Ah, Frank Turner. The folk-punk troubadour may well be among
the most divisive figures in the UK music industry. His detractors will tell
you he’s a narcissistic Eton-educated gobshite who needs to stop recording
everything he writes. His supporters are some of the most dedicated in the
genre, with members of the ‘Frank Turner Army’ boasting attendance at 50+
Turner shows, and plastering Instagram with FT fan tats*. He’s a cluster of contradictions–
a privately educated everyman rocker, a folk-punk musician who sold out Wembley
Arena, a libertarian who regularly collaborates with Billy Bragg.
Love him or hate him – and indeed, very few seem to be indifferent – you can’t deny Turner is a dedicated artist – and his fanatical dedication to his craft and his fans (he still makes a point of responding to every fan email) is matched in the passion of his Turnerites. As of the time of writing, Turner has played 2367** sets in 48 countries – averaging 150 shows per year. Call him what you will – icon, toff, wannabe, inspiration – but it can’t be denied the man is a goddamn trooper.
2000trees is something of a members club festival – the bill
features probably more returning acts than any other UK event, and Turner is
perhaps the festivals most loyal ambassador. He played the first edition in
2007, and has since returned six times – notably in 2016 when he played ‘England Keep My Bones’ in full in one of
the summers worst-kept secret sets. This year’s Trees saw him up his game even
more, performing three sets on three stages*** over the weekend.
Turner: Take 1 –
The Turner Army have long since set up a battalion by the Main Stage as the Thursday daylight dims. There’s anticipation in the air, ruptured to celebration as Turner bursts onto stage with the Souls, obligatory Reservoir Dogs white-shirt-and-tie clad, immediately launching into ‘Get Better’. As the crowd belt back every resilient ‘Not! Dead! Yet!’, the mood is well and truly set.
A call-to-action of ‘Let’s
get this party started ‘precedes a furiously upbeat ‘1933’ from Turners last
album. The crowd are loving it, and do their best to keep up with the
rapid-fire lyrics – ‘Don’t go mistaking your house burning down
for the dawn’ might be the 21st century’s answer to ‘Call me when you try to wake her up’.
For someone who by his own admission has a tendency to run
his mouth, Turner isn’t actually one for long speeches in between songs,
preferring to blast through as much material in his allocated 70 minutes as he
can. He says what he needs to say – reiterating his love for the festival and
making sure to give his long time collaborators the Sleeping Souls their due.
Of course, the staples are given their due diligence –
‘Long Live the Queen’ hits that right mix of emotional and lively. It’s
always been slightly puzzling that such a poignant, personal song has become a
set list staple, but there’s a certain poetry to it – thousands of people
rocking out to a celebration of your life is a legacy many here would hope for.
We get the anthemic ‘The Road’, with the crowd dutifully
pointing East and West. We get ‘The Way I Tend To Be’, a welcome
change in tempo where Turners vocals get a chance to showcase. Best of all, we
Am Disappeared ‘– a solid contender for Turners finest hour as a
lyricist, and one that’s not played enough. And we obviously get ‘I
Still Believe’, which is still a set list highlight after over 1000
‘Sister Rosetta’ is the
newest number, and has swiftly become a crowd favourite. A deviation from
Turners usually heavily autobiographical songwriting, the narrative explores the
life of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose contribution to rock has mainly been lost
to history… until now. If its not too sycophantic to say so, with the size of
Turners fanbase, a tribute done as well as this could well re-vitalise Ms
Tharpe’s legacy, 40+ years post her passing.
As he closes with the somewhat divisive ‘Four
Simple Words’ – a song Turner seems more enamoured with than his fans
do – Frank calls a young woman into the empty circle pit to join him for a
dance in the crowd…. Cute on the surface, certainly, and no doubt a fond memory
for the lady in question, but the cynical among us can’t help but think, ‘Springsteen did this first and did this
better. You aren’t Springsteen, Frank, and you don’t need to be’. That’s a
churlish take though – between this and the Wall of Hugs phase he had going for
a while, Turner can still be commended for mixing things up a bit.
