The boat that rocked: Caribbean cruisin' with Frank Turner, Beans On Toast and Flogging Molly
Frank Turner and Beans On Toast join Flogging Molly, Mariachi El Bronx, and 1500 litres of Jameson on a Caribbean cruise. Ben Morse reports through a whiskey haze.
- 20/03/2015 -
Words and photos by Ben Morse
Touring with Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls, you meet a lot of interesting people. A year ago (March 2014), when we went around the UK doing arena shows, I got to spend time with Flogging Molly. They are, to date, the only band that I am afraid to drink with. That tour, as you'd expect, was a lot of fun. We also had Beans On Toast out and, as he tends to do, Jay ended up firm friends with their entire camp.
Which hopefully goes someway to explain how he, I, Frank and the boys all ended up on a cruise ship a year later (for the Flogging Molly St Patrick's Day Celebration Salty Dog Cruise), doing a lap of the Caribbean. It might also explain my initial reluctance to commit to being trapped in a confined space for a weekend with fans (and the band themselves) who consider whiskey to be six of their five-a-day.
It seems, on paper, an odd sell - Flogging Molly’s brand of blue collar Irish punk 'n' rock doesn’t really sit with inclusive buffets, hot tubs, and beach excursions. And yet, as we boarded the enormous Norwegian Sky in sunny Miami on the Friday morning, there were one-and-a-half-thousand fans, from around the world joining us. And boy were they determined to have a good time. The boat sits in dock for the day, and travels each evening, so the first day was spent in Miami. Within an hour of being on board, we met for a celebratory beer, during which a lady walked past us, threw up, and went back to her drink without missing a step. We thought it was funny. We didn’t realise it would actually set the tone for how the weekend would play out.
We were told, at 5pm during mandatory safety training, that the boat had already consumed more alcohol in five hours than most weekend cruises get through in total. This set the tone nicely for the first performance of the cruise - Beans on Toast. Seeing Beans in action in front of a packed out lounge was a joy, and the crowd all agreed.
Starting with a handful of curious fans and ending with a room stuffed to the gills, Jay and Bobby Banjo would go on to spend the rest of the weekend playing on the beach, in people’s rooms, and finally, and most bizarrely, on the pool deck stage where residents of the hot tub were serenaded. Also, everyone was encouraged to throw their phones into the pool. Yeah. Frank and the Souls meanwhile, played after midnight to a rowdy crowd, and rocked their faces off.
By day two, the entire boat had decided it was double or quits. We docked in Nassau, a sleepy Bahamian island designed to siphon cash from tourists. Some of us visited a pirate museum. Others sat in bars, got their hair braided (Nigel) or lounged by the sea or on the pool deck. Frank decided, as the band had a day off, he’d play a pop-up show for Love, Hope, Strength - check them out - in the lobby of the boat. The problem with a secret show in a confined space is that it doesn’t stay secret. We damn near tipped the boat there were so many people. A day’s relaxation ended with an incredible set from Mariachi El Bronx on the pool deck. They remain one of my favourite bands on earth, and this was a perfect, sleazy setting for them, in the neon light and the warm glow of a thousand sunburns.
Our final day was at a private island in the Bahamas, which was exactly as fancy as it sounds. We swam in an actual lagoon, took turns diving off rocks and (for legal reasons) all the while drinking responsibly and definitely not taking gallon margaritas into the sea. Flogging Molly, ever the amazing hosts, had played shows in the main theatre already, but seeing them play against the incredible blue sky and crystal water was joyous - something clear from both their and the fans' faces. There was one thing left to do - headline the main room on the boat, that evening.
I’ve seen a lot of Frank Turner shows in my life. I can honestly say that this was one of my favourites. It combined a lot of special elements. The ultimate celebration of an incredible weekend of fun was part of it. That weekend involved living and making friends with hundreds of people, all of whom came to the show, and so it was like a crazy private party with all your buddies - everyone super invested. The other part of it was the band, rested and in full cruise mode. They tore through new material and old, and the crowd kept pushing the energy up to a point where I thought the roof might cave in. That kind of stuff is a lot of fun to shoot.
Leaving on Monday morning was awful. The real world is grim. It doesn’t involve hazy memories of secret cover sets of Weakerthans songs in empty pools, naked divers, failed attempts to see the sun rise, or getting drunk with new friends. The end total of booze consumed was apparently over 1500 litres of Jameson, and more drinks than any of the two-week cruises that Norwegian ran, probably before or since. And the real world is now making us all collectively pay for that. Boo.
However, I refuse to end on a down note. It was an unforgettable weekend. We’re massively grateful to Flogging Molly for having us along for the ride. There’s talk of another one next year. At this rate, I may have just about recovered by then.
Well, we don't just want to take Ben's word for it; did you go? How did you find it? Is he exaggerating about the gorgeous surroundings and the weather? We bet he is. Let us know what you thought via Facebook or Twitter @Xtra_Mile or even via contributions[at]xtramilerecordings[dot]com. Will you go next year if it happens? Where would you like to travel to with them? Do you know what 1500 litres of Jameson looks like? Get at us.