Frank Turner – My First Ten Years

The pun in the title might be lost on anyone without extensive knowledge of Frank Turner’s discography. That’s their loss.

Summer is making a comeback here in Germany this week with temperatures up to 30 °C. Just like it was ten years ago. Why do I remember the weather from ten years ago? Ten years ago today – Saturday, 6th September 2013 – I went to my first Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls gig at the Aladin Music Hall in Bremen (show #1447). The sweatiest gig I’ve ever been to until then and since.

I was already hooked on the music after I had accidentally caught TV live footage of their set at Hurricane Festival in June 2013. I had even written my first fangirly blog posts that summer. But seeing it all live on stage was something else entirely.

Frank Turner on stage in Cologne, 2013
My gig #002, Cologne (September, 2013), because I didn’t take photos in Bremen

It was such a joy to hear the music I had grown to love so much, be played live for the first time. All the Sleeping Souls are such great musicians and I remember that I enjoyed to see the great rapport they have on stage. From my own experience over the years I can also confirm that Ben, Matt and Tarrant are really lovely guys. I haven’t had the chance to meet the “new” drummer Callum yet, but I’m sure he fits right in. To be fair though more than the amazing live music from this great band it had been Frank’s energy, his charisma and his interaction with the audience that completely won me over at that first gig. It was the “rule Nr. 1, rule Nr.2”, the singalongs, the jumping up and down and that he obviously cared that the audience had a good time. I’ve never felt so actively involved in a show before. After that first night I was so glad, that I would have the chance to do that all again two weeks later.

I sometimes wonder how Frank still comes up with new ideas to engage the audience after doing this for so many years. In these past ten years I’ve done Sitting down / Jumping up, Jumping Jacks, Waving arms from left to right, Jazz Hands (I do miss those), a Wall of Hugs and however many other tiny bits. This summer for the first time I even twirled like a ballerina. At a punkrock show. WTF?!? And I mean that in the best way possible. I loved doing it!

Screenshot Reading Festival stream. Frank Turner on stage with a twirling audience in the background
The Twirl at Reading Festival 2023

But enough about showman Frank. With this post I wanted to tell you a bit about all my experiences this past decade.

After I had fallen so head over heels for him as a singer / songwriter / performer, in the first few years I sometimes used to say “Frank Turner changed my life”. In hindsight I really have to amend or at least clarify that. Because it’s not like Frank waved a magic wand or intentionally did anything to change my life. My life changed and I changed because of how I reacted to the art and performances Frank put out into the world. I changed because of what I took away from his songs or from the personal stuff he shared about himself and his life in interviews. I changed through the many experiences I made at gigs and within the community and from what I learned about myself and others. Ten years on it just feels right to claim back agency over that whole “life changing” business. And I guess Frank as well might be more comfortable with that narrative.

So let’s have a look at ten favourite things that (I) have changed in my life in the past ten years because of all of…. this.

#01 “And maybe, just maybe, I’ll admit that I could use a little help”
(Haven’t Been Doing So Well, 2022)

From April 2022 till July 2023 I have been talking to a psychotherapist on a regular basis. And while I know that I still need to work on / pay attention to some issues, these sessions did wonders for my mental well-being. I wrote at length about what it all had to do with Frank in this post here, but the short version: I’m convinced, that if Frank hadn’t been so open these past few years about his own mental health issues and his experience with therapy, it would have taken me much longer to take that step. In the end the release of “Haven’t Been Doing So Well” played a crucial part for me to admit – to myself and others – that maybe I could use a little help (see #03).

#02 “They’re going to be your friends, they’re still your friends today”
(Worry ~ The Lottery Winners, 2023 / I listen to more than just Frank, ok?)

It took me a while to come out of my shell in the vast Frank Turner fan community (see #05). But now ten years in, I’ve met so many people, who I am friends or at least on friendly terms with. We keep loosely in touch through social media or through meeting and hanging out at gigs. More importantly through all this I’ve made two very good friends in the UK. I met each of them separately on Twitter in 2015/2016 and the three of us then spent time together at the first Lost Evenings in Camden in 2017 and just hit it off. We’ve sent a gazillion WhatsApp messages since, went to gigs together and fangirled over musicals (see #06). We celebrated birthdays or sometimes just hung out, if I happened to be in the UK and close-ish by either one for a vacation or even the rare work trip. All three of us don’t often manage to go to the same gigs together, so it’s extra fun when we do. Next time is scheduled during the Scandinavian run in October.

