The Lottery Winners have a problem this evening. There were supposed to be three bands on, and they’d only rehearsed half an hour. Then last night, Wilswood Buoys (who were excellent opening for The Levellers last year) took ill, so they’ve got a longer set. As Thom Rylance puts it, “there’ll be a lot of filler.” Rylance isn’t wrong, but nor is he the normal cooler than thou frontman for an indie band. Part singer, part Peter Kay, he invents catchphrases onstage, his sales pitch is a thing to behold, and he is a unique proposition. When a song breaks out as they do, from time to time, they aren’t bad at all in a Manchester indie pop type way. “Favourite Flavour” jangles catchily and cleverly, “Sunshine” is sung by Katy Lloyd, the bands bassist (“I wrote it so 80% of the applause is mine” says Rylance) and when the harmonies of “Much Better” hit, there’s a real air of The Wannadies. New single “Why Worry” (“I do, we played it for the first time last night and it was shit”) has a club air, contrasted by playing the first song they ever wrote 13 years ago, makes clear a Paul Heaton vibe even before they add “Caravan Of Love” to the mix. Ending with “Start Again” – which features Frank Turner (“he mithered me for ages to be on it” deadpans the singer) on record means they can reflect on a job well done and, if this is the start of something at long last for Lottery Winners, they’ll do it on their own terms. “I’m grateful to be in a van playing songs with my mates” says Rylance and that might be the first time his tongue wasn’t in his cheek all night.
In the end, you can dress it up in any way you like and it all comes down to this. “I Still Believe” is about halfway though and Frank Turner has just done the chorus: And I still believe/Now who’d have thought that after all/Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all”. MV looks around the sold out crowd (2000 people have braved the bitter Black Country air for this) and they believe, entirely in this. You look on the stage at Turner, and he’s running around, having the time of his life, it seems. He believes too, and maybe it saves him. Maybe its saved him?
What we can say with certainty is that every time you see Frank Turner it ends like this. He’s greeted with a near religious fervour (odd for an atheist, I guess) and that’s got to be down to him and the skill of The Sleeping Souls.
Tonight is gig 2725 of Turner’s career. I was at 2690 too, and consequently the set isn’t that much different. “Recovery” a sensational “Try This At Home” (that empowerment message is important here, given the hope in the room), and “Photosynthesis” – as ever there’s a wry smile when they get to the “wasting 40 years away on something that you hate” line – are as good an opening as you’ll get anywhere.
This, though, is still the tour for the new “FTHC” record and the vicious “Non Serviam” is a reminder as to how good it is, as is “Haven’t Been Doing So Well”. Turner is one of those artists that opens themselves up in their lyrics and that’s one from the top drawer, and the same applies to any other new song played tonight.
At the other end of the scale comes “Back In The Day” a song so old it was probably played in the set a decade ago when he was last in the city, but that lament to the punk scene is from a different place to “Little Changes” and that pair in microcosm is a snapshot into Turner’s career. They young punk has grown up, if you will, its just he still plays punk.
More than anything though, he’s just a wonderfully empathetic songwriter. Which is why including “Thatcher Fucked The Kids” in the set again in the short acoustic run is such a work of genius. That song is everything Thatcher wasn’t.
The band return after their “scheduled union break” and the half an hour or so that follows is incredible, “Don’t Worry”, “The Next Storm” or “Out Of Breath” could all legitimately be referred to as highlights but the one I started this review with, is all of that – and more.
The gorgeous “Wave Across The Bay” – written for his friend Scott Hutchinson of Frightened Rabbit, who committed suicide – kicks off the encore and is full of emotion, yet finds light in its darkness.
The antifascist “1933”, “Get Better” (“we can get better, because we aren’t dead yet”) and his regular ending tune, “Four Simple Words” are all as important too, because they are Turner in the round as it were, all sides of this artist and this band. The Sleeping Souls have enabled him to be this good.
He’d said in the set that he was never going to take this for granted again I am not sure he did anyway, because I’ve seen him more times than I can remember since I first saw him solo, just shy of 14 years ago and I’ve never seen a bad show. There’s not a more consistent live performer than Frank Turner and its not an outrageous call to suggest he might be the best one on stages in UK right now, too.