Frank Turner: What It's Like To Play At Wembley

The punk-folk hero describes the experience of his biggest show to date; and not a midget or coke-snuffling groupie in sight...
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The punk-folk hero describes the experience of his biggest show to date; and not a midget or coke-snuffling groupie in sight...


Frank Turner is in real danger of becoming a British institution. From low-key routes playing in post-hardcore bands he has, by virtue of a furious work ethic that has seen him release five albums, three compilations and a brace of E.Ps in the last six years, got himself to a point where most people would consider him a huge success.

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Of course, the man himself probably wouldn’t entertain such thought: much of Frank’s appeal to his fervent fanbase is the humble, everyman persona he has fostered through relentless touring (largely because he genuinely seems to be that sort of bloke). Regardless, with the announcement that he is to headline the 02 Arena in February, even he surely wouldn’t be too proud to admit that playing there is an indicator things are going, if nothing else, ‘pretty well’.

With that gig in mind he took me through what it was like to play one of the country's biggest stages, Wembley Arena, from beforehand, to during, to the morning after


Nerves

I don't often get nervous before shows, I have played so many in my time. That's not to say I don't get excited, but there's no panic in it. Before going onstage at Wembley I was a little nervous for the first time in a long time. There was so much riding on one show, on 100 minutes on the stage. In the end it went off just fine.

Backstage Before
Backstage at my shows is generally a pretty calm place to be, we're all too long in the tooth for permanent partying. There were a lot of loved ones, friends and family members around. There were a lot of people who've helped me along my way, the whole gang was around. And there was my friend Josh, who was working "security" for me (which was a cheap way of getting him to the UK for the show). It was one of the last times we hung out properly before he passed away.

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Beans On Toast  [Frank's Support Act)

Jay and I have been friends and musical collaborators for a long time; in fact, he's partially responsible for me picking up an acoustic guitar in the first place after Million Dead [Frank's first band] ended. The show wouldn't have been the same without him, and he rose to the occasion admirably - he totally broke the ice with the crowd, got everyone to relax and smile and have a good time. His set was one of the highlights of the day for me, for sure.

The Crowd
I was nervous, in the run up to the show, about changing the character of what I do. Because of building things up gradually from the ground, there's always been a feel of intimacy to my shows, a sense of connection. That can get lost in an arena setting, if you're not careful. On the night, the crowd was amazing, something special. It felt like every small toilet-circuit club show I ever did had just all been added together and brought into one place. The vibe was incredible; the crowd made the show.

The Sweat
I sweat a fair amount when I play, the shows we do are pretty physical. There's so much to concentrate on - not just playing and singing right, now forgetting the words, getting the runs between songs on the setlist and so on, but also feeling the songs, connecting with the crowd, all that kind of thing. The main thought in my head as we played was "don't fuck this up". I like sweating. It means I'm working hard.

The Pinnacle
I think, with all the pressure and technicality and so on, that the first moment when I really had a chance to appreciate what it was we were doing, where I was, how many people were there, was right at the very end of the show. We closed with "Photosynthesis" and had some (slightly tongue-in-cheek) confetti cannons go off to close the night. I remember standing on the stage and looking out at the crowd and finally allowing myself to enjoy the moment, for itself, without having to think about anything else. That was the pinnacle, for me.

Backstage After
After the show it was a blur of people saying hello, hugging, congratulations and so on. I got a finger tattoo (a lucky 13) from my friend Matt who was there with his works. I did a few interviews. There was an afterparty which I hung out at for a short while, but in the end it was more fun to just go find the crew, the band, once the packdown was done, and hang out and relax with them. Less pressured.

The Next Morning
The morning after, I had a hangover. I felt pretty drained, but also kind of satisfied. I was also in the middle of packing my bags because I was headed out on a solo tour the following day, flying to Canada alone to get back on the road, back in the saddle, keep moving.


'Oh, Brother' is out now.  You can buy it and get tickets for Frank's tour over at his website