We chat with Frank Turner
It is almost a year to the day that Frank Turner last performed in Melbourne as Tonedeaf steals some of his gig preparation time to chat about his upcoming Australian tour. Things seem to have taken a turn for the overblown since we last encountered the Winchester bred, Eton-educated punk poet.
He is mere days away from a sold out gig at Wembley Arena, a casual 12,000 fans snapping up tickets to what will be the biggest concert of Frank’s career. A mixture of trepidation and giddiness is in Frank’s voice as he describes his feelings with perfect English diction.
“I woke up a few nights ago and thought, ‘I’m playing Wembley. Fuck.’ It’s two days away now though so I’m done with excitement; I just want to do it already, it’s been six months preparation for what is only 90 minutes of my life, it’s a bit ridiculous.”
But although the thought of playing in front of 12,000 of his countrymen seems to be a bit mind-blowing for our post-hardcore rocker-turned-folk troubadour, there is one way to come back down to Earth: playing the Railway Club Hotel in Darwin a month later.
“I’m really happy about that – even before I land in Australia, I am doing some support slots for Joel Plaskett in Canada and it was a conscious move to make that happen. What does one do the day after playing Wembley? I wasn’t going to sit around my hotel room feeling happy for myself, so it will be good to get back on the road, do some grassroots touring and spruik my merch. It keeps me on my toes.”
On his next trip of Australia, touring the critically adored album, England Keep My Bones, Frank is taking the road less travelled by artists, beginning at the top of our country and making pit stops in Townsville, Alice Springs and Cairns before doing the obligatory east-coast city gigs. His motivation to tour the regional centres is nothing but earnest.
“When it came to planning this tour, I asked my manager, where else can you play in Australia? I’m pretty magpie-ish in the sense that I always like going to new places. Plus I find that gigs like those in Alice Springs usually end up being some of the best because people have made a real effort to get there.”
On the topic of his upcoming shows, the structure of his performances is a sticking point as Frank often splits his shows into band and solo segments. “Well, it’s interesting because if I had to choose, playing with The Sleeping Souls would be my choice, but there is something uniquely special about playing solo. Touring around with nothing but my rucksack and my guitar case is where it all began for me, and it’s probably where it will end; it’s the skeleton of everything I do.”
It also highlights the spectrum of Turner’s sound as The Sleeping Souls bring a heavier wall of sound to Frank’s music and he is able to explore softer sounds by himself. This juxtaposition within his music has spawned a folk-punk tag that has followed Frank around ever since he traded in his amps for sentimentality.
His latest album, England Keep My Bones, is inherently entrenched in Frank’s countryland. In many ways it could be considered the doppelganger to 2011’s Mercury Prize winning album by Polly Jean Harvey and though, not nearly as grim, it shares the same texture of the landscape and paints an equally passionate portrait of its people.
“Some people have claimed it as a nationalistic record but I think it is a lot more complex than that. There are a lot of things that I love about my country, but there are many things that fuck me off as well. Making this album was very cathartic; it was me getting a lot of things out of my system so I could write about other things. I’ve got seventy-five per cent of my next record already written in my head and none of the songs revolve around England so I think it worked. I just really needed to say those things, so now I can move on.”
Staying on the topic of England and Frank’s deep connection to it, there is one thing quintessentially British that was released on Record Store Day and that is his cover of ‘Somebody To Love’ by Queen, a cult fan favourite since his performance at Reading and Leeds festival last year.
Add this to his cover of ‘I Want To Break Free’ last year at Melbourne’s Arthouse and the line in opening track ‘Eulogy’ “not everyone can be Freddie Mercury…” one could be forgiven for asking Frank if there is a hint of an obsession with the deceased moustache-man.
“Ha, ha! There is no fixation with Freddie but I’m a big fan. My musical awakening was the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, I remember taping it on VHS as a child, they are unarguably one of the greatest bands ever.”
Discussing his influences in lyrical style it is no wonder critics and fans fawn over his dexterity, intellectualism and heart-sliding-down-sleeve-to-palm honesty, he is adamant in his admiration for “caustic, brutal truth” in life and references Aidan Moffat and his Scottish-indie band Arab Strap as his muse for creating “unretractably honest music.”
When suggested that echoes of Shane McGowan can be heard, Frank is quick to agree, “Oh Shane of course, I grew up on The Pogues, but also [English poet] John Betjeman. I love his lyricism and his ability to make every syllable so precise.”
A reminder of Billy Bragg, whom many would consider one of England’s greatest living poets and a man who will be supporting Frank Turner’s Wembley Arena adventure, sparks another impassioned rant.
“Oh, Billy Bragg is just a legend. When I asked him to play, I was half joking, I didn’t expect that he would ever say yes, but that’s a mark of a great man isn’t it? He doesn’t care about who is supporting who on a bill, he just wants to play, which is brilliant. I am over the moon to be playing with him even though I still feel like an imposter coming on after the man.”
When Frank Turner sums it all up it seems quite simple, “My job description is to give the paying people the best show I can. I want to play ‘English Curse’, lay an a cappella down, that will sort the men from the boys, that’s throwing the gauntlet down.” His boyish arrogance is eloquently gifted with a cheeky grin as he mocks himself wistfully: “I am there to give you a transcendent rock’n’roll experience.”