The fan history of the FTHC tour flag
Frank Turner has come home: his Positive Songs For Negative People UK tour started yesterday in Llandudno, a high benchmark for people to reach at the following gigs. You can still get tickets for Nottingham on 16 November at Rock City, Manchester on 23 November at the Academy, and London on 26 November at Alexandra Palace. Check out our gigs calendar for full dates and upcoming shows. Don't forget to get down early to catch Will Varley and Skinny Lister. As with a lot of Frank's support acts, you won't regret catching them, but you might regret missing them. Don't miss out!
In celebration of Frank's homecoming, and the return of the tour flag to the UK (whose progress you can follow here on Twitter @FTHCFlag) read on for the fan tales told from being involved in the fabled FTHC tour flag — an exercise in community, companionship and a sense of "we're in this together".
Valerie Gritsch gives us some background...
Around August 2013 I was approached by a group of American fans, led by Wendy, who wanted to have their own tour flag. Earlier that year, the UK had its first one and basically we were jealous of all the fun they were having with it. Wendy was able to get a flag of her own, and personalized it to read 'North American Tour 2013'. In time, we came up with the idea of getting patches from every city the flag visited along the route and to iron those onto the flag once the tour was done. I was in charge of gathering fans together and figuring out the logistics of the flag getting everywhere, before the first day of tour, all while keeping it relatively quiet as we wanted to surprise Frank and the Sleeping Souls. And we did! You can watch Wendy, Katie and Cecily reveal our work to Frank before the first show of the tour, below:
That was my first go at organizing the FTHCflag and I'm so happy it went well. We had some hiccups here and there, but the fans really rallied together and made sure it went to every set along that run. The following year, the UK was having another tour and I was asked if I would organize the flag again. I said yes, of course! We had the wonderful Charlie Pierce volunteer to take the flag to the first day of tour, all while cycling for charity, and after another hiccup, the great Rebecca Hopkins stepped in and donated her personal flag to be the one to make the journey around the United Kingdom. Again, fans pulled together and relayed the flag from person to person and show to show. The flag stopped off at many historical and interesting landmarks along the way.
Fast forward to present day and we have just completed the fourth go of the tour flag, where it took America by storm. We're about to kick off another UK run with it, and in January the tour flag will be heading to Europe for the first time ever! This is such a fun project that allows so many people to meet and make new friends, while traveling and seeing the sites. It allows those of us at home to follow along with photos and videos posted to our Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Like the big man says: "I don’t want to get overly hippy about it, but I like the idea that people will make new friends and cross paths with people they might not otherwise cross paths with by passing off the flag." It's really cool that we can continue to do this around the world, and I'm really honored to be part of it.
Read on for some stories from past carriers and fans from 2013-2014. Once the UK tour is done we'll be making a new blog with stories from the 2015 run, so do get involved when you see it at your show!
I had the honor of being involved with the 2013 North American Tour Flag right from the start. I watched the flag shenanigans that UK fans had in April 2013 and thought for sure that North America would get the same chance for fun when the band came over here, but no such luck when the short June and July runs happened. So I suggested to Val that we organize it ourselves for the upcoming full tour in the fall. With the magic of Val, social media took off, spreadsheets were made, and fans started to come together. I got to bring our flag to the first show in Cleveland, and be there for the surprise unveiling of the project to Frank. And that’s also where I met the extraordinary Katie from Pittsburgh, one of my favorite gig buddies.
