10 years ago, Frank Turner played a free show in Edinburgh to a crowd consisting of a single person. Tonight, the Usher Hall must be nearing capacity as he makes an utterly triumphant return to the Scottish capital, in what he confides is his 1,990th gig to date.
Aside from the endearing charm of the fact that Turner has kept a count of all of his concerts over the years, it’s clear that each and every one of them meant something to the man as well. From the get-go, Turner pours his heart and soul into his performance, reminding the crowd on several occasions that enthusiastic participation on our part is just as crucial to the success of the gig as his own contribution.
With that in mind, he whips up the crowd into a frothy frenzy by using the age-old trick of pitting them against each other. The left side of the stalls and balconies are designated Team Ben, captained by electric guitarist Ben Lloyd, while their right-sided rivals are named Team Tarrant, led by bassist Tarrant Anderson.
The dangling carrot of a signed drum skin as a prize for the most enthusiastic team ensures that energy levels remain high throughout. In the end, the contest is decided with a final set piece involving a crowdsurfer and various checkpoints around the auditorium, providing a unique, engaging and impartial way of picking a winner without souring the gig for the losing team. The novelty of the stunt and the entertainment it brings warrants a star on its own.
Of course, such gimmicks are certainly welcome flourishes at concerts but can’t sustain them alone. Turner ensures no one walks away disappointed with the evening by firstly hand-picking two superb support acts to warm up the audience before he makes his entrance. Esme Patterson opens the night with the kind of spit-in-your-eye, scream-in-your-ear punk rock that made bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and more recently the Yeah Yeah Yeahs such success stories. Up next is Felix Hagan and the Family, a silly but hugely enjoyable glam rock band from London whose onstage presence and theatrical prowess probably outweigh the merits of their music.
As for Frank himself, he and his band throw so much energy and effort into the performance that the jam-packed setlist roams throughout his back catalogue from start to finish, even including a Million Dead song and a cover of Motörhead. He repeatedly encourages the crowd to get into it as well, inciting a circle of death and a wall of hugs towards the end of the show. At its close, the audience emerge exhausted but elated into the crisp Edinburgh night, reminded of the importance of shaking off the shackles and letting the hair down once in a while. It’s a thoroughly welcome reminder. Haste ye back Frank!