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Frank Turner

Filling the void left by anti-folk celebrity BILLY BRAGG, who’d curtailed his recording schedule somewhat since the millennium, punky singer-songwriter FRANK TURNER (born Francis Edward Turner, 28 December 1981 in Manama, Bahrain) was indeed searching for his “New England”; he was raised in Meonstoke (a village in Hampshire) by his relatively well-off parents and went to Eton College at the same time as Prince William.
Railing against society from within, Frank spent time as lead singer in a couple of London’s new breed of post-hardcore outfits, Kneejerk and Anglo-Aussies MILLION DEAD, the latter was a popular quartet with several singles and a couple of albums under their belt: `A Song To Ruin’ (2003) and `Harmony No Harmony’ (2005); FT’s mother Jane (a headmistress and daughter of a bishop) guested on the latter set.
After kick-starting his societal subversive solo sojourn via the appropriately-titled 6-song EP `Campfire Punkrock’ in 2006 (not forgetting the odd split single), TURNER and his indie-rock backers Dive Dive (formerly The UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH) toured in support of his much-touted debut set SLEEP IS FOR THE WEEK (2007) {*6}; radio play-listed at the time were folk-rock singles `The Real Damage’ and `Vital Signs’.
With Ben Lloyd from Dive Dive at the controls and a tour supporting Andy Yorke (brother of RADIOHEAD’s Thom), BIFFY CLYRO and yourcodenameis: milo, things looked ever so bright as his second set LOVE IRE & SONG (2008) {*8} cracked the UK Top 75 and led him on to the roster of tasty American punk imprint Epitaph; a serious bout of gastroenteritis however led to gig cancellations at the end of the year and his growing influx of fans missing out on modern-day classics such as `Reasons Not To Be An Idiot’, `Photosynthesis’ and charity single `Long Live The Queen’. Time here to mention a few of his cover versions: The LEMONHEADS’ `Outdoor Type’, the old nugget `You Are My Sunshine’, SPRINGSTEEN’s `Thunder Road’ and ABBA’s `Dancing Queen’.
Polished and produced by NAILBOMB leader Alex Newport, POETRY OF THE DEED (2009) {*8} was Frank’s inaugural Top 40 entry in Britain, an anthem-fuelled semi-classic for the country’s disillusioned and politically-minded youth awaiting a new OASIS, LEVELLERS or STIFF LITTLE FINGERS; his punk background was definitely on show by way of `Live Fast Die Old’ (hardly a folk song), plus `Dan’s Song’, `The Road’ and `Richard Divine’.
Whether throwing a domestic cat into the audience (at the 02 Academy in Oxfordshire on the 23rd June 2011) was a great idea to promote his UK Top 20 fourth album ENGLAND KEEP MY BONES {*8}, but it certainly kicked up a stir among animal protection groups. Of the album, ballad-y tracks were laced with all the familiar traits of folk’s new-kid-on-the-block, one song in particular `Peggy Sang The Blues’ was a dedication to the memory of his granny, while two of the most infectious songs (`If Ever I Stray’ and `Wessex Boys’) were co-penned by loyal band member Nigel Powell.
Quite the shy celebrity of late, the man for the people struck gold again on 2013’s TAPE DECK HEART {*6}. What BILLY BRAGG would give to encapsulate his halcyon days of yore, but with the blue-collar poet now filling his nostalgic boots in a swagger that BB could barely have managed even way back in the 80s, TURNER was the new darling. Produced by a guy more at home with star bands such as MUSE, JANE’S ADDICTION and MY CHEMICAL ROMANCE: Rich Costey, the set saw Frank peel away the punk-y pub-rock layers to express himself in humour and heartfelt passion on `Recovery’, `Good & Gone’, `The Fisher King Blues’ and his idolatrous paean to a certain KISS general by way of `Wherefore Art Thou Gene Simmons’.
Fist-pumping folk-punk or acoustic anthems for the empowered youth of the day, POSITIVE SONGS FOR NEGATIVE PEOPLE (2015) {*7} exemplified TURNER’s thrust and spirit in a dozen earthy songs. From the cleansing and introspective `The Angel Islington’ to the emotionally rousing `Song For Josh’, heartache and pain are still within the man’s life-compass, but then in the rebellious `Get Better’, `Glorious You’, `Demons’ and the visceral `Out Of Breath’ (`Silent Key’ has all the traits of a PAVEMENT piece), the Top 3 TURNER tracks the truth with the weight of the world still upon his shoulders.
Every so often something, or someone, comes along to spur protest singers into railing against the injustices of the nation (and this rich-vs.-poor world); the Brexit outcome and the Trump election were two such political events that duly stirred up self-acclaimed “classical liberal” FRANK TURNER. The singer once received death threats following a statement in The Guardian: “The non-Marxist British left is a fantastic tradition: it’s all about non-conformism and voluntarism. The advances of the unions are great advances in human society.” Half a decade on from that outspoken revelation, his message was BE MORE KIND (2018) {*7}, a Top 3 album inspired in part by CLIVE JAMES’ poem `Lecons de Tenebres’. Fine sentiments indeed, but from the rise of Hitler’s Nazis in the punk-pop chants of the song, `1933’, and on to Frank’s sarcastic, 180-degree, anti-racist motifs on `Make America Great Again’, he knew his lyrics were connecting the numbered dots in Trump’s impending global buy-out/takeover. `Don’t Worry’, Frank consoled his listeners on the opening cut, while `Little Changes’, `21st Century Survival Blues’ and `Common Ground’ served best to reassure us the people; and one can be rest assured that whatever FT’s heart-on-his-sleeve idealisms are, he won’t be taking it lying down.
Bolstered by several tracks he thought worthy of releasing separately as download singles, NO MAN’S LAND (2019) {*7} was TURNER’s fourth consecutive Top 3 set – not even BILLY BRAGG had achieved that in his heyday. And backed by an all-female band under the direction of producer/mixer Catherine Marks, the “Campfire Punkrocker” turned his hand to the observation of unsung historical figures: namely `Jinny Bingham’s Ghost’ (a 17th century landlady turned witch), `Sister Rosetta’ (i.e. gospel singer SISTER ROSETTA THARPE) and `I Believed You, William Blake’ (the “Jerusalem” songsmith), to `A Perfect Wife’ (concerning American serial killer Nannie Doss), `Nica’ (about a French resistance fighter), `Silent Key’ (attending to ill-fated astronaut Krista McAuliffe) and `The Lioness’ (in homage to Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’arawi’). Welcome too was Frank’s tribute to his mother, `Rosemary Jane’, which fittingly concluded another success story for a man flying the flag for indie folk music.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Apr2013-Sep2019

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