2000trees has struggled somewhat finding the right headline
acts – the beloved hardcore and mathrock regulars on the bill simply won’t
shift enough tickets, and the mainstream acts who will guarantee punters often
don’t fit the festivals indie-punk vibe. Turner is the perfect balance of the
two – wildly popular while retaining that punk ethos and energy. Nearly every
track is a big, sing-along number, and the vibe never wavers through a
commendable mix of softer-folk and lively pop-punk. Will this convert any Frank
detractors? Probably not, but Turner doesn’t need to convert anyone as tonight
proves – he has an army of loyal fans and will repay that loyalty with headline
sets like tonights, time and time again.
Turner: Take 2 –
One of the many places 2000trees shines in on its busker
stages – with five in total, four of which are named after notable Trees
performers. It’s a pleasure to see the Camp Frabbit stage busy once again after
its introduction last year – an unobtrusive monument to the late Scott
Hutchisons life and work.
This set was not on the bill, but punters who see the masses
crowded around the tiny Turner stage quickly connect the dots and join the
growing crowd. Dismayed festival security desperately tries to keep a path
clear as more and more passers-by realise what is happening – Franks haters can
now add ‘fire hazard’ to their list of Turner criticisms.
There’s not too much that can be said or needs to be said about a five song acoustic set – it’s mainly a fantastic reminder of the inclusivity of this part of the festival. Where else can the headline act play a few minutes apart from an open mic performer? ‘The Opening Act of Spring’ is a excellent number, Turner using the intimate format to air an underrated track from ‘Tape Deck Heart’. ‘Don’t Worry’, one of the mellower numbers from ‘Be More Kind’ is well suited to here as well. He finishes on a sing-along acoustic take of ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ – about the only number from his 2007 debut that still gets regular play-outs, fitting to end such a Turner-centric day by going back to the beginning. Finally, the man of the hour – who looks about ready to pass out but is still grinning, departs into the night. Frankly (sorry…) it’s a commendable for anyone to bust out a well-honed acoustic set barely an hour after headlining a festival.
Turner: Take 3 –
Turners hardcore punk days are, to many, a largely forgotten
early chapter in his musical journey. A turbulent split from Million Dead, a
conscious move towards a folkier sound, an stir-raising decision to drop the
‘HC’ from his Twitter handle (yes, really) – one could be forgiven for thinking
Turner had effectively disowned his hardcore heritage. However the last few
years have seen him dust off the cobwebs and get screamy again with Mongol
Horde – who in true Turner style, ruffled some media feathers with the band
accused of cultural appropriation for their name (no comment.)
Comprising just 21 of his 2671+ gigs, Mongol Horde feels
like a bit of a fans secret, with Turner allowing his beloved festival to be
let in on. Tonight he emerges clad in silver singlet and three kilos of
glitter, looking like an attendee at the first Mars Pride. It’s certainly a
visual set, though between the harsh red and blue lighting and the fact that
Turner is sparkling like zirconium has every photographer in the vicinity
shaking their head in despair.
Those who came to Mongol Horde off the back of his solo work
– and lets be frank (I swear I’m not
doing this intentionally) that’s 98% of the crowd – may not convert to
hardcore fans of hardcore after this, but Turners return to his roots is very
watchable – the energy he’s commended for in the folk world translates well here.
He’s not the rail-thin, bouffanted angry youth he was with Million Dead, but his
second hardcore chapter is one of a seasoned musician – playing his fans
adoration of him for all its worth as he repeatedly melts into the mass of
Fans of this fierce subculture will have more worthwhile
things to say about the technical quality of Turners final 2000trees set of the
weekend – but it’s pretty telling that several social media posts crop up in
the aftermath, calling what could have been a larky afterthought the set of the
weekend. And sure, many will reserve that accolade for his headline show but
that’s Frank for you. He does nothing by halves. This time he did it in a
*In case there’s any
doubt where this reviewer stands, I’m currently on 12 Frank sets and working on
a design for a ‘Not Dead Yet’ tattoo.
** That number is gigs
as a solo artist/with the Sleeping Souls. If you count every solo set and every
set with the five bands he has played with, the archive lists 2671 gigs. Isn’t
*** Alongside at least
one guest appearance in other acts sets. He’s pretty relentless.