#03 “Deep down you’re just like everybody else”
(Reasons Not To Be An Idiot, 2008)

Probably the biggest change in my life ten years ago was, that all of a sudden there were these songs, that captured the emotional turmoil I felt, but never quite knew how to express, in such adequate and beautiful lyrics. So often I felt and still do feel like Frank gets “it”. That he gets me. So many times his songs made and make me feel understood and not alone. It blew my mind to realize, that it wasn’t just me, who was sometimes struggling with life so much! There was at least one other person out there – the one who wrote these amazing songs – who had gone or was going through similar stuff. Or to quote the man himself

That record, that you heard at the right time, that saved your fucking life that night

Frank Turner, Live in Newcastle, 2020

Once I got to know more like minded people online and at gigs I also realized there are so many more of us and that’s comforting to know. We’re all in this together.

#04 “Words of wisdom that I came back to share”
(Peggy Sang The Blues, 2011)

This one goes along with #03. So many of Frank’s lyrics have been or still are a huge source of inspiration to me. At various times over the years and on various occasions I used some of them as a guidepost. A reminder. As inspirational quote. As a mantra. Yes, I know this sounds horribly hippie. I don’t care. At the moment of putting this together, these are my favourite ten (in chronological order of release):

“The only thing that’s left to do is live”

“We can choose, we can change”

“Better times are coming, better times ahead”

“And you should always, always, always, always try to say ‘yes'”

“[Of] Doing something brave, [of] not just standing but jumping in”

“A reminder you could always be a little bit better than this”

“So don’t you worry, all things must end
There are sunlight uplands around the river bend”

“[So] Before you go out searching, don’t decide what you will find”

“This too shall pass, if we survive”

“[The secret is to] Try and do the things that you can’t”

Photo of a bracelet, engraved with "Try and to the things that you can't"
One of my lyrics bracelets
#05 “Let us make little changes”
(Little Changes, 2018)

After staying on my own at Frank gigs for the first two years (low self-esteem, self-doubt and all that) it was a huge step for me to reach out in 2015 on the forum on Frank’s website (anyone remember the forum?) to find some gig buddies online or to connect to more people through Instagram or Twitter. In early 2016 I even volunteered for a stint with the FTHC tour flag at the tour in Germany.

For a long time it didn’t come naturally to me to just start chatting with other fans. But it got easier after a while, because most of the people were like minded (fans, after all) and friendly and all that. Once I felt more confident around a few people it got easier to talk to even more people around me and the easier it got to talk to people the more confident I became to do it? I don’t know.

At the same time I started to feel more confident in other social situations – work, vacation, parties – than I did before. I have no idea how much that influenced my way of interacting with unknown people at a Frank gig or if it is the other way around? Chicken and egg problem? Either way, I’m glad I overcame a part of that social anxiety.

Other changes obviously come from #01 and #03 and and all the tiny things.

#06 “Outside the world slipped over the brink”
(1933, 2018)
Picture shows the Fortune Theatre in London. The signs are lit in yellow. The front of the theatre has huge display of the Operation Mincemeat musical logo. Hitlers hair and below a smaller sign which looks like a suitcase: it says Operation Mincemeat a new musical
Operation Mincemeat at the Fortune Theatre, August 2023

Since 2019 I’ve been fangirling equally hard over another group of artists: the musical troupe “SpitLip” and their World War II musical “Operation Mincemeat”. I’ve written extensively about them since 2019 and especially since their transfer to the West End this year. What’s that got to do with Frank? Two of the four people in SpitLip are Tash Hodgson and Felix Hagan. I first came across them when Frank brought “Felix Hagan & The Family” along as support on the 2016 UK tour. I loved the band, saw more of their gigs in 2018 and followed them on social media, where Felix and Tash at some point started talking about this new project. The Fortune Theatre, their home in the London West End (!!), is one of my happy places these days.

#07 (More Than) “Four Simple Words”
(Four Simple Words, 2013)
Screenshot of "jaded" in the dictionary
“jaded” in the dictionary

English is the only language besides my native German I feel confident using on a regular basis (writing, reading, speaking). Over the years I acquired quite an extensive English vocabulary. Or so I had thought until I started listening to Frank sing. And started listening to Frank speak in the many interviews I’ve read / watched / listened to over the years (fangirl, remember?). My vocabulary has grown substantially since then. To be fair often not in the way of me actively using these words, but I’m still enough of a language nerd to just appreciate knowing them. Again at this time of writing here are my favourite ten from his lyrics in alphabetical order

fractious – habitually – infinitesimal – insidious – jaded – scurrilous – to skirt around – to tarry – unscathed – wrought

There are other words or phrases Frank uses in speech sometimes, which I have to look up after. In the final days of putting this post together, I was listening to Frank being interviewed for the “No Wristbands! We Drink For Free” podcast on my morning commute. In that chat Frank used terms like “cognisant” and “ad hominem” (see my final words under #10).

