Keeping it real with Frank Turner

CHANGE has swept across Britain in recent years, but punk-folk star Frank Turner says that some values never change. So what can music tell us about the state of the nation? Andrew Trendell talks to Frank…

“I have no idea,” laughs Frank Turner, baffled by the prospect of if whether or not he’s finally ‘made it’.

“I never have been entirely sure about what a benchmark of ‘making it’ would be. I don’t think I’ve spotted it.”

But there have been several opportunities for Frank Turner to stop in his tracks and pinch himself. Rising from the ashes of cult hardcore punks Million Dead, he carved himself a life as a literate folk-punk singer songwriter. Before long, he was four albums into his solo career, tracks like Long Live The Queen and The Road were all over the radio, he was playing Wembley Stadium with Green Day, touring with The Offspring and selling out venues around the world.

Now gearing up to launch his new record England Keep My Bones, Frank shows no signs of relenting.

“I’m very grateful for what I have,” admits Frank. “But I still wake up every day and feel like I need to work hard to make my career happen and keep pushing it and slaving away at what I do.”

He continues: “I don’t feel like Bono just yet – let’s put it that way.”

He may not be Bono and stadium-filling superstardom may be a way off for now, but Frank has certainly wrapped his tongue around some tough socio-political issues. In a similar vein to Billy Bragg and inspired by the likes of Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young, Frank has used his songs as a vehicle to denounce Thatcherism and sing about British values. It’s been said that his music is quintessentially English but how have recent changes in British politics affected his music?

“There has been some transformation in England,” says Frank. “But my own personal sense of Englishness is rooted in stuff like the common law and our rights and that kind of thing.”

“There certainly have been assaults on that side of things from the idiotic cretins who govern our country but I think that the soul of England remains intact in the way that I see it.

Frank continues: “I think that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot more, in part paradoxically because I haven’t been in the country that much and that’s given me time to think about things in a slightly more abstract way.”

“The new album is called England Keep My Bones but it’s not it’s not a current state of the nation thing and I have no particular interest in writing songs about coalition politics or Royal Weddings or any of that stuff.”

He adds: “What I’m interested in is something a bit more ancient.”

It’s these ‘ancient’ themes about ‘real’ British life that have often landed Frank with the label of ‘punk folk’ – a moniker he says he’s not too bothered about.

“Well, there’s a whole economy of people sticking labels onto bands and artists and that’s fine but I can’t say that worrying about what people decide to call my music keeps me awake at night,” admits Frank.

“I’m an old fan of Mumford and Sons, but to use the word folk with what I do is more of an ideological statement than a musical one. I’m not singing traditional songs and I’m not an out and out folk singer.”

Frank adds: “To me, a folk song is one that involves ordinary people and makes everyone sing together with some kind of solidarity and those are the kind of songs that I want to write. That’s a statement of intent for me.”

So how does the mild-mannered Mr Turner think his folk will go down at Download Festival this summer?

“You know, it’s pretty funny,” he laughs. “My new favourite hobby is reading comments from outraged metal-heads who are furious that someone with an acoustic guitar will be playing at Download!”

“I’ve played there very many years ago and I’m sure it will be fine. It’s a cool festival, and without naming any names I think that my set will certainly be more intense and heavier than a lot of bands on the bill.”

He went on: “There will be a lot less concentration on hair-styling and more on actually trying to say something of meaning. We’ll see how it goes, I’m sure there will be a couple of grumpy Slayer fans.”

To avoid those nonplussed Slayer fans, Frank Turner will be playing at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham on Friday 13th May.

England Keep My Bones is released by Xtra Mile on Monday 6th June.