Frank Turner is no stranger to the stage. He began touring at the age of 16. Following his attendance at the London School of Economics, he developed a proclivity for history and spent four years as the vocalist for post-hardcore band Million Dead until its dissolution.
The English folk singer-songwriter and punk troubadour opened with The Sleeping Souls, for Arkells homecoming concert.
Despite his transition from punk rock to folk in his solo career, Turner’s presence very much emulates his post-hardcore roots with an air of aggression and intensity, albeit in a beguiling sort of way.
He writes in what he calls a confessional, autobiographical style, most notably in his fifth studio album, Tape Deck Heart, which documents a raw narrative of heartbreak.
Produced by Rich Costey, who is acclaimed for his work with Muse, Tape Deck Heart became one of Turner’s biggest successes both critically and commercially. Turner followed with his most recent record, Positive Songs for Negative People, which offers a more upbeat tone to accompany a personal resurrection from the events of the prior record.
After an unruly debacle that followed some comments he made regarding his political beliefs to a major newspaper, it’s no wonder even someone as ardent as Turner has shied away from speaking his mind in the limelight.
“[Politics] is an issue which I oscillate on, to be honest… I certainly just made two records in a row that are self-consciously not political because I got to a place in my career where I got pretty sick of politics and music,” said Turner.
“When we did the first shows with them I was just instantly blow away. I think they’re one of the best bands I’ve heard in a long, long time.”
“The problem with it is that… there’s a large constituency of people who look to music for politics and for nothing else. They couldn’t give a toss if you’ve written a great song, they just care whether or not you’re singing their pre-existing opinions back to them in rhyming couplets. And if you do that, they’ll love you. If you say any one thing that they disagree with, they will burn you at the stake as a heretic.”
Despite his qualms, Turner says he is currently in the middle of a political rebirth in his writing, inspired by current events around the world.
He is nervous about plunging into political waters once again, but also finds it difficult not to respond to current events in some way as a writer. Last year, Turner played at the Reading Festival for the 10th year in a row. He has played around the globe, from pubs to festivals to the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony, which he found to be a cool but strange experience.
The show he played at the FirstOntario Centre with the Arkells was his 2,025th as a musician. Although this is his first experience working with the Hamilton natives, he details the gigantic bromance that has formed between him and members of the band already.
“[Arkells are] a phenomenal band… when we did the first shows with them I was just instantly blown away. I think they’re one of the best bands I’ve heard in a long, long time… we get on really well, we have fun… Everyone’s in love with everyone else in this camp right now. It’s kind of glorious.”
When he’s not touring, Turner’s life is both unexpectedly and expectedly normal. He has a girlfriend. He can be found on walks around London and he’s learning to cook.
Fans can look forward to the release of a new record by the end of this year. Over the course of his prolific career, the Brit has created an expansive repertoire that he tucks under his heavily tattooed arms, one of which is actually an ode to Canada.
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“I was playing a show in Fredericton, New Brunswick and I [played my song “Tattoo”]… a guy in the front row who [said he was a tattoo artist] and I said ‘cool, I’ll get a New Brunswick tattoo’ as a joke… He had been tattooing in that town for 25 years and no one had ever got a New Brunswick tattoo. So I decided to actually get a New Brunswick tattoo because why the fuck not?”
Turner’s nearly two decade-long career has seen him transition from a frustrated punk rocker with precocious musical talent to a singer-songwriter with rare lyrical gifts.
When asked which tour stop will become the latest addition to his tattoo collection, Turner glanced at his decorated limbs.
“We’ll see, we’ll see. I’m slightly picking my battles these days, space is in high premium.”