The Limelight, Belfast
18th April 2018
He’s been a mainstay on the folk-punk circuit for around fifteen years now but Frank Turner still plays every show with the intensity of some newcomer in a barroom with twenty fans.
He keeps a note of show numbers. It’s well into the 2000s by now and gives shoutouts to promoters and fans who supported him back when shows numbered in the dozens rather than thousands.
These days, the crowd numbers too have grown considerably. Around 900 people pack out Belfast’s revamped Limelight as Turner launches straight into ‘Blackout’ and ‘1933’, two of the more upbeat tunes from upcoming album ‘Be More Kind’.
‘Get Better’, the punchy anthem for positive thinking in the face of mental health issues follows. It’s not the first nod to the subject as opening act ‘Homeless Gospel Choir’ sings forthrightly about the issue, his own battles, and the accepting place that is punk rock. Many in the crowd I know empathise. ‘Recovery’ seems the ideal follow up and packs a serious one-two punch.
The tempo slows a little for a few tunes. New track ‘Make America Great Again’ maybe lacks the swagger or drive of some of Frank Turner’s earlier work but shows there may be a return to more political thinking on the upcoming ‘Be More Kind’ record.
With breath caught, the band are back in full flight for a rock and rolling mid-section featuring crowd favourites ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’ and ‘Glory Hallelujah’. The chorus of the latter states “we’re all in this together” and that’s one of the beautiful things about this folk-punk community.
At this one show, I’ve met people I consider friends who are gay, straight, bisexual, gender-fluid, religious, athiest, folks with all sorts of labels and some with none, people at many different stages on their battles with mental health issues and on vastly differing journeys through life. And it’s great. Awkward fist-bumps and sweaty hugs are exchanged and the party continues.
At times like this, it’s worth remembering that not too long ago in Belfast, people of different religions wouldn’t even hang out together. Not tonight though. This is a party; a room full of music fans living for each moment on stage and off.
There’s time in Frank Turner’s sets these days for a smattering of older songs and fan requests. ‘Long Live The Queen’ gets a rare outing in its original form and ‘Dan’s Song’ only suffers slightly when the crew gives long-time guitar tech and New Pagans frontman Cahir O’Doherty a harmonica in the wrong key.
There are more big hits to round off the night. ‘I Still Believe’ promises that rock and roll will save us all. ‘Four Simple Words’ rocks out with the refrain of “I want to dance”. And that’s a summary of a Frank Turner show if ever there was one.
For a few hours, there are no problems in the world. A few hundred people in a big, dark, sweaty room just having fun and singing every word back at the band.
Things have changed a lot since Frank Turner made his first solo appearances after the demise of Milliondead. ‘Polaroid Picture’ is a fitting end to the night. We’re all older, maybe not wiser, ravaged by the wear and tear of post-truth politics but we’re ok.
Who’d have thought that after all something as simple as rock and roll would save us all.