The revenge of the FTHC tour flag 2015–16:
Stories of triumph and tragedy
- 28/01/2016 -
People have tales to tell. And the FTHC tour flag prompts more words from some of our fans than anything else. It's no surprise really; this simple idea turned logistical nightmare has the potential to change lives, shape entire weeks, and carve memories forever. That potential is usually fulfilled as your stories below seem to prove.
For those unfamiliar with the concept: essentially a flag emblazoned with Frank Turner logos is carried from show to show by fans attending shows on various tours. This means people must be travelling between shows or towns, passing the flag like a baton in a relay race, for this beloved inanimate object to appear at the next gig on the tour. This has prompted photos of the flag in strange and appropriate places, fans making and staying friends through connection with the flag, and breakneck adventures rushing the flag through all sorts of obstacles so as not to let any one of this touring community down.
It's been on stage, draped over graves, held aloft by all manner of people, and traveled more miles than most of us ever will. It's also been lost by parcel companies and been reborn in a panicked flurry by the talented Valerie Gritsch. Long live the flag.
Read on for stories from fellow fans about their 2015 and 2016 tour experiences with the inimitable flag.
Val G (social media minster of truth for Xtra Mile Recordings)
At the end of spring 2015, it became clear the tour flag would be back in action for Frank’s USA and UK tours. The only change? There would be one tour flag for BOTH tours – something we have never done previously, but for this time it made sense since the tours ran consecutively. This meant the 2015 FTHC flag would cover five countries: USA, England, Scotland, Wales, and Canada (for one show!). Five countries, with four Xtra Mile Recordings artists, in three months, over two tours, with one flag. Piece of cake, right?
Everything was going fiiiiine! Planning was going well ahead of the autumn run, and Interscope was going to print a flag for us since all the previous ones had the Tape Deck Heart artwork on them. The US tour was approaching fast though, and the flag still had not arrived to me so I could pass it on to our first carrier in Pittsburgh. I suspected the worst: that it wouldn’t arrive me on time. Unfortunately, I was right but for even worse reasons. Not only was the flag not arriving on time, it was not arriving period. The courier used to ship the flag to me in New York from Interscope in LA had lost the tour flag somewhere in transit. The kicker? There were TWO flags in the package...you know, just in case we needed a back up.
It was finally Friday morning, the day before tour was due to start. I was panic-emailing everyone – folks at Interscope and Xtra Mile, the carrier in Pittsburgh – worrying about what we should do, When do we let fans know the flag was lost? And then it became clear that the only thing we could do was to DIY the hell out of it. No more time to panic; just get to work. I had seven hours until the UPS store near me closed for the day, and I had to make it there before that so I could overnight it to Pittsburgh.
I rushed to the craft store and grabbed things that seemed like they could make a flag. Big piece of canvas? Sure! And spray paint! Letter stencils? Throw it all in the wagon, pay, and get the hell out of there. Then I rushed home and sat on the floor staring at the canvas. What do I do to it? How should it look? The + and – signs from Positive Songs For Negative People seemed a safe bet, so I made some more stencils for that and got to work laying everything out and painting it all. It was slowly coming together. I finished painting it in about two and a half hours. I let it dry for a while, and then took some photos of it to go on all our social media accounts. I packed it up and got it over to the store with just about an hour to spare. Everything was set up, and it was set to arrive with our carrier by noon the following day. Finally, I could breathe.
After a few hiccups with the carrier getting it, the flag was finally safe in her hands and on its way to the first show. A week later I met back up with the flag in Boston, MA to make one more adjustment to it. The flag was on unfinished canvas, so the edges were fraying. In order to prevent the fraying causing any damage, I spent the morning between the two House Of Blues shows securing the flags edges. After another hour and a half, it was done and the tour flag was finally finished! I had been worried about the rough look it had, but the fans embraced it and ended up loving the super DIY flag, which was a major relief. In time, through the fans, I was able to love it too. I ended up meeting up with the tour flag again a few times, so I saw it with the people in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Diego, Anaheim, and even London!
