It was Thursday morning when I saw a fleeting glimpse of a mention of Frank Turner and Barnsley in the same update on facebook. I skimmed past, it getting lost somewhere on my facebook wall too full of ads and ice bucket challenge videos. Then at lunch time someone messaged me asking if I knew anything about Frank Turner playing Barnsley. My ears pricked. I checked the @FrankTurner twitter and indeed, it was confirmed that he was on his way to Barnsley for a secret gig. Twitter and facebook suddenly went apeshit.
I announced the news on facebook and pinged off a couple of messages warning people to keep their evenings clear and a couple more trying to find out where the venue would be.
I soon found out that my local pub The Old No7, Barnsley’s award winning real-ale pub, was to be tiny venue that would be used for the gig. The cellar bar, which is the room normally used for gigs, only has a capacity of 60 or 70. Shit, I though, better get there early. I set of to town, but not before quickly emailing his PR agency hoping for the chance to get an interview.
I was extremely lucky that it was my day off work and was able to get down to my local for 4pm to check out exactly what was happening. I found out that the gig was to be free entry with bucket donations to a local charity, first come first served entry. Also that it had been organised by Kerrang journalist Ian Winwood, who is originally a Barnsley lad. There was already cluster of fans tabled and ready and it turned out that the main ground floor bar would be closed off and used for the gig instead of the usual cellar. I got my hand stamped, bucketed by donation and went off to get some food.
I returned at half five with Roseanna and grabbed a pint just as my email was returned granting me an interview with Frank. Already in the pub was members of The Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican and The Hurriers and half an hour later, local lads Nu-Tek Sound setting up PA next to the front windows, members of Yellow Elevators, Burn Down The Disco and close to a hundred music lovers, both local and from around the region. It was around half six when I heard that the venue was at capacity. It had turned into one big hot sweat bucket and the atmosphere was amazing. Bouncers turning away those still turning up to the venue, hoping to get in – allegedly queuing all the way up Marketing Hill and onto Shambles Street.
Patrons ready, up first was support act, Morecambe singer-songwriter Joe McCorriston, in what he described to me afterwards as the gig of his life. Seeing what he could, from the corner of the room, running up the ground floor, up the steps and up to the raised bar area, the audience looked like a wave of pink faces faces, up for it and raring to go.
Okay, so we didn’t know Joe or his songs, but they were catchy and upbeat as hell, clearly influenced by the likes of Frank and the unexpected cover of Basket Case, with Frank of backing vocals, led to a massive sing-along the likes this venue had never seen or heard before. I rushed downstairs after the set to interview both Frank – Joe still absolutely buzzing upstairs. It was indeed the gig of a lifetime for an unknown performer visiting a new town. Fifteen minutes passed before Frank took to the stage.
When he got to his corner (not a stage) of the pub, and strapped on his guitar, the audience had moved nearer, swelling around him without enough room for him to swing a metaphorical cat. The audience chants FRANK FRANK FRANK, as he launches straight into England Keep My Bones and then right into a raucous, Celtic tinged Let’s Try This At Home. And its only after three songs in and another sing-along, Losing Days from his last album Tape Deck Heart, does he speak. Him explaining that it’s obviously his first gig in Barnsley was greeted by terrace-sized chants of BARNSLEY BARNSLEY that would do Oakwell proud. He introduced us to Ian who organised the gig, which was also followed by chants of IAN IAN. There is no better welcome.
He sings Wessex Boy, as song about his hometown and hometowns everywhere, Plain Sailing Weather is about losing at love and The Real Damage about friends making even shit situations worth living.
Crowd surfing is something I’d never see in the bar of The Old No7, feet on the ceiling and the risk of bringing down the lighting made it look like the bouncers might have to intervene. There was nowhere for a crowdsurfers feet to land other than Frank’s face. He tells everyone to look out for each other and be careful. The audience listens, guiding the surfers back up to the bar.
The vocals from the crowd is deafening on The Road and Peggy Sang the Blues. He turns to the windows and gets everyone to give those outside a big cheers. They go mental.
