Frank Turner brings his political pop to Leeds
Seasoned social commentator Frank Turner is taking his politically charged songs to arena audiences. He spoke to the YEP ahead of his show at the First Direct in Leeds.
Political pop is a precarious business.
Ever since the 1960s, writers have been booed for injecting their own political views into their songs, often accused of preaching a self-righteous evangel.
Jackson Browne, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell had their detractors, even in the politically-fuelled decade of the 1970s.
Forty years and countless elections later, Frank Turner faces the same criticism.
Turner’s seventh solo album, Be More Kind, was released to general critical acclaim in May.
Much of the LP is dedicated to addressing the current political climate and how we communicate with each other.
Ever since the release of his first album 11 years ago, Turner, 37, has been known for his sometimes sardonic, always anthemic lyric writing.
Speaking to him ahead of his headline show at Leeds’ First Direct Arena – the perfect venue for his stadium-filling indie rock – he’s in high spirits and up for a chat.
The title of his latest album is taken from a Clive James poem, and Turner says that this line spoke to him, probably more than anything else James has written: “I’m a big Clive James fan; it’s a weirdly morbid thing to say, but since he’s been terminally ill, I feel like his writing has reached a new level of excellence.”
“In one of his poems, looking back over his life as a man facing death, he said ‘I should have been more kind’.
“That really just devastated me straight away and got my brain worrying, as these things tend to do.
“The way I’m using the expression is slightly different, the album is about the state of our political discourse and the way we conduct our disagreements with each other.”
Turner explains that, while the title did help to inform the rest of the record, it was then easier to create the remaining 12 songs which make up Be More Kind.
“I like to let stuff arrive, but my brain was definitely hovering around that sort of subject matter at the time. It felt like that was going to be the fulcrum around which the rest of the album could revolve.”
Writing politically-charged songs is risky on many levels; the album becoming dated, the artist being proven wrong in their beliefs and alienating the listener are just a few of the risks a songwriter runs.
Even Turner, a seasoned social commentator, says it’s not an easy job. “To write songs like Rage Against the Machine or Rise Against – and these are all great bands – you have to be very sure that you’re right.
“The central emotional feeling that I have about politics right now is uncertainty.
“I have no idea what is going on and I don’t really know what’s going to happen next.
“My personal reaction to that is to try and hold on to things like civility in our discourse, which we have enjoyed for a period of time.
“There’s a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum, who seem to be kind of cheering on the rush towards political violence, and I think that’s disastrous and we have to do what we can to try and stop that.”
Putting politics to one side, we discuss the much-rumoured soul album Turner teased fans about – is this going to emerge?
“I think a soul album itself is a great idea, I’m in two minds as to whether or not I’m somebody who is capable of actually making a good one.
“It’s a style of music I really enjoy, there are one or two traces on the record (Be More Kind) where I had the vibe, but it’s not a full-on white soul record.
That being said, Turner emphasises he is keen to explore areas outside of his usual musical remit.
“One of the driving motivations for this record was for me to do things that are out of my comfort zone, and making a soul record would be a long way out of my comfort zone. Just, possibly, a little too far.”
Whereas most artists are on their way down seven albums in, Turner is the opposite.
Be More Kind entered the charts at number-three and he is booked on a full arena tour of the UK.
Achieving success at a 45-degree angle must make an artist appreciate the journey even more.
“I would decrease the angle on that a little bit”, he laughs.
“It’s funny, it’s always been sort of a very ‘slow and steady wins the race’ thing.
There have been moments in my career when we did stuff that we were expecting more of a jump from and it didn’t really happen; but at the same time it never went down.
“It’s just been this funny thing. I just have a very odd position in the music industry.”
Frank Turner plays the First Direct Arena in Leeds on Sunday, January 27.
Support comes from Jimmy Eat World.
For ticket information go to www.ticketmaster.co.uk