Live (Frank Turner)
Still riding on the back of hardcore punk band Million Dead fame, ex lead singer Frank Turner has a fearsome reputation to live up to. Stepping onto the stage as a one-man-band to face a soulless venue with a crowd comatose by the mediocre warm-up is enough to challenge the scariest rocker. But as soon as Turner lifts his guitar, a small army of fans stampede onto the tacky wooden dance floor and almost immediately the tempo, along with the mood, shifts up a gear.
Turner’s songs are cynical, tongue-in-cheek odes to life, love and the universe with a political bent. ‘Thatcher Fucked the Kids’ is refreshingly unpretentious tune that coasts along nicely on some clever rhyming couplets; ‘And the rich act surprised/ when all sense of community dies’. It’s followed up with ‘I Really Don’t Care What You Did On Your Gap Year’, which puts a wry smile on your face before the song even begins.
Turner is a natural performer (albeit to a room full of his mates) and knows how to entertain a crowd. His confident, easy manner is a cunning foil to the well crafted music, as you wonder how one man can produce a sound that is meatier and more satisfying than a Big Mac. Frantic strumming is interspersed with plucking interludes and it’s impossible to stop your toe tapping. Turner creates a humorous, feel-good vibe in the manner of Tenacious D and his enthusiasm is catchy. Lyrics such as ‘I started the night with all my friends and ended up alone’ are frankly hard to believe.
Headline act of the night, Gabby Young, is next on stage and my heart skips with joy as the drummer settles eagerly at the as-yet unused kit. Gabby’s bright fuchsia hair adds to the tantalising hint of good old fashioned rock to come and the super smooth bassist looks like a trendy Jay of Silent Bob fame.
But Gabby’s musical influences are varied and the assumption of a typical rock group is naive considering her confession that she can barely go a day without listening to Jeff Buckley. And so it’s fitting that the feisty guitars and funky bass are softened by her throaty vocals oozing like honey over the top.
Although the lyrics may as well be in Russian, (the levels are all wrong and Gabby is drowned out by the guitars), her voice makes you sit up like a rabbit caught in headlights. It’s the Yeah Yeah Yeahs meets Queen Adreena, with a good measure of deep, gutsy warbling that would put Mariah to shame. And despite my comparisons, the Gabby Young Collective have mastered a truly original style. The energetic bouncing drum intro to ‘Snakebite’ gives way to an edgy syncopated vibe that makes you want to shimmy across the room. The playful tempo changes are stuck together seamlessly by the breathy vocals meandering over the top.
What Gabby is actually saying remains a mystery. In ‘Leave Me Alone’ – an interesting sounding track about being sober at a party where everyone else is drunk – the vocals are painfully drowned out. However, this is compensated for by the slow, mellow reggae lilt that gives way to lively, tambourine-fuelled indie beats.
It is this experimentation with style leaves the audience no chance to get bored and the band are deserving in their generous introductions by Gabby. The pity is the technical problems that have marred the evening and left the headlining band with a disappointingly short set.
The final track, ‘Button’ opens with a slow, melting vocal, before Gabby is forced to humorously improvise over the feedback threatening to crucify the song. It builds (the song, not the feedback) to a dramatic climax of thrashing guitars and pounding drums over which Gabby’s voice rises like a phoenix from the ashes, before melting down again to solo vocals echoing ethereally round the tavern.
The ending is the musical equivalent of the finale of the third Lord of the Rings film; too long and self-indulgent. Gabby wails over the crashing relentless drums like a female Thom Yorke in an intense, final burst of energy determined to break the sound barrier. This is a band who know how to give it all they’ve got, even when they almost outnumber the audience.