© Ben Morse 2012
“Even with the size of the place and all the pomp and circumstance, one thing remained the same. It still felt like a Frank Turner show.”
When I saw Frank play the Manchester Apollo last year I wondered how much bigger he could possibly get. The first time I saw the guy play was in front of 800 people, so to see him play to a crowd the size of the Apollo’s was a little mental. So you can imagine how it was seeing him on stage at Wembley arena. This wasn’t just Wembley Arena either, it was a sold out Wembley Arena. Crazy.
Just walking into that behemoth of an arena was insane. This place would soon have eleven-thousand people in it in a few hours and, honestly, that’s a pretty scary thought. Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before we had our first act on stage – Beans On Toast. For those who don’t know, Beans On Toast is a folk singer from Essex. His voice is really fucked up and all his songs are really simple (but in a good way). The fact he was performing at Wembley had to be some kind of awesome in-joke, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t brilliant. After opening with a brand new song, he brought on Bobby Banjo – his banjo player, would you believe? – and they blasted out a few of Beans’ more well known tunes. Well, when I say “blasted out”, I mean they just about got through them.
As is a custom at a Beans On Toast gig, the songs aren’t always played in full and, on occasion, aren’t even played correctly. This is exactly what we were treated to, with Beans even asking the crowd to stop clapping along with songs because he couldn’t concentrate. In between songs he told stories and chatted about what certain songs meant, whilst checking his watch to make sure he didn’t over run the twenty minutes he’d been allocated. Having closed his set, Beans was met with an amazing response from the ever expanding crowd. This prompted him to crowd surf to the back of the arena. It was a great way to open the show and an even better way for Beans to close his set. Though finding later out he’d been chucked out for crowd surfing was the icing on the cake.
Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius pip continued the show and, whilst they’re good performers, I don’t think they really fit in with the rest of the Wembley experience. Granted, this was my first exposure to the hip-hop duo, but I found it really hard to get into. With that said, I seemed to be in the minority as they went down really well. Perhaps I should have swotted up beforehand?
That headline slot was edging ever closer and now the crowd seemed to have all packed into the arena. Unlike the night before, people weren’t about to walk out on Billy Bragg here. For those who were at the previous night’s gig, the set will have sounded a little familiar. With that said, Bragg was blasting out the hits on both nights with only a few new ones thrown into the set. Again he played ‘Scousers Never Buy The Sun’, which was especially poignant given how close the show was to the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. The rest was dedicated to a few of his more seasoned songs and, again, he closed with ‘A New England’. This time, with eleven-thousand other voices singing the chorus and a chill descending down my spine. Even this wasn’t enough to top what was about to happen.
Though it had been billed by the man himself as a ‘greatest hits’ kind of set, it opened with ‘Eulogy’ – the opening track from, latest album, England Keep My Bones – and the beginning of Frank’s performance at Wembley did feel a little top heavy with EKMB tracks. However, once it got going the hits kept coming and we all kept singing. Audience participation is a big thing at Frank Turner shows, so if you’re not singing you’re not doing it right! Speaking of participation, before launching into ‘Dan’s Song’, Frank brought his mum up on stage in the hope she would play the harmonica on the track. After a little coaxing from her son and the eleven-thousand that came to see him do what he does best, she gave in and maybe even got the biggest cheer of the night. This was swiftly followed by ‘Father’s Day’, which seemed like a nice bit of set arrangement on Turner’s part given the song’s subject matter. Other surprise inclusions included ‘Nashville Tennessee’. First featured on Campfire Punkrock, the song is a fan favourite that seems to have withstood the test of time unlike others from that stage of Frank’s career.
Amongst all of the hits and surprises, a new song was thrown into the mix. ‘Four Simple Words’ – a track from Frank’s forthcoming fifth solo album – went down really well with the Wembley crowd. Though we didn’t know the words, we danced along regardless. The soft sweet acoustic opening feeling like a ruse, as the body of the song is unleashed. There are very few times I’ve thought about ‘pitting’ to Frank’s music. This was one such time. This song already felt like a hit, and it’s no where near ready for release yet.
When it came time to close the set, Frank went with a little Queen. More recently, the Winchestrian has closed his sets with a rendition of the classic rock band’s ‘Somebody To Love’ and it’s inclusion here was received with aplomb. After bidding us ‘goodnight’, attentions were turned to the big screens hanging above the stage. There was Frank, sitting in a chair, waving back at us. What was he doing? Well, he was waiting to get tattooed. Rather than that rockstar pre-encore walkoff being shrouded in secrecy, Turner decided to let everyone get a peek as a second date was added to his pre-existing Wembley tattoo (done when he supported Green Day at Wembley stadium). With that finished, Turner returned to the stage with Billy Bragg following shortly after. Just like the night before, the pair played Dylan’s ‘The Time’s They Are A Changing’, this time, with a few additional hiccups. There were singalongs aplenty, though the cynic in me wondered how many watching had only heard this song because it was featured in Watchmen. Regardless, it went down a storm. Now was time for the biggest shock of the evening.
Now alone, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, Frank set about playing ‘The Ballad Of Me And My Friends’. Though he announced this time “might” be the song’s last outing in a live venue. Emotions ran high and there were even some audible groans from the crowd, but Turner delivered the fan favourite expertly and, in the end, it felt kind of fitting to retire that song at such a poignant time. After such a somber second song, the encore was concluded (as always) with ‘Photosynthesis’. Again the audience played their part, sitting down towards the end of the song before leaping up into the air as Nigel kicks the song back into gear and confetti and streamers fly into the air. It was a showy finish, but it feels like something Frank can pull off at this stage.
Even with the size of the place and all the pomp and circumstance, one thing remained the same. It still felt like a Frank Turner show. It still felt intimate, and Frank never appeared to be out of his depth. It’ll always feel better to see him in a smaller venue – I mean, when doesn’t a small venue feel better? -, but this show was one to remember, and one I’ll be talking about for some time to come.