Singer-songwriter Frank Turner has made a name for himself in his native England and in the U.S. by mixing punk attitude with a folk bent that conjures up his countrymen Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg.
It is a sound Turner says is for the people, much like the global camp styles of Strummer and the populist bent of Bragg.
“I don’t spend massive amounts of time labeling myself,” Turner says. “People use the term ‘folk punk’ quite a lot around what I do, and that seems to make sense.”
Turner grew up the son of an investment banker father and schoolteacher mother in the village of Meonstoke in Hampshire, England. He gained a scholarship to the distinguished boarding school Eton College. It would be there that he developed his interest in the unconventional punk-rock lifestyle.
After releasing records with punk and hardcore bands, Turner discovered the low-fi, somber folk tales of Bruce Springsteen’s heartland album Nebraska.
The album prompted the change from hardcore to unchartered folk-rock waters.
“I wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone, which I feel is a very important thing to do as a creative person, as an artist or a writer. It is to try and do something you don’t know how to do rather than sticking to the things that you do.”
His time was spent as a vagabond and street musician busking, jumping on trains, sleeping wherever he could, all in search of answers to his musical identity and destination.
“That period of my career was out of necessity,” confesses Turner. “I was living very hand to mouth. I did have a Woody Guthrie fixation at the time, sort of being the eternally trapped sort of traveling writer and musician.”
The outcome of this hard-scrabble existence led to Turner’s debut Campfire Punkrock EP, released in 2006, and showed his emergence as a punk folk artist. His first full-length efforts, Sleep is for The Week (2007) and Love Ire and Song (2008) followed shortly after. His backing
Next up were Poetry of the Deed (2009) and England Keep My Bones (2011) the latter of which would show the maturation of his rich songwriting talent and hit No. 12 on the U.K. album charts. His hit song “I Still Believe” anchored the latter, and has become a crowd favorite live.
A key turning point of his early folk-punk career came in April 2012 when he played before 12,000 people at the hallowed Wembley Stadium. A mere two months later, Turner and his band would perform in another unlikely gig at the preshow kick-off to the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
“It felt like we had stolen the keys to the school. We were in a place we weren’t supposed to be,” Turner confesses of the Wembley show. “We did it on an independent label; we did it with no help from anyone, really. That felt fantastic.”
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His fifth and sixth full releases, Tape Deck Heart (2013), his only U.S. studio effort, and Positive Songs for Negative People in 2015 centered on his personal relationships.
While Turner’s music is the fuel, the delivery of his live performance is where the fire is, and his fan base has continued to grow with each passing year.
“These days, one of the things I am proudest of is that we have an incredibly wide demographic. People bring their parents. You get punk kids with mohawks standing next to old folkies. The point is an ideological statement. It’s music for people; it’s music for everybody.”
Frank Turner is scheduled to play Livewire in Scottsdale on Friday, January 27.