The flag achieved its purpose, which to me was to unite North American fans and have some fun. I met so many people while carrying the flag from Norfolk, Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, and then on to Charlottesville, Virginia – people I wouldn’t have met if I wasn’t roaming all over the venues getting people to sign the tour book and take pictures with the flag. I only went to seven of the 49 dates on that tour, but everyone’s pictures, videos and stories from the road made me feel like I did the whole tour. I’m looking forward to the next flag tour so I can meet some more amazing people. :)
Darlene Tucker, USA
When I first heard about North America doing the tour flag, I was certainly excited, as it seemed like a fun thing to do. But it became so much more. It started out with Facebook conversations with people volunteering for shows they were going to. But then, when it looked like there was a place where the flag would stop, people began volunteering to drive to deliver it even if they weren’t going all the way to the town the show was in. Kind of a relay, if you will. It became a common mission for everyone. Then folks talked about tattoos, and Frank drew one the day of the first show. This was placed on-line, and some folks got that design or one of their own to commemorate the tour. The camaraderie was amazing!
Once the flag was at the show, everyone seemed to know about it, and to want their picture taken with it. It made for a very festive atmosphere. Frank acknowledged the flag and the flag carriers many times. At one show, while singing 'The Fisher King Blues' and he sang the line,” All you broken boys and girls, with your tattered flag unfurled…,” he pointed and smiled at us. And one time 'Journey of the Magi' was dedicated to the flag carriers. I was blessed on the Florida shows to travel with Rebekka from Germany, and to meet Gianluca from Italy. Meeting so many people from varied backgrounds, forming an instant connection, then maintaining these relationships has been the flag’s greatest gift to me. Unfortunately, I was not as kind to the flag. I broke her. While holding her on the barrier in Atlanta, an unexpected crowd surfer dropped from the sky on me during 'Four Simple Words', causing the flag to rip where her grommet came loose. I felt so terrible since the flag had a long way to go, and I knew she would ravel, and not hold up. But no one was mad or upset, and in true punk DIY fashion, a sewing kit appeared at the next show, where the flag was mended as good as new. Nigel even tweeted about how cool that was.
I was fortunate to also travel with the flag for her last two shows in Florida. It was a logistic nightmare to get the flag from Portland, Oregon to Tampa, Florida in a day, but Nadine, a very dedicated and lovely flight attendant made it happen. by taking a weather delayed redeye flight (the flag even traveled in the cockpit at one point.) Since Frank and the Souls were performing early, the flag was a little late for the show, but not the festival. She made it! In Jacksonville, on the final show of the tour, Frank gave the flag quite a warm shout out, and though Frank and the Souls were completely exhausted by the last show, Frank asked us to hang around for a final group shot. When we handed it to him, he gave it a little kiss, and clutched it to his heart for a few seconds. I swear, I almost sobbed. I then lived in total fear for the next few days that something would happen to the flag that would prevent me shipping it safely to Val in New York for its finishing touches, and the rest of the journey.
Katie Ryan, USA
Since 2007 I have been travelling across the country to go to concerts. When I first started travelling for Frank Turner shows I didn't have any friends who were familiar with his music or willing to travel with me. I would often let shyness overcome me and sit in the balcony alone not really knowing any other fans or meeting new people. Everything changed during the fall of 2013, aka 'The Flag Tour'. I was with the flag during the first show in Cleveland, Ohio in October and the last one in Jacksonville, Florida in December (not to mention Utah to Alabama and a lot of other places in between). The flag was the ultimate icebreaker, a perfect excuse to talk to other fans. Working together with diverse people of all ages from different places to get the flag from one location to the next was such a great experience. Some of the people I met because of the flag project I now consider among my closest friends and I talk to them daily, even if they live thousands of miles away. The power of music is constantly surprising me. The way everyone worked together to overcome some obstacles and transport the flag to every show was awe inspiring. I loved travelling with the flag and taking pictures with it at various places. From a flight attendant on my way to Norfolk to a hair stylist in Charlotte, it was the perfect excuse to talk to strangers about Frank's music. It was also great to follow along with the flag's adventures via social media when I was stuck in my office and unable to join in on the fun.
