It’s been a rocky few months for The Joiners. It’s no secret that the venue has had its share of financial difficulty, but it has seen a wave of support recently from some high-profile benefit shows and earlier this month being voted Britain’s Best Small Venue in a poll conducted by NME.
It is in celebration of this latest achievement – supported by Jack Daniel’s JD Roots – which is the reason Frank Turner is playing a free gig to a packed out room tonight, and really it was meant to be. A champion of local music scenes and a (relatively) local boy, Turner confesses tonight that man and venue go back a long way. 1995 and a young Turner attended his first ever gig here, 2005 and former band Million Dead played their last ever show at the venue, right up to December last year when he performed two of the aforementioned benefit shows on the same day; his birthday no less. Now that’s dedication.
Back to tonight though and opening is (definitely) local boy, Seán McGowan with his own brand of honest acoustic punk, accompanied by friend Dean Paul. With songs about living in England today and McGowan’s own experiences, it’s easy to see why he was invited by Billy Bragg to play this year’s Glastonbury festival, an announcement which McGowan follows up by dedicating a cover of Bragg’s own ‘To Have and to Have Not’ to him. There are clearly pockets of the crowd singing along to nearly every word of his set here tonight and by the time a cappella/spoken-word closer ‘All the Best’ comes around, it feels as though he’s earned himself a number of solid new fans.
By the time Frank Turner takes to the stage the room is even more packed and sweaty than it was before. Opening with ‘If Ever I Stray’ the set takes a tour through nearly the entire back catalogue, with songs like ‘Reasons Not to be an Idiot’, ‘Try This at Home’ and ‘Peggy Sang the Blues’ getting as fantastic reactions as ever. Even newer numbers off the recently released album Tape Deck Heart get the crowd singing along. Throughout however, apart from a version of Million Dead’s ‘Smiling at Strangers on Trains’, there is a noticeable lack of older material.
After a ‘stage exit’ and return that doesn’t actually involve leaving the stage (due to the physical impossibility of doing so at the Joiners) the reason for this omission becomes clear. For an encore Turner plays through his debut full-length album Sleep is for the Week from start to finish in order, with a blatant disregard for the advertised curfew of 11pm, not that anybody in the room is complaining. By his own admission, some of these songs haven’t been played “in about a million years” and parts of the crowd, and even Frank himself, are visibly lost when it comes to some of the more obscure tracks. However, with only a few lyrical hiccups it was a fantastic reminder of where it all began, and by the time album closer and crowd favourite ‘The Ballad of Me and My Friends’ comes around the room is buzzing. Leaving on a high note, he rattles through the single ‘Recovery’ from the new album, with the crowd bouncing around for the entire song, and ends on another firm sing along favourite ‘I Still Believe’.
It’s always fantastic seeing the Joiners this busy, and throughout his set Frank is constantly reminding the crowd how important venues such as this are to the live music scene. Looking round the room and seeing all the beaming faces it’s difficult to understand how people could fail to support these places, but it can only be a good thing when people such as Turner, NME and Jack Daniel’s speak out in support of them, especially when it means crowning our beloved Joiners as the best. Long may she reign.