By Chris Hammond
A veteran of over 1000 gigs Frank Turner is rightly regarded as one of the most hard working men in music. He’s a punchy, folk rock artist with a festival friendly sound and a punk ethos which goes against every preconception people have of him. Educated at Eton, Turner shunned the typical alumni path and moved into music. His first serious group Million Dead won plaudits for their hardcore tunes but failed to build on their early promise, disbanding in 2005. That might have been the last we heard of Frank. Except it wasn’t. Going solo, he’s been touring like a man possessed in pubs, bars, venues and festivals all across the world in an attempt to get out there and have his music heard. The results haven’t been unimpressive and if ever there was an advert for persistence paying off, it would feature Frank Turner.
With four studio albums under his belt and a host of EPs, Frank has just released his second compilation album. Titled ‘The Second Three Years’, it’s an accessible selection of Frank’s most recent material as he explains: “We did ‘The First Three Years’ a while back, well three years ago, to bring together all the material I’d released on smaller EPs, compilation tracks and so on. I wanted it to be easy for people coming new to my music to pick up everything I’d done, rather than having to poke around on eBay for obscure out of print stuff. Three years later I had a rummage around my archives and found another pile of unreleased stuff, so I figured it’d be cool to bring it all together again. There are a lot of songs on there that are mine and which aren’t on any albums, and there’s a lot of covers as well. Hopefully it is value for money.”
While ‘The Second Three Years’ pulls together some of Frank’s most recent work, he’s quick to point out that it isn’t the best introduction for new listeners. The preferred way to listen to Frank Turner remains live, and if his 2012 schedule is anything like as busy as his 2011 one there’ll be every opportunity to see him on the road before too long.
Seen by many as the natural heir to outspoken singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, listeners will be expecting last year’s cuts, riots and strikes to feature in Frank’s most recent music. The singer himself though seems to argue that such a move might not mean much in the long run.”I might, although I’m wary of what I think of as the Phil Ochs trap – writing topical songs which then very quickly become irrelevant. I’d like to think that my material will survive longer than the moment.”
For someone comfortable playing a series of tiny venues with crowds no bigger than few dozen it must have been a pretty big surprise to find his last studio album ‘England Keep My Bones’ very nearly broke into the top ten albums on its release day. “Well, the chart thing was a little weird for me. Obviously it was pretty amazing that it did so well, but it’s basically a measure of sales over a very short period of time, and I can’t say that’s something that I care about all that much. The ‘prestige’ or whatever is meaningless to me. If people take their time coming to what I do, that’s fine with me of course. I guess it was cool to see a record released by a small independent label hold its own.”
‘England Keep My Bones’ was something of a bittersweet love note to his country of birth. Touching on subjects such as national identity and atheism, the album’s name belies an accessibility that saw it become a huge favourite with both Europeans and the American festival audiences of last year. So what is it that makes his very ‘English’ sensibilities so accessible to audiences worldwide? “If I could answer that question I’d write a guide and make my millions (laughs). I’m not sure. I try not to analyse what I do too much, I just write what I consider to be the best songs that I can and then put them out there. It’s great that a lot of people seem to like them too.”
Perhaps because of his willingness to play anywhere, Frank is always associated with tours to obscure places, intimate gigs and festivals. But making that sort assumption doesn’t really do justice to a man who was picked to support Green Day at Wembley Stadium and headlined one of Download’s stages last year. It also doesn’t quite ring true when you look at his next big date; Wembley Arena in April. How is it playing such widely different venues? “My crew and I are working overtime already to make sure that the show goes off as well as can be. It’s a challenge, logistically and creatively, to make a show work in that context, and to make sure that it doesn’t lose the participation and intimacy that, I think, stand out about my shows. I think we’re going to pull it off, but it’s a lot of work. I don’t want it to be like a normal arena show, I’m trying to make sure that it feels different, more personal.”
Finally, after promising that a tour to Scotland is very much on the cards at some point, Frank reveals that his biggest concern isn’t Wembley going right or the chart sales of his latest compilation. It’s just time. “I’m actually having a problem trying to schedule everything I want to do next year. I want to make a new album, but I also have plans for a few side projects, and I’m working on a book of tour diaries. And if course there’s the road. Ha! We’ll work it out somehow.”
Frank Turner’s latest album ‘The Second Three Years’ is out now. Check out www.frank-turner.com for tour information.