Frank Turner, Union Chapel, London
Monday 04 January 2010
The way a section of the crowd rise in their pews like a gospel choir tells you how fervently Frank Turner is loved by his fans. With his checked shirt and beard, he is no one's normal idea of a protest hero.
But he is signed to the legendary punk label Epitaph in the US, and began in the punk band Million Dead. His first solo EP, Campfire Punkrock (2006), fairly describes his music's urgent but reassuring pleasures, the train rhythms and mandolin strums easing down sometimes challenging words.
Europe's snowbound transport means he walks on stage late, straight from France. Luckily he's booked three kindred spirits as support. I catch Chris T-T, a relative veteran of modern UK protest pop. His mournful refrain, "find a job, get a Nintendo", captures a mix of self-disgust and resignation at the mediated, corporate world. Dion's 1968 memorial to assassinated Americans, "Abraham, Martin and John", drips with kitsch sentiment, but he approaches it straight.
When Turner finally appears, the self-described militant atheist looks round this beautiful church at Christmas-time and hopes for "a church service – but without God". The mulled-wine-merry screams from the pews certainly offer devotion. A sing-along to Wham's "Last Christmas" stands in for a carol, and "Journey of the Magi" nods to the spiritual in sympathy for a dying, idealistic Moses.
But Turner's mix of scrubbed perkiness and suppressed rage can't manage transcendence. It's his songs about relationships, not society, that feel raw. "Hold Your Tongue" tries to vengefully draw tears from an infuriating acquaintance, while "Faithful Son" is truthfully fraught in describing this son's love for his parents. One of his heroines may "smoulder with the will to save the world". But he is too aware of how ephemeral such efforts are to believe in the "revolution" plotted "from a cheap Southampton bistro" in "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous". "The Ballad of Me and My Friends" is his hardly Marxist, or even Dylanesque, manifesto. It's about the individual artistic impulses more and more of us follow, that fade to dust, forgotten, but allow striving, full lives, so who cares? The front rows leap up at its first notes, and Turner rips through a sawn-off version. He could dig deeper. But he is keeping some embers of mild resistance alive.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awardsTheatre
Grace DentChannel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Alan Rickman admits editing 'terrible' script with friends in Pizza Hut behind backs of writers on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- 2 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 3 US? China? India? The 10 biggest economies in 2030 will be...
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
Better Call Saul creator Peter Gould on the creative concerns of a prequel, season 2 and the mind-numbing realities of the small courts
Britain's Got Talent 2015: RSPCA investigating Marc Metral's miming dog after cruelty complaints
Doctor Who film will definitely happen, leaked Sony emails reveal
Glastonbury 2015 tickets: How to make sure you’re successful in Sunday's re-sale
The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer has leaked – watch
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling