This was more than just a gig. This was an event. This was a celebration. Frank Turner is by far one of Britain’s hardest working musicians, and this one off headline show at Wembley Arena, by far the biggest of his career, was thoroughly well deserved. Completely selling out a venue of this size is an incredible feat for any artist, but it is all the more special for Frank Turner as he has had no real media backing and no huge record company behind him (he’s still signed to indie imprint Xtra Mile). This was also a real spectacle for Frank’s fans, with his almost cult following being notoriously loyal, people have travelled from all over the country, the continent and even the world (one attendee is announced to be from Thailand) for this amazing night.
But whilst this night was being headlined by Frank Turner, he was not the only attraction, as the support bill contained a stellar cast of Frank’s close friends and peers. Opening proceedings was alternative folk act Beans On Toast who was clearly completely overwhelmed by the size of the stage and audience and thus acted as the perfect opener, his hilarious enthusiasm and delivery of his songs winning over the audience almost instantly. Special mention should go to his opening song Microwave Popcorn, maybe the most beautiful love song I’ve heard in my life, an ode to the mundane acts of a relationship that are so often taken for granted.
Following Beans was a personal favourite act of mine, Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, playing only their second show together in six months. Their brand of hip hop was different to the folky punk rock to be found elsewhere in the show, but it was clear they had some fans in the audience. They continued the light-hearted feel of the show with good stage presence and humour, as well as using the opportunity to address the crowd regarding their stance against the political views of the BNP. Their high energy set ending on a fun drum and bass breakdown courtesy of Dan Le Sac went down well with the crowd, before the tempo slowed slightly with the arrival of the legendary Billy Bragg, handpicked by Frank to support him.
Bragg put in a great performance that was less about the music and more about the lyrics and the statements being made. Highlights included a poignant Never Buy The Sun in honour of the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy and an updated version of Great Leap Forward with lyrics revolving around the Coalition government and a shoutout to Frank’s song Thatcher Fucked The Kids, which was met with a huge cheer from the crowd. Ending his set on A New England caused the biggest singalong of the night so far, something which Bragg visibly loved.
With the crowd suitably warmed up and excited, Frank hit the stage to the familiar horns of Eulogy and a rapturous reception. From this point onwards, every voice in the arena was one, as Frank put it himself there is only one rule at his shows, ‘if you know the words, you sing along’. With the 24 song setlist encompassing all of his material, with a number of cuts from 2011’s England Keep My Bones all the way back to his very first EP. Picking out individual highlights would be far too difficult, but the inclusion of Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo on backing vocals and instruments during tracks like Wessex Boy and Peggy Sang The Blues made them all the more special (Emily Barker also came out with her band and performed for the many people queuing before the show which was a lovely experience).
Around halfway through the show Frank revealed he was bringing a special guest on stage who had been a huge influence on him, this turned out to be his own mother in a heartwarming moment. She played the harmonica solo on Dan’s Song (probably my favourite song he played, see if you can guess why) and left to a standing ovation and chants of ‘Frank’s mum!’ from the crowd. Frank then slowed the set down with a beautiful performance of Father’s Day and Substitute, before the rousing I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous. He even found time to throw in a new song, Four Simple Words, which started slow before changing into a breakneck speed punk rock number which sent the crowd into a frenzy and really showed the talent of his band, The Sleeping Souls, who were very much a key part of the gig as well.
He ended the main set with his now traditional cover of Queen’s Somebody To Love which always goes down a treat, before beginning the encore with a cover of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ with Billy Bragg, something which will surely have been a dream come true. There were audible gasps from the crowd as Frank announced that his performance of The Ballad Of Me And My Friends may well be the last ever, before closing with the obvious choice of Photosynthesis and thanking the crowd for supporting him and independent music as a whole.
This gig showed that you don’t need a huge stage production to put on an event at Wembley. Apart from the lighting, the most impressive effect was the confetti cannons fired at the very end. This was about a man, his band, and the music, without the need for any gimmicks. This was a gig to tell your grandchildren about.
And if for some reason you missed out, Frank Turner has just announced an 18-date UK tour for this November, so you really have no excuse not to see the greatest live act Britain has to offer.