After a long drive up to the North, I arrive in the second biggest town in the UK. Doncaster, in South Yorkshire. Tonight, the venue is Doncaster's Dome. This is a surreal venue for me, as it has a swimming baths, an Ice Rink and a load of fitness facilities. When I get into the "main Hall", I realise that the gig is in a sports hall. It even has lines on the floor for a load of different sports.
Anyway, lines on the floor aside, the venue is huge. It may be the biggest venue on the tour. Maybe. I have no idea really. First band up is Esmé Patterson and her band. Esmé is from Boulder, Colorado, and is the only American on the tour. Her blend of almost throwback pop and Americana is refreshing and catchy as all hell. Her voice is soft and delicate, yet strong and exceedingly agreeable. Songs from her latest album, "We Were Wild" and older songs from "Woman to Woman" go down brilliantly. At one point, Esmé asks the audience if they want a soft song, or if they want to "rage". Of course, this is a Frank Turner crowd. We want to rage! This leads into an one-two combo of "Tumbleweed", which leads directly into her single, "Feel Right" to close a brilliant set, by a brilliant artist. A real highlight of her set is "No River" from "We Were Wild". Hearing her singing the line "I am human" cuts you to the core with the rawness and realisation of the fact that this is a woman who has passion for what she does, and for those who make the effort to come down early to see her weave her craft. Definitely want to see her play again.
Next up are Felix Hagan & The Family. I had heard Frank Turner himself on Sine FM's The First 45 earlier today describe them as Rocky Horror Picture Show with extra Meatloaf. I'm not usually a huge believer in people describing their supports as the best thing since sliced bread, because more often than not, I don't enjoy them as much as the headliners do. However. Felix Hagan & The Family fit that description. And more. To say that they are fun is the biggest understatement going. From the very first song, they've put the biggest grin on my face. There's a flamboyance to the frontman that one would see from the likes of Freddie Mercury or Prince, and honestly, it could easily be their gig. The rest of the band are in black, with glitter on their face, whilst Felix is like a Greek Adonis, adorned in a white fluffy boa and glittery trousers. It's obvious that he is the frontman. He affords the swagger that is essential to the performance, and yet, is truly a wonderful human being. They have a level of genre smashing to do tonight, and songs from "String Up The Entertainer" and "Kiss The Misfits" will take you across the spectrum of rock and roll, with some songs drawing comparisons to Muse, Prince, The Clash, and even Queen. To be honest, I would have been ok if Frank Turner had cancelled, they were THAT good. Theatricality, brilliant songs, crowd control, they have everything you could want in a live band. The title track of their latest EP; "Kiss The Misfits" is a key example of what I mean.
Felix Hagan & The Family have set a bar for Frank Turner to beat. A very high bar. As Frank enters the stage, alone with his guitar and begins to play "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous", you forget about anyone and anything who came before. The Sleeping Souls soon join him on the stage, to their own round of applause. Frank Turner is a rare specimen in that his brand of music is - for all intents and purposes - Rock and Roll, captured in an acoustic guitar. There's a rawness to his talent that begs the question, why aren't there more artists like him? He picks his tour supports, he makes time for his fans, and his band and crew are his family, who he gets involved every single show. He has an appreciation for those who got him to the heights he's at, and never forgets where he came from. This is shown by his cover of former band, Million Dead's "Smiling At Strangers On Trains", which is a stark contrast to the original. But when he brings Patterson out to sing "Silent Key", there's a tranquillity that settles over the venue. Just a truly beautiful moment in a sea of poignant beautiful moments.
You can always guarantee that you'll love a Frank Turner show, and there's usually a lot of people who have seen him numerous times before, to the point where they know what's coming, whether it be the crouching before the jump, wall of death, circle pits, anything that involves crowd interaction, they know it. Frank comments on this, as a large section of the crowd crouches, a little unnecessarily, as he instigates a "Wall of Hugs" instead, splitting the crowd from front to back. There is a literal divide in the crowd, and it's a gap of around 5 metres. The circle pit during "Out Of Breath" was like a chasm that must have been at least 10 metres in diameter before it descended into chaos. I'll give the northeners their dues, they tried to stop the flow to help people (including myself) up off the floor.
Credit: Mark Loraine Photography
There was a Left side vs Right side match throughout the set, with each side excelling at one part, whether it be singing or jumping, so it came down to a crowdsurfing deal, with Cahir and his brother crowdsurfing, and their mother deciding who won the signed drumskin (that "may or may not have been signed by Jeremy Clarkson, who may or may not be from Doncaster"). Speaking of crowdsurfing, once one person goes (me), people start to follow suit, and it continues until the set closer, "Four Simple Words", which tonight, doesn't contain the vaudevillian introduction, but smashes straight into the punk section. Frank Turner has been many things in his career, and everything he has been, everything he has learnt over the course of the last 1982 shows has shaped the performer he is now.
I've been fortunate enough to see Frank Turner on several occasions, and no two sets are ever the same. And they always seem to get better (no pun intended). The Get Better tour, the run in to show 2000, is the best I've ever seen Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls.
I'll be at show 2000, in Nottingham, on December 15th. I hope you will be too.