A Pint With: Frank Turner

A Pint With: Frank Turner

By William Scott

Dec 8, 2017 9:15

Roughly 50 minutes pass in a conversation with Frank Turner on a cold, blustery Friday evening in The Monarch in Camden Town, through topics of love, life, politics and even Natalie Portman's tapeworm, before we realise that the reason Punktastic sat down for a drink tonight, hasn't even been graced. Turner is open to discussing much more than his latest 'Songbook' release, giving us a deep insight into the thoughts of the travelling show that is his life.

Turner is spotted by a group of fans and well-wishers on an opposite table and before tonight’s discussion begins he is whisked away for pictures and a casual chat. Eavesdropping on how Turner talks with his fans is curious; he’s played over 2000 shows in every corner of the globe but he remembers faces and can hold a conversation with any fan wishing to speak to him. “There are a lot of people who do what I do for a living who have a slightly fractious relationship with people who like their music. I think it is a kind of learned behaviour that right from the beginning they should run away from their fans and hide. Therefore the fans regard them as a moving target and the whole relationship turns hostile,” explains Turner. “For various philosophical reasons I never wanted to have that.”

Turner comes across as a man of the people; after all, this is a man who has sold his own merch at shows and spent hours in the cold talking to fans after gigs, well before Arena shows, the Olympic Ceremony and festival headlining slots. But this hasn’t changed who he is. Tonight’s conversation was originally billed as a quick pint and a chinwag about his new release, ‘Songbook’, a reworking of songs new and old, but, in his own words “I will talk for-fucking-ever about anything”.

A Pint With: Frank Turner

The Monarch, the venue for tonight’s discussion, resonates with Turner for many reasons. His friends work and manage the bar, including fellow musician Beans On Toast, and it was used as part of the weekend festivities of Lost Evenings Festival which took place in May this year, and will continue in May 2018. Based on Turner’s enthusiasm, it seems we can look forward to this becoming a staple in the calendar year-on-year: “I want it to be a community event. I feel like Camden is my music community and if I can contribute to that, that’s great.” 

This year’s themes were finally announced over the Autumn season, and include another Xtra Mile Label Night, the return of Sensible Sundays and, on the Saturday night of the festival, a celebration of fan-favourite ‘Love, Ire & Song’. Shortly before the announcement there were rumblings on the Twittersphere that we would see a return of the mighty Mongol Horde, Turner’s “alter-ego” hardcore side project which spits venom, blood and has a chaotic live show to match. While this isn’t part of the billing for next year’s festival, we are to be treated to a short UK tour in January. What is it about touring with the three-piece noise-machine that is Mongol Horde, that is so special?

“I didn’t want it to come across as all the shit I do in my ‘day job’, for lack of a better term.” He goes on to discuss fellow member and friend, Ben Dawson. “The reason we formed Mongol Horde is because I wanted to hangout with Ben, ‘cause I fucking love him. Me and Ben were in bands together from the age of 11 to the age of 23 and when Million Dead broke up I didn’t see him for about a year and a half. It was because we had forgotten that we needed to make plans.” Dawson comes across as the main theme in one of the singles from ‘Tape Deck Heart’, ‘Oh, Brother’, where Turner talks about the progression of time and remembers the great times they had. “We learned to play music together, we are musical twins essentially.”

Mongol Horde takes us directly into the next part of the conversation where Turner talks about some of the various hate mail he has received and why he gets so much, including that of a Natalie Portman fan group: a direct response to the Mongol Horde track ‘Tapeworm Uprising’, which follows the narrative of Natalie Portman’s tapeworm leading a plight of world domination. “Because my name as an artist is the same as my name as a person it intensifies me, which is the same as every musician. You tend to get evaluated often and hard by people you’ve never met.” It is at this point of the conversation Turner talks about Twitter and its downfalls before delving deep into the beliefs that shape his social and political ideology, topics that he is planning on returning to in his future release. “I am now re-engaging with this debate voluntarily in terms of talking about politics. Album seven, as far as the politics of it goes, is about tolerance.”

During a similar discussion last year Turner spoke about the ‘concept’ record that he had written and today he talks about why he is temporarily shelving it. “I just felt that responding to Brexit and Trump with an album about women from the 18th century would be a bit obscurantist. I wanted to react to the world.” The new record is expected in the spring.

A Pint With: Frank Turner

So finally, we come to it. As the night goes on and The Monarch in Camden Town begins to pack out with crowds beginning their Friday evening shenanigans, Turner talks about the ideas behind ‘Songbook’. It is when the topic finally arises that Turner lets out a burst of laughter and exclaims “That’s why we are here!”

There is a new version of fan favourite ‘Long Live The Queen’ which takes on a heavier, punk edge to the track. “Lex was a wonderful, beautiful, human being” he begins. “The thing about Lex is I met her in the Million Dead days, she was a big Million Dead supporter. I stayed at her house and she was a really good friend. When Million Dead broke up and I started doing the acoustic thing she was supportive as a friend but pretty obviously wasn’t that stoked about it,” he continues. “Obviously she never heard the song because I wrote it after she died but it had long slightly bugged me that in my heart of hearts I suspect her reaction to the original song might have been “this is a bit soft”. I can’t remember when it was but one day I just said “fuck it, let’s work out a heavy version of this”.” He finishes by saying that he’s sure that she would like this new version better.

As we swill the bottom of our choices of poison around our glasses, tonight’s conversation comes to a close with Turner taking leave to join other friends and catch up with them over dinner and drinks. It is evident that while ‘Songbook’ might be a glance back at the past of his previous work, it is fair to say that his head is placed firmly in the future and when we get hold of the next piece of his journey it is sure to become another fan favourite.

Turner closes the conversation with a topic straight out of the realms of “how the hell did we end up talking about this?” by chatting about his justified gripes with “competitiveness” within the industry. “Music is not a fucking competition, it has never been a competition and particularly now we have the internet there is no reason for it to be a competition. My success doesn’t subtract from any other band’s success.” It is a sobering reminder that despite all of the hatred that takes place online and in the real world that music is a place where people come together to share the joys of artistry, that which makes up a lot of the fabric of Turner’s songwriting over the years.

Frank Turner is out on tour with Mongol Horde in January. Lost Evenings Festival takes place in May 2018 at The Roundhouse in Camden. ‘Songbook’ is out now digitally and released physically December 15.