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Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill - 10th December, 2016

Written By Darren Johnson

Having been warmed up very nicely by the support acts, Felix Hagan & The Family and Esmee Patterson, the place is absolutely throbbing when Frank Turner comes on stage.

“I believe first impressions count,” declares Turner a couple of songs in. And bang - he certainly achieves that.

Opening with ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ from his 2008 album 'Love Ire and Song' he combines anger, affection, passion, celebration and wry humour – and that’s all in the space of a single song. 

In terms of delivery and audience response it’s more like an encore than an opening song but that level of energy is maintained song after song after song. 

Turner has been travelling the indie-punk-folk-singer-songwriter road for over a decade now, ever since The Million Dead folded (the hardcore band that he previously sang with).

Six albums into his solo career, it has only been the two most recent that have made it into the top five and his singles have hardly ever troubled the charts.

Yet he’s built up an absolutely devoted fan-base. Deservedly so, from tonight’s performance. 

Turner and his excellent band pack in many highlights from his solo career in a two-hour set, including a good smattering of songs from his latest album 'Positive Songs For Negative People', in addition to an old Million Dead song ‘Smiling at Strangers on Trains’ as part of his encore. 

From a well-connected, well-to-do family, Turner’s libertarian brand of politics has attracted strident criticism in some quarters, and he’s been notably hammered as a right-winger in The Guardian (theguardian.com/frank-turner-right-wing)

I can’t pretend I’ve analysed Turner’s philosophical beliefs in great detail but of his between-song interventions tonight three could be described as vaguely ‘political’ in one way or another.

The first was a plea urging support for the charity War Child, an undeniably worthy humanitarian cause.

The second was a passionate speech in support of the Safe Gigs for Women campaign, highlighting the unacceptable nature of the harassment and abuse that far too many women are forced to endure while trying to enjoy a live gig.

And the third was pretty much a theme that ran through his chat throughout the course of the evening; namely the very collectivist ideal of urging the audience to look out for one another and to take some of that spirit away with them into the outside world.

Indeed, the only performer I’ve seen place a similar degree of emphasis on that whole ‘audience-as-community-thing’ was the avowedly-socialist, veteran folk singer, John Tams.

What Tams never did was follow that through with stage-diving into the audience and being transported from one side of the hall to the other by a rapturous sea of fans, but you get the point...

A passionate advocate for live music, Turner tells us that tonight is his 1,995th solo gig.

Judging by tonight’s performance one suspects there will be many thousands more, and he’s promised to come back to Bexhill soon.

The greatest voice on the contemporary music scene? Probably not. 

One of the most charismatic and compelling performers of his generation? Almost certainly.

More info on War Child can be found at: warchild.org.uk  

More info on Safe Gigs for Women: sgfw.org.uk

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