Having already attended and reviewed the Download Pilot Festival and Seasick Steve since the reopening of the live music sector, we want to stop referencing the pandemic. The problem is that nights like the two that Frank Turner serves up at Coda in Colchester simply act a reminder of what has been missing for the past almost 18 months.
Thankfully, mercifully, cautiously, live music is back. For two consecutive evenings, fans cram into the awesome independent venue in Colchester known as Coda. The reason? If any opportunity for a gig isn’t excuse enough, the one and only Mr. Turner is introducing himself to an area of the country he now calls home.
Whilst more likely to be found in much larger venues these days, Turner still has the grassroots familiarity to instigate a hot, sweaty drunken sing-a-long session. Everybody packed into this bar knows every word to every song and passionately sings them back in unison. It’s like live music never went away.
Playing the two shows in the same venue, Turner mixes his set list each night. Realistically the man has enough in his arsenal to cover many more nights here, as he demonstrated with his Independent Venue Love series during Lockdown.
All the fan favourites are on tap for those in the bar with ‘Long Live The Queen’, ‘1933’, ‘The Road’, ‘The Way I Tend To Be’, ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’, ‘Be More Kind’, ‘The Next Storm’, ‘Photosynthesis’, ‘Recovery’, ‘Get Better’ and set closer ‘I Still Believe’ amongst the songs available both nights.
The guest ales such as ‘Polaroid Picture’ and ‘If Ever I Stray’ on Tuesday and ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’, ‘I Am Disappeared’ and ‘Four Simple Words’ on Wednesday help to differentiate the shows for those in attendance both nights.
Having started out his solo career on his own (and still performing solo regularly), Turner is now often accompanied by The Sleeping Souls. In recent times solo shows have been billed as duo shows and see Turner joined by Sleeping Soul member Matt Nasir. This dynamic works extremely well both for musical accompaniment and also for onstage banter.
As mentioned, Turner now resides in Essex. He has a song called ‘Wessex Boy’. Yes, he did the obvious switch, which for every other artist would have been incredibly tacky, but somehow for Turner here it works and elicits a proudly fierce reaction from the crowd.
A new album is on the horizon for Turner and over the two nights fans are treated to glimpses of the record in the shape of ‘The Work’, ‘Muhammad Ali’, ‘Little Life’, ‘Fatherless’ and new single ‘The Gathering’. There certainly appears to be plenty more to come from an artist for whom their next album will be their ninth solo effort.
The future appears bright. Over two nights the stage was graced by four support acts with bright futures with Wilswood Buoys and Jess Guise on Tuesday and Gin Twins and Josiah Mortimer on Wednesday all impressing the packed audience.
So, yes, the future does indeed appear bright. Bright for Turner, bright for a great new venue, bright for young musicians, and bright for live music! There really isn’t anything better.
A necessary but shocking side-effect of the first lockdown and beyond is the impact on the live music industry. An industry that revolves around bringing people together in confined spaces to celebrate life and art. Music and particularly live music is vital to the mental health and wellbeing of millions of people, and the loss of that medication has added to the already scary situation we have all found ourselves in.
When the world ground to a screeching halt in March 2020, the primary concern for all of civilisation was rightly to fight the devastating coronavirus and to protect against loss of life. Alternatively as the government put it – “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives”.
The music industry and the incredibly talented people that make up the sector is by its very nature creative and innovative. As we all searched for new ways to connect with our loved ones and our passions, musicians had the answer. Welcome to the world the music livestream!
One man seemingly ahead of the curve on this front was Frank Turner. Turner is known to be “always on tour” as it were, and was in fact mid-tour as the pandemic hit. Turner was quick to hastily ready a special livestream event from his own home raising money for his touring family.
At the same time, the reality was dawning on the live music ecosystem of the potentially fatal impact caused by the pandemic countermeasures. In particular the Music Venue Trust, who do amazing work year round even in non-pandemic times, were busy mobilising. The MVT were well positioned to see the threat to the grassroots music venues of the country.
We have gone into depth on the subject in our blog – ‘Why We Need To #SaveOurVenues’, but ultimately the venues that foster and cultivate the entire music industry were in trouble. Sadly many face the threat of closure due to non-pandemic related issues. The events of March 2020 onwards however threatened these venues, the lifeblood of live music, to the point of extinction.
The perfect storm called for urgent action and one man taking notice and standing tall was that man Frank Turner. Soon we were all introduced to a new concept from Turner, Independent Venue Love. A series of livestream concerts taking place every Thursday during lockdown to raise desperately needed funds for at risk music venues.
A different venue would be supported each week and each week would see a unique set list. In creating this series Turner raised much needed awareness and financial support for venues. By doing so he helped to safeguard the future of live music; perhaps most importantly though, Turner also provided an escape from the terrifying realities of pandemic life. The Independent Venue Love series will have played a powerfully positive role in raising spirits and safeguarding mental health for music fans desperate for a distraction.
In our first ever End of Year Awards, we picked Turner as our ‘Artist of the Year’. You can read what we wrote about this decision in our ‘2020 Year in Review’. Basically we feel Turner deserves a medal for his efforts in arranging and performing these fantastic events. Turner has raised a phenomenal amount of money and has helped countless people through horrifying times either directly or indirectly.
That is why we thought it would be fitting to celebrate and remember the Independent Venue Love series here. You can peruse the posters for each event in the gallery below.
Independent Venue Love Posters
Now let’s get started in documenting the series.
Early Facebook Days
As we all adapted to pandemic life, we strived for the best communications technology. Many discovered the wonders of Zoom meetings for example. When debuting the IVL series, Turner took to Facebook Live. A learning experience for all, some early streams were impacted by connectively issues and eventually led to a change of internet provider for Turner and a move to Youtube.
