Frank Turner

SWG3 Glasgow

Five stars

Frank Turner plays live a lot. To be precise, 2,294 times before Tuesday night’s gig at SWG3 in Glasgow. The former Million Dead frontman has played in Sierra Leone, Vietnam and international waters. He recently played in every U.S state across 50 days, and last week used a day off in his UK schedule to fly to Lisbon for a show. If practice makes perfect, he should be pretty good at this by now.

Striding on stage a little after 8pm Turner quickly proves the old adage true. Opener ‘Four Simple Words’ begins with a delicate acoustic intro before backing band The Sleeping Souls kick in with a raucous ode to the power of punk rock.

In that spirit of rebellion, the crowd is informed there are but two rules for the show. Number one: don’t be a d***head – though if we’re being picky there are various sub-clauses here – and number two: sing along if you know the words.

Turner has built his audience the hard way. This is the 37th time he has played Glasgow, the first coming at the 13th Note Café in 2006, and while he's had just one top 40 single his last five albums have gone top three. As a result there are plenty who do know the words and execute rule two to perfection.

The Herald: Frank Turner at SWG3 in GlasgowFrank Turner at SWG3 in Glasgow (Image: Newsquest)

A fast-paced first third of the set flies by, with anti-fascist anthem ‘1933’ a clear highlight and ‘If Ever I Stray’ bringing a sea of clapping hands. Following ‘The Next Storm’ the Sleeping Souls quietly shuffle off to leave the frontman alone on the stage.

Turner straps on an acoustic guitar to introduce the next song, an ode to his late friend Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit. This will be, we’re informed, the first time he’s ever played the song in Scotland and chants of “Scott! Scott! Scott!” go up from the crowd. Then it’s hushed attention as Turner recounts speaking to Hutchison from beyond the grave, “He was there alright/though he’d kill me just for saying this/given how both of us are atheists”. When the song concludes the applause brings the house down.

A five-song acoustic set leads into ferocious punk banger ‘Non Serviam’ from recent number one album FTHC and the record’s lead single ‘Haven’t Been Doing So Well’ before the crowd are instructed to pogo for ‘Polaroid Picture’.

Turner can’t be accused of not putting in the work: before main set closer ‘Get Better’ a stagehand is summoned to clean up the puddle of sweat he’s left by the mic stand with a towel. It’s that authenticity which is key to the 40-year-old’s success.

While there’s plenty of wit in his lyrics – “the musicians who lack the friends to form a band are singer-songwriters” he wryly notes on ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ – there’s also plenty that could come off as irredeemably corny in less skilled hands. When Turner sings “there’s no such thing as rockstars there’s just people who play music” as he invites his audience to ‘Try This At Home’ it works because the clear sense is he means it.

Final song ‘I Still Believe’ attracts the biggest singalong yet, with the capacity crowd chanting “who’d have thought/that after all/something as simple as rock & roll would save us all?”. Maybe guitars, drums and desperate poetry won’t be the salvation of the human race – but for two hours or so on Tuesday night in Glasgow it felt like it might be.