Well this promised to be special. Frank Turner’s first gig of 2015, solo, in an intimate venue. This year’s Independent Venue Week ambassador playing in a venue we nearly lost last year, as part of IVW. Perfect.
Apologies to Oxygen Thief but I only caught his last two songs. What I saw was a disarming mix of genuinely angry songs, viciously thrashed out on his acoustic guitar from a thoroughly nice chap.
Esme Patterson was next up for her live U.K. debut. Esme (complete with drummer) has a set of songs all written from the perspective of characters from other songs. (Jackson’s Billie Jean, Dolly’s Jolene etc). It’s very clever and very brilliant. Her gorgeous American twang drifting across the Night & Day crowd who lapped up every note. Her debut album, Woman To Woman (Xtra Mile Recordings), has just been released to critical acclaim and is worth every penny. I fired a few questions Esme’s way:
So how was your live UK debut? The crowd loved you.
We loved the crowds as well! We’ll need to come back for a longer stay next time, I felt like I’d only adjusted to the time difference the day before we left, but what I remember of the blurry whirlwind was a lot of fun. Made some dear friends, ate at Nando’s, saw Big Ben, played some fun shows, what else can you ask for?
How did you begin writing songs from the perspective of characters in other songs?
I had the inspiration for this project after trying to learn how to play Townes Van Zandt’s tune “Loretta” and wondering what the woman idolized in the song would think and feel. I began to listen differently to songs on the radio after that, and took a careful look at ten of my favorite songs titled with a woman’s name.
Is it a song writing technique you will continue with on forthcoming albums?
Not likely. it was a very rewarding project that served the purpose. Songwriting is the truest expression of my soul, I wouldn’t want it to become a “gimmick”.
Woman To Woman has only just been released but already has critical acclaim. How proud are you of the album?
I am quite proud of it. All of the players on the record are wonderful musicians that I’m grateful to know, and it was a really rewarding process from start to finish. I’m excited to see what happens.
It was a great set at Manchester and a great line up. When can we see you back in the UK?
One of my favorite shows of the week! As for a return trip, ask my label out here, Xtra Mile Recordings! I’d love to come back soon.
I confess I’d not heard of Skinny Lister but before they’d played a note I knew I’d love them. Any band consisting of an accordion, double bass, concertina and a flagon of rum is always gonna get my vote. With the ‘lusty cackle and flirtacious presence’ of co-vocalist Lorna Thomas Skinny Lister are the most watchable and listenable band I’ve seen for some time. The flagon is passed round the crowd as the band sway with what can only be called rock-shanties. Pogues comparisons will be inevitable but were as The Pogues, whilst brilliant, were always unpredictable and relied on Fearnley and Chevron to keep the live shows together, Skinny Lister are all pulling their weight. It’s a joyous, orgasmic reel that is over all too quick. I simply can’t wait to see this band again. New album Down On Deptford Broadway is a must.
It is now nearly two years since Tape Deck Heart was released. Frank Turner’s most complete album to date. It doesn’t feel that long, probably because of Frank Turner And The Sleeping Souls’ almost constant touring. For me this was the final of the triumvirate of Frank Turner live (Sleeping Souls, Möngöl Hörde and now solo). The pure enjoyment of both performer, no matter which manifestation, and crowd hints at the reason for the almost endless touring. For those eagerly awaiting the next studio album Frank had flown in from the States and the mixing of the new album for Independent Venue Week.
Frank walks on stage, apologises for his cold and informs the crowd they’ll have to help him out. That was always a given. He starts with If Ever I Stray. From ‘Forgive me someone for I have sinned’ the crowd are word perfect all night, to the point of the back of the room not being able to hear Frank’s vocals at all. No-one seemed to mind. It had the feeling of a very special party that we’d been lucky enough to get an invite to. Frank Turner live is relentless, 20 songs in 1 hour 20 minutes and still having time to engage with the crowd. Album tracks and singles are thrown in seemingly at random with the crowd there for every chord. A delicious cover of Smudge’s The Outdoor Type finds it’s way in there. It is, frankly (no pun intended), glorious. Set closers Recovery and, in particular, I Still Believe take the sing-along a notch higher. ‘You take it’ demands Frank at the end of I Still Believe. We were always going to.
Encore time. Frank takes two steps to the side of the stage, briefly, before returning stage centre. ‘I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window’ and we’re off, a rapturous Delilah fills the Night And Day Café. The Ballad Of Me And My Friends takes it’s place as show closer again and it’s all over. Always leave them wanting more. Frank Turner could play Springsteen length shows and always leave me wanting more.
A perfect demonstration of why Independent Venue Week is so important to the industry. Stunning performances in a quality venue. This promised to be special. It was more than that.
Frank kindly answered a few questions for me:
Firstly, how was gig 1,631 for you? It felt like we were witnessing something very special, very intimate.
It was a blast. I was a little under the weather, had a cold, and still a little jetlagged from LA, but the crowd was awesome, it’s one of my favourite venues, and the support bill was exquisite. So I enjoyed it a lot.
Did you have a set list or were you making it up on the spot? If that’s the case how much fun is that? To be able to do an unstructured show?
Half and half really. I didn’t write a set beforehand, but there is an art to structuring an hour or so onstage, bringing people in, managing energy levels and so on. I usually think a couple of songs ahead, and I know my openers and closers. It’s fun, though, running a little looser than I do with the band.
Was it always the plan to finish with The Ballad Of Me And My Friends? It did seem to fit the occasion perfectly.
Yep. I used to always finish with that song, then I retired it for a bit, and now it comes out on special occasions.
Just how does it feel to be able to just stand back and hear the crowd sing your songs back to you, word perfect?
It remains an amazing and slightly perplexing feeling. I’ve never quite figured out why it is the songs I write translate into sing-alongs like they do; not that I’m complaining, or wanting to change that!
As ambassador for IVW just how important are Independent Venues to musicians like yourself?
Very important. They’re where I cut my teeth, learned my craft, and indeed saw an awful lot of my favourite shows. I think they need a bit of TLC here and there, and that’s what Independent Venue Week is about.
Did you choose to play Night and Day because of the issue they had last year with nearly being forced to close or was it a happy coincidence?
The people behind IVW suggested it, but it immediately made a ton of sense because of their issues in recent years.
Did you get to handpick the support? They were all magnificent. Skinny Lister in particular I thought were superb.
It was a joint job between me and Xtra Mile. I love the fact that XMR has turned into a proper scene, a great roster of cool underground bands. I’ve had an eye on Skinny Lister for a while, and I think they’re going from strength to strength at the moment. I plan to offer them more shows, for sure.
In a similar vain to IVW, and from a purely selfish point of view, have you any plans for Record Store Day?
Not sure yet; a couple of years back I did about a gazillion shows for RSD, it was fun. Haven’t got that far into my diary just yet.
– And finally have you a release date for the new album yet?
I think so, but I’m not sharing just yet.
Frank Turner/Skinny Lister/Esme Patterson/Oxygen Thief
Night & Day Café, Manchester
Wednesday 28th January