The first five events featured on Facebook Live (and a dabble on Instagram!) saw Turner begin a career retrospective; with each week featuring another release in chronological order.
Vol.1 – ‘Sleep is for the Week’ for Nambucca, London
From Volume 6 onwards Turner would move the weekly series across to Youtube with better connectivity results. Turner would continue to progress through his career retrospective to the delight of his fans. A drinking game would also emerge for fans at home based initially on apologies to either his wife Jess or his mother.
As Turner’s gameplan to play his back catalogue continued, fans were treated to rare song outings. These outings occasionally would see the odd forgotten lyric, and the terming of the phrase to Varley in ode to fellow musician Will Varley. Eventually each Varley would be incorporated into the drinking game!
Vol. 6 – ‘Rarities and B-Sides 2011-2014’ for The Parish, Huddersfield
With his released back catalogue now exhausted and lockdown one (known back then, simply as lockdown!) still persisting, Turner needed to explore different avenues for set list material. A demand for a ‘Disney Set’ initially failed to materialise until a special shortened bonus set one night.
Turner however would push on with additional themes to continue his herculean effort (Joe Wicks eat your heart out!). Volume 13 would also take place from inside the venue Turner was raising funds for as signs of normality began to appear. Volume 14 would be titled ‘The Final Stream’… little did we know what the future had in store.
No we are not doing Whitesnake Karaoke! A brief return to real life saw some socially distanced music possible. Turner in fact was able to play numerous shows including our ‘Gig of the Year’ as awarded in our ‘2020 Year in Review’.
Sadly the pandemic took a horrific turn for the worst. With venues still at risk and people desperate for escape, Turner and IVL would make their triumphant return in January (otherwise known as Lockdown three!). This time around Turner’s wife, Guise, would move to an important mediator role as fans got to pick the setlist!
We all hope and pray that a return to normality is on the horizon. That the incredible work of scientists and our key workers will save lives and allow life to resume. Volume 21 closes the IVL series with a request set from Jess Guise herself.
Turner has achieved amazing results from the IVL series. The fact is that he didn’t have to do this, and for that he deserves recognition.
The Music Venue Trust, Independent Venue Week and all organisations and groups working to protect our culture deserve special praise also.
Sadly the end of the pandemic and the return to relative normality won’t remove the threat posed to our grassroots music venues. Please when safe to do so, support these venues, support your favourite bands, support new bands, support music!
Throughout the first national lockdown musicians were forced to find creative and innovative new ways to connect with their fans. This unique time saw the popularity of the music livestream rise as exponentially as the cases of the horrible virus that created the situation.
The pandemic has caused us all to feel many negative emotions such as fear, worry, grief and sadness. For music fans, it has robbed us of a vital outlet which impacts greatly on our mental health. I recently discussed the immense impact of music on my mental health in my blog post ‘Mental Health, Music and Me’.
For musicians and everybody that works within the music industry it has caused significant crisis. Our beloved grassroots music venues are at risk. Musicians and live events workers employment has vanished overnight. Plus a light has been shone on the unfair recompense for artists from streaming.
In amongst the darkness however there has been the odd glimmer of light. One man that has taken the power of livestreaming to heart is Frank Turner. Not only that but he has used this platform to raise awareness and valuable funding for those struggling venues, becoming a champion of the #SaveOurVenues campaign.
Turner’s Thursday night livestreams dubbed ‘Independent Venue Love’ have been a huge success. They have provided Turner with a connection to his fans. They have provided those fans with a vital distraction to raise their spirits. Whilst importantly they have raised the aforementioned funds. The success of these livestreams was one of the reasons we gave Turner the ‘Artist of the Year’ award in our review of 2020.
Now as we enter what has been dubbed Lockdown 3, Frank Turner has picked up his guitar once more ready to serenade his adoring fans. Turner will also again raise some much needed money and awareness for struggling venues. Tonight that venue is The Lantern in Halifax and the crowdfunder is here.
During his initial wave of livestreams, Turner focused on albums, or periods of his career to structure the events. This time around however, having exhausted his back catalogue, in order, last time around, Turner is handing the setlist over to his fans.
This ‘All Request’ format works extremely well with Turner’s wife Jess Guise behind the keyboard, monitoring requests and feeding them to Turner. It must be said that Turner’s ability to remember how to perform obscure songs from his catalogue at the drop of the hat is very impressive (‘English Curse’ aside 😋 )!
Turner has always been an artist that can turn the largest room into the smallest space, so the ability to watch him from your own living room certainly brings a new meaning to an intimate venue.
Whilst some of the livestream events that have taken place during these troubled time have felt somewhat soulless affairs akin to watching a soundcheck video on Youtube, the same certainly cannot be said of Turner’s livestreams. Tonight he once again somehow manages to captive and enthral us from his own house. This is a quality that cannot be taught and is an assertion of Turner’s talents as both a musical showman and a human being.
The requested setlist tonight is a mixture of the usual suspects with ‘If Ever I Stray’, ‘Be More Kind’ and ‘Get Better’ intertwined with rarer numbers such as ‘Romantic Fatigue’, ‘Cleopatra In Brooklyn’ and ‘Rivers’. These events certainly provide Turner fans with the opportunity to hear some tracks that wouldn’t normally get a look in at a regular gig.
The highlight of the evening however comes around the midway point of the 90 minute show when Turner delivers two new tracks. With a new album on the horizon fans will be eager to hear what new music is on offer. Tonight Turner whets the appetite with two excellent tracks, the sombre tribute to Scott Hutchison ‘A Wave Across the Bay’, and the punchy ‘Punches’.
With the tease of more Thursday night streams to look forward to, Frank Turner continues to provide a vital public service not just to his fans in need of entertainment but music venues in desperate need of help.