The second edition of Frank Turner's award-winning 'Lost Evenings' festival took place earlier this month. This was four days of music and side events in the venues, clubs and pubs of Camden Town. Frank played a headline show each night, with supports. There was a second stage, the Nick Alexander stage, named after Frank's roadie friend who was killed at the Bataclan. There was live music at the Monarch, the Hawley Arms and the Lock Tavern; festival-goers could get a tattoo at the Camden Piercing and Tattoo studio; there were late night DJ sets at Dingwalls, young artists' showcases, Q&As and panel discussions at the Roundhouse, and Safe Gigs For Women hosted a hilarious pub quiz.
It was the prospect of four differently themed Frank Turner concerts that made me want to go. I am a big fan who sometimes complains about lack of setlist variety. I got exactly what I had hoped for. Over the four nights Frank played a total of 89 songs, including 72 different ones. These stats are close to Springsteen-esque (pre-Broadway Bruce), though Bruce would get to those numbers in three rather than four shows (but would take days off in between).
Friday 11 May was in essence the last night of the U.K. and Ireland tour that Frank and the Sleeping Souls had been on. We got to hear nine songs from 'Be More Kind', Frank's seventh album which was just out. It is an album with a message, about tolerance, communication and commitment, about not living through your phones. That message rang clear and the overall vibe of the weekend was one of friendliness and inclusiveness; people of different ages, nationalities and backgrounds coming together to listen to live music. The new songs translated really well into the live setting. The title track 'Be More Kind', opener '1933' and singalong 'Don't Worry' stood out of me.
That Friday morning the tragic news of the death of singer Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit had broken and I think all festival-goers felt affected by it. Scott had played at 'Lost Evenings I', there is an overlap in the fan base and the charity CALM, who work to prevent male suicide, were omnipresent at the festival. Frank is an ambassador of CALM and was a friend of Scott's. During the show he admitted that this was a difficult part of the evening; he talked about celebrating Scott's life and keeping his songs alive. He covered 'The Modern Leper', just about getting through it. It was a powerful performance. It can be watched here.
Saturday night promised a full album performance of 'Love, Ire And Song', which was released ten years ago. For the occasion Frank and band dressed in the plaid shirts that they used to wear back in the day. The order of the songs had been rearranged and the show was padded out with other material from the same period. It started with Frank solo at the piano, playing the album's closing track 'Jet Lag'. Anna Jenkins and Jo Silverstone guested on strings. Emily Barker sang on 'Old Flames'. I had been at the second stage to catch Stick In The Wheel and as a result ended up at the back of the venue for this momentous show. I feared having to stand amidst walkers and talkers, but even at the very back everyone was 100% into the show, singing along and giving it their full attention. Two rather serious gents in front of me did not partake in the singing and dancing, but in the break before the encore I heard them discuss which songs of the album had not yet been played, so they were dedicated fans too.
Sunday lunchtime the Roundhouse hosted a Q&A session with Frank and guitarist Ben Lloyd, who produced 'Love, Ire and Song'. This took place in the main auditorium and despite the early hour there was a big turnout. We got to hear lots of interesting facts about the recording of the album, which included Frank accidentally erasing a track (he was freeing up space as back in 2008 storage capacity was more limited). The moderator asked excellent questions and the audience got the opportunity to participate as well.
Sunday night brought a solo gig and it was my favourite night of the festival. If I had been given pen and paper to request what I would like to hear, I would more or less have written what was played that night. Some of my favourites ('Sailor's Boots', 'Balthazar Impresario', 'Worse Things Happen At Sea'), some genuine rarities ('Time Machine', 'Romantic Fatigue', 'The Angel Islington'), not often played fan favourites ('Pass It Along', 'Journey Of The Magi') and some new songs ('Common Ground', 'Going Nowhere'). These are the types of songs during which strange people whom I do not understand normally go to the toilet or to the bar. That did not happen on a large scale this evening. In an interview with FT fan group The Solo Armada Frank mentioned that his musician friend Beans On Toast (who guested on harmonica) had commented that he knows of no one else that can play deep cuts for a two hour set with three thousand people and it actually working. I am up to 58 FT shows now and this was one of the very best.
