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Frank Turner, former frontman with UK hardcore band Million Dead and now folk music convert, plays an Irish tour this week. Ian Maleney spoke to him about politics, Englishness and the simplicity of folk music.

Frank Turner, former frontman with UK hardcore band Million Dead and now folk music convert, plays an Irish tour this week. Ian Maleney spoke to him about politics, Englishness and the simplicity of folk music.

 

When you’re talking to Frank Turner, one thing becomes very clear: He talks exceptionally fast. Thankfully though, the Englishman has quite a lot to say and it is all interesting. He speaks with the need to get somewhere by the end of each sentence, to have come a little further down the road of his own ideas by the time he’s explained each one. If you knew Turner back in his punk days, most notably fronting one of the best British bands of their era, Million Dead, then you will probably already be aware of his verbose manner. The edicts of tracks like ‘Bread And Circuses’ or ‘I Gave My Eyes To Stevie Wonder’ were spat out at breakneck speed and with a rare intensity, always intelligent, always fearless.

Now four records deep into a solo career, the 29-year old has moved fully into the folk tradition, exploring the possibilities of the acoustic guitar and the well-turned couplet. New album England Keep My Bones is a heartfelt call to his native land, dealing with questions of Englishness, home and mortality. Recorded in the Eurythmics-owned Church studios in London, the place left it’s mark on Turner. “It is actually a church and there was a point where I found myself sitting on a chair conducting a make-shift gospel choir singing “There is no God” when I slightly thought to myself, ‘If I’m wrong about this, I’m fucked’. The song in question ‘Balthazar, Impresario’, is an atheist anthem of sorts. I didn’t want to be too cheeky about it but I thought it would be kind of funny to have a sort of gospel feel to an atheist song.”

The concept of mortality seems to be a constant presence throughout the album and Turner agrees. “I would say mortality is kind of a theme of the album. There’s a song on the record called ‘One Foot Before The Other’ that deals with issues of mortality quite explicitly as well. I don’t write towards themes though because that seems slightly contrived to me. I’m not really a concept album guy, if you know what I mean. At the same time, it’s almost kind of fun to me because I just try to close my eyes and write so when I look back it’s like these are the things that I’ve been bothered about lately. Along with mortality, the main central theme of the record is England obviously, sort of as both a place and as a national identity. Hopefully not in a flag-waving, jingoistic kind of way but in a more kind of thoughtful way that is as much critical as it is celebratory. Hence the album being called England Keep My Bones, it seems to tick a lot of boxes.”

Turner has always had something to say about the way things are at home but here he finds himself dealing more explicitly than ever with the idea and the reality of modern England or what it means to be English, not British, in this day and age. It’s a complicated subject and the question of a national identity remains as tricky as ever. “I think English identity was wrapped up in being British for a long time,” he explains. “It is kind of a general societal trend that a lot of English people are now thinking, well if we’re not British anymore, what are we? I’m not sure. I’m not by any means an unashamed cheerleader for the idea of England or Englishness, there’s a lot of things about it that piss me off and disappoint me. The riots recently were a good example of things about England that depress the hell out of me and make me very sad. At the same time, I’m in love with the landscape and there’s things about English political history in the sense of stuff like the common law and the magna carta and the bill of rights. They’re the foundations stones of philosophical concepts which I’m very interested in, in my own personal politics.”

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