It’s Friday, it’s five to five but this certainly isn’t Crackerjack. Ironically, to paraphrase ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous.’ I am on the guest list and genuinely stuck in traffic. As a result, I fail to make it inside Rock City for the 6.25 start as do many others for whom the working week has only just ended. Esme Patterson has opened proceedings at this highly unsociable hour and the rather sober reaction says more about our lack of drinking time than it does her brand of quirky, off-kilter and catchy pop. She ends with the effervescent ‘Feel Right’ which ought to bring her a bigger spotlight than the tea-time shift in Nottingham. Her drummer also has a very fetching hat.
At this point, anyone hoping for a brief doze before tonight’s main event has their intentions bulldozed by the inexplicable Felix Hagan & The Family; all camp glam and pouting theatrics. They are one part Kravitz, one part Dr & The Medics with more than a soupcon of Boney M shoved in for good measure. The Rock City stage isn’t large enough to accommodate them; in fact I’m not entirely sure Nottingham itself could contain their collective ego. They exit to beaming smiles and a suitably buoyed audience.
Then, on walks Frank. Few artists evoke such polar opposite opinions as Turner, he is either hero-worshipped as the closest thing the UK has to Springsteen or dismissed as a fraud; an entitled rich boy playing at being a troubadour. Personally, I take him for what he is, a damn good night out.
Of course, we are in December, this is panto season after all and for the next two hours we get a three act melodrama played out to the admiring masses squeezed together in the stalls below. Act One sees our hero announce himself and the plot is set for the evening, Newcastle have allegedly set the high watermark for audience participation and what the hell is Rock City gonna do about it? So we engage in some community singing as some familiar favourites are rolled out, ‘I Still Believe,’ ‘Long Live The Queen’ and ‘Try This At Home’ are belted out with such enormous ferocity that I started to wonder quite how the pace would be maintained.
I needn’t have worried, Act Two slows down the panto vibe and Frank reminds us that the world is a dark and nasty place at times. The villains of the piece are named and shamed. Trump, Brexit and misogynists everywhere are set in his cross-hairs and whilst he may stray dangerously close to Bono territory at times, you know he genuinely means every word. Lungs are filled with air again as Turner breezes through ‘Song For Eva Mae’ and ‘The Way I Tend To Be’ and we’re not even halfway through the evening yet.
Then we’re introduced to Buttons, in this case a member of the road crew whose job it is to crowd surf to the bar, collect two shots of whisky then deliver them safely across the other side of the venue to a waiting punter, It’s A Knockout style. This is played out perfectly to appreciative cheers and underpinned by ‘If Ever I Stray’. You don’t get this in Cinderella. Finally, Act Three brings the denouement, Rock City has the honour of world’s greatest audience bestowed upon it and to celebrate we have a party and one final sing along, ‘Love, Ire and Song’, ‘Recovery’ and ‘Get Better’ are wrapped up and handed out with the latter in serious danger of causing structural damage.
Frank Turner will be rolling back into town next week for his 2000th show; just let that sink in for a moment. 2000 shows. You don’t get to play that many gigs without becoming highly proficient at your art. Turner is unlikely to win a Mercury Prize any day now, nor is he likely to ever release a seminal album which will change the course of music history. But in this post-Brexit vacuum when we all need to feel a sense of camaraderie, there are few artists who can touch Turner when it comes to getting bang for your buck..(“oh yes there is…oh no there isn’t”). There really isn’t.