Frank gives us the choice of hearing a new song about weather or tennis. Tennis gets the most cheers and he plays Love Forty Down (see video). He then introduces us to a woman in the audience called Aaron, who’d got on a plane from New York that morning when she found out about the gig. Traveling 40,000 miles, she ended up in London and then traveled to Barnsley. She got a Barnsley cheer too. We’re friendly up north see?
Back In The Day brings chants of We’re Miners United, We’ll Never Be Defeated and fan favourite, Long Live the Queen reduces the room to tears.
An encore of I Still Believe sees a guitar string snap and Joe McCorriston legs it downstairs to bring Frank his guitar. Frank encourages the audience to bring the house down with screams while his guitar swap goes unnoticed. He ends with his old classic Photosynthesis before he steps outside to treat them faces up against the window to one final totally unplugged number. And every single person leaves totally overwhelmed and very happy.
Frank’s songs are love songs. There are no politics here, no matter how much Barnsley might have like to have heard his When Thatcher Fucked The Kids. His songs talk of towns, people, memories, winning and losing. A yearning for what was and what could be.
The songs of his southern hometown are swamped in nostalgia and despite the 200 miles between Barnsley and Wessex, we felt a sense of belonging and pride when those songs were sung.
Not since QPRs win against Barnsley last May did a southerner bring so many tears to so many red eyes. It was emotional and an absolute fucking joy, and this gig will go down in Barnsley’s musical mythology as one you’d wish you’d been to and one you’ll never forget if you were.
WORDS BY JASON WHITE.
IMAGES BY ROSEANNA HANSON.
EXCLUSIVE FRANK TURNER INTERVIEW
As soon as Joe finished his set, Frank and I rushed downstairs for our interview. Frank is buzzing after watching his mate Joe play to the crowd.
What brings you to Barnsley today?
My mate Ian, he works for Kerrang, lives in London but is from Barnsley originally. We got pissed the other day and he went on this massive rant ‘all you fucking hard touring bands like you and Biffy, none of you would ever play Barnsley’ and I got drunk and though valid point. I said, ‘fuck you, I’ll play Barnsley.’ We woke up the next and before I had the chance to have my fry-up, he’d already started booking this gig. He said, ‘you can’t back out now. Your playing.’
I’d have never have backed out anyway. I’m man of my word. I’ve never played here. It seems like a cool place. We’ve turned it into a benefit show too.
Tell me a little about the charity. It’s a local one. Was that Ian’s choice?
It’s the Yorkshire Miner’s Welfare Trust Fund. I told Ian, if I’m doing pop-up shows like this, I’d prefer for them to be charity gigs. I make plenty enough money from the regular tours that I do to live off, so if I can do something like this and contribute in some way then all’s good. My charity of choice for the last few years has been Shelter, but I asked Ian if there was anything local that would make more sense. I thought it sounded great.
You often play with a band but you also do solo shows too. What do you prefer about each kind of show?
Well, I feel like the full band shows that I do are more artistically realised. They’re what the end product of what I produce on record sounds like. But what I like about the small solo shows are that they are more raw and exploratory. I mean, I don’t have a setlist for tonight. I’ll just play what I feel like. Because it’s a noisy small pub in Barnsley full of a Yorkshire crowd eager for it – I mean that as compliment – I’m not going to play a load of weird experimental b-sides and new stuff.
How often do you get to play venues of this size?
Recently, not that often but if I was to show you a pie chart of all of the venues I’ve played, I’ve played more venues this size than I have the likes of The O2, I tell you that.
What’s been your favourite intimate gigs you’ve been to?
I don’t want this to sound like I’m trying to prove my punk credentials or some bullshit, but I genuinely grow up seeing gigs like this. I never went to arena shows. I think the Astoria in London, which was 2000 cap, was probably the biggest.
I saw Melt Banana in a 200 cap club. I once saw NOFX in a 200 club. I saw Hot Saints play to 150. I actually saw Converge play to 20 in 1998. They stand out for me.
Your music straddles a number of different genres. You have a lot of folk fans picking you up now and you’ve had a lot of punk fans with you for a long time now. I just wondered, what are the punk/hardcore and folk albums that got you into each of thoe musical genres?
