Tonight was a bit of a crazy night – beginning with the premiere of ‘The Meaning Of Life’ – a film that Beans On Toast and Bobby Banjo put together during their ‘April Fools Tour’, where we drunk far too much Diamond White (although let’s face it, any amount of Diamond White is too much) and unfortunately didn’t eat any oysters as Bobby was delayed, we then headed to the Barfly for an intimate, invite only Frank Turner gig to celebrate the launch of his fourth solo album, England Keep My Bones.

Opening tonight was Ben Marwood, who accompanied Frank on his recent UK tour. Unfortunately I’d not managed to make any of those dates, so I didn’t really know what to expect from Ben. What we got was a wonderful combination of singer/songwriting and standup. I entered the upstairs of the Barfly as he was singing the words “I could tell you how Get Cape stole my sound”, which instantly got me onside, and his cheerful, cheeky banter continued from then on in, wooing the crowd better than he might have hoped, given they’d all been randomly selected from people who had pre-ordered England Keep My Bones from HMV.

He began his next number by gracefully telling us how old he was (30) and told us this song was called ‘We’re No Longer 25’. “I’m sure there are some of you in the crowd who are younger than 25”, he said, to which one guy shouted out “much!”, but he encouraged any youngsters to lean forward a bit and look tired, and that that would get them halfway there.

Ben manages to be self-deprecating without being self-indulgent; gently poking fun at himself without coming across as bitter, or even as lacking in self-confidence, which is a very hard feat. “I’m jealous of Frank for being more well read than me”, he told us. “I can read, of course. But I used to write songs by picking a book title and then reading up on the plot on Wikipedia. Speaking of which, this one is called ‘Horatio Dies’. Other witty repartee included the obligatory song about a girl he used to know; “I fell in love with a 5 foot librarian. They’re not easy to find” and the fantastic refrain “I will still be this cynical when I get paid”.

He encouraged everyone to sing along with his final number, ‘Sing Along Song’, which contained the chorus “I tried to write a singalong but we all forgot the words”, and seemed genuinely touched when people did actually join in. A perfect warm-up to the evening, and definitely someone I’ll seek out again in the future.

But then, of course, we had Frank Turner. And I struggle to find words to do his set justice, but this is a review, after all, and the reason I managed to get into the gig, so I will do my very best.

Frank told us he had been planning on playing a normal set tonight – some old, some new – but that so many people had said to him “So, you’re playing the full album in order, yes?” that he’d decided to play a hybrid. Personally I’m not sure how a hybrid of ‘some old, some new’ and ‘all new’ is any different to a straight ‘some old, some new’ set, but he did play the majority of the new album in order, so maybe he is onto something after all.

The opener tonight was the opener to the album itself, the totally incredible ‘Eulogy’. Which is possibly the best opening track I’ve ever heard to an album. Ever. Everyone in the building was belting out every word, and when we got to the refrain “And on the day I die I’ll say at least I fucking tried” I thought the roof was going to come off. And this was just the start. But this is what Frank does, with his banter, his easy smile. By not preaching, by telling us stories about himself, by wearing his emotions right out there on his face and in his lyrics, he makes people feel better about themselves. A lot of megastars and stadium bands instil a sense of awe into their crowd, a sense that although they’re watching something truly special, watching is all they’ll ever be able to do. Frank engenders a sense of community, but most of all, a sense of potential. He makes people think “I can”, which is pretty unique. That, coupled with the fact that after 1,000 plus shows (he played his 1,000th at the Strummerville Spring Sessions earlier this year) he still seems genuinely overwhelmed by the extent to which people love his music, leads to the friendliest gig crowds I’ve ever come across. They’re engaging with Frank, sure, but they’re also engaging with each other. Which, in this age of ‘turn up late, push to the front, film it all on my phone and who cares if the bloke behind me can’t see’, is equally unique. So there you go. Although he may not be pushing boundaries with his musical style, there is something about Frank – about his music, his gigs and his fans – which you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else. I certainly haven’t.

From Eulogy, he launched straight into ‘Try This At Home’ which, if you don’t know it, totally embodies everything I’ve said above (“There’s no such thing as rockstars there’s just people who play music, and some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks. So quick turn off your stereo, pick up that pen and paper, for you can do much better than some skinny half-arsed English country singer”) before moving on to ‘Peggy Sang The Blues’, the second track from the new album. “This song is about my grandmother”, he tells us. “She gave me my first shot of whiskey when I was 7 years old because I was beating her at cards and she didn’t want to lose to a child”. Which explains a lot, really. Following on from that, we had the truly anthemic ‘I Still Believe’ which, although it appears on England Keep My Bones, Frank has been touring since at least Glastonbury last year and the crowd roared along, belting out their appreciation for long-dead rock stars as though their lives depended on it. ‘I Am Disappeared’ came next, which is possibly my favourite song on the album and one I identify with probably more than is good to me; particularly the chorus, “And on the worst days, when it feels like life ways 10,000 tonnes. I sleep with my passport, one eye on the back door, so I can always run”.

