English folk singer/songwriter Frank Turner doesn’t mix pop and politics to quote Billy Bragg but his own personal politics are front and centre in his own work. Turner's latest album is titled "Positive Songs for Negative People". He is currently touring Canada and plays the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on Mar 11. Mo Kenney and Northcote open and also appear on other select dates.
Asked in an email exchange, who these negative people are, Turner replies “me, before 3 p.m. any given day”.
Turner's early morning bane will be banished over the few weeks. He will be keeping late nights I'm sure with support this good, even if his band is called The Sleeping Souls. Turner says touring previously with Mo Kenney mentor and pal, Joel Plaskett, “was an honour and an education” and the delightful and engaging Mo Kenney is sure to give him a schooling as well.
Northcote, ex- of hardcore outfit MEANS, wears his Springsteen influences high on his rolled up sleeve. Turner is ex- of hardcore outfit Million Dead and he too advocates for the importance of The Boss. Turner also shouts out other artists, Neil Young for one.
"I suspect to either Wikipedia or a rogue press release, the "Nebraska" thing has been slightly blown out of proportion for me,” says Turner. “That record was influential and important for me, but so were many others. I suspect the Johnny Cash "American Recordings" series were the biggest impact for me, but Neil Young's more acoustic work was also a huge deal. I used to cover large swaths of 'After The Gold Rush' and 'Harvest' in my early solo shows. Taken collectively, I guess all of this stuff showed me, a kid who had grown up with punk and metal, that it was possible to be heavy, intense, meaningful, without resorting to distorted guitars and shouting.”
Another Canadian experienced a similar epiphany; John K Samson also credits Shakey for much of the enlightenment. Maybe it’s a fraternity based on historic friendliness, on a commonwealth of music but Turner says he has a great affection for the Great White Northernors.
“I have a lot of love for a lot of Canadian bands,” says Turner, “Propagandhi, Godspeed, Neil Young, and in particular The Weakerthans have all been big signposts in my musical life.”
Turner shares many of those signposts in his book "The Road Beneath My Feet" published in 2015 by Headline Publishing.
"The book I wrote is a tour memoir, but it was inspired particularly by stuff like Henry Rollins' 'Get In The Van'. There's a degree of functionality to it; I wanted to show people what life on the road is actually like, and perhaps even give them some pointers, should they be interested in that path,” he says.
The path fuels Turner’s personal politics. He travels and like an old time scout returns with news from away. Its not so bad on the other side. There are positive people doing positive things. The songs sing it. There’s hope, there’s possibility as he says on Get Better “Draw a line underneath all of this unhappiness/ Come on now, let's fix this mess/ We could get better/ Because we're not dead yet”.
“I'm actually pretty optimistic about the state of the world," he says, "I don't think we're doing too badly, collectively. Pessimism is fashionable but facile, in my view.”
Turner's songs are his own inspiration and his own call to arms. He's not recruiting but you are welcome to dance, sing, and strum along with him, to agree or disagree, only just at least feel, only just at least act.
“I don't set out to be opinionated or authentic or whatever, in and of itself. I try to express myself, as an artistic act and as a form of catharsis, and in so doing I do my very best to do it well, to make art worth paying attention to, to play good shows. That's just what I do; I don't really know how to do anything else,” he says.