Monday's theme was 'greatest hits', which in the absence of chart hits meant Frank's most popular songs that are the favourites of a large section of his audience. It resulted in a fast-paced set which would be perfect for someone new to his music. It included many songs that I feel could be given a rest (the drawback of attending multiple shows) and the night was lacking in surprises for me. In a poll on the Frank Turner Army this turned out to be the most popular show out of the four nights, so who am I.. The show finished with fireworks.
Frank always prides himself in putting on an evening's entertainment rather than just playing a gig, and it was no different at Lost Evenings. The Homeless Gospel Choir is a one man band from Pittsburgh who had gained many new fans playing support on Frank's tour. Derek Zanetti's folk punk and protest songs struck a chord with the FT crowd and his performance at the Roundhouse was a festive end to his time on the road with Frank. He ended with his fabulous signature song 'Normal' and for this he was accompanied by the second support act, Canadian stadium rockers Arkells. This is a band with a big sound (not unlike the Hold Steady) fronted by a singer with a massive voice. Their song 'Fake Money' was a real standout for me.
Emily Barker (fresh from supporting Mary Chapin Carpenter on tour) and her band also played an excellent support slot, as did Xtra Mile label mate Seán McGowan, who was celebrating the release of his debut album. Sarah Walk is a singer/keyboard player originally from Minneapolis and her atmospheric show was a real surprise as she was unknown to most of the audience. Ginger Wildheart charmed us all with humble rockstar presence and his anecdotes, and Get Cape Wear Cape Fly played as a ten piece (that's nine more than last time I saw them, i.e. him, Sam Duckworth).
On the Nick Alexander stage the Pearl Harts, a two girl act with drums and guitar, impressed with their Royal Trux-like swamp rock. For something completely different – Stick In The Wheel are a hard-to-define London folk act (I will try: Spiro meets Chumbawumba meets the Copper Family), who I had been curious to see. It is folk that somehow sounds traditional and at the same time completely modern and unique.
The discovery of the weekend for me was You Are Wolf, which is singer/composer/author Kerry Andrew. She appeared as part of the panel discussion 'From page to stage', led by Colin MacIntyre of the Mull Historical Society. Kerry performed three songs, using a reverb machine in the most imaginative way I have ever witnessed. Singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams, also on the panel, wondered aloud how she was going to follow that. Kerry's singing reminded me of Sam Lee and the idea of a collection of songs about birds brought Karine Polwart to mind. You Are Wolf also exist as a trio. A name to remember.
I caught a number of gigs at the Monarch. Sleeping Soul Nigel Powell performed with his solo project The Sad Song Co., playing piano (beautifully) and guitar and singing. This was very different from his work with Frank and I was really pleased to catch his set. Mark McCabe played an emotional set on the Friday, referencing Scott Hutchison. For Dave Giles' show the pub was packed to capacity. He covered the Spice Girls' 'Wannabe' (as did the Tuts on Saturday). Dave Giles also provided musical accompaniment at the Safe Gigs For Women pub quiz, where one of the rounds involved Frank Turner karaoke. Contestants had to come on stage and sing an FT song, and whoever messed up a line was out.
The entire weekend was a great opportunity for Frank Turner fans from around the world to congregate, meet like-minded people and make new friends. I am not a nostalgic music fan and thankfully I keep discovering new bands that I fall in love with and go to see many times. Nowhere else however have I encountered such a genuine community feeling as amongst Frank Turner fans. During the panel discussion on 'Health and well-being in the creative industries' Ginger Wildheart spoke about going to his first Ramones concert, seeing people in black T-shirts and wondering, “Where do these people live the rest of the year? I want to hang out with them”. Frank Turner fans have found such a community, to come together with and celebrate the power of music. Hopefully we will all be back next May for Lost Evenings III.