On the Friday 13th April around 12,000 fans surged to Wembley Arena to celebrate Frank Turner’s first headlining arena concert.
Having played over a thousand shows it has been said many times that Turner works hard; in 2010 he won the Kerrang! ‘No Half Measures’ award for his music video The Road in which he succeeded in playing 24 shows in 24 hours and then at last year’s AIM Awards he was titled as the ‘Hardest Working Artist’, beating Bring Me the Horizon among other bands and artists.
In 2001, Turner became lead singer for post-hardcore band, Million Dead. After four years and two albums, Million Dead announced that they were parting ways in 2005, in turn allowing Turner to begin his career as a solo folk/punk artist. With inspiration from the likes of Black Flag, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, it’s fair to say Turner’s music is quite varied. So much so that he played the Cambridge Folk Festival and Download Festival in the same year, as well as appearing on the main stage at Reading and Leeds and other festivals.
Originally playing small pubs and clubs and staying on the sofas and floors kindly offered up by friends, Turner developed a growing, dedicated fan base across the world. Gruelling tours (he toured continuously for 18 months when he went solo), lots of hard work and hardly any time off (averaging about 200 hundred shows per year) have led to Turner gaining interest and support from around the world. In early October 2011, a video was released detailing a first; in April of the following year, Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, were to be headlining Wembley Arena. Finally, he was being given the recognition he deserved and this was evident on Friday night.
One train journey, numerous tube rides, a quick costume change and we arrive at the arena. If in doubt of directions from the station, merely follow the crowds of people clad in ‘FTHC’ t-shirts and hoodies; people of all ages and nationalities had come to show their support, some from as far as America and Thailand, and there was no hesitation that this was the right way for the show. Frank Turner fans have to be some of the kindest and most courteous fans around, even packed together in a sweaty congregation of bodies with arms sticking out trying to point out the right t-shirt from the merchandise stalls, people were laughing along with each other as they heaved and struggled to let the lucky poster holders out of the mass of supporters. Turner generously wanted “everyone to be able to afford to go home with a memento from the show” and so t-shirts leftover from previous tours were going for a fiver and hoodies for a mere £10, everything had been planned out to benefit the fans, so that it didn’t “feel like an impersonal or corporate show”.
With support from old friend Beans on Toast, dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip and Billy Bragg, Turner was also joined on stage by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo, who had supported him on his recent UK tour. The show was bound to be memorable for all involved. Dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip helped to break up the heavily guitar-filled anthems with quirky sung and spoken lyrics mixed to electronic beats, while Billy Bragg celebrated Woody Guthrie, and all those he inspired, with his folk-punk protest songs. But it was Turner that the crowd had travelled for miles for and so when the first few notes of Eulogy were blasted out, a moment of anticipation filled the venue; would it work? Would he be able to hold a 12,000 strong audience as well as he could the fans that raced to his club and pub shows?
The answer was evident throughout his 90 minute set; students, grown men, teenagers, families, everyone was singing along, repeating every word as though their life depended on it. We sang to new songs like Glory Hallelujah from his latest album, England Keep My Bones, and we sang to the old songs like Nashville Tennessee and The Real Damage from when he first started all those years ago. The only time the crowd were hushed was during the unveiling of new song, Four Simple Words, which he introduced by detailing his hate of musicals. The song began slow and simple, but Turner soon returned to his punk roots with quick, sharp lyrics and heavy, loud shouts of ‘I want to dance’. He also performed covers of Queen’s Somebody to Love and a duet with Bragg, Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’.
During a rendition of Dan’s Song, Turner introduced Wembley to someone who had “influenced him greatly”; his mum. Slightly startled, she agreed to take the harmonica solo despite having never played before and was congratulated by thousands of applauding fans. But this wasn’t the only surprise of the evening; in the middle of a well deserved break, the screens flickered from music videos to a live broadcast of Turner receiving the date being tattooed on his arm, above the Wembley tattoo he got whilst supporting Green Day at their own Wembley Stadium headline concert.
Turner’s penultimate song of the night was live favourite, The Ballad of Me and My Friends. He suggested that after tonight he would be retiring this classic as it (quite rightly) is no longer fitting; the song talks about ‘going through [his] phonebook, texting everyone [he] knows’ to try and draw a crowd for ‘another Nambucca show’. But of course now Turner doesn’t need to fill the venue with friends and family, now he has a dedicated following worldwide that will continue to watch his every move, booking tickets for shows as quickly as they can and learning all the lyrics just so they can sing them back to him.
Nothing could express the dedication of Frank Turner fans more than what they did during the final (and possibly his most famous) song, Photosynthesis. It was towards the end of this song, just before bursting into the final verse of ‘I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up. But most of all, I will not grow up’ that the entire standing section of the audience, spontaneously sat down. They were given no instruction, this was not rehearsed, but such is the devotion of these people that they knew, they knew that that was what was expected of them, and it was during this final verse of his final song that Turner and the rest of Wembley witnessed around 5,000 supporters leaping up, all at the same time (ish), and singing their hearts out.
On Friday 13th April 2012, Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls headlined Wembley Arena. Fans came from across the world for the sing-a-long and Turner succeeded in making the 12,000 capacity arena feel every bit as intimate and special as his other club shows. After a well deserved after-party (that apparently finished at 7AM the following morning), all that was left of the incredible experience the night before was a piece of pink confetti on the floor of a Metropolitan Line tube.