I’m notoriously bad at keeping abreast with popular culture, I don’t read celeb mags, or watch the ‘right’ (wrong) telly for these things and I hardly listen to the radio. So I tend to get introduced to new bands by accident. It was my 20-year-old daughter Cleo who introduced me to young singer-songwriter Frank Turner.
And so we went as a family to check Frank out for ourselves at The Regal in Oxford last night.
Frank’s tireless gigging, particularly on the festival circuit, has borne fruit and he now has a growing, enthusiastic young fan base. Last night’s gig was a sell-out.
He is categorised as ‘folk punk’ or ‘alternative rock’ and I suppose that is true. I don’t much like categories; they can be restrictive which is precisely what Frank is NOT about. What Frank actually plays are very English-sounding songs, clearly influenced by the likes of The Levellers, New Model Army, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg. What he does isn’t new or ground-breaking, except maybe it is for my daughter’s generation.
These days there’s plenty of what my husband calls kakababashite churned out by record producers managing a sexy stable of safe, image-conscious recording artists singing songs of boy meets girl, young love and shit like that. Now I may be very wrong here, but I’m not aware of a vast number of mainstream, young, successful singer-songwriters competing to perform songs about politics, god, society, relationships and it feels to be growing up today. Like I say I may be wrong. Do you get that on the X-Factor? Perhaps the times they are a-changin’ after all?
Until recently there hasn’t been that much out there for white, middle class, middle English people to be angry about. But look around and there is now. What Frank gives back to his white, middle class, middle English audience is what they are feeling. And it’s entirely authentic. His songs are not contrived or self-conscious, they are just what he is. He sings:
“A simple scale on an old guitar, and a punk rock sense of honesty.
I cannot fail, I’ve got this far with no knowledge of mid-west geography.
I was raised in middle England, not in Nashville Tennessee,
And the only thing I’m offering is me.”
I knew hardly any of Frank’s songs, except for a very few I’d heard only once. The only song I knew all the words to was his cover of Springsteen’s Thunder Road. But this didn’t stop me from enjoying Frank’s performance hugely. His music has a refreshing passion, at times uncompromising and angry, but also tender and thought-provoking. His shouty singing style won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but his anthemic chants, meaningful and carefully constructed lyrics, and sheer bloody good tunes have an unmistakable quality to them.
It was great to be part of an audience of young people, vigorously responding to the messages in the music. They sang along with gusto.
With the appalling spectre of university fees and lifelong debt hanging over today’s young people, looming environmental disaster, economic crises and a government which doesn’t seem to give a toss about anything, it seems to me that armed with an intelligent, thoughtful fan base, Frank might just be able to change the world.
“I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up” he sings. Good. Please try not to.
Photos: Moth Clark