Feature: More Simple Words – Frank Turner on the Literary Road

After a whirlwind career of globetrotting with his guitar Frank Turner has now turned his hand to releasing his tour diaries in boom form. Rob Fearnley caught up with him during his book tour to talk writing, touring, history and folk music.

“Signing books is hard work man!” beams Frank Turner as he shakes his wrist with mock affliction. He’s just spent an hour making his mark on umpteen copies of his new book as part of a signing tour and we’re now ensconced in a tiny office at the back of the bookshop. Photographs of various celebrities who’ve been through the doors to, sign their own tomes, stare down at us as we settle in for a chat about the unexpected move from folk-punk troubadour to writer.

The book appears to have been received favourably so far but it’s not been without a modicum of apprehension it seems. “Until this week I hadn’t spent much time thinking about the reaction the book might get but then I got a bit scared! It’s quite a candid book in places and while you shouldn’t care what people think of you I’m still like ‘God, I hope people don’t think I’m an arsehole!’. Up until this week the only people who’d read it were being paid to be nice about it so it’s great that it’s now out there and people are enjoying it”.

The book is entitled ‘The Road Beneath My Feet’ and covers the period from Turner’s previous band, Million Dead splitting up in 2005 to the triumphant sell-out show in at Wembley Arena in 2012. It’s an honest account of life on the road but not brutally so and thankfully avoids the usual rock ‘n roll clichés of excess and melodrama that you might expect of a musician penned book. “I lead a fairly melodrama free life or at least I try to.” Turner tells me “I’ve read ‘The Dirt’ but I hate Motley Crue and those sorts of bands. I hate that callous, aristocratic attitude they have towards the people who basically pay their wages”.

Turner is clearly aware of the importance of the music buying public in his own personal success story and throughout the book and he’s at pains to point out that without their support he wouldn’t be in a position to release a book at all. It’s testament to the man that he holds this ideal above most and is a big part of the reason that 24 hours after we hold forth in the bookshop he’s sitting pretty atop the non-fiction book charts. “I thought writing a book would be easy as I’ve written articles in the past but that’s clearly a ridiculously hubristic statement and one that I’ve come to regret. Trying to sustain the reader’s interest and make it worth reading over a period of time becomes harder as does avoiding repeating the same thing over and over.”

Covered in some detail is Turner’s relationship with his band (it’s noticeable that he never once uses the term backing band) and he’s keen to share the highs and lows of life on the road as a unit.

“When I was writing the book I was thinking ‘these guys are gonna read it!.” he tells me with a nervous look in his eyes. “I never felt the need to apologise as such but it was more a case of recognition over time. We’ve had our tensions over time but those guys have put an enormous amount of faith in me by doing what they’ve done. We got through it as an exercise in faith with everyone hoping it was going to go somewhere.”

It’s clear that The Sleeping Souls (for that is their collective name) are every bit important in the Frank Turner story as the fans and he’s at pains to point that out. “I think there were moments in time where the band thought I didn’t realise what sort of sacrifice they were making. I like to think that I did appreciate them at the time but now I’ve been able to say it for the record.”

Drawing a line in the sand with the book Turner now finds himself having released several albums and EP’s, toured the world, played at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics and of course sold out Wembley Arena. At a shade over 30, he’s had a career that many can only dream of – so what’s next and what’s left to achieve?

“We recently did a show on a cruise ship in international waters which was great! I’d really like to do a show on a plane so that I can say that I’ve played in international airspace too. Not one of those zero-gravity planes though. They look fucking terrifying! I’d also like to write another book at some point. This book is all about me but if I ever wrote another one I’d like to do something on history or travel; I’m a total nerd for those subjects. The idea of English heritage in the past was considered not cool at all and there are obviously some really shitty parts of our history. There are really interesting parts of it though too and I’d love to do an album based around it at some point. After the Olympics thing I took some time out and walked the South Downs Way near where I grew in Hampshire and it as breathtakingly beautiful. It’d just be me saying this is where I’m from and I’m proud of it”

Unsurprisingly the thought of new music and further touring is never far from Frank Turners mind and discussions turn to album number 6 and a whole new bout of globe-trotting and story-making. Unsurprisingly though, Turner is often more interested in talking about other musicians and their craft rather than his own.

“The next big thing for me is the new record which is in the can and will be out in the summer. That’ll swallow my life for some time but it suits me as I’m very bad at being idle. I’m looking forward to touring with some more great bands as well. I always pick my own supports and if people walk away from our shows or read about a particular band in the book and then listen to those acts it’s great because most of them are way better than people realise”

Turner’s manager is frantically waving at us to wrap things up so they can head off to Liverpool for the evenings show but he’s still in full flow as we get on the subject of why so many punk rockers have gravitated towards acoustic, roots and folk music in a similar manner to him. It’s a topic he’s keen to wax lyrical on as his manager raises an eyebrow and admits defeat.

“There’s more in common with punk rock and folk music ideologically than it might first appear” says Turner as he leans forward in his chair, hands clasped together as if to emphasise the point. “Philosophically there’s loads of shared common ground; iconoclasm, shared sense of community etc. When you’re playing an acoustic or folk show there’s no room for error or covering up with feedback – it’s either a good show or it’s not and I think that’s kinda punk rock in its own way.”

Turner manages to stop short of passing himself off as some sort of folk-punk Godfather but he does have this to add on the subject “it’s frustrating that singers that go off on acoustic tours don’t embrace the folk scene to begin with. If you’re gonna go for a format and different styles go and listen to the originators and learn the medium rather than view it as a cheap way of touring”.

So there you have it. From a Southampton pub to a sold out Wembley in seven short years but still just a bloke with a guitar. Turner departs with a bearlike hug as though we’re long lost friends and his affable, charming demeanour does leave you feeling like that. Frank Turner may have drawn a line with his new book but there’s no doubt he’ll be keeping the road beneath his feet for a long time yet.

Words by Rob Fearnley. Photo Credit: Ben Morse.

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