Anyone walking through Camden on Monday evening and poking their head into the Monarch pub would be well within their rights to be a bit baffled. Some sort of human choir on the stage singing through a Frank Turner classic while girls scattered in the crowd give them stern looks and tell them to get off stage if they miss a lyric. It’s a wonder they didn’t have buzzers. Elsewhere Beans On Toast is behind the bar singing along, people of all ages are scattered around tables and there’s a bloke sat in a pair of orange boxers.
So for them, and for you, let’s begin at the beginning. A festival dedicated to Frank Turner, but not just Frank Turner. You’ve also got Skinny Lister, Will Varley, Seth Lakeman, talks on mental health, quizzes dedicated to Frank Turner (which is what the opening paragraph is about), film screenings, after-party DJ sets (that you can’t get into because of the queue) and that’s really just the tip of everything experienced over a weekend.
Yeah, you might’ve gathered right now, it’s the dream for a Frank Turner fan. People travelled from all over the world. I just came from Preston and stayed in a hostel, Palmer’s Lodge in Swiss Cottage, that reminded me of Hogwarts. There was a suit of armour and everything. It didn’t move though. Needless to say, the main event over the four days was four headline sets at Camden Roundhouse. Turner did two greatest hits, one acoustic set called Sensible Sundays, and a performance celebrating the tenth anniversary of debut album Sleep Is For The Week.
And it’s that night, Saturday, that produces the best night of the fantastic run. Many of these tracks haven’t seen the light of day for years. The moment ‘Vital Signs’ starts and the curtain drops to reveal the artwork, there’s a real feeling in the room that you’re experiencing something special that never really dissipates. The version of ‘Worse Things Happen At Sea’ will stay with me, if not forever, then at least for a few weeks. ‘Father’s Day’ is incredible and then the first performance of ‘Thatcher Fucked The Kids’ in nearly a decade has the room spitting venom towards the stage.
That’s not to say there aren’t moments across the other nights that resonate. ‘Redemption’ on the first night stands out, along with the huge performance of ‘Fisher King Blues’. It was also on that night that I found out the Camden Roundhouse exclusive lager tastes like feet, despite me being pretty impressed that they had one at all.
Sunday sees my gig buddy leave early so a couple of fans called Hannah and Andy take me under their wing and they’re great. They’re not the only people I get to know from that day onwards but they’re the ones I remember most. We drink, watch football, watch Beans On Toast and drink some more. The solo set is a completely different vibe to the previous nights. ‘Song for Josh’ is the sort of song that reduces you to a husk of your former self, and so it proved. Performances of new tracks ‘Sand In The Gears’ and ‘1933’ show that, going forward, his stuff is going to be a lot more politically engaging.
Then comes the last day, and that pub quiz. Some strangers give us a £40 voucher for the bar in the Monarch that we see off in about half an hour. We head in for Will Varley, who I firmly believe to be the most talented songwriter about right now (sorry Frank). ‘King For A King’ closes the set and is as memorable as anything else from the weekend. After that, it’s my first time with Skinny Lister, but you’ll not find a more fun support act anywhere and the moonshine they passed around during their set was enjoyed far too much.
Frank’s final set of the weekend is emotional, passionate, and exhausting. Four days of gigs will do that to you. It’s also here that a few repeat tracks drop in (they did the previous night, but in acoustic form), but it doesn’t really detract from the experience. A run through ‘One Foot Before The Other’ and ‘Try This At Home’ sends the crowd as kinetic as you’re likely to see at one of his gigs. ‘Love Ire & Song’ finally rears its head towards the end before ‘Four Simple Words’ sends us into the night.
We run into the group that gave us the vouchers and having the biggest hug. The Monarch is closed for a crew party so it’s a few drinks then bed. Tuesday brings a long journey home for me and many others. You can’t shake the sense that everyone has had a similar experience over the weekend. We’ve met some new friends and old ones. We’ve danced and most us have probably cried too. Lots of stuff we’ll never forget and some stuff we’d rather. And one of the best weekends of our lives. Let’s do it next year.