Speaking of London, at that show at Alexandra Palace, Frank gave me and the tour flag a very special shout out. That show was the end of the longest run any one tour flag has ever done. I got to hear thousands of people cheering for what the flag stands for: community. It was quite an overwhelming experience.
None of this tour flag fun would be possible at all without the fans support. They are the ones on the ground, taking it from show to show, meeting new people, sightseeing with strangers, and taking photos with future best friends. That is what this little game is all about: building a global community around something special to all of us. So thank you for always coming through when the flag needs you. We'll see you further down the road!
"It showed up in Pittsburgh and has been to every fucking show on the tour... It's just people making friends with each other, passing it on from one show to another, trying to build some sense of community, and I think that's fucking amazing." - Frank
My two top highlights of the FTHCflag, besides Ally Pally, would have to be:
1. The Washington DC photos. Patrick Bragg and his friends brought the flag to the Lincoln Memorial, the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument. Oh, AND TO THE WHITE HOUSE?! The photos make me geek out to the extreme.
2. At the Southampton, UK show carrier Stephen Madeley got a photo of Timothy Omundson with Frank and the flag. Tim is a fantastic actor, who was in one of my favorite shows Psych and the current musical hit, Galavant. He also happens to be a huge Turner fan. Seeing Tim with the tour flag also made me geek out to the extreme and he later told me he was “happy to be a tiny part of the madness.”
Flagbearer #1 here! So although I only had the flag for a couple hours, I think the story of how it got to the Millvale, PA show can't go unheard.
As I attend a college in Ohio six hours away from my home in New York, a four hour road trip to Pittsburgh during the third weekend of September was no big deal for me. I was so excited to have been chosen back in August as Frank's first flagbearer, and even more excited that, after six years of listening to Frank Turner, I'd be finally seeing him live. A week before the show ,I had heard of a UPS mailing error and how the flag was missing in action. Luckily,, I was able to leave my small mid-west Ohio college with pictures of a new, make-shift flag being delivered to my friends house in Pittsburgh the next morning - guaranteed before noon. So, after a long evening, I woke up super early the next morning, excited to receive the flag. However, by 12pm, I still heard nothing. So I walked outside to see a slip in the mailbox: "Sorry we missed you! We will try again on Monday."
What? My heart stopped. No one had even knocked! The flag was supposed to be in Toronto on Monday! I looked outside and couldn't see any mailmen the street. My heart raced. I knew the fans depended on me, Valerie depended on me, the whole crew depended on me to see this flag at the show! I hurried and called UPS. They couldn't get a hold of the driver. I was a mess, but would not let them off the phone til they told me where I could pick up the flag. It never got heated, but I knew desperate times called for desperate measures. Finally, they told me of a warehouse where all the trucks dropped off packages that couldn't be delivered that day. So my friends and I hopped in our car, and drove 15 minutes outside the city. We got to a storage unit, gated from the outside. We decided to sit there until a truck showed up, but luckily we happened across a wonderful security guard who assured us that he would find our package when the driver returned. He told us to go get some breakfast, and thanks to this wonderful worker, the flag was found and given to us 45 mins later after we had our fix of pumpkin bagels and coffee. And that was that! We unfolded the flag, and hurried off to its first location – the University of Pittsburgh! After that, we took it to a brewery, then it was off to Millvale for the 7pm show!
As we got there a little after 6pm, it started to rain. I became nervous. Walking up to the little crowd already gathered outside, I wasn't sure if anyone would know about the flag, or if the rain would dampen the mood. However, it was the exact opposite. The minute I walked up, everyone wanted to meet me. The next hour before doors opened were spent dancing in the rain, and being the photographer as fans excitedly waved it or asked what it was all about. I met many people before, during, and after the show.
