An emotional moment for Frank Turner on Friday night, as 8,500 people began singing his songs back at him at Wembley Arena.
What on earth goes through your head at that moment (apart from, pride and relief and “whatever you do, don’t cock it up now”)? Turner though, deserved this moment and others to come.
Backed by an understanding indie label and working like a man on the Devil’s treadmill, he has muscled his way onto the fringes of the mainstream with little compromise.
His once clunky lyricism, honest but a little leaden at times, has given way to a stream of stories and better-judged character portraits (mostly about people around him and his own fallibilities! Turner is one of those artists who works well when he’s turning in on himself; when his guilt and insecurities start to haunt him. He is his own psychiatrist).
More interestingly though, is how he’s ridden the rise in popularity; and just how much of a showman he’s become. Friday’s gig, he was at pains to point out, wasn’t just about him, it was about everyone in the room….which is a nice line, trotted out by numerous American bands who are no longer sleeping on people’s floors and playing gigs in squats.
Turner however is still believable in difficult circumstances (how do you make anything sound sincere when thousands of people would cheer, even if you were reading out the FTSE 100 Index?). This mass camaraderie is all part of the punk rock game now, but Turner seems altogether at home with it.
He brings out his mum to play harmonica with him and then his musical dad Billy Bragg during the encore for a version of ‘The Times They Are A Changin’’.
He doesn’t put a step wrong all night to be honest, which is testimony to what he’s learnt on the road over the past few years. He tours relentlessly, as if he’s somehow running away from something (responsibilities? The landlord? Who knows). But as he says ‘The Road’ is where he belongs. And this is how far its led him.
STOP PRESS (it never stops!). Another 18-date Frank Turner tour announced this morning. You’ll find the dates on his website
Cute isn’t the word! Who are ALTO 45? Where did they come from? How have they chanced upon, or engineered this broken-hearted pop sound.
For starters, they don’t look like a pop band. They look like a team from Scrapheap Challenge (even they realise this, knowingly donning lab coats to confront all our prejudices about what bands should look like).
They are clever though. There is a real understanding of pop music in what they do (simplicity, innocence, cunning…it is all here). ‘Robot Heart’ is almost Pete & The Pirates-esque, but more stripped down. So much so, it doesn’t sound like it’s doing anything at all when you first hear it.
But I’ve been hooked on this single now for THREE DAYS. It’s like a children’s story (again, I think they might know this, because some of the electronic noises sound like kids toys). It’s a brave little record, the sort cool kids will pick on in the playground. Yet it has a dignity you don’t come across that often these days.
Well done them.
So in one last unwitting act of bravado and bad timing, VIVA BROTHER split just as I was heading to the airport for a break in Budapest (you think we have it bad over here! The impending attractions in Hungary are….Lionel Ritchie and Sting, who clearly didn’t approve his own posters because he looks unfortunately like on one of the Hungarian Secret Police).
But why now VB? Why self-destruct, when by all reports, the second album had just been finished? Could it really have been that cataclysmic or were there other forces at play?
I’m actually genuinely curious. Had their label heard the record? Did they just lose their bottle?
Because, and this may seem, ahem, a little hypocritical given our past dealings with them (see previous blogs including this one), but I’ll miss VB and their sulky petulance. They might have sounded like all the worst bits of Brit-pop shafted onto a rusty kebab stick, but they honestly seemed to be convinced that they were not just re-inventing the wheel but improving it.
And they weren’t the only ones: the NME, The Guardian, The Sunday Times and Radio 1 all stood around nodding appreciatively at the new wheel (until, if you will, the wheel fell off and then the turncoats ran away).
But you had to admire VB’s arrogance, even if it was (as became apparent in later interviews) a borderline act and underpinned by insecurities the size of The Shard. They became the benchmark for just how unimaginative and misguided post-Oasis rock could be: they were a helpful nemesis. They were the new enemy.
And now they’re gone…leaving us just with that other poor excuse for a pair of shades ALL THE YOUNG (Viva Brother’s little brother?).
Still, I suppose we’ll just have to deal with it as best we can. Did I miss the funeral already? I’d have liked to have gone. Not to crow, because useless as I thought they were, they were egged on by a lot of people.
In the end they probably just ran out of other bands to pick on and beat themselves up.
So this is one of the reasons I haven’t been writing much of late (this and the fact that there’s been a lot of Masterchef on the telly).
As part of BBC 6Music’s 10th anniversary celebrations I was asked to write and record a one-hour programme, detailing the history of the station to date.
To be honest, it would have been easier to do a chronological meander down the years since 2002, but instead, inspired by the old Pete Frame Family Trees of yore, it turned into a story about the links that pull some of the presenters together. And the stories they had to tell.
You can download the 50-minute podcast here. But in the meantime, here’s a little animated take on it.