on, the music stopped and the medics were bought in. The next 5 minutes were a bit of a blur, people made space for the medics to do what they do, the security team were on hand in case any action was required (it wasn't) and Frank took the time out from his vantage point on the stage to remind people that being at one of his shows meant that EVERYONE looked after each other, if for any reason someone went down, we all pulled together and got them back up again, checked if they were okay before carrying on partying, it really was nice to see that he had a genuine interest in the wellbeing of the lady who sustained a minor injury in the pit and after she was escorted away for some water and a nice sit down, Frank and Co carried on from where they left off, minus the pit! The next song he did suggest a 'Wall of Death' and having seen these in action, I was rather concerned, the show had just been put on hold for 5 minutes whilst a casualty was tended to, surely another invitation for the excited audience to indulge in a bit of rough n' tumble would be too much to take? Frank did have another take on this and rather than coming together in the middle of the two sides to jump about, lash out and generally take out your frustrations on your comrades, he suggested that they embrace with a hug, 'A Wall of Hugs' if you like, this was a much better idea and with a raised arm, Frank parted the audience, whilst it wasn't on the same level as Moses and the Red Sea, it was impressive to see how quickly the room accepted the instructions and jumped into action! The result was a mass 'love-a-thon', people coming together, hugging, dancing and basically having the time of their lives whilst the band pumped out a high octane number as the backdrop.
He dedicated a later track to Pippa and Dave from The cavern in Exeter and thanked them for all that they do to keep the spirit of music alive and wished them all the best and hoped that the club would be up and firing on all cylinders again after the devastating fire that gutted the place a few months back, a touching speech that meant so much to the audience as the majority were Exeter locals and they too shared the same thoughts!
The band left the stage for an encore and we dodged up to the balcony as I had a feeling that there just might be another crowd-surfing opportunity but this time for Mr Turner, we positioned ourselves nicely on the balcony box overlooking the stage and got some amazing shots of the audience with their camera torches on, illuminating the room whilst Frank sung and played acoustic guitar. True to form, Frank put down his guitar and took to standing precariously on the barrier between him and the audience. Seconds later, he was off on a journey circumnavigating the ground floor, being held aloft like the people's champion before being deposited gently over the barrier allowing him to take to the stage again to finish the song, an amazing sight!
From the first track to the last, he entertained, cajoling everyone into taking part in mass sing-a-longs, hand waving and generally forgetting who and what they were for the next 90 minutes of pure musical enjoyment. To be at a Frank Turner show is an almost religious affair, imagine Frank as a crazed TV evangelist, promising miracles, healing the sick, curing the blind but honestly, his music has done so many great things for people the whole world over, you do get the impression that he is a miracle worker. His loyal fanbase is a hardy bunch who do all they can to help each and every fan out, creating lasting friendships amongst those who regularly come together all over the world to worship their one true love, Mr Frank Turner.
Setlist (may not be in the correct order)
I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
The Next Storm
I Still Believe
Long Live the Queen
Try This at Home
Silent Key (with Esmé Patterson)
Plain Sailing Weather
The Way I Tend to Be
Frank Turner Solo
Heartless Bastard Motherfucker
Worse Things Happen at Sea
The Ballad of Me and My Friends
Frank Turner And The Sleeping Souls
The Opening Act of Spring
If Ever I Stray
Out of Breath
I Am Disappeared
Four Simple Words
Words by Steve Muscutt
Pictures by Rhodri Cooper & Meg Hope (Mimosa Photography)