Frank Turner has had a busy decade. Touring like it’s going out of fashion and dropping consistently brilliant albums has made him one of Britain’s most respected and established musicians. Music editor Nick caught up with him to talk about politics, music, and being kind.
Hi Frank! We last spoke in 2016 and I remember you mentioning the political direction you were considering taking your music in. With 1933 we’ve definitely seen that, does the rest of Be More Kind follow the same vein?
Not every single song, but certainly there is a lot more of that than the last couple of albums. That’s part of why we put 1933 out. Writing about politics is a difficult thing to do, especially as you get older. Anthems have to be quite short, so you have to be sure what you are you pumping your fist about.
You have been promoting the idea of being kind at your live shows for a while. Is the album title an ode to that?
It is. I don’t want to over-idealise what happens at my live shows though, I’m sure some people are dicks at them! The title comes from a poem from Clive James, who is one of my favourite writers. He’s been writing about death as he has terminal cancer and he has a line “I wish I had been more kind”. But it’s not just Clive James, there seems to be a lot of people who reach the end of their lives, and conclude they should have been kinder.
1933 takes a much rockier direction than a lot of your older work, who and what inspired this move?
It’s worth me beginning by saying that 1933 is a bit of a misdirection on that level, it’s one of the punkier ones but it’s the only one on the new record that sounds like that. With the new record I was trying to be stylistically episodic, if I was doing a punk number it would sound punk, the same for a country number. [The album] heads in lots of different directions.
I remember you mentioning the Arkells when we last spoke and now you are bringing them out on tour. How did that link come about?
It came about because of an oldfashioned tour swap. I always give advice to young bands to swap shows with other musicians who need to fill their bills. They’re huge in Canada and we were helped by that, so we helped them in the US when we toured. It was more commerce than art. But they blew me away live and I love them. They’ve been a huge influence on the new record.
Last year you released Songbook, your greatest hits and an alternative versions album. Do you plan to play any alternative versions on tour?
Yeah, I play one or two which we put down on there because it was how we played it live, like Long Live the Queen. Some of the others were ones I came up with in the studio. Certainly, I prefer the Songbook version of Polaroid Picture.
It’s been 10 years now since Love, Ire & Song, do you ever find yourself looking back at the early days or are you very much forward-looking? Did you ever think that you’d be where you are now: with a film, sold out tours and a large fanbase?
There’s a difference between expecting and hoping something would happen. I always wanted to be successful but when you are driving around playing to 80 people it doesn’t quite feel like the road to stardom. Then you watch bands like Arctic Monkeys go from 0 to 60 in 2 months, no disrespect intended. There’s a balance to be struck as I don’t want to disrespect the old stuff and I still play them, but it’s important to move forward.
You often bring out Safer Gigs For Women on tour, given the #MeToo campaign and recent allegations against musicians and other artists. Do you think the work they do is even more vital now than before?
It’s not more vital as it was always vital, but I think that the Harvey Weinstein thing has been a sudden sea change to views on respect for women. There’s a lot less cynicism over allegations. I do feel like these conversations have moved to the centre, and they are moving in a positive direction. It shouldn’t be a cause for complacency, we should always do more. I think there has recently been a change in that whole conservation.
Frank Turner plays at the LCR on 9 May.