Live at Santiago on Saturday, 5th March 2011
Frank Turner has, over the last few years, gone from playing back rooms of pubs to huge festival and Academy shows. But on a chilly weekend in March he went back to the small intimate venues where he learnt his craft for two secret shows in Manchester and Leeds. Both were announced to his 20,000 strong Twitter following just hours before the shows. Through a series of hints from Frank and local promoter Good Folk, a queue quickly formed outside Santiago's at the bottom of Grand Arcade.
Entry to this gig was free, with gig goers encouraged to give money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We arrived not long after the announcement that the dingy rock bar in this dying area of the city was the location of tonight's gig, and the queue was already winding most of the way up Grand Parade.
Local act Sam Airey was asked to support in this very last minute gig, and initially managed to get the attention of an odd crowd, there for the headline act. It wasn't long before happy chatting between songs from the crowd, became talking-over this talented singer songwriter whose voice is reminiscent of Gomez front-man, Ben Ottewell. Unfortunately the combination of a small room, no one wanting to lose their place for the main act and not enough volume on the PA made it a hard gig for a singer we'll probably hear more of in his own right.
Around 300 lucky people made it in to the venue, about 150 more than the venue can hold, judging by the struggle Frank Turner, the sound-man and photographers had making it past the narrow stairway to the stage. But this is the kind of atmosphere you just can't replicate on a bigger stage.
Proudly brandishing a Queen t-shirt, the set kicked off with crowd favourites 'I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous' and 'Try This at Home'. Whilst mixing in the odd new song, this wasn't a set dominated by new material, instead the focus was firmly on the fans. Explaining that part of the reason for these shows is that he was using "complex mathematics to make sure that the 1000th gig is in England and not Australia", which was backed up by this weeks announcement that Strummerville Spring Sessions in April will be the venue of the landmark occasion.
Trustfully handing a bucket round the crowd to collect peoples donations, Frank set the gauntlet of beating Manchesters total of £1000, additional donations came through the night as fans asked to play "Desperation Song for £20" and other rarities he'd not touched in years. He even admitted to Googling lyrics to one of his own songs the previous night as he'd not played it in so long.
Each time I review Frank, I write the term 'singalong'. It's a cheap term, it makes him sound like a shitty pop star, which is unfair. Frank is one of those few artists who'll have a loyal fan base in 20 years time, who know every word and have every album, long after the pop stars have faded away. He connects with the audience in a fun way with announcements like "this has got a singing part, if you know it 'do it with gusto muthaf*ckers'", and asking the audience to join in on Air Harmonica. He's playing a show in May at Brudenell Social Club which sold out in minutes earlier this month, if you don't have a ticket I'd highly recommend begging stealing and borrowing for one.