Tonight is one of the most anticipated gigs of the year for me personally. So much so, I managed to convince my friend visiting from Ireland to extend her trip just for it. This would be the second time I’d see this band after witnessing an explosive set at Stoke’s Sugarmill earlier this year. There I witnessed the first circle pit I’ve seen that extended across a balcony and two flights of stairs!
“I’m tying double knots in my dockers,” Shiv says as we push our way through a half full venue already. Little under two years old, this band have managed to sell out their current UK tour and get a top 20 placing for their debut album Blossom. Unfortunately, we get there halfway through the second support act Dead!’s set. More of a poppy punk vibe, this band packed a punchy set. Energetic and fun, vocalist Alex Mountford bounds around the stage delivering impassioned lyrics to grimy riffs. Sam Chapell on bass adds harsher backing vocals giving a more grungy sound to their songs. A belter of a performance, these guys are now firmly on my radar.
Half way between the entrance and the barrier, the atmosphere is palpable. Wedged behind a six foot punk with a two foot bright yellow mohican and a young girl with a back pack, it’s easy to see how wide an audience Frank Carter appeals to. Three guys in front of me keep doing little jumps and pacing up and down like olympic runners about to lock into to their starting blocks. Sam Cooke’s ‘Change is Gonna Come’ starts to play as the lights dim, the band enter the stage thrashing out ‘Trouble’ and we’re off. A powerful, urgent song with political connotations, Frank owns the stage and screams into the turbulent mosh pit. It’s electrifying.
One of the things that drew me to this band is the way they connect with the audience. Frank wastes no time tonight in reaching out to his fans. He’s quick to answer people in the crowd complaining about the ‘no stage diving’ notices handed out, and answers in his true anarchic form by shoving said notice in his mouth and chewing on it. In fits of giggles he then realises it’s not that digestible and gobs it into the audience. It’s quickly snatched up by a deranged fan who continues the chewing. “Ha, ha, joke’s on you” he retorts, “my daughter’s got the chickenpox and I kissed her!” The stage diving rules are cleared up. This is a punk rock gig but we all look after one another he insists, and with a punk stare that would cut through steel, you know he means it.
‘Fangs’ and ‘Juggernaut’ send the now feral crowd into a frenzy. It’s punk rock but with a beastly melody that has you jumping around with hardcore moshers, but without feeling threatened. Frank launches himself into the crowd and a riot ensues. Surfers are flying overhead but the vibe is fun and people are really looking out for one another. Screaming along to Frank’s distinct accent, you can barely hear him over the crowd. A testimony to how far this band have come in such a short space of time. Thought provoking ‘Rotten Blossom’ up next, there’s obviously a theme of loss and hurt throughout some of these tracks. They’re where Frank’s passion rages through his lyrics and his angst pours out through every pore as he performs them, sanctified by Dean Richardson’s scuzzy guitar tones.
New track ‘Lullaby’ from their forthcoming album Modern Ruin is just sublime. Frank bares his heart and soul and we get a glimpse of the deep, caring family driven man he is, as he talks about his beautiful wife and daughter, who the track is written about.
We’re asked to sit respectfully on the floor as Frank’s haunting ‘Beautiful Death’ is sung, again dedicated to his family after the loss of his Father in Law. A much needed breather I sink to my knees, sweat now running down my neck. Performed from the heart, it leaves an eerie silence and a visibly moved Frank at the end. This one cuts right into the soul and I’m not the only one fighting back tears. A breathtaking performance, proving you can be punk and have a heart.
New track ‘Modern Ruin’ is about the end of the world, and we’re hearing it for the first time. Dedicated to the girls in the audience, Frank insists only they can surf to this tune, and anyone touching inappropriately will have “their fuckin heads cut off, put on a spike and toured around the country” another insight to this incredibly special guy’s family values and respect for women at gigs. ‘Paradise’ closes this part of the set and sees Dean crowd walking whilst maintaining his slick riffs.
The encore, as expected, is a savage rampage of punk rock uproar. Kicking off with ‘Snake Eyes’ perfectly described by my mate Danny as an epic tune of James Bond theme magnitude, the crowd go insane. I pile in, there’s not much option at this point, mosh pit or leave. Launching into ‘Devil Inside Me’ Frank gets the crowd to sink to their knees and wait for the chorus. The pit detonates, the ceiling fittings brace themselves as surfers are being thrown overhead and grab onto the nearest thing to save themselves. An immense night concluded as ever with the bluesy ‘I Hate You’ that again has Frank drowned out by his own lyrics being sung in abundance. Frank Carter may have been standing on our shoulders that night, but we were truly standing at the feet of an absolute legend.
With a new tour announced the following day, my tip would be to buy your tickets fast.