Having not been down to Rough Trade for a little while, what with Christmas, New Year and all the mayhem of hectic a December to recover from, it was lovely to arrive early and catch up with all the news from everyone at the shop. Whilst everyone was relaxed and happy there was a low-level buzz of excitement mixed with a little apprehension as the team prepared for tonight’s show. Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes shows are not exactly renowned for being quiet and restrained affairs.
The shop is closed for soundcheck, the CD racks are rolled back opening up a space in front of the stage that the crowd will soon fill. As the CD’s under the listening posts on the edges of the newly formed auditorium are collected up and stored away until after the gig, Lampy and I were told tales of Frank’s last visit to Rough Trade where all the band’s kit was dragged off the stage and into the crowd allowing the band to play “In The Round” and a full “Circle Mosh” to form… Having done my homework, I know that the king of British punk, Frank Carter and his band, the Rattlesnakes can really whip the crowd in to a frenzy. Photos from their gigs are dominated by shots of chaotic mosh pits with Frank’s vitriolic lyrics and energetic delivery driving the crowd wild, or by Frank’s mountaineering exploits scaling speaker stacks and lighting gantries before launching himself in to the crowd to be carried high above the heads of his fans.
But if the crowd are expecting that tonight they might be in for a surprise, and that’s where the unease stems from. Tonight Frank isn’t feeling that well and so it’s going to be an acoustic set…
As Frank and the Rattlesnakes arrive and prepare for the soundcheck Frank’s croaky voice (and preference for a nice mug of tea over a beer) makes it clear he’s not on top form. A busy schedule and his two year old daughter are blamed for the germs (actually mostly of the blame lands fair and square and the tiny feet of his daughter!). The guys are friendly and chatty. We learn that the rather funky dot painted snake design on Frank’s snappy blue suit was in fact done in Australia, by Frank (“As if I had nothing better to do!” he remarked…).
The band are a little nervous too. They’re going to play some songs from their new album “Modern Ruin” in a way they’ve never done before. Guitarist Dean Anderson and Frank will take to the stage and together they’ll deliver the songs in the way Dean and Frank worked them out when they originally turned Franks words in to songs together. They weren’t sure if it was going to work or how the crowd were going to take it… They needn’t have worried. The sound check stopped the shop dead. The sound Frank and Dean made was awesome and Frank’s voice and delivery displayed a distinctive and exciting depth and richness. As far as Lampy and I were concerned, we were definitely going to be in for a treat! (although there’s nothing wrong with a good Mosh – capital M of course)
I staked out one of my favourite shooting positions (up at the front, righthand side of the stage, wedged against the pillar) as the crowd rushed in. Whilst not technically “on duty” tonight, Lampy couldn’t help herself and repositioned the vertical bar of lights on the right hand side of the stage to make sure that Frank was not going to be sitting in blue-tinged darkness.
It wasn’t long before Frank and Dean took to the stage again and started to play. Just as we had been blown away by the soundcheck, the crowd were captivated and completely absorbed by Frank and Dean’s performance from the outset. Between songs, Frank began to talk candidly and with no small measure of self-depreciating humour, about how he wrote the words for the songs and how they are distilled from long pieces of prose that appear to veer between poetry, and cathartic outpouring. The secrets of the process that Frank and Dean use to boil down these words to the lyrics for their songs are shared along with the admission that the songs for “Modern Ruin” were written almost directly after their first album “Blossom” was released.
Singing is clearly taking it’s toll on Frank’s voice so he takes a break and reads from the grey hardback book that accompanies the album release and contains those extended lyrics (if lyrics really is the right word…) silencing the delighted audience. Any initial nervousness has long since ebbed away and Frank begins to reveal the inspiration for where the songs came from: realising he’s treated people badly and dealing with the resultant guilt and repercussions; his love for his wife and his daughter; and his fears for the state of the world where his daughter will grow up (even his dog get’s a mention!). With each break between songs the revelations Frank shared became deeper and more personal and they resonate. Lampy swears that she was only reduced to tears twice, but she was definitely not alone…
Frank’s approach laid himself completely bare to the audience. It’s an incredibly courageous step to take, but it might also be the kind of moment in this fickle and ever changing world of the music industry when Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes take that initial step from being known for their mosh-inducing live show and flagged as Radio 1 Playlist-B material to beginning to look like serious artists displaying a deep well of talent to work from and something important and personal to say. I really hope that last nights performance was recorded… It needs to be released!
And you heard this first here (unless you were in Rough Trade last night!)… A firm undertaking was made to start writing the next album on Saturday. The wry smiles of the band suggest that this promise has been made before, but you never know…
Rough Trade East, 19/01/2017