10 February 2015
“I fucking love this place,” laughs Frank Turner, as he returns to the fabled Exeter Cavern stage for the eighth time in his long meandering career, “Can I have a bit more guitar please? You guys are fucking loud.” The crowd responds with a deafening roar, and it’s clear this is going to be a special evening.
Having been invited to play an intimate show as part of the local venue’s 25th birthday celebrations, Turner is in fine form as he plays a mammoth 23-song set filled with hits, covers, B-sides and rarities to an adulating audience. In a cramped, warm venue, accompanied only by his guitar and a room full of fiercely loyal fans, this really is vintage Turner at his very best.
Opening proceedings with ‘I Am Disappeared’ – a song that references Exeter – before launching into new track ‘The Next Storm’ and old favourite ‘The Real Damage’, Turner is clearly in his element as he regales fans with the stories behind some of his lesser known tracks. “I thought this was the shit. My ‘Mr. Brightside’”, he says of ‘Good and Gone’, “But I forgot about all the swearing and that I cuss out Hollywood in it” he chuckles, “That’s why I don’t pick the singles!”
Never one to shy away from the chance to make a poignant gesture, Turner dedicates “I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” to the Cavern ahead of its quarter-century anniversary at the weekend. “We won’t change our ways, we will proud remain when the glory fades,” he sings, straining his vocal chords to pay tribute to the iconic punk venue. The crowd bellow every word straight back at the 34-year old troubadour. It’s a powerful moment.
Without the backing of his band, The Sleeping Souls, Turner indulges himself and delights fans with some rarely heard and more obscure tracks. He devotes a slow version of ‘Demons’ to close friend Nick Alexander – tragically taken in the Paris attacks last November, before lightening the mood and joking about getting Guy Garvey’s face tattooed on his elbow during ‘Tattoos.’ Next up is Million Dead track ‘Smiling at Strangers on Trains’ – a band Turner played the Cavern five times with in the past. There is a slight lull during lesser known ‘ St. Christopher Is Coming Home’ and when Turner calls out a drunken idiot out for talking loudly over Flanders & Swann cover ‘The Armadillo.’ However, this cannot spoil the mood of what is an electrifying performance.
The rest of the set flits between well known hits such as ‘The Way I tend To Be’ – written about a koala and an ex girlfriend, apparently, new single ‘Mittens’ and earlier material such as Sleep Is For The Week tracks ‘Worse Things Happen at Sea’ and huge fan favourite ‘The Ballard of Me and My Friends.’ “We’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell,” roars Turner passionately. This is the kind of show he rarely finds himself able to play anymore with his elevated level of fame, and it’s a fanboy’s wet dream.
The show ends with Turner playing one song off of each of his albums in quick succession – a novel idea and one that allows him to rattle off some of his biggest hits (‘Photosynthesis’, ‘I still Believe’, ‘Recovery’, ‘Get Better’) in quick succession. “The last time I played here I was at the stage of my career where I used to ask before the last song if anyone had a sofa I could crash on after the gig,” Turner notes with a smile, “Tonight, I’ve got a hotel!” It’s been some journey to the top for the folk singer-songwriter, and yet 1828 gigs into his solo career, he still seems totally at home in this type of an environment, singing and telling stories in a tiny venue filled with friends and fans alike. It is this ability to bring a group of strangers together, and to unite them through the power of uplifting rock and roll that makes Frank Turner so special as a live performer, and it was certainly on display on an emotional night for Exeter’s finest live music venue.