The flag is such an amazing concept and really does all it was intended for, and more. You may go alone to a Frank Turner show, or you may go with friends, but you are never truly alone. I made friends throughout the night, and when I passed the flag off, I knew it was going to be the start of something awesome. And what a wonderful way to see a Frank Turner concert – front row, up against the barricade, waving the flag around, and surrounded by not only other fans, but other friends. I danced, sang, and jumped with everyone around me, and got lost in conversation with them during the downtime between bands, meeting not only first-timers like me, but people who have seen Frank live 10, 20, even 36 times! During the encore, Frank even excitedly took the flag up on stage, and right after he gave it back over the barricade, I handed it off to Charlie who was taking it across the border to Toronto the next day.
In the months since, its been incredible to watch the flag be passed across the country and go across seas. It'll take a lot for another concert experience to truly live up to this one. No feeling could ever describe how awesome it felt to be a part of something much bigger than myself, and to be able to start this flag on one epic journey!
The first Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls show I went to was at the House of Blues in Boston in November 2013, and I was a total noob at the time. I wouldn't discover the Facebook groups until the following May, which was when I discovered the community part of being a rabid fan girl. At that first show, I remember seeing the flag and thinking it was wicked cool. I wished I'd known about it and been connected somehow.
So, in the summer of 2015 when I saw an online appeal for volunteers to carry a new tour flag I jumped right on that. By that point I'd spent a good amount of time walking around my city with my headphones blasting and daydreaming about cool places to bring a tour flag for pictures. When I was chosen as a flag carrier, I had a battle plan fleshed out, which probably explains my over-zealousness in flag pics (to be fair, I also live in a really cool city and I'm possibly too proud of my hometown).
My plan for epic flag pics hit a slight snag when the list of flag carriers was first announced. I'd...done a thing. Not a particularly smart thing financially, but an awesome thing as an act of self-care, and was traveling to five shows in a row on the tour. For some reason, it didn't occur to me that by posting all of my availability I might miss out on having the flag on my own home turf, and indeed, initially I was scheduled to have it in New York. If that had happened, the flag would only have seen the inside of my hotel room and maybe the Strand bookstore (because the universe conspires against me keeping any money in my savings account, my favorite book store happened to be an easy walk from my hotel). Thankfully, Dylan, the flag carrier who was originally supposed to be taking the flag from Boston to New York, was willing to switch and I got to have my day of flag pics in Salem.
That was a great side effect of carrying the flag. Because I had to make arrangements with Dylan, we became Facebook friends and we still chat on the internet even though our flag adventures have finished. The girl who handed the flag off to me started out as an internet friend and is now a gig buddy I get to see in real life.
I only had a few hours to get pictures of the flag in Salem, since I was working a shift at one of my jobs that day, so I had to really prioritize what I wanted to see. There were obvious choices, like the Maritime History site, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Witch Trials memorial (I put the flag on Ann Pudeator's marker as a history-nerd inside joke; supposedly Ann Pudeator's spectre tried to kill a member of the Salem Turner family). What was most important to me was getting pictures of the flag at the museum I work at, the House of Seven Gables / Turner-Ingersoll Mansion.
You're not actually allowed to take pictures in our museum, so I asked for permission to take the flag around and did it before the museum opened. Because I am a sad nerd, it was very important to me to get pictures of the flag with our portrait of John Turner III, the broken piano-forte, and our 150 year old Italian mandolin. It was also exciting to be on the other side of the barriers in each of those rooms!
I'm a pretty anxious person and going to shows amps all that up. The more I've gone to the easier it's gotten, and I always enjoy myself while they're happening, but in the lead up I'm always a wreck. Traveling to five shows in three states was kind of a lot for my anxious little self to process. Even though I know it's my mental illness speaking, I'm still pretty sure I annoyed a few of my friends in line by anxiously rambling about early American history and literature. I suppose there are worse anxious tics to have, but still…
Anyway, the flag definitely helped me come out of my shell and talk to people. I was the most nervous about going to New York, since I was taking the train in by myself. Showing up in line with the flag was a great way to break the ice with brand new gig buddies, plus it worked as a literal security blanket.
