Frank Turner likes to talk almost as much as he likes to sing. In many ways he is the interviewer’s dream, answering any question thoughtfully, intelligently and succinctly. Even so, when State speaks to him he has been on the end of a day full of Irish questioning and has found himself explaining the roots of his latest record. “I’m spending a fair amount of time discussing the merits of including the word England in my album title”, he laughs.
In that case we’ll focus on the music. Did you always want to make this a different, more solo record than Poetry Of The Deed?
“When we came to make that album the line-up to my backing band was set in stone and the first time we went into the studio to record live was a fun and interesting experience, but in doing that I feel that some of the songs were overwhelmed by the playing and the arrangements. Perhaps I was just a little too excited by the fact that I had a band to play with. This time around everyone had grown into their role and was settled so I felt a lot happier choosing who would play what on the album. It was a more comfortable experience as a unit”.
If you wanted to be in a band, you’d be in a band…
“I have yet to find a successful way of explaining the difference between a band and a backing band, but they are definitely quite different things. Everyone contributes ideas but at the end of the day I write the songs on my own, it’s a dictatorship not a democracy. It’s my say and it’s what I want to do”.
People often describe your sound as folk, but isn’t that just a lazy way to lump all acoustic music in together?
“That’s well put. I’ve been guilty of that in the past. I grew up with punk rock not folk but ideologically I want to make music that’s for everyone and not just angry eighteen year olds wearing black jeans and punk rock t-shirts. I love those people and was one of them at that age but my demographic has to be a bit broader. People level that folk accusation against me and there is a large part of me that agrees with that. As a result I went to listen to traditional music and that lead to what I’m doing now. I’m coming at it from an outsider’s angle, I never want the punk element to get lost”.
Is England Keep My Bones nostalgic for a more golden age?
“The political element was only a background to what I’m doing but if you look at the breakup of the United Kingdom, the English have been left wondering where they stand now the concept of Britishness is going. Look at the way the Union Jack was reclaimed from the far right by Britpop. I think there is a space in the music scene for someone to try and do a similar thing with the St George’s flag. I’m not quite proactive enough to be the person, my thoughts on the subject are a bit more ambivalent. People are fed up though with being told that if they have any positive thoughts on their own country then they must be a member of the English Defence League”.
The recent riots are going to have an effect on the English consciousness too…
“I was in London while it was going on and it was a scary time. Obviously there is some kind of societal disconnection going on that we need to address but at the same time I had friends and family being attacked and the PIAS warehouse was burned down, giving an enormous kick in the balls to me and independent musicians all over the United Kingdom, so I have difficulty biting my tongue when I hear trendy celebrities calling it the British Spring. That boils my piss to be honest with you”.
There really was no thinking behind it was there?
“If it had been a situation where people had been burning down cop shops and heading to huge department stores, that would have been one thing. I’m not saying it would have been wonderful but at least there would have been an agenda. My cousin has three small children and people were trying to put fireworks through his letter box all night and I find it very hard to have any solidarity for that kind of behaviour”.
England Keep My Bones is out now on Xtra Mile. Frank Turner plays solo shows at The Set Theatre, Kilkenny (tonight); Cyprus Avenue, Cork (14th); Roisin Dubh, Galway (15th). Full band shows follow at The Stiff Kitten, Belfast (17th) and Whelan’s, Dublin (18th).