The day I couldn’t stay awake (aka Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh)

I have previously noted on this blog how I have recently turned 33, and I have frequently written of my ill-formed habit of travelling on early morning trains with the previous night’s alcohol soaked activities weighing heavily on my body.  Those two variables aligned can very quickly lead to an outcome similar to that of a retired train – ie. it goes off the rails.

The official journey time on the 8.57 Oban to Glasgow is a little over three hours, but it feels a whole lot longer when you’ve been in Aulay’s until closing time the night before.  I feel I owe a multitude of my next day woes to that bar.  That’s generally alright, though, with 8.57 typically being considered by reasonable human beings to not be an appropriate time to start drinking beer, so there’s little option but to sleep off that hangover.

Train sleeping is a very difficult act to pull off for any decent amount of time, however.  It is not an environment that is conducive to rest and relaxation; the rattling and rolling is not something I am used to in my own bed.  And the need to contort your body into all manner of shapes and positions to get some semblance of comfort in that garishly patterned seat is rarely worthwhile when you are invariably jolted from your slumber by something you will never be able to identify and you awaken without even the vaguest awareness of where you might be.

So my journey into Glasgow was punctuated with brief dalliances with sleep and I arrived feeling no better or worse than I had when I started out however many hours earlier, which I feel has to go down as a victory.

The Auctioneers was the highest bidder in my search to find a bar near to Queen Street station to watch the Celtic game and whilst I can’t state it with any scientific distinction, it seems true to me that the best cure for a hangover is a beer.  Or watching a dramatic 4-3 Celtic win in a pub rammed full with Rangers fans.  Both had a dramatic effect on my spirits and I was ready to tackle the significantly less daunting train ride to Edinburgh.

I thought eating some soup and a sandwich on the way would help with my situation.  Maybe it did.  Perhaps it was the remarkable warmth on the train – which is unusual for ScotRail – that did it.  But from around Falkirk High onwards I was overwhelmed with a sudden onslaught of fatigue.  I couldn’t keep my eyes open and I was enjoying some fantastically lucid dreaming.  Before I knew it I could see Murrayfield Stadium and I knew we were approaching Haymarket; this journey had been effortless.  In little more than two minutes we would be in Edinburgh Waverley and I could begin pre-gig drinking.  Then I fell asleep.  Into so deep a slumber that it required a conscientious passenger to tap me on the shoulder as the train filled with passengers on the next service.  Who knows where I might have ended up if I hadn’t woken and disembarked before the train left.

I was fucked.  There’s no other way of saying it.  My eyes were heavy, my head was fuzzy and my body had all the willingness of a woman on the receiving end of one of my chat-up lines.  All I wanted to do was check into my hostel and go to bed, but that seemed about as socially acceptable at 3.45pm as drinking beer on the train at 8.57am would have been.  So I ventured out into the cold, breathless streets of Edinburgh in search of a bar to watch the scores come in and where I could tear up the coupon I had placed on in Glasgow.  But the capital is very much a rugby city, and of nigh upon a dozen bars I tried from the Cowgate to the Grassmarket each and every one of them was showing England vs Australia rather than Soccer Saturday.  Defeated and tired I retreated to the safe Solitude of Brewdog and struggled to keep myself awake over a pint of Santa Paws.

Ordinarily I adore the gothic magnificence of Edinburgh, but it’s fair to say that it wore thin on this visit.  The Scott Monument was cloaked by giant flashing ferris wheels and Princes Street was slower than my speed of thought, which was severley lacking at this point.  Walking out to Usher Hall on Lothian Road felt like an achingly arduous funeral procession under the haze of a million Christmas lights, only made worse by my foolish decision to buy a hot cider at the Christmas market.  This wasn’t how my Saturday was meant to be.

Shakespeare’s set the world a little closer to its natural axis, even if my amusement was largely gained from watching the growing frustration of one particular punter who wasn’t getting served at the very end of the bar,  The misfortune of others really shouldn’t bring a person any kind of joy, but when you’re sitting comfortably on your bar stool with a near-full pint in hand observing the puffing of cheeks and the petted lip it is difficult not to feel a glow of satisfaction radiate within.  At this point I felt vaguely human.