Possibly the most interesting thing that happened while I had the flag was at the show itself. My friends had stressed the importance of a good flag carrier getting the flag to the barrier, as Sam had done in Boston, and therefore I was determined to do so in New York. I had no problems getting there. Having little other to do in New York than look at books I couldn't actually buy, I'd lined up for the show super early and was one of the first people through the door. I put the flag on the barrier so that it was in easy view for anyone who wanted to take pictures. This drew the attention of a security guard who'd been tasked with keeping the barrier clear since, “this Frank guy likes to crowd surf.” Bit of an understatement, that. I told him that I was supposed to have the flag, that it was an activity related to the tour, and he looked adorably confused at the direct contradiction of his 'keep the barrier clear' orders. So then I asked him if it would be okay if I brought it out when Frank mentioned the flag and he was visibly relieved. Yes, the flag is really part of the tour, I wasn't just being weird.
I was definitely feeling burned out by the end of the night. I'd pushed myself well out of my comfort zone and had been rewarded by making lots of friends and hearing some excellent music, but I was also ready to retreat back into my introverted shell. When Dylan came up to me to take the flag I was more than happy to pass it off and give him his turn. I could see how excited he was to get it, and I hope he had as much fun with it as I did. Plus the pictures make great mementos of my trip.
This past September I carried the flag from show #1733 in Burlington, VT to show #1734 in Boston, MA. We had a day off between the shows so we took this opportunity to take the flag to do some of the things that we like to do. We took it to lunch, on a tour of the Burton Snowboards factory, took it to the waters of Buzzards Bay and let it spend some down time with our dog. I loved being a part of the adventures of the tour flag. It was so cool to see this flag that I had in my house on these great adventures with other people all over the USA and UK. It's such a great thing to be a part of. I would love to carry the flag again!
This was my first ever Frank gig, 24/11- Manchester Academy. It was the most amazing thing ever and this is me and my mate, and some of the new friends we made with the flag after the show.
Describe the tour flag, or what it means to you, in ten words or less!
● Isabelle Holt: Seeing places the flag has been and people it's met.
● Colleen Neal Noack: Connecting fans throughout the world by promoting community and camaraderie!
● Alex Mo: Being PART of the tour + meeting other crazy fans!
● @christyau: That you're never too jaded to have fun.
● @violetlouisema1: Created together in respect, trust, love and music.
● @mcpatnella: Leaving baggage at the door and becoming a united community :)
● @Sad_Sad_Larry: People can do great things if they drop the bullshit.
● @amkb12: Not having to explain how it all connects you. Community/unity.
● @nicholewitty: Just a flag & rock 'n' roll could save us all.
● @Dana_ArtsyChick: A fun challenge, completed in a community effort.
● @AryaStark: LI&S: "...for a little while, we could insist on the impossible." There is always some form of hope in our community.
● @SarahgGreen: Community.
● @nickodams: What punk rock is all about.
● @Gleena: Meeting new friends and having fun.
● @OneWayToBoston: Friendship through music, cooperation, and unity. And sometimes confusion.
● @AmyMunz2: The foundation of friendships united by music.
● @bridgemo8: Unity across international and musical borders. We are all equal.
So, I have been trying to go away for a few days for about two years, but various things have been stopping me from doing that. One of which is my health, another is my fear of being in debt, combine that with the overwhelming guilt every time I spend money on myself, and you can start to see why I have not done this before now.
I tend to need a reason, an excuse if you like, to go away. I don’t seem too able to do it on the basis that I need a break, or simply for my own pleasure. I need something to point to as a focus for the trip. It made sense, then, when a band I love (Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls) announced their UK tour as taking place in the same month as my birthday that I could use my birthday as the reason to go to more than one show.
Then I noticed that Falmouth was on the tour list, and it’s the smallest venue on this tour (capacity being 550–600 vs the last date on the tour of Alexandra Palace at nearly 12,000 capacity!). The chance to see them in such a small venue, when the closest venue on the tour to where I actually live holds just under 2,000, put this high on the list as a chance to get away.
As a booster to my reasons for going to Falmouth, I used to live in Cornwall as a child and keep promising myself that I will go back there one day… and up till now, I haven’t done that so this was my chance to fix it. I am also aware, that it is in my own best interests, in terms of my mental and physical health to have a couple of days away. I keep being advised that this is something I should do, and just haven’t been able to get it to fit in my head until now.
