wed 23/04/2014

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Picture House, Edinburgh | New music reviews, news & interviews

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Picture House, Edinburgh

One of the UK's most accomplished live acts comes close to perfect

Frank Turner's 'neverending tour of everywhere' continues© Imelda Michalczyk

Gig-going in the winter can be a difficult business. Plummeting temperatures call for layers, thick coats and scarves - none of which are easily stowed away at your average club show. As the venue starts to fill up with similarly clad bodies the place gets sweatier and sweatier, but by the time you realise you really should have coughed up a couple of quid and the extra wait for the cloakroom you’re probably already hemmed in.

It comes as something of a relief then that, following two support acts (Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun, followed by Tim Barry, who played a jolly little song about a friend in prison), Frank Turner opened with the song from his growing repertoire that is pretty much guaranteed to give you the chills. Like “The Road”, “I Am Disappeared” celebrates the nomadic life most of us with responsibilities and a lingering sense of dissatisfaction have at least dreamed of. Unlike in “The Road”, which came next and serves as the theme song for a musician who has been on a “neverending tour of everywhere” since 2005, the protagonist who sleeps with his passport is someone that the rest of us can identify with.

Turner confessed to looking up his own lyrics online

That said, Turner has never been one to make a distinction between the audience and the “skinny half-arsed English country singer” (as he himself puts it) on stage. The crowds now may be bigger, but audience participation remains an important part of the Frank Turner live experience. There were sung refrains, taught over and above the usual singalongs to a crowd which already knew its lines, and an inter-city dance competition to new song “Four Simple Words”.

The Sleeping Souls, Turner’s four-piece band, have performed with him on a couple of tours now as well as on last year’s England Keep My Bones, and while their presence on some of the more gut-wrenching singer-songwriter fare of days past (“Long Live the Queen”, for example) might not always suit, having a permanent band has turned the always entertaining Turner into one of the UK’s most accomplished live acts. When it works, it’s close to perfect - such as when Matt Nasir’s keyboard imitated a church organ on atheist hymn “Glory Hallelujah”. The crowd roared along to what, for any other artist, could have been a triumphant finale (the song closes England Keep My Bones) - but this was only five songs in.

As any artist with fresh material in the works is wont to do, the odd new song was crowd-tested. “Plain Sailing Weather”, with its (dismissive) references to the “romantic propaganda” of Amélie, is typical Turner fare, layered with lyrics that catch in your throat and take your breath away. Perhaps as a thank-you, there were a few treats and surprises for those there to hear their old favourites: “Must Try Harder”, from Sleep Is For the Week, has had so few live airings that Turner confessed to looking up his own lyrics online.

As a bookend to a short acoustic interlude which began with “Balthasar, Impresario”, this tribute to the music hall and vaudeville performers of old was one of the most special moments of the night, and sounded at home among the Picture House’s grand fixtures and fittings.

The crowds now may be bigger, but audience participation remains an important part of the Frank Turner live experience

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