If there’s one gig that could enliven a person it is Frank Turner.  He embodies positive energy and his shows always produce a happy, sing along environment – even if these days it seems slightly more forced than it used to.  It is near impossible to leave a Frank Turner show and not feel better than you did two hours previously, but boy I gave it a darn good try.  I could barely raise my arms to clap on command or dance that terrible dance I dance.  I was tired, and as much as I wanted to hear the next song all I could think of was the gig being over and me getting some actual sleep in a proper bed.  It’s no way to live, but it was the only way to live.

Of course, as I write this on the train home – six hours earlier than intended – I’m wide awake and feel like I could probably drink until closing time again.

Frank Turner & The Sleeping Souls @ Corn Exchange, Edinburgh

This was Frank Turner’s largest Scottish show to date, and despite underlying back pain from a slipped disc suffered last year he displayed all of the qualities which brought him here, via the opening ceremony of the London Olympics and a successfull appearence on Celebrity Mastermind.

There are a few things one can expect at a Frank Turner gig:  several sing-alongs; smatterings of punk rock; boundless enthusiasm (both on and off stage) and camaraderie rank amongst them, and they were all there in abundance at the Corn Exchange last night.

From opening number Photosynthesis (the line “so I’ll play and you’ll sing” was never more fitting than last night) to the frenetic finish of Four Simple Words, this was a relentless charge through Frank’s burgeoning career – a career which seemingly appeals to all generations:  there were daughters here with fathers, while one elderly couple attempted to relive the experience of an earlier Dylan concert.

There was a fine balance between old and new in the set, with Turner himself noting that he’s careful not to alienate any one person or level of fan base.  This was a show for everybody, and so we got Plain Sailing Weather, The Way I Tend To Be, Losing Days and Recovery from the recent Tape Deck Heart – the latter forming the basis of Frank’s scientific experiment to find the loudest city on the UK tour – while older fans appreciated Father’s Day and To Take You Home, which was accompanied by a touching story about Frank’s doomed relationship with a French girl.

But it’s the sing-along element of a Frank Turner gig which really sets it apart from just about any live experience going.  Songs like Wessex Boy, If I Ever Stray and I Still Believe almost demand audience participation.  At that time, at that place, during those moments, everyone is equal.  And that was never more evident than in the first song of the encore when Frank strode onto stage with his acoustic guitar and announced that he wouldn’t be singing the next song – The Ballad of Me and My Friends – the audience would be.  And we did.  And it was triumphant.

Frank Turner live is an experience every fan of music should enjoy.

Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls @ HMV Picture House, Edinburgh

At one point during last night’s sold out gig at Edinburgh’s Picture House Frank Turner told how earlier in the week he had received an email from a fan outlining the history of the venue and how acts such as Queen, AC/DC, Pink Floyd and The Smiths had played there.  While the English folk-rock singer isn’t quite in the bracket of those icons he demonstrated here why he could be considered as one of the voices of his generation.

With an adoring audience of 1500 eagerly reciting every word from opener I Am Disappeared all the way through to Dan’s Song it was clear that Frank Turner writes songs that mean a lot to a lot of people.

This was a gig of punchy pop hooks and passionate choruses where every song seemed to be a favourite to someone.  Recent album England Keep My Bones was particularly heavily featured and songs like Peggy Sang The Blues, If I Ever Stray, I Still Believe and particularly Wessex Boy were met with enthusiastic acclaim, while earlier tracks such as Substitute, Photosynthesis and Reasons Not To Be An Idiot display a talent which arguably sets Turner aside as the finest British songwriter since Noel Gallagher, only without the arrogant and annoying brother.

There was a great spirit inside the Picture House as the values of friendship and togetherness were exalted in one of the best atmospheres you could experience at a gig.  It might well be that rock and roll saves us after all.