The bizarre clincher for me booking the tickets and the hotel, was a couple of days before the tour was announced I found a map in a charity shop. I love maps, and collect them. This was one of the OS History maps, and it’s the commemorative map of the 1805 post-chaise journey from Falmouth to London to give the news of the battle of Trafalgar and Lord Nelson’s death. So with the town name so clear in my mind before the tour was announced, as soon as I saw it listed as a tour date, I knew that here was my chance to go and see Falmouth for the first time since I was five or six years old, and with a better understanding of the history of the place.
There are three things that I love: nature, history and live music. This trip to Falmouth would provide opportunities for sampling all three, so I could justify and rationalise in my mind spending the amount of money on getting there and staying over for three nights, which would give me two full days and two half-days in the area. It gave me a reason to stay alive, a reason to look forward, to be positive about something in the future, but there was still a lingering guilt about spending so much money and time just on me.
When the supports were announced, most of the shows had already sold out (I already had my tickets, thankfully). Will Varley and Skinny Lister are both bands / musicians that I have already seen and love so when they were announced it was an extra bonus; I could not have been more pleased, as they are both worth seeing in their own rights. About halfway between me making the booking and getting there, something else cropped up: an opportunity to be a flag bearer for the FTHC tour flag. I didn’t apply to be a carrier when it was announced that there would be a tour flag for this tour, as I have been associated in a minor capacity with previous tour flags. I wanted to make sure that people who had no experience of the tour flag got the opportunity to do so before previous carriers got involved.
There was a gap between the last Falmouth gig on 10th November and the following gig in Glasgow on 13th November. I wasn’t going to Glasgow, I was going home to Bristol (ish). There was a person who could pick up the flag in Bristol if someone could get it there from Falmouth – so I volunteered.
In volunteering for this I realised that I had just stepped up my reasons to stay alive. This is not me looking forward to a break for the sake of my health, this became about people relying on me to do something: to be on time to pick up the flag, and to hand it over to the next person.
As an amateur photographer and with my love of history and the natural world, it also gave me the opportunity to put my love of these things together with the tour flag. FT has a number of songs about travel, and there are a lot of references to English landscape and history, and he has described himself as a history nerd, so my taking photos of the flag in the landscape, and with the local history, would be a wonderful combination of all the things I love.
Since there were two Falmouth gigs, and I was picking it up at the end of the second night (10 November), I wasn’t sure what the other flag carriers would have done with it in Falmouth, so I came up with a list of places and waited to see what had been done with it there. Apparently not very much in Falmouth itself, because it went to Penzance and Liskeard instead. My train back wasn’t till 5pm on the 11th, so I had most of the day in Falmouth with it and wanted to take it to as much as possible.
I wanted to link, where possible, my own interests and things mentioned or referenced in songs. It shouldn’t be too hard, since there are a number of songs that mention rivers and the sea, including one called 'Sailor's Boots'. There is also a song on the latest album called 'The Opening Act Of Spring'. Since it was November in England, and traditionally November is autumn / winter, it sounds like that might be hard to refer to but Cornwall’s south coast has a mild climate that enables the growing of tropical plants. Being a trade port, helped with the collection of plants in many of the historical gardens there, I was sure I could find something exotic, and in flower, and I did.
I think I did pretty well. I took it to a couple of historical gardens, a nature reserve which is also a site of special scientific interest, the cliff path with a view of the beach, Falmouth town and some historic sites there, and a boat tour of the harbour, finishing my day at Pendennis Point with its amazing views and fortifications, some of which predate Henry VIII (who seems to be most commonly associated with the castles of Pendennis and on the opposite peninsula the castle of St Mawes).
I didn’t get home till nearly midnight and was very tired, sweaty and sore, but I knew I had to get up the next day for FTHC flag day two.
