Because the only thing
That punk-rock should never really mean
Is not sitting round
And waiting for the lights to turn green
And not thinking that you’re better
’cause you’re stood up on a stage
If you’re oh, so fucking different
Then who cares what you have to say?
—– Frank Turner – Try This At Home
I’ve just been to my sixth Frank Turner show. To some people I’m sure that seems like a lot and to others it’s a drop in the bucket when you consider that Frank has played 2331 shows as of his Edmonton show. (He keeps count) Sometimes I stop to wonder how I went from my friend Mick suggesting I might like Frank’s stuff (since I like punk and folk) to knowing all his songs and attending every show I could, but I’ve not come to one definitive answer. What is it about his music and the performances that has me going back time after time? Is it entirely the music? My first solo show was a Frank show, my first show in Vancouver and Calgary were Frank Turner shows. This show was another first, as I sat at a table interacting with strangers rather than awkwardly by myself.
I manned a table for Mable Syndrome giving out buttons & stickers and explaining what Mable Syndrome was from doors until the start of Frank’s set at just after 9 pm. At one point I was talking to two men who had stopped to ask what my table was all about. One of the men said he was a huge fan and the other said he had never even heard Frank Turner before; that he had been dragged to the show by his friend. He joked that old or new songs it would all be new for him. Talk turned from Mable Syndrome to the upcoming set.
“Are you a big fan? Haha, you probably are if you’re here! Tape Deck Heart is the best, it’s a perfect album, right? He probably won’t play it though, he’ll play all the new stuff.” The first man said in a hurried blur of words and I nodded. I said that I was a big fan, that I didn’t think he’d play JUST the new album and that while Tape Deck Heart was brilliant, I was rather partial to another album. I showed him the tattoo on my arm featuring the artwork for FT’s album Poetry of the Deed. The other man, the newcomer to the music seemed slightly shocked I had a tattoo. This was just a band, right? Hell, this was just a SINGER with a band. I was rather surprised but for a different reason, he was wearing a three piece suit to a show… Yet the fan and I shared a second of “of course she has a tattoo! Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls are amazing!”
The Swag Table
It would be easy to judge this enthusiastic fast talking fanboy based on the way he looked and spoke. Thankfully music can bridge the gaps of perception in society. Yes, it was possible to have a great conversation even if the guy had a rather dude bro fashion sense and struggled with talking AT people instead of talking to them. He was really nice though and took Mable Syndrome business cards for his girlfriend and himself. There was a brief connection there that was memorable enough that I remembered it and I’m writing about it now.
It was nice to see the other people at the show from a distance rather than from within the crowd. Smiles were exchanged between people passing each other. Nods between strangers who unbeknownst to either of them share a favourite song. When the set started there were little looks of knowing and the excitement that it’s starting right now and oh my gods he hasn’t played this song live in forever (or ever). That realization that you’re about to hear a song live for the first time is a wonderful, beautiful thing.
So, that’s one reason I keep going back to Frank’s shows. The music, performance and entertainment value are important, but they take a backseat to the connection you feel. The energy that thrums through the crowd as they sing along with someone who is on stage, but doesn’t appear to be BETTER than anyone else. He creates and knows the words, sure and he leads the singing, but you get the impression that if he just stopped singing the crowd would continue without him. The words mean something to each person there.
Because there’s no such thing as rock stars,
There’s just people who play music,
And some of them are just like us,
And some of them are dicks.
I know I’ve quoted the song Try This At Home (which is quoted throughout this) before, but that’s because it encompasses what I think being punk is all about in a few lines. I know for the brief time that I’m at the show, surrounded by complete strangers that I can be myself.
For me these gigs are one of the few times that my anxiety melts away. The nervous energy that I usually have to channel into podcasting or writing gets exorcised by the music. I leave a show tired, sweaty and full of life. It brings out the best in people. Afterward the gig compliments seem to run like electricity through the merch line about both of the show and the people around them. “Oh wow, I love your hat/bag/hair/skirt!” “Wasn’t that show great?” “Did you see when Frank/Nigel/Tarrant/Ben/Matt did that thing that everyone laughed/loved?” Often it’s between people who seemed to have just met, or in a seated venue like the Winspear someone who you spent that time standing/sitting next to.
Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls at the Winspear Centre on September 11, 2018. ©Eric Kozakiewicz Photography / Vue Weekly
It’s not like other shows. I can hear you rolling your eyes, but it’s true! At other punk shows I struggle with feeling that I’m not cool enough. I worry that I’m not tough enough, and that I don’t rebel enough. Here I feel punk enough, I feel like I deserve to be there. I feel included. I hear my favourite musician talking about how important it is to include others and to treat each other kindly and more importantly to keep doing it after the show ends. He encourages groups like Safe Gigs for Women, Ally Coalition and Mable Syndrome to have tables at his shows because their message is important.
Listen, I know bad things still happen, I’m not that naive. However, it’s still important to me and nice to hear that someone on a stage that people look up to, is saying important things about acceptance and kindness. The inclusion didn’t just stop at talk. There were people of all genders there with mohawks, pin & patch covered vests, high heels, club wear, and children wearing bunny onesies with Frank Turner hoodies overtop. The kids held the hands of parents with Frank Turner shirts that are older than the child. Yes there are still problems, but there is EFFORT to make that environment welcoming.
As an example, one of his songs had a lyric change from woman to person and that still boggles my mind. It made me so happy to hear it. I even mentioned it on Verity! which is a Doctor Who podcast, not my music podcast.
Because I’ve said I love you so many times that the words kinda die in my mouth.
And I meant it each time with each beautiful
woman person but somehow it never works out.
You stood apart in my calloused heart, and you taught me & here’s what I learned:
That love is about the changes you make and not just three small words.
—– Frank Turner – The Way I Tend to Be
Who am I kidding? I knew this would devolve into a love letter for the music and the community Frank Turner has inspired and also for the Be More Kind message that his latest album is spreading. Maybe that’s the reason I’ll be there buying tickets every time he comes to town (or close by town), or maybe there are just too many reasons to count. I’m okay with that.
So, quick turn off your stereo
Pick up that pen and paper
Yeah, you can do much better
Than some skinny half-arsed English country singer
‘Cause we write love songs in C and we do politics in G
We sing songs about our friends in E minor
So tear down the stars now and take up your guitars
And come on folks and try this at home.
For more excellent pictures from the Edmonton 2018 show: Vue Weekly Live