#08 “We’ve been huddled in our houses for however many days like survivors”
(The Gathering, 2021)

I know I’m not the only one, who relied on Frank’s IVL weekly livestreams to stay sane during lockdown(s) in 2020/2021. It was not just a wonderful distraction for one night to listen to and sing along to the whole back catalogue and thus some of my favourite (underrated) songs. Especially during the height of the contact restrictions it was lovely to use the chat to connect and communicate. 

At one of the streams the chat was trolled by right wing / nationalist jerks. We got through that by just drowning the hate in messages of love until Frank decided to turn the chat off after all. We got a cool T-shirt out of that night too. The week after, before the actual stream started, Frank was recruiting moderators among the names he knew in the chat. Being early for literally everything I do (anxious worrying person that I am/was) paid off that night…

Screenshot of a Frank Turner IVL livestream on Youtube with a bit of the chat. Susanne D got the moderator tool icon
Screenshot from a livestream

Another Frank-related lockdown project I remember fondly and which I plan to add to with each new album in the future, was “Frank Turner’s Lyrical History of Mankind”. Now, over 2.5 years later, I realize that the pun I intended on Yuval Noah Harari’s non-fic bestseller was poorly executed. That book is called “Brief History of Humankind”. Oh well. It was still fun to work on and a very needed distraction in the dark days of pre-Christmas lockdown of 2020.

#09 “For hours through the desert, I’d drive for hours at a time”
(Nashville Tennessee, 2008)
Photo of the rear of a read Seat Ibiza, with a FTHC sticker on the rear and a FT - 1447 licenceplate
“Jinny”Since 2021 my trusted companion for roadtrips to gigs and everywhere else.
Offering sanctuary and all that

In the first 20 years of my adult life I had rarely been to gigs further than a one-hour drive from where I live. I live close to a few big cities where bands usually stop to play, so why travel any further? Back in 2013 I had bought a ticket for Frank in Cologne (one hour away), which was the last gig of the German tour. A few weeks before the tour started it was announced that the sold-out Bremen gig (two weeks before the Cologne show) would be moved to a bigger venue and tickets went back on sale. By that time I already was such a fan of the music that I was confident that I would enjoy two gigs in two weeks. So I bought a ticket, booked a hotel room, drove up. 250 km, 2.5 hours.

For my third gig in February 2014 I went to the O2 in London. Don’t ask about distance and travel time. In these past ten years I’ve seen Frank play 66 gigs in 33 cities in 7 countries. I’ve met many lovely people, made wonderful memories, had such amazing experiences, learned quite a lot and definitively grew as a person. All the things you do ‘on the road’ (see #05).

#10 “And the books I read will never be bestsellers”
(We Shall Not Overcome, 2013)

As long as I can remember I’ve been an avid reader. I did and still do read mostly fiction from a variety of genres. The genres I’m interested in changed over time, but it was still mostly fiction. Another thing I took away from some of the Frank interviews over the years is an increased interest in and actually perusal of non-fiction. Full disclosure though; I only check out about 20% of the books Frank mentions on these occasions and probably read less than 5% of them, because Frank’s interests and mine do not align very much. At all. But that’s okay, I’ve still started to read more non-fiction in general.

photo of two books next to each other on a blue fabric cover Cultural Amnesia by Clive Jams and The Boundless Sea by David Abulafia
Frank Turner book club”

Over the years Frank mentioned Clive James’ “Cultural Amnesia” quite a bit, so I had bought that a long time ago, but quickly abandoned a first attempt to read it. A few months ago I got back into it, one essay at a time and I quite appreciate it this way. There is so much I never heard / learned of before. Not to mention all these sophisticated words Clive James used in his writing. He definitely gave Frank a run for his money (see #07). Another book Frank had mentioned in an interview a few years back was “The Boundless Sea” by David Abulafia. I really enjoyed that one, even though it took me over a year to get through, as it’s over 1000 pages in small print. But I love the sea and I love history. From that book I learned so much that I hadn’t known before, because the (history) curriculum in German schools in the 80/90s was definitely eurocentric. It probably very much still is.

Who’d have thought that following a singer / songwriter’s career in this hardcore fangirly way could also be so educational.

So, that were ten – big and small – changes in the ten years since Frank Turner stepped on a stage and “gave the crowd everything they’re asking for and more”. Here’s to the next ten and the ten after and…. I can’t wait to see what’s more in store.

10 photos of Frank Turner and me
“Make sure to take a Polaroid picture…”

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