One Foot Forward

1 May 2012 | 7:58 am | Brent Balinski

So it was only in the last couple of minutes that I actually looked and went, ‘Fucking hell! This is enormous.’ But yeah, it felt good.

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"Solo [gigs] are generally a little more conversational – that's a polite way of putting it – or ramshackle,” admits Frank Turner, post-hardcore frontman-turned-much-loved folk/punk singer/guitarist, about the difference between playing to a room with just his guitar – as he did the last time he was out here – and performing with a whole band. “Obviously it's louder and there's a wider palette of sounds on offer and that kind of thing. But at the end of the day it's still the same songs being played and the same lyrics and the same melodies and all that kind of thing. But certainly, for me personally, there's quite a big change.”

It's been a big year-and-a-bit since Turner last darkened our collective doorstep. Now 30, His latest album, England Keep My Bones, was released to generally great reviews and commercial success (it debuted at #12 in the UK charts). He's toured constantly, clocking up his 1000th gig. And, last month, he sold out Wembley Stadium and had no less than his boyhood hero Billy Bragg as a support act.

So, was Wembley a huge moment? Nothing? Just another show? A sign that he'd finally arrived?

“It was all of these things and more, and to be honest I still feel like it's kind of sinking in. It felt like a real big thing going into it. And it was funny, I really felt like I didn't get to appreciate the moment of the thing and being in front of that many people until the last song.

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“All the rest of the way through I would concentrate so hard on making sure I was playing the songs right and everything was going right. So it was only in the last couple of minutes that I actually looked and went, 'Fucking hell! This is enormous.' But yeah, it felt good. But at the same time, without wanting to sound overly blasé or anything like that, it was another show. I'm wary of saying it's an event completely removed from the rest of what I do, because every time I get on stage I try and play the show of my life. But at the same time I'm also quite glad that it's done, because it was this huge thing clogging up my to-do list and now I can get on with the rest of my life as well.”

It's a characteristically modest answer from a chap who still gets a kick out of having a roomful of punters singing with him to what are folk (as in music for the people) songs and who refuses to use the term “fan” (he considers it condescending) to describe members of his audience.

Album number four has gained attention for a number of reasons, but many have remarked on its focus on mortality. “Hah! Well, my mum asked me if I was feeling alright,” Turner remembers. “And then a number of people have pointed out just on the one record the number of possible ways of disposing of my body after I'm dead [that are mentioned]. Which is confusing, and I'm sorry about all that.”

In particular, the song, One Foot In Front of The Other – a yarn about being cremated, dumped into London's water supply and absorbed by seven million people via potation – is a bit of departure from Turner's solo work, in terms of its black nature and its overall heaviness. “Especially in the UK, I think there are certain people who got into the music I make when I was still playing in [former band] Million Dead.

“On a personal level, it was an interesting song for me, because when I started making solo records, consciously or, more likely, unconsciously, I was trying really hard to not make any particularly heavy music, because I wanted to put clear blue water between what I do now and the band I used to play in. Whereas now, four records in or whatever, and it sort of came up as an idea musically and lyrically and all that kind of thing. It was like, 'Fuck it, why not? It's my album and I can put whatever I want on it.'”

Another moment that stands out on England Keep My Bones is I Am Disappeared, a sad little song about being able to up and leave whenever one likes. While he doesn't try and write around a conceptual theme for a record, Turner says, “In a way it's almost the centrepiece, lyrically, for the record.” A life on the road has its tensions, of course. “To me, the conceptual themes on the record revolve around me as a person: that conflict between wanderlust and homesickness, that idea that whenever you're out on the road you really want to go home and get someone, but then the minute you get there all you want to do is climb up the walls and escape.”

But on tour as when he is at home, Turner's only content when he's busy. In six years as a solo artist he's racked up four LPs, two compilation albums, four EPs and five split albums. He's pointed out his disgust with artists' approach to releasing an album every two years and doing nothing in between, and that the length of time between albums for Justin Timberlake is longer than the entire time The Beatles were actually making albums.

And as far as keeping productive goes, Turner's been working on a hardcore side project (unnamed at the time of writing) with some English buddies, which has been demoing and should release something before the end of the year. Then there's a side project with Jim Ward (of At The Drive-In) tentatively called Hammer Zeit, which hasn't had a chance to be fruitful due to both men having incompatible schedules at the moment. And then there's an album of found songs, which Turner hopes to work on after solo record number five is out of the way. A planned Get In The Van-style book hasn't appeared yet, but Turner and band did put out the publication, Photosynthesis: A Year In The Life Of The Frank Turner Touring Family. Having a full schedule and a body of work that seems to swell every moment are hardly weird for a fellow whose songs have the unmistakable message of “get on with it” running through them. Or, as Turner puts it in Photosynthesis: “And if all you ever do in with your life is photosynthesise, then you deserve every hour of these sleepless nights that you spend wondering when you're going to die.” Turner must sleep well when he gets the chance.