Review: Frank Turner packs a punch at Birmingham’s O2 Academy

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  • Frank Turner plays alongside his band; The Sleeping Souls to a busy O2 Academy
  • Audience are also treated to an acoustic set from Frank Turner
  • Support acts Will Varley and Skinny Lister bring a captivating energy to the crowds

As storm Barney toppled the Fort shopping centre’s hubris-filled sign, Frank Turner and his band, The Sleeping Souls, packed a punch at a packed-out O2 Academy last night; with equally energy-charged performances from Londoners Skinny Lister and Will Varley. We were fortunate enough to have been in and amongst the legion of fans who turned out to catch the action.

Will Varley supporting Frank Turner at the O2 Academy in Birmingham
Frank Turner

Will Varley’s presence is remarkable. A single guy with an acoustic guitar could so easily make a stage such as the O2’s look rather bare, but with an abundance of character, an easy rapport with the crowd and some excellently written storytelling and songs he captivated the large crowd which had gathered early. I would, tentatively, call Varley’s style satirical – but laced with political observation. This works since he comes across as such an amicable guy, and it’s an style of songwriting which has a marked absence at the moment. He’s back in Brum in February at the Hare and Hounds – keep an eye out.

Skinny Lister supporting Frank Turner at the O2 Academy in Birmingham
Skinny Lister

With a slightly cold start – largely down to them giving the crowd a bit of a culture shock –  Skinny Lister seem to feel the initial stiffness of a now rather bustling O2. They don’t let that deter them, however, and with a raucous rendition of ‘John Kanaka’ (audience participation is mandatory) they have the crowd firmly on-side. Not resting on their laurels, though, the set intensifies in shanty-induced reckless energy to the point where bassist Michael Camino stage-dives with his bass – and keeps playing(!). As they career their way through songs from their new album Down on Deptford Broadway such as ‘Bold as Brass’ and ‘George’s Glass’, they appear to have come, seen and conquered – and leave the stage to huge appreciation from the crowd.

Frank Turner at the O2 Academy in Birmingham
Frank Turner

Frank Turner’s performance this evening is, quite simply, textbook. He’s one of those artists you watch and think – yup, that’s how it’s done. In fairness, there’s hardly a battle to be won tonight; from the moment he walks onstage, the crowd are in the palm of his hand – and they sing from the first to the last note. Opening with ‘Get Better’ from his new album Positive Songs for Negative People: the crowd are already euphorically roaring along. After promising to play early songs as well as new songs – and middle songs, Turner promptly launches into a huge rendition of ‘If I Ever Stray’.

Will Varley supporting Frank Turner at the O2 Academy in Birmingham
Frank Turner

Of the middle songs, the dark, Muse-like ‘One Foot Before the Other’ from England Keep my Bones kicks the rooms into a new gear – if that’s possible – with a haze of white strobing. Turner reverts back to the early for a lovely version of ‘The Road,’ with a rousing acapella singalong end. Unity is a narrative throughout the show, and one which Turner keeps coming back to. In light of the horrifying attacks in Paris last weekend Turner is sporting a Tricolore wristband; and in a moving tribute, plays ‘Balthazar Impresario’ from England Keep my Bones as a tribute to the touring community.

Will Varley supporting Frank Turner at the O2 Academy in Birmingham
Frank Turner

After a stripped back mid-section to the concert, where Turner plays solo with only acoustic guitar, he welcomes his band, The Sleeping Souls, back to the stage for some fantastic renditions of ‘Reasons Not to be an Idiot’, ‘Mittens’ and ‘Recovery’ (getting a crew member to lead a mass starjump-along). As the last notes of ‘The Next Storm’ ring out, and Turner leaves the stage, the inevitable shouts for more come from an ecstatic crowd. More they get. A full four songs more, in fact, including a beautiful version of ‘The Angel Islington’ and ‘I Still Believe.’ The thing we took away from this gig is: If you get the chance to go to a Frank Turner show – go.

Will Varley supporting Frank Turner at the O2 Academy in Birmingham
Frank Turner

Photographs by Paul Reynolds
View the full set here.