Feature

Frank Turner talks two decades of music and taking a feminist angle on his most recent album, “No Man’s Land”

I’ve always been aware that my personal “Top 10 Favourite Musos of All Time” list was skewed in favour of musicians hailing from the UK.

Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae, Lianne La Havas, Sir Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury… they all contribute, extensively, to the soundtrack of my life. I can’t tell you what it is about the Brits, it just is.

I knew of Frank Turner, but diving into his anthology was an education, once again, in favour of the Brits.

Turner answers the phone with a British accent the Queen herself would be proud of. I get the formalities out of the way and waste no time in comparing the honest darkness and dirt in his storytelling to that of Nick Cave’s, which he appreciates, “That’s a huge compliment. I’m a big, big Nick Cave fan.” 

He continues, “One of the things I like about Nick cave is his sort of career path. He’s just done so many things,” another similarity I see in the range Turner’s eight-album solo career covers. 

Turner’s latest album, “No Man’s Land” (2019), seems to explore a different genre with every song, so I ask about his approach to songwriting, “I specifically took a different, tactical approach. The seven records that I did were all autobiographical and [with “No Man’s Land”] the approach, very specifically, was to write songs about other people’s lives and experiences.”

The album combines his two main interests — songwriting and history. Each song on the album tells the true, often lesser-told, story of a woman figure in a very different geographical and historical place in time, and each song is written in a genre that best tells their story.

I wonder about the potential backlash of a well-off, British white man writing, performing, and making money off stories about women. He’s discussed this topic many times, both in his own head and publicly, “It’s a funny old thing, that, initially I didn’t sit down and think I want to write a record about women. I said I wanted to write a history record and tell stories that haven’t been told all that much and the thing is I got about five songs into the record and I realised that every song had been about a woman,” a coincidence-turned-theme.

He explains that, once the 13-track album had been written, he simply couldn’t picture two men sitting in a studio producing it — it was imperative for a female producer to be at helm of the album’s production, “The thing that’s important is to highlight Catherine Mark’s importance and significance and relevance to the project, over and above her gender. I mean she’s naturally just an incredible producer.”

Turner thought the same of the band involved in the recording process, “I have my regular band that I’ve recorded seven records with, but I was thinking it could be interesting working with different people [specifically women]… I ended up with the most incredible players.”

From the story of Nica Rotschild, the Baroness of Bebop who supported and personally cared for some of the greatest names in jazz history, to Resusci Anne (Resusce Anne), whose face was used to model the CPR mannequin across the world, there is too much to unpack for the time we have together.

But Turner points me in the direction of Frank Turner’s Tales From No Man’s Land, a podcast series that dives deeper into each individual story, available on Apple Music, Spotify, and his website.

Sit The Folk Down and Plug Music Agency have teamed up to bring him down to South Africa for a three-date tour, but it isn’t his first rodeo, “I’ve played South Africa before [2014] and had the absolute best time. I’ve been wanting to come back because it’s part of the world that I don’t visit all that often,” he apologises. 

Jon Shaban (singer and guitarist for The Shabs and co-founder of Sit The Folk Down) opened for Turner’s 2014 performance, keeping in touch and subsequently planning The Frank Turner Tour 2020. “Earlier last year when I was touring with The Shabs, I met up with him, and he was talking about how he was keen to come back to South Africa and we managed to make it happen. Obviously he’s one of the highest profile artists we’ve ever worked with, with Sit The Folk Down — it’s a real privilege to be in charge of this tour,” says Shaban.”

Turner concludes with a promise, “I don’t wanna get to a show and have somebody who’s been listening to my music for a while want to hear that one song and then not play it, so I’m gonna try and keep everybody happy and play a little bit of everything I’ve ever written.”

The Frank Turner Tour 2020 dates are as follows:

  • 12 April, 2020 at Splashy Fen Music Festival, KZN.
  • 13 April, 2020 at Rumours Rock City, JHB alongside The Shabs & Jay Bones. Tickets available here.
  • 15 April, 2020 at Mercury Live, CPT alongside The Shabs & Sam Chalcraft (UK). Tickets available here.

Check out Facebook for more information on his Joburg show.

Check out Facebook for more information on his Cape Town show.