That first day in Cleveland, when we revealed the project to Frank, I met two ladies named Wendy and Cecily. First brought together by our love of being in front of the queue, it was like we had known each other for years. Last month we even traveled over 2,000 miles on a southern road trip to see four FT shows together. I've gone to many FT gigs since that fall 2013 tour, and at every single one, from the majestic Red Rocks in Colorado to a cruise ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I have ran into someone who remembers me because of my involvement with the FTHC flag.
Now when I go to Frank Turner concerts there is such a strong sense of community which I feel is directly related back to the tour flag. I meet new people at every gig I go to and always see familiar faces as well. My favorite thing to do is to visit new places to go to shows. I'm confident now that no matter where I go, I'll never again be alone in the balcony. Instead you can find me in the center of the pit, surrounded by friends, both old and new. I can't wait to follow along with the flag’s next great adventure!
Katie Leslie, USA
It wasn't love at first listen for me with Frank's music, mainly because of the first few songs that my now-ex had me listen to and certain life events, but, whatever. One day he put England Keep My Bones on my iPhone and told me just to give it a chance, and I did. I fell in love with the music during a run. A few months later Tape Deck Heart came out, and my love for the music was even more intense — that album, still to this day, gets me through many things that have come my way. It was decided: I had to see this guy live. We got tickets to the TDH 2013 show in Atlanta, where of course right before 'The Fisher King Blues', the flag made its appearance. I have yet to see an artist that puts on a show like Frank so now, anytime I can, I find a way to go to his shows. That night we waited until very late just so we could say hey to Frank. I was determined that my now-ex would get to meet an artist he considers an idol, and my new found favorite. We did, and it made an already awesome night perfect.
While waiting, I met some awesome people. One in fact who, after finding each other on Instagram, decided to visit a few days later. Hey, Asheville, NC isn't that far away! She, my ex and I made our way for a day trip up to see Frank. We got to experience yet another wonderful show, take pictures of us with the flag (as well as the Sleeping Souls with the flag), met up with another friend we had met at the Atlanta show, and created some wonderful memories. It was one of those moments you hear Frank talk about: music bringing people together. I gained one of my now best friends during this tour, and we still travel any where we can to see Frank! Can't wait to see what else the tour flag brings!
Sophie Allaway, UK
This isn't completely a flag story, but I want to share it anyway because even though the flag idea was a fantastic idea to meet people, they still managed to socialise at a Frank Turner gig without one. I first saw Frank Turner when he supported Green Day in 2010. The person I was stood next too was talking to me and my friend all night And was really nice and sociable. A few months later I ran into her at Frank's Brixton gig in December. Four years later, she's one of my closest friends, we live 200 miles apart and only see each other at gigs. Our friendship has developed with his music and when we went to some gigs where people had the tour flag, we met so many friendly and interesting people. His fanbase are the loveliest people ever and they make such a wonderful environment and me and my friend still have fun dancing and singing to the same songs with new people every tour.
Sally Walker, UK
The tour flag is something I've followed online since the first one in April 2013. The idea of it intrigued me at the time. How could it be possible to pass a flag fan to fan so it got to every show on a tour, without the help of the bands playing the tour?
It quickly became clear that it was indeed possible for fans to carry the flag to every show. I didn't get chance to meet the flag on its first trip around the UK, but on the tour in September last year, it was a friend of mine who was bringing the flag to the show. She arrived at the venue before me, but when I arrived, there were still only our group in the queue. I got to take photos with the flag, and some group photos with my pals.
It was so much fun having the flag at the barrier, knowing it had seen all the shows of the tour so far. After the show, there was a group photo with the majority of the front row, and the flag went on its journey to the next show.
I am hoping to be properly involved in the flag's journey this year; it will be so fun!
