July 13, 2016
House of Vans, London
“F*** it, we’re all friends now” – Frank Turner
Frank Turner started show number 1926 singing the virtues, literally, of white wine with ice. If Wine & Ice sounds like a Butch Walker song title, it’s fitting; both are artists that truly come into their own on stage.
You see it in footage where festival-goers respond passionately as they realise they know more songs than they thought. For the rest, Turner is, Like Northcote, the kind of inclusive tunesmith who can consistently make an unknown track a singalong by the song’s end.
None of this was needed for show 1926, of course. The vault under Waterloo station was packed with die-hard fans, including Tom who marked his 40th Frank Turner show by meeting the man himself for the first time. There was so much joy in the room that simply watching the crowd’s reactions was compelling.
When Turner forgot the words to Wessex Boy, or had no kazoo, the fans filled in the blanks without missing a beat. They sat down, unprompted, at the merest hint of Photosynthesis, ready to spring up in unison to the familiar words “And I won’t sit down/and I won’t shut up.”
In this environment, every song was a highlight; lesser-played tracks, such as Hits and Mrs, were received with the same fervour as I Still Believe. Special mention must, nonetheless, go to I Am Disappeared, which was simply sublime.
The set ended with two songs about rehabilitation and self-improvement; Recovery and Get Better. As Turner sang “broken people can get better” he could have added ‘if they come together,’ as the fans crowded into an underground tunnel together enjoyed the final moments of a set that left them dirty, bruised – and very much alive.
It was no coincidence that Frank Turner’s two ‘get better’ songs closed the set. The show was put on to celebrate the launch of Ben Morse’s book, Get Better, and accompanying exhibition at the House of Vans. Both chronicle 8 years of Morse photographing Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls on tour, going way beyond the confines of ‘3 songs, no flash.’ On stage, backstage, on the road – Morse takes us behind the scenes of a band working their way up to stardom.
Focus is on tattoos, smiles and concentration; intimate photos of a band that made it big through the power of the personal. The scale of the success – of the band and of the photographer – is encapsulated in the ‘Demons’ shot of Turner looking out over an illuminated mass of fans at Alexandra Palace – which would be worth the price of admission alone, if it wasn’t already free!
Perspective is key to the photos, as well as to the retrospective book and exhibit. Band members are framed by mirrors, tables and festival floors. Here’s one photo of a photo just to give you a sense of what to expect, but you really need to get down to the vaults to get the full effect.
I’ve been round the exhibition twice and will go again, looking for little bits of inspiration to get better with my own photography. It’s convinced me to be more tolerant of motion blur and flare if it captures the atmosphere of a live show, even if it’s not the cleanest shot. It’s also worth noting that Morse’s work seems to have taught Frank Turner fans to appreciate concert photographers more than I’ve seen anywhere else; asking for photography tips, enquiring about prints and looking forward to seeing the published shots.
As with the photos, the exhibition is completed with little touches; setlists, photo passes and annotations. In that vein, Get Better is the obvious coffee table book for those of us whose coffee tables are strewn with tickets, plectrums and memory cards.
“I dedicate this to Dame Angela Lansbury” – Ben Marwood
Speaking of getting better, Ben Marwood’s support set was one of his first back on the road after a bout of illness. There was a buzz through the tunnels as word spread of his presence. It was clear he was among friends as every song became a singalong, even those not consciously written that way.
Marwood powered through his short set like an English Dave Hause mixed with a healthy dose of Frank Turner. The electro-acoustic guitar took a pounding, accompanying wordplay at breakneck speed replete with pop culture references, reminiscent of Emmy The Great’s lyricism. Touching on The One Show, Hollyoaks and Murder, She Wrote, Marwood delivered the straightforward with passion.
Marwood primarily dealt with love and loss, sometimes through murder, as with Lock and Key. Between songs, he delighted in the fact that his ex – who had “unfairly and surreptitiously” dumped him – loved Vans and was now missing out. Cue social media documenting of the wonderful night. Living well is the best revenge!
As he sang I Promise You That It Will Be OK and the crowd sang along, it was clear how much Marwood was appreciated, and how much he appreciated the support.
It was initially hard to tell what the indie/folk/rock elements of the crowd thought of Recreations, a.k.a. Sam Duckworth’s, DJ set. It was, however, right up the street of the punk contingent. That kid spun tracks by Rancid, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and other ska-punk selections that this kid half-remembers dancing to half a lifetime ago.
The set then segued into retro cuts; You Can Get It If You Really Want, Israelites, and a sprinkling of world music. The tunes kept coming until there was no denying that the crowd, and the security, were on board. By the time One Step Beyond dropped, the hemmed in bodies bobbed along in unison.
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