“I haven’t been for a few years now and I feel remiss about that, so my apologies to the people of Australia for taking my time about coming back.” English folk/punk artist Frank Turner is in a conciliatory mood as he speaks on the phone from London. This disposition runs throughout the singer-songwriter’s seventh album, ‘Be More Kind’, which he and his band, The Sleeping Souls, are supporting with a tour in 2018-19. They start in America in late-July, move to Europe, then onto Australia in December, and finish in the UK with Jimmy Eat World enlisted as supports.
The self-professed libertarian, who has ‘free born’ tattooed on his knuckles, is polite and articulate. He grew up on punk and hardcore, but now cites Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Bragg as some of his current influences. “I started playing in hardcore bands as a teenager and that was kind of my upbringing, but after a while everything seemed monochromatic,” he says.
The 36-year-old knows his way around a stage, performing at the London Olympics opening ceremony and headlining a sold-out gig at Wembley in 2012. He has also toured the world several times but says this might be his most ambitious tour yet. “I’ve been touring for 20 years. Next month in fact will be my 20th anniversary of being on tour. I think we announced 120 shows in one day and that was an idea that seemed better in the planning than in the execution shall we say,” he says with a laugh. “My social media went into absolute apocalyptic meltdown on the day that we announced all of that.”
This will be his fifth visit to Australia in eight years – a place that feels familiar to him. Two members of the former post-hardcore band he fronted, Million Dead, are Australian, and he has performed with artists such as John Butler Trio and The Smith Street Band. “I’m sad to say that Million Dead never made it Down Under, but we have a strong Australian presence in that band. We had Julia from Melbourne and Cameron from Perth but they were both living in London at the time. Me and Ben were both from London.”
“The first time I came to Australia was in 2010. My buddy Chuck Ragan … and I had been touring around and he kept saying to me: ‘I can’t believe you’ve never been to Australia. Australia is the promised land of touring. You’re gonna love it. It’s the best thing ever.’ Eventually I turned to him and said: ‘Alright, well fucking take me to Australia,’ which he did, and it was fantastic.”
Turner is playing Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Newcastle with supports, The Hard Aches and Emily Barker. Asked how the two non-capital cities were chosen over others, he says there’s history there. “I’ve just always had good shows in Newcastle and … my friend Jen Buxton … (is) a songwriter from Newcastle.”
It will be his first taste of Australia’s summer, but don’t expect to run into the bloke at the zoo. “I’m told it’s a lovely time of year to be in your part of the world. For some reason, every other time I’ve been to Australia has been in April, which is a perfectly nice time to be in Australia, but it’s sort of my only experience of the weather down there, so I’m excited to see something different. I think it was 2013 when I got the opportunity to head up to Cairns and to Alice Springs and to Darwin and places like that. It was awesome, I had a really wonderful time, and I would love to do that again, but the schedule’s tight this year.”
For potential audience members wondering what to expect, Turner remains secretive but faithful to the script. “A gentleman never reveals his setlist – I think people like to be surprised. Though I’m a populist when it comes to setlists. It is the Be More Kind album tour but I’ll be playing the favourites.”
When asked about receiving universal critical acclaim for the majority of his albums, he says: “This album has received the best reviews so far. But there was a period in the UK when there was a string of albums that got bad reviews. Some reviewers said: ‘His last album was better.’ It’s like ‘can you make up your fucking mind?’”
According to his people’s literature, one of the driving themes of Be More Kind, which is partly inspired by touring the US in 2016, is empathy. “The first track to be released from Be More Kind is 1933, inspired by articles Turner saw that suggested the alt-right was punk rock. That filled me with a mixture of incredulity and anger. The idea that Breitbart or Steve Bannon think they have anything to do with punk rock makes me extremely angry,” it reads. “You should at least be able to inhabit the mental universe of the people you disagree with. If you can’t do that, then how do you communicate with people other than through force of arms, which is something we all agree is a bad idea.”
Frank Turner still likes to wave the flag, strum the guitar and sing about shitty people, but he just might have a cup of tea with them too.
You can purchase tickets for the ‘Be More Kind Tour’ HERE.