Rebecca Hopkins, UK
Just before the start of the 2014 autumn UK tour I saw a post on Facebook asking if anyone in London had a Frank Turner flag they didn't need for the tour. The printers had failed to deliver the real flag to Xtra Mile in time and a girl called Charlie was due to cycle many miles with the flag to the first show of the tour for the charity Shelter. Thankfully, I had one that I had ordered and never made use of, but the only problem was I lived in Bath and not London. I was at work in Warminster at the time, but in a mad rush I managed to connect with Charlie, get my boyfriend Ruaridh to find the flag and run to the Post Office to post it using priority delivery. He made it with 15 minutes to spare before last post and the flag arrived safely with Charlie in London. My old flag ended up being the permanent tour flag and I was thrilled to catch up with it when the Bath Pavillion show came around. My friends and I took many photos around Bath with the flag. It visited the Hobgoblin pub, a small place where Frank had played long ago, and we even managed to take photos by the Roman baths near a crowd of people dressed as Jane Austen (?? - XMR). We also took photos with those lined up for the show and once we were inside at the front of the venue. I hadn't taken part in the last FTHC flag, due to having to rush to and from the gig on public transport, but it was great to see a flag that used to lie in a storage box under my bed travel the country with fans. It was also great to see how a community of fans could organise something successful in such a short amount of time.
Charlie Pierce, UK
Sometime in the hazy days of last summer I decided I needed a challenge to focus on. I have done some organised events for charity in the past but this time I decided to go it alone and do something new. I had heard of the wonderful work of Attitude is Everything, a charity working to improve deaf and disabled fans’ access to live music. Live music has been a huge part of my life and I can’t imagine not being able to get out to gigs, so anything that helps make that possible for more people is more than a worthy cause in my book. The other charity I wanted to get involved with again was Shelter; I had raised some money for them in the past and their work continues to be hugely important in supporting the vulnerable and those facing housing issues or homelessness.
Given the link with music and gigs I decided to combine this challenge with being a fan myself. As all of this was coming together in my mind Frank announced some shows in September and I decided, in a moment of madness which no doubt involved too much alcohol, on a bike ride to a show. Despite having not ridden a bike for the best part of 10 years it seemed like the perfect idea. I took a glance at a map; London to Norwich (which was the first date of the tour) didn’t look too far apart, I checked and at 140 miles that seemed not too bad. In hindsight I’m not quite sure what I was thinking.
Luckily I have a friend who, as a personal trainer and all round good egg, could help me actually put a plan together. I think I had about eight weeks to make it happen, so we decided that doing the full distance in one day was probably not achievable, but over two days that was still enough of a challenge. First off I needed a bike. Again, a friend came up trumps and offered to lend me a very nice road bike that I could use to train and for the ride itself. As a keen cyclist she also offered to give me some tips. We did this at a cocktail bar which might not have been on the training plan but it helped to steady my nerves!
I got in touch with Frank and Xtra Mile and told them what I was planning to do. Everybody was so enthusiastic and supportive, I got my shirts sponsored by XMR and Frank put the word out for sponsorship on Twitter and Facebook. It wasn’t until a little later that I was asked to deliver the flag to the show too. Ahhhh, the pressure. After all if I didn’t make it in time originally, I’d have done my best but nobody would have much noticed my absence. But I couldn’t let everybody down with the flag not being there, so the bar was now that much higher. It certainly focussed my training. I spent lunchtimes and evenings in the gym interval training and on a damned device called a Watt Bike. On the weekends I did longer training rides outdoors getting myself used to actually being back on a bike outside. On a cold and rainy Sunday out in the Kent countryside, having been at a wedding the day before, I seriously questioned my sanity but I was determined that I would stick to the plan. The charities I chose do fantastic work and, ultimately, being able to do something to support them kept me going when I was having any doubt as to whether I could achieve my goal. There is no question that I would not have made it had it not been for the training plan and support I got from Zahra, so thank you.
Even before I set off, my fellow fans were unbelievable. We had sponsorship from people I have never met and who live thousands of miles away, and messages of encouragement and support; I never actually felt like I was doing it on my own. As the day grew closer there was an issue with the printer delivering a new flag to me but one post on the Frank Turner Army Facebook page and we had one on its way from Bath to London on a next day delivery and the day was saved.
