Singer Frank Turner on the O2, the road, hating football and Celebrity Mastermind

Singer Frank Turner on the O2, the road, hating football and Celebrity Mastermind

Picture by Brantley Gutierrez

Picture by Brantley Gutierrez

Picture by Tara Novak

First published in News
Last updated
News Shopper: Photograph of the Author by , leisure editor

IT SEEMS at face value an uncomfortable fit for a folk singer to be playing the O2, where Miley and Beyonce are more at home. But when you have become as successful as Frank Turner it’s only logical.

The singer-songwriter chimed with the mainstream back in 2011 with radio hits like Wessex Boy and performed at the Olympic opening ceremony.

Following the release of his fifth album Tape Deck Heart last year only bigger venues remain viable – a smaller homecoming show in Winchester on Valentine’s day sold out in just two minutes.

Frank says: “It’s a little surreal (playing the O2). It’s certainly outside my comfort zone but it’s going to be a good gig.

“