On the 14th November Rhiannon McVeigh went to Brangwyn Hall to see Frank Turner perform live. She caught up with him before the show to find out what he thinks about the tour, Swansea, and recording in California.
For those of you who may not have heard of him, Frank Turner is a folk style singer/songwriter from the south of England who released his first solo album in 2007 and has released three more since then. Some of his most well-known songs include “Peggy Sang the Blues” and “I Still Believe”, both from his most recent album England Keep My Bones.
I arrive at the venue at 5pm to find that there are already fans sitting outside waiting for the show to begin, two hours early. I think to myself that he must put on a good performance if people are willing to sit out in the November weather to get a decent spot in the crowd. Once inside I’m introduced to Frank and we’re led to a small room where I ask him about his tour.
“It’s the longest tour I’ve done in years and years and in terms of the number of people the biggest one I’ve ever done,” he tells me. “I’ve got quite a lot of studio material now, so we try to play some old stuff, play some new stuff and a few kind of surprises – that kind of thing.”
“I’ve toured with Tim before in the States and in Australia; Tim is somebody I consider to be an influence on what I do. He’s kind of like ‘senior’ to me in my world of music, you know what I mean? He’s been touring since like 1990 and it’s kind of weird having him play before me. Then there’s Jim Lockey who- I don’t want to use the protégé because it sounds patronising – but I definitely feel like I’ve invested interest in him becoming a total world megastar, which I think he will.”
I ask him if he’s played in Swansea before and he says that he has, but in a smaller venue which we quickly establish as Sin City.
“It’s great to play in Swansea again,” he says. “I think last time I was here was 2008, possible even 2007, a long time ago so I’m back and that’s good. It’s funny I had a bunch of people when the show was announced saying ‘it’s cool that you’re playing in Swansea, weird venue (Brangwyn Hall). Apparently they do like GCSEs and A Levels in here.’ I tell Frank that this is true, he says ‘bit of a weird one that one”’ and laughs.
He begins to tell me about the new album he has just finished making in California.
“I felt a bit weird about recording there, it’s such a cliché: ‘British band goes to California and turn into dickheads’. I was wary of that, but then I really wanted to work with this guy (Rich Costey the producer), and that’s where he works. In the end it didn’t matter at all because once you’re in the studio you could be anywhere.”
I remember something I read on his website about keeping smaller venues alive and I ask him why this is important to him.
“The venues I play nowadays are great, bigger places like this definitely, but if you add up all the kinds of rooms I’ve played it’s a tiny part of it. Without the rooms that hold 200 people no one would ever reach the big rooms, you know? They have to be there for you to grow as much as possible, and particularly for me, The Joiners in Southampton has just always been there as long as I’ve been in to music and I’ve played there so many times, been to so many gigs there. I just don’t want to live in a world without The Joiners basically!”
“It’s pretty funny actually, we put one show online and it crashed because it sold too many tickets so now there’s two shows. I do get a lot of people saying ‘I don’t want to see you play in a bigger room, I want to see you in a smaller room like I did back in the day’, but the problem is if I only play small venues it would be excluding a lot of people. It’s important to me that all the people that want to come can come – one thing I never want my music to be is cliquey or exclusive or just for the cool kids because I was never one growing up.”
When I ask him if there’s anyone in the industry he would love to work with he tells me he likes it to be casual, saying him and Tim Barry “will probably play some songs together on the tour, and probably me and Jim as well just for fun.”
“I mean I would absolutely kill to do something with Loudon Wainwright III, he’s one of my heroes. I’ve actually been trying to seek him out but he’s a difficult man to get hold of, he doesn’t seem to like people very much.”
He laughs. “That’s the other thing I mean, you have to be careful about meeting your heroes, I don’t want to meet him and for him to be a dickhead.”
“One thing that always gets me is people like Radiohead. How the fuck do you write a setlist if you’re Radiohead? It’s like ‘let’s just play any song we’ve ever written followed by any other song we’ve ever written and it will be an incredible set’.”
I ask him about the set he played at Reading festival in 2011 to find that he is incredibly humble in his response.
“That was a big, big deal for me, I grew up going to Reading. The really weird thing for me was that the first festival I went to was Reading 1995 and I remember getting in, in the afternoon and running over to the main stage to see Beck playing at about 3pm and that was the exact time slot we had, same stage, same time slot. It fulfilled a boyhood dream, so yeah that was pretty cool.”
The show begins with Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun, who admittedly, I hadn’t heard of previously. When I researched them I was confused by the very blunt name of their latest album: Death. I thought the title suggested a much harsher sound than what I found when I listened to it. My first impressions of the front man Jim are altogether positive – he has a great live voice that’s well-matched with the band’s sound which to me comes across as rock meshed with influences from lots of other genres. The reception from the crowd around me is positive, and it was nice to see how the band seem genuinely thrilled to be there, thanking the crowd several times for arriving early for the support acts. It is always nice to see young musicians who don’t come across with an air of arrogance. I thought a couple of the songs show off their potential – in particular “England’s Dead” and “A Song About Death”. In general I was not overwhelmed by the performance but I enjoyed it. I can see similarities between them and other bands around at the moment, and it would be interesting to see if they can pull something out the bag which will differentiate them and make them stand out in the future.
I’m pleasantly surprised to see Tim Barry crouching on the stage waiting patiently to begin while Jim Lockley and the guys clear their set away. He fiddles with a few wires, adjusts his microphone and is good to go. There are no big entrance or theatrics, just him on stage with his guitar. He gives a friendly opening speech, describing how he met Frank Turner and how he ended up on this tour. It’s interesting to hear Tim talk as highly of Frank as Frank had spoken of him; there is undoubtedly a mutual respect between the two of them. After the performance of his first song “Dog Bumped” I’m completely won over. His songs are full of both humour and honesty, his performance is personable and fresh, and like Jim Lockey, there is no hint of arrogance. He isn’t the best singer I’ve ever heard, far from it. Nor is he the best guitar player. His songs are made up of simple melodies and simple cords (as he admitted himself), but they had a unique charm that made his live performance very enjoyable.
After a moderate wait Frank Turner takes to the stage. What is great about his live performance is that he sounds exactly how he does on his records. Just like he said in our interview, he plays a mixture of new and old material, along with the well-known tracks that the audience has been waiting for. The crowd that turned out to see him is a real mixture – various ages and personalities present- but each person seemed to be enjoying it as much as the next. There isn’t really much you can say against Frank Turner’s live performance. If you know and enjoy his music, then you will enjoy seeing him perform, without a doubt. Even for someone like myself who knows less of his material, the show he puts on is lively and the songs are easy enough to pick up.
One of the highlights is witnessing two middle aged women who were standing apart from one another at the side of room (I assume they had both brought their children) who begin to dance with each other when “Peggy Sang the Blues” is playing. They dance through the whole song and when it finishes, one turns to the other and says “I really like that one” before they both laugh and go their separate ways.
By Rhiannon McVeigh