To celebrate the 25th birthday of the Cavern in Exeter, you’d expect maybe a few local bands to get together and put on an all-day gig, invite all their friends and end the evening by blowing out the candles on a cake, not too much to ask really is it?…..The Cavern had other ideas!
Let’s go back to where it all started……They put on their first show on Valentines Day in 1991, an American punk band called ‘Quicksand’ were headlining, this was the first of many many shows that were to take place over the next quarter century….yes, 25 years!
Over these years, I’ve seen some amazing bands perform at the club, a Teignmouth trio called MUSE used to play there quite often, unsure what happened to them! It wasn’t just bands on the lookout for superstardom that have graced the stage over the years, there’s been some established acts play there too, like The Wedding Present, The Alarm, Mumford and Sons and many others have who decided to drop in and perform to the often capacity crowds that attend this well loved venue.
Tonight folks, we were in for a treat, the legend that is Frank Turner agreed to come back and perform to a sellout crowd for one night only, he has fond memories of playing at the Cavern over the years, the first time with his band ‘Million Dead’ back in the early noughties to an audience of Marilyn Manson fans who exited the main room as soon as his band struck up! Oh how the tide has turned!
The excitement was evident as people queued prior to the doors opening at 8pm, they cascaded down the stairs into the venue and some die hard FT fans took up residence right at the front of the stage where they were about to come face to face with their hero.
Opening up the evening was Cavern regular Rory Mathews (aka Some Sort of Threat), he performed his 21st century freak folk tinged tracks, influenced by the likes of Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen that were really well received with the growing amount of bodies that were filtering in from the bar to guarantee their piece of real estate for the evening.
Up next were Exeter based punk rock band The Cut Ups who played a blinding set consisting of some catchy, melodic guitar riffs and powerful vocals, backed by the one and only Pippa Wragg. They performed with an underlying rawness which encompassed the polished output that everyone eagerly soaked up. The vocal duties being shared between the 2 guitarists gave them a lot more to play with, allowing them to take turns in playing the more intricate guitar parts. Standout tracks for me included ‘Building Bridges’ and ‘Last Night, I Dreamt I Saw Fugazi’ with its full on crunching guitars and pounding drums, a sure fire way to end their set prior to Frank Turner taking over where they left off. These guys are pretty active, go see them if you get a chance.
So, on to the main event, used to frequenting much larger venues, performing to thousands rather than hundreds, Mr Frank Turner has amassed a HUGE back catalogue of tracks to choose from, no doubt causing him to have a good old think about what he was going to play this evening!
Frank took to the stage with one arm raised, thanked the audience for coming down to see him and announced ‘I fuckin’ love this place’ prior to launching into his opening track, which could have been sung by the crowd alone.
Frank was in an emotional mood and apologised for toasting the Cavern at every possible opportunity, going on to say how sad it was that many local live music venues were having to close their doors owing to poor attendance and just not being able to make things work any longer, not the Cavern, not tonight, the main room was literally at bursting point, 220 sweaty souls, singing, chanting, dancing and generally having the time of their lives in the company of Frank Turner.
Frank had a lot to say for himself between tracks, he told stories from his early days where he would have to look for a couch to sleep on after a show (he added that he was in a hotel tonight!), he also told us about a time when he was invited over to Los Angeles to play a showcase gig for a load of industry execs, rather than listening to his record company and play a selection of ‘radio friendly’ tracks from his forthcoming record, he decided he was going to play one that was full of obscenities. Despite this track being what Frank referred to as his very own ‘Mr Brightside’, the ‘suits’ disagreed and owing to the lyrical content of the track making fun of Hollywood (not far from where he was playing), things didn’t go down as well as he thought they would have done. Frank admitted that he leaves the decision as to which of the songs from his albums are to be released as singles to the management now!
Just how one man, his voice and an acoustic guitar can stand on a stage and make so many people feel so good is beyond me, the audience were literally eating out of his hand, such an amazing atmosphere and at times, it felt very surreal….Frank Turner, playing to just 220 people in Exeter, utterly insane (but brilliant at the same time).
He chatted about tattoos and admitted that he was in a predicament as to what to have on his elbows, a friend suggested he had the face of Guy Garvey tattooed there (singer from Elbow) and he hoped that people would get the joke!
Towards the end of his set, Frank played a slower, more intimate track and obviously overheard someone near the front having their own conversation, the track was stopped and he politely (but firmly) asked the gentlemen to carry on their conversation at the bar as there were a couple of hundred people here who had paid to watch a show, I always cringe at these moments as the 2 people involved must have felt about an inch high! Fair play, if you pay to see a gig, why spend all night chatting throughout it, if you want to talk, go outside and leave everyone else inside to enjoy the music….(rant over!)
We all learned that Frank was slowly turning into his own mother and he now enjoys nothing more than a glass of white wine (with ice) at the end of a hard day!
Frank’s music evokes so many moods including joy, sadness, heartbreak and love, how the hell he manages to do this all by himself is beyond me but he does and he does it so well with the audience behind him every step of the way.
Prior to the end of his set, he explained that he’d normally leave the stage, go and freshen up, grab a water and take a few minutes before composing himself and bounding back on stage for an encore, this is quite difficult to do at the Cavern and rather than spending a couple of minutes stood next to the entrance to the loos, he decided to remain on stage and play right through to the end (cue huge applause and cheers!) For the encore, he said, "I want to play one song from every one of my albums, in chronological order, so lets see how that goes" and off he went into the first of 6 which incorporated a verse of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ by 80’s one hit wonders ’Tight Fit’….
In what seemed like 5 minutes (I’m certain it was longer), it all came to a close, Frank took a glass of chilled wine (with ice cubes) from his guitar tech and raised a toast to the audience who had helped to make this one hell of a memorable evening at the Cavern in Exeter, I stuck around for a bit, decided I wasn’t going to be able to get close to Frank to thank him for his music and what it means to me, packed up my gar and departed into the cool February night.
In a time where local music venues are closing down on a regular basis, it’s refreshing to see one that is thriving. This is down to a couple of factors, the bands that play there and YOU, the general public who help to make these venues a special place where you can congregate, chat, socialise and most importantly, watch and enjoy the bands that slog their guts out to put on a show for you. The next time you’re at a loose end and are considering a night down your local, why not check the listings and see who is playing at the Cavern, there’s often something for everyone and even if you’ve never heard of the band before, get a load of mates together and head down and check them out, you might just end up surprising yourself!
I’m sure you’ll all join me in raising a glass to the Cavern, its staff and the tireless work that it does to bring you some of the world’s finest kickass bands direct to Exeter, they’ve done their part, please do yours!
I Am Disappeared
The Next Storm
The Real Damage
If Ever I Stray
Good & Gone
I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
Smiling at Strangers on Trains (Million Dead song)
St. Christopher Is Coming Home
The Armadillo (Flanders and Swann cover)
Live Fast Die Old
Love Forty Down
Worse Things Happen at Sea
The Way I Tend to Be
The Ballad of Me and My Friends
I Still Believe
Words - Steve Muscutt
Photography - Sion Roe