Frank Turner: ‘May you live long and never watch a documentary about yourself’
PUBLISHED: 17:00 10 May 2017
BRIDGET GALTON talks rock docs, politics and the thrill of playing live with the folk punk singer
Frank Turner has been hailed as the hardest working man in music for stamina-fuelled gigs which give his ardent fans sweaty hand-waving, crowd-surfing bang for their buck.
Two thousand plus shows and counting, the 35-year-old curates his own four night Lost Evenings festival at The Roundhouse - a venue perfect for his communal raucous brand of catchy folk punk.
He headlines each night with guest stars, while by day, there are sessions to help budding musicians break into the industry.
“I spent a lot of time daydreaming about having my own outdoor festival but it’s incredibly logistic and risky,” says the Holloway-based singer songwriter.
Taking inspiration from the Southbank’s annual guest-helmed Meltdown Festival, he felt the Roundhouse was a great location to curate something of his own - with the added bonus that with its work with disadvantaged youngsters “it has taken shape as a community event”.
“I spend my social life in Camden and have done since I was 14,” he adds. “My dad’s family are tribally from Archway so I spent my childhood weekends coming here and moved to London 45 minutes after finishing my last A level much to my mother’s concern.”
The fact the panels and workshops are co-produced by young adults undergoing music industry training is a fit with his punk spirited “spread the love” ethos.
“I try to make it about more than me standing on stage, basking in my own glory. The Roundhouse do a lot of community outreach and since I was helped out getting into the music industry if I can pay that forward it seemed a no brainer.”
The fact that Turner released his debut album Sleep is for The Week 10 years ago also made the festival ripe for a retrospective with an acoustic night, two greatest hits sets and Turner playing the album in its entirety.
But despite a rock n roll-induced bad back, the restlessly creative singer, whose last album Positive Songs for Negative People was released through major label Polydor, isn’t off to play golf any time soon.
“I’m in the middle of working quite hard on the new record not resting on my laurels,” he says empthatically.
“It’s a funny time in my career, the 10 year anniversary and the idea to celebrate, but I don’t want to come across like someone who’s looking backwards.
“I feel very happy with how it’s gone. I worked out there’ll be more people in the room on the Saturday night playing the album than came to the entire UK release tour. No-one particularly cared 10 years ago but it’s been slow and steady wins the race and it’s wonderful to play an album I didn’t think anyone would care about in front of 3,000 people at the Roundhouse. That feels like a triumph.”
It’s lucky that in an age of dwindling record profits, Turner’s passion lies in pleasing his usually sell-out crowds.
“I’m first and foremost a live entertainer, it’s my bread and butter and I love it. It’s the one thing in life I am definitely confident I am good at. The rest is up for grabs.”
Protesting that he only gigs as much as he feels comfortable with he admits: “There was a moment a few years ago it became unhealthy - the things you could do in your 20s you can’t do in your 30s. Touring is incredibly physically demanding, you are not unlike an athlete.”
During a gruelling 2013 tour his back gave out and he had to “take a step back” from the punishing schedule. Now he and band The Sleeping Souls get as much as a whole week off between runs.
“People have homes and families these days,” he says perhaps alluding to his own love life, hitherto the source of many a heartbreak lyric.
“I have reasons to go home and be chilled,” he says cautiously. “[my love life] is going very well, better than I might imagine or might have hoped.”
It’s all very different from last year’s documentary Get Better, by friend Ben Morse which followed his 2014/15 tour and charted management rows and hedonistic behaviour. He laughs: “I’ve come up with a new greeting: May you live long and never watch a documentary about yourself.
“Watching it back in one go sitting next to my mum was very intense, an extremely odd feeling. Ben is a very close friend and it ended up being so candid because he was switching from stills to filming and I’d forget,”
Ultimately Turner would rather make a revealing than a dull documentary.
“If I had editorial input it would make for a very boring film.”
He admits the flip side of what he calls his “forward driving energy” that springs form a personality that does nothing by halves can be heavy drinking and tireless touring.
“There is a large danger with my personality of having a hunger for life and for experience,” he agrees.
“We are all going to die and it seems nuts to me that everyone isn’t panicking to try to do as much as possible before that happens.”
But although he likes a drink with friends, he’s on a more even keel these days.
“People think backstage is one long bacchanalian party but if that was true you’d end up playing bad shows and there’s no way I want to do that. They’re disappointed to see it’s a lot of people checking Facebook and doing yoga.”
The as yet untitled new album will be his most poltical for a while. Despite a well worn comparison to Billy Bragg he’s indignant to be pegged a political singer.
“I’ve perhaps recorded three political songs so everyone lazily assumes me to be something I’m not then is furious at me for not being what they assumed I was,” he says referring to a backlash at some of his less leftyish comments.
But the upheaval of Trump and Brexit that has caught his imagination. “Before I couldn’t find an engaging way to write about the world but last year the world went mad, and that has demanded comment. For the first time in my adult active political life I am subject to political forces over which I have no control and I think 1989-2016 will be written about in history books as a period of liberal ideals that we’re now emerging from.”
As for the future, all he can do is keep on doing what he does best. As a consummate gigger he’s unsympathetic to industry types who bemoan the demise of “a particular business model that allowed them to make millions by sitting at home and putting out a CD.” He adds: “For me performing is a form of redemption - it’s catharsis, empathy and connection. There is a joy to it. To stand up on stage and connect a roomful of people in an outpouring of collective feeling is a hugely privilged, wonderful thing.”
Lost Evenings is at The Roundhouse May 12-15. Support acts include Seth Lakeman and Skinny Lister. For details of satellite events at The Hawley Arms, Lock Tavern, The Monarch and Dingwalls go to lostevenings.info
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