Next up, we had ‘The English Curse’ which was truly incredible. You would be forgiven for thinking that this was Frank covering a traditional English folk song, due to the musicality and the cadences, but you would be incorrect. Because this is Frank at his lyrical best, a totally original, totally a capella tale of King William the conqueror coming to these shores, and the fate that befell him in the New Forest; “If you steal the blood of an English man, then you shall know this curse; your first born son’s warm blood will run, upon the English earth”. Before beginning, Frank said that he feels this isn’t really a song that people should sing along to, even if they know the words, and the crowd obliged, listening in rapt silence; making the whole experience utterly spine chilling.

He followed this with ‘One Foot Before The Other’ – the song on the album that most benefits from a full band, so I was interested to hear how it would sound with just him and a guitar. I needn’t have worried as, true to form, Frank had adapted it accordingly and the chorus was every bit as powerful as it is on the album. Up next came ‘If Ever I Stray’ which, while not one of the strongest songs on the album, is a fantastic live number. The crowd had been in full voice from the very start of the night, but really got into this song, clapping along to the chorus; “If ever I stray from the path I follow, take me down to the English channel, throw me in where the water is shallow and pull me on back to shore’. The last line of the song – “if you’ve got my back I’ll go on” – seemed to be directed at every single person in the room and they (well, myself included) absolutely loved it.

We had a break from England Keep My Bones now, and were treated to ‘The Real Damage’ and what Frank called a Huey Lewis And The News version of ‘Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’, which was absolutely fantastic and went down a storm with the crowd.

Back to the album. He prefaced ‘Redemption’ by saying “this was a hard song to write and it’s a hard song to sing” and proceeded to give one of the rawest performances I’ve ever seen. Visibly upset, the emotion was pouring off him during this song, which I assume is about a very specific event, and when he reached the final line; “I don’t think I can do this” there was a moment of silence as everyone mentally gathered themselves before the crowd erupted into applause. Following Redemption, we had the final track on the album, ‘Glory Hallelujah’. During the pre-song banter, where Frank reiterated that this song isn’t intended to offend, he told us he’d had an email from someone saying this song was “racist against Christians”. “I stared at that email for a long time,” he said, “before replying with ‘do you know what racist means?’ And there was no reply to that”. ‘Glory Hallelujah’ went down every bit as well live as I’d hoped it would, with the entire crowd singing and clapping along.

We’d reached the end of the album now but, as Frank pointed out, there was a deluxe version available containing three more tracks, one of which was ‘Song For Eva Mae’ – a track he wrote after two of his close friends asked him to be godfather to their daughter. I’d seen him play this at Lexapalooza earlier in the year and it was equally wonderful tonight. Following this, he played a totally unexpected storming solo version of ‘Smiling At Strangers On Trains’; having played his first ever gig with Million Dead also in the Barfly ten years previously.

To finish off the set, we got some old classics which everyone adored. ‘Long Live The Queen’, which I’m not going to talk too much about because it makes me very emotional; ‘Photosynthesis’ which is deservedly adored by all and sundry, and contains the wonderful line “and if all you ever do with your life is just photosynthesize, then you deserve every hour of your sleepless nights that you waste wondering when you’re gonna die”; then he invited Ben Marwood back onto the stage (“I envisage myself living in a world where every time someone says the name ‘Ben Marwood’ there’s a round of applause. Can we try that tonight?” and the crowd gleefully obliged) to sing a cover of something I’m afraid I didn’t recognise. Following that, we had a totally new song – as apparently Frank’s already started on the fifth album – which I absolutely loved, before he finished with the wondrous ‘Ballad Of Me And My Friends’. I haven’t heard him finish a set with this particular song for a while now and it always makes my heart soar. Every single person in the room sung along with every single word and by the very last line of this very last song of tonight’s spectacular set – which is, appropriately enough, “the only thing that’s left to do is get another round in at the bar”, there can’t have been anyone in that room who didn’t feel as though they’d witnessed something incredibly special. He ended his set by saying he was playing every festival going in the summer followed by a full UK tour in the autumn, so he’d see us somewhere along the line. Not “we could see him”, but “he’d see us”.

I wish Frank Turner could play venues this size more often. The sad (well, sad for me) truth of it is that he’s just too big now – he headlined Brixton Academy before Christmas last year and sold it out – but for me, the intimacy of smaller venues suits his stage presence down to the ground – you really feel a personal connection with him in a way that I’ve not come across with any other artist (and believe me, I’ve seen a few).

So I’ll see you at Glastonbury, Frank. Enjoy yourself until then.

(There was cake. It was awesome. Laura made the cake. She is also awesome)