:: Article

Softcore You Know The Score

By Richard O’Brien.

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As tour names go, ‘Softcore’ is something of a misnomer. The styling of this twenty-seven date UK jaunt, starring four ‘hardcore singers gone soft’, breaks down under close scrutiny. I can’t comment on Joshua English or Jacob Golden, having never heard their clearly elusive ‘hardcore’ material, but Jonah Matranga was always soft even when he played post-hardcore; and as for Frank Turner, despite parting ways with the brutal British At The Drive-In, Million Dead – Frank is about as far from soft as one man with an acoustic guitar can get.

Not that he’s jangling with piercings, or skinheaded, or brutally tattooed; he is sporting a new short haircut, and he does have ink on the inside of his wrist, but the design is the opening Greek inscription to ‘The Waste Land’. (TS Eliot – rock’n’roll!) Physically, Frank isn’t a hardcore singer – but he brings to his solo quote-unquote folk show all the fire and drama of a full-band screamfest, with the added bonus of melodies to sell your first edition Black Flag vinyl for. Onstage as well as off, he’s also completely lovely, and after a top-notch interview on topics ranging from Doritos to the state of politics, with a little dash of ‘SMTV hardcore cack’ thrown in, I’m more eager than ever to see Frank play the hits.

First on, however, is ironically named American Joshua English, whose slightly unfinished-sounding songs and primitive guitar style make little impression on the Peterborough crowd. It falls to OC-soundtrack-contributor Jacob Golden (but don’t judge him for that) to turn collective heads with his intriguing voice, fragile at first then expanding to cathedral-size, in a fashion not unlike those weird foam dinosaur sponges kids put in the sink. His songs, and indeed his set, start off faltering, quiet, quivering on the notes, but it’s not for lack of ability to hold them – when Golden wants to kick out the jams, he has the sweepaway force of a cowcatcher. In the space of thirty minutes, he goes from semi-ignored oddity to an unassuming but totally engrossing focal point, drawing punters away from the bar with the whispers and wonders of ‘Shoulders’, ‘Love You’, and the teenage-girl-TV-hit ‘On A Saturday’. Half the room subsequently leaves. Only joking.

Jonah Matranga works to a similar design, though he starts with the added benefit of vague recognition. At least two people in the room actually know who he is and Far were, as evidenced by the fact that Matranga plays their special requests with a humble, semi-disbelieving grace that eventually leads him to a stirring monologue on the true nature of emo, old and new. This culminates in Peterborough’s first-ever spontaneous round of applause for the name of Sunny Day Real Estate, before closing with a stunning off-mic performance of ‘So Long’. He also steel-plates his gooey croon on the tender ‘Every Mistake’, digs his teeth into the spiteful ‘Your Letter’, and by the end of the requested ‘Hostage’ is practically spitting blood. Those who do not know him (the majority, as he gleefully acknowledges) are soon converted, not least by the fact that he solicits them to ‘pay what you can’ for his substantially-quieter-than-tonight new album ‘And’, and then gives them free T-shirts worth as much as the album itself when they hand over barely two-thirds of its RRP. The swine.

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If Matranga ends on a high, Turner starts on one. Despite taking the always-risky move of opening with a new song, ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ is as angry, exciting and generally punk as anything Frank Turner has done to date. It’s a half-barked epistle to Southern ennui containing lines about ‘start[ing] the revolution in some Southampton bistro’, and is the closest the UK acoustic scene will come to shooting James Blunt in the face with a nail-gun. Because this is what it – folk, punk, softcore, singer-songwriters, whatever name you throw at it – this is what it’s all about. Simplicity and sincerity with a healthy dash of pure venom, pissing on the curly-haired corpse of Luke Kook with a Billy Bragg chord-book and a box of matches. It’s character assassination you can dance to (a bit, if you’re drunk), and it comes along like a Russian torpedo and blows the public conception of ‘folk’ so far out of the water it grows legs and starts changing biological class. Or to put it another way, it’s a fucking good opener.

Although the tone of voice changes, the passion never lets up, as we’re treated to three more new songs and a generous selection of earlier material, including the hot-coals flamenco intrusion of ‘Worse Things Happen At Sea’, and the rather glorious sight and sound of a hundred-plus Peterborians shouting ‘Thatcher fucked the kids’. There’s also an unexpected but excellent cover of Leonard Cohen ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’, and an even more unexpected closing shot at Korn’s ‘Blind’, seguing into Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’, for which all three openers join Frank onstage for maximum ‘wtf’ effect. Turner’s new album promises great things. We can only hope he follows John Darnielle’s example in making lunatic Swedish pop covers just one of them.

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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Richard O’Brien was born in Peterborough in 1990, and has been trying to escape ever since. He is currently still trying to get an education, and resides in a Lincolnshire village with his parents and his labradors with nautical names. He likes to act, listen to music, and write songs that will never be sung.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 8th, 2007.