The problem with having the flag in Bristol (ish) for the day was that later on the tour the band were actually playing Bristol two nights in a row, so there would be two Bristol flag carriers. Since I don’t have a car, what could I do with the flag for that day that would not interfere or take away options for the two Bristol people on their days with the flag around the Bristol tour date? Mmmmm tricky….. I came up with a cunning plan… no turnips were involved…
Frank has a list of all the tour dates he has played and they are all numbered. I looked up all the places he has played in Bristol and made a list of the dates and venues and the show number and decided that I would take the flag to all of the venues on the list. There were a couple of additional pictures I wanted to take too that I didn’t think other people would do.
As someone who has lived on boats, been a cadet, and knows a little about flags, I also wondered if I could get the tour flag to fly as an actual flag. The new homemade flag is a wonderful flag, but it doesn't have any eyelets (specially made reinforced hole in the flag used to attach flags to flag poles without damaging the fabric of the flag), so on first glance it is not a true flag and cannot be flown as one. I knew that if I had damaged or lost the flag, I would have let down a large number of people, and I could not do that, to them or to me.
It bothered me though. It’s a flag. We call it the tour flag. I thought about it a lot, and as part of the counselling I do to help with my anxiety and confidence issues, I asked for some advice. What came out of that is that I am a naturally cautious person. I never do anything risky if it involves possibly hurting someone else – which it would if I damaged or lost the flag. I do also have experience with flags, ropes, and finding alternate solutions for things. If I did this successfully it would be a boost to my confidence, and if I planned it, practiced it and found it was not safe, I could not beat myself up for not trying. I would have tried, assessed and done the right, correct and safe thing. So… think about it, plan, practice and assess for safety – GO!
Knowing I had a couple of months, and having seen the flag online, I came up with a few ideas and tested them. All of my ideas worked in the practices, which boosted my confidence that I might be able to do this. So, I tried again, just to be extra sure, with a number of weights of fabrics and sizes and since I knew I would have to do all of it alone on the day, I had to be able to do it on my own in practice as well. The fear of losing or damaging the flag, meant that I also knew that even though I wanted the flag to fly as a true flag, I also knew that if for a second there was the slightest doubt that anything I had in mind might not work, I would not even try. Better to be safe than sorry – every time!
As it happens I got the flag to fly in Falmouth from an archway, and in Bristol on the highest point on a real flagpole, just long enough for a photo. There is a hospital I have been to a number of times in the last year. They have been very good to me there, and as a history geek myself and it being an old building, I looked into its history and discovered among other things, it is the highest point within the boundary of Bristol itself. I thought it might make a good place for a photo – especially since it has a flag pole (this is before I fully realised there were no eyelets on the flag) so I asked if it was possible to get a photo there with the flag.. When I realised about the eyelet issue, I spoke to the guys about it and explained how terrible it would be if the flag had an accident, and we discussed options and I arranged to meet them with the caveat that if there was any risk at all to the flag, it would NOT go on the pole.
The guys were amazing, and on the day, I made my donation on behalf of the flag so I could fly it on their pole, and we assessed the safety issues and they took the flag to the roof, while I went out to the car park to take the photo. A few moments later I was rewarded with the bonus of the sun coming out, and seeing the flag fly from the pole! It was AWESOME. Folks – do NOT try this at home.
As I came back inside to collect the flag, the sun went in and the drizzle started, which I had most of the day, and with gusty winds, taking photos of the flag on your own was a little more interesting than I would really have liked. I was blessed with some very helpful strangers along the way though, who either held a corner of the flag for me, or took a photo of me holding the flag.
I can honestly say that booking these three nights away was the best thing I ever done for myself. Even without the added bonus of the flag, I got to swim in the sea in November in England (it is at its warmest at this time of year – google sea temperatures and you will see what I mean). I saw a huge variety of wildlife, including a honey buzzard, peregrine falcon, a hunting kestrel, sparrow hawk, herons, egrets, a kingfisher, lots of cormorants (one of whom was fishing about five feet from where I was swimming - while I cursed that I had not brought my prescription goggles so I could watch it underwater too) and the inhabitants of the rock pools of course. I also got to do a trip of the harbour and see some of Falmouth’s historic sites and gardens. I wonder if, or how, I will ever top this as a solo experience?