“there’s this higher class of rock star, who comes and delivers their songs to the people like breadcrumbs from a carriage and then fucks off again”
Sitting in the tiny backroom of the Cavern, Frank Turner seems far too big to be there. Not only is his height dwarfing anyone else in the vicinity, but this is a man who has sold out arenas, now sitting in an underground bunker in Exeter. It’s unusual to say the least. “That’s what annoys me about rock and roll as an idea,” he begins, dismissing any notions that he is too successful to play such a venue, “it’s quite aristocratic, there’s this higher class of rock star, who comes and delivers their songs to the people like breadcrumbs from a carriage and then fucks off again, I’m not really into that, it’s kind of boring and shitty.”
Frank Turner can’t be detached from rock and roll all that easily. His latest albums have shown more and more tendencies towards the genre which Turner himself describes as an “art form”. But, punk and folk are also intrinsic to Turner’s style and substance, and the egalitarianism they offer appeals to him. “The first time I went to a punk show”, Turner begins, “when the first band finished they jumped into the crowd over the barrier, and the second band jumped over onto the stage and started setting up their shit. That was such a big moment for me, because I realised fuck, the bands are the people.” This is why it makes sense for Turner to play Cavern. After ten albums and mainstream success, it still makes sense for him to return to a venue where the bar staff are also the bands and a community of live music lovers is very much alive and well.
“Everything is not enough, nothing is too much to bare”
Returning almost a decade after his first solo Cavern show, with far more tattoos, and a far bigger back catalogue, Turner acknowledges that things change. “I think songs are living breathing things, it’s why I’m not that keen on recording as an idea,” he says, “It’s clichéd but it’s like pinning a butterfly down.” He’s almost nostalgic about it at times, respecting the time capsule of his life that his music represents, “There’s a fresh-faced innocence which I love, and I couldn’t do now because I’ve written too many songs and done too much shit.”
Over the years, his style has changed with punk taking precedence over the folk. But he’s eager to discuss how his lyrical style has evolved. “When I was younger I was more impressed by verbosity. In Million Dead I was trying to show off how many words I could get into a song, or how many obscure Polish communists I could get into an album,” Turner reflects. “It was three for the record,” he adds, “arguably three too many”. Now he prefers a leaner style of writing. He admires the work of Townes van Zandt, even having the phrase “Everything is not enough, nothing is too much to bare” tattooed on his back. “That may be the most perfect couplet I know,” he says. “Every fucking syllable. There is not an ounce of fat on it, I love it,” Turner explains, punctuating the air.
“A great song happens by accident, you have to fall into it somehow, which is what makes the whole thing so fucking annoying.”
That snappy turn of phrase is present in Turner’s own music, and it’s part of what gives him such a wide appeal. His songs relate to people in a concise and poetic format. I ask him if he considers that when he writes his lyrics. “If you come at it trying to write a relatable song, it’s going to sound naff,” Turner replies, decisively. “A great song happens by accident, you have to fall into it somehow, which is what makes the whole thing so fucking annoying.”
What impresses most, is the love Turner clearly has for what he does. He could talk for hours, and he obviously puts immense thought into every element of writing and performing music. The word passion is overused in today’s society, but with Frank Turner it’s justified. He is a craftsman, and music is his vocation. When pushed, he cautiously admits that “it is a job”, and he relies on it to pay his bills, but he’s also quick to add, that “given the broader context of human experience, I think that for me to complain about feeling that anything I have to do is a chore would be pretty up my own arse.” It’s rare to find a musician so genuine, or one that would be better suited to play the 25th anniversary of the most grassroots venue in town.