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Bragging Rights

May 9th 2012 | Brendan Hitchens

Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin' is a symbolic song at the best of times, but more so when it is performed as an encore duet at Wembley Stadium with Billy Bragg.  Frank Turner's pen prophecies share a similarity with both songwriters; colloquial, political and sincere, and as both enter their twilight years, Turner seems poised to take their mantle.

“It was a great day and a great show,” he begins, reflecting on last month headlining the soon-to-be-Olympic venue to 12,000 people. “It all came down to 90 minutes of my life. It was breathtaking to be in front of that many people all singing along.”

Bragg, who Turner personally requested as his support act, is an obvious influence on his music; so playing alongside an idol to so many people must be overwhelming? Not so for Turner.  “I wouldn't say going on after Billy was intimidating. It was a massive honor and a privilege. He's so down to earth.” 

Always ambitious, from unabashedly covering ABBA, Queen and Wham! to sharing their stadium-sized ambitions, the 30-year-old from rural South East England takes it all in his stride.

“The very next day [after Wembley] I jumped on a plane and flew to Canada to continue touring and playing shows,” he reflects. “It was like I needed to get back to work, doing what I've been doing for years and not just sitting around and changing.” 

Turner's latest record England Keep My Bones has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If he isn't anchored in the motherland, he is at least singing about it every night. Having previewed songs off the album on his second Australian tour in 2010, he returns this month with the album now teetering on the cusp of the mainstream. Last year saw Turner perform 79 shows in 14 different countries, and the New Year is no let up for the travelling troubadour. Adding Darwin, Alice Springs and Cairns to his tour destinations, Turner admits it's a win-win situation. “It's partly self interest in that I want to go to new places and meet new people, but at the same time if you go out of your way to play at these places, in my experience, you generally have a great show because people are appreciative that you've made the journey. There's a good will in the room before you start which, is fantastic.” 

Touring with his backing band The Sleeping Souls for the first time in this country, Turner acknowledges their importance to both his sound and live show.

“The band is a pretty integral part of what I do,” he pronounces. “I've always wanted a band like The E Street Band, where it's not just a group of random faces but when you come to a show you know their names. It's now more of a show and focused performance, a celebratory expulsion. I take my cues as much from watching footage of James Brown as the punk bands I grew up on.”

Eight months since the release of his last album, Turner has already written and demoed 15 new songs, with many of these sneaking into his live show. Admitting his writing isn't as thematic as previously, he reveals a loose theme of, “struggling to retain ideals as you get older,” developing as a focus. With five albums out and the skeleton of the sixth taking shape, the Australian setlist emerges as one of greatest hits. Turner jokingly suggests fans can expect, “a lot of singalongs, dance numbers and the rest of it. I want people to walk away from the show with the biggest possible grin I can get out of them.” With one foot in the mainstream and the other firmly planted in the underground, the times are certainly a-changing for this Londoner.

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