Excellent question. Can we throw Country into the mix too because I genuinely consider myself as much of a country singer as I do everything else.
I grew up with punk rock. The first Clash album was a big one for me, NOFX generally, The Descendants’ Everything Sucks, Black Flag’s first three years, sorry… first four years. Ha! Confusing them with my own records as I ripped them off so much.
Anyway, folk music initially for me was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, Johnny Cash’s American Recordings Series and I’d like to say a lot of Martin Carthy. Also Jon Boden and Bellowhead have been a big influence on me.
Specifically the English side of folk music. You know, you can buy a Townes van Zandt album, who I fucking love and I love Americana too, but you can’t beat a bit of Martin and Eliza Carthy.
I love Country Music too. Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash again. Ryan Adams and Steve Earle.
Why do you think Country music has never really been big over here?
Wow. We’re getting deep now. The obvious answer is that a lot of people think that it is essentially an American form of music, but so is a lot of other forms of music that have got big over here. The great thing about Country is they say it’s the white man’s blues. You know what I mean? Yes… there are other forms of traditional music over hear that fills the same sociological space but I just adore Country music. The plaintive melody, the simple riff and the lyrics of heartbreak and failure. What the hell else does anybody want from music?
Joe just played a cover of Basket Case. Roseanna was saying that it was the first song she ever learned to play on the guitar. What was yours?
This is embarrassing. The song I ever learned to play was Knocking On Heaven’s Door. But of course, at the time I thought it was by Guns n Roses, rather than Bob Dylan because I was ten.
I think Guns n Roses and their first couple of albums were probably the first records for many people of a specific age.
Definitely, but these days my hatred for Guns n Roses is concentrated. They are literally my least favourite band. Dylan on the other hand I’m a big fan of. To me, Guns n Roses epitomises everything I hate about the music industry. That lazy cultural arrogance and that disrespect for the audience… It’s like, why would I buy your records when you obviously don’t like me and think I’m a cunt?
You got one job. In twenty four hours, you’ve got two hours to work. Just be on time. I’ve spent a lot of time pursuing what I call my job. Some of it is a job – the tedious things, like travelling, accounts, logistics, tax; but I never want to disrespect what I do for a living, which is something that I enjoy, because not a lot of people a lucky enough to be able to do that.
BB King said I play for free and I get paid for the rest of the bullshit. I think that’s about right.
Would you like a quick plug before you go upstairs to play?
Listen to Joe McCorriston. He’s great.
Have you got a new record coming out?
I’m making a new record in October. It’ll be out next year. But I’ve got record labels that can tell you about that. Joe is starting out, so listen to him.
Joe McCorriston rushes down stairs, sweat dripping. I manage to catch a minute with him.
How was playing Barnsley?
Playing Barnsley was brilliant. I’ve never been here before and it was a pretty bad ass gig to have. It was awesome.
How would you describe your music to anybody that hasn’t heard of your before?
I don’t really say it’s a specific genre, but if I had to, pop music influenced by punk and folk.
How do you know Frank and how did you get this gig?
To be honest, I’m 20 and I’ve been playing four years now and I’ve been badgering him for that long to let me support him. About a year ago, I was on tour and I was waking up in a London guest house in Tottenham and I checked my phone and I got email from Frank asking if I wanted to support him at this show in Barnsley. Too right! I thought it was one of those email updates for fans about tours at first. Amazing.
Reckon you’d come back to Barnsley?
Of course I’d love to. This has been one of the best nights of my life.
You told the crowd upstairs that you’re from Morecambe. What’s it like for a music scene?
Erm.. I think if you have to talk about a music scene you have to go to Lancaster.
If that like asking about Barnsley and me telling you to go to Sheffield? Is it that bad?
There is no music in Morecambe. There are just pubs with karaoke singers. Lancaster is really close and it has a great scene. You’ve got The Bobbin, The John O’Gaunt, Yorkshire House, The Robert Gillow. I know none of these names mean anything to you but if you want to go to Lancaster, check out anyone of those venues. Our music scene’s great there.