The route was all mapped out and I had a couple of planned themed stops along the way. Despite a last minute crisis involving me managing to completely deflate my tyres completely hours before setting off (thanks to my dad for driving me across London to get that fixed!) I left my house more or less on schedule and with a good bit of adrenaline pumping, I was off. First landmark was Tower Bridge and my wonderful friends Becky and Dan were there to cheer me on and take a few photos. That first 12 miles turned out to be one of the hardest parts of the ride, I was trying to get warmed up and the amount of energy used in just
concentrating on staying alive as a cyclist on London’s roads in the morning traffic was crazy.
After stops at 93 Feet East, where Frank played his first solo show back in 2004, and some great cheering from my parents along with Becky and Dan in the Olympic Park where the band helped open the 2012 Olympic Games I was off into the wilds on my own. What had seemed like a good idea – to stick along the canal paths of the Lea Valley – actually turned out to not be the best move. If you’ve ever been on a road bike on uneven paths you understand that despite my ever so fetching padded cycle shorts this was not a comfortable morning! As I crossed the border into Essex after lunch I started to lose a bit of momentum seeing nothing but a fairly long road ahead and the initial adrenaline wearing off. Luckily I had invested in a small speaker to attach to my handlebars, along with the playlist I'd put together, which kept me going! I was also surprised again by Becky and Dan who jumped out from behind a hedge waving and cheering me on – thank you so much guys! After my initial fear of being kidnapped by highwaymen you truly lifted my spirits....the half a cider a little further up the road did no harm either.
I stayed overnight with some friends in Saffron Walden. Jase even came out and cycled the last leg of the first day with me, although keeping up with an ex-Olympic athlete seemed like I had bitten off a bit more than I could chew. The encouragement on those final miles was an absolute godsend. Well looked after with hot showers, cold champagne and excellent company, I went to bed knowing I'd cracked over half way.
Day two and I woke up with legs that still vaguely functioned; all along my fear had been finding I was just not able to move as I'd never cycled as far as I did on that first day. It did take me a while to get back into the rhythm of cycling, and the hill that greeted me first thing was not all that welcome. A short stop and a big slice of delicious banana and rum cake that my friend Charlie had packed me off with that morning pushed me through. I made stops at a few places, including a prison to get that all important picture of the flag....."just tell them we met in jail".
Despite physically being on my own I had so much support from people over social media and via text. Some of those people I had never met before but they had heard through the fan community what I was doing and took a moment to cheer me on. I also had my music to keep me going which is fantastic company and really kept my legs moving at times I was ready to stop. After stopping for a cheeky pub lunch I was on the home stretch to Norwich, I had about 15 miles to go and was surprisingly on schedule. I remember passing a bus with a Norwich destination on the front and being so happy that I was almost there.
I knew there were a few people waiting for me when I got to UEA; one of them, importantly ,with my bag and a cold cider. Thank you Laura! It all felt a little surreal when I arrived at the venue, arriving just before soundcheck. Nigel and Frank stopped off to say hello and offer congratulations. There was time for a few photos with friends, Frank and the Sleeping Souls before I ran / hobbled off to get showered and changed in time for the show. My bike was stowed away in my friend Dave's van and going back to London without me while I carried on to see the first four nights of the tour, meeting up with gig buddies along the way.
The show was brilliant, I managed to get a really good spot and was with some great people. A particular highlight for me was hearing a song from the new album for the first time 'The Next Storm', it really hit a chord for me that night and it will always remind me of my journey to Norwich. I kept waiting to crash but knowing what everybody had donated to charity, the fact I had actually made it and on schedule, all just kept that adrenaline pumping way past the encore. I really didn't want the day to end. In total the bike ride raised over £1,900 split between two brilliant charities, and of course the flag made it to tour on time!
I've not ridden a bike since I got off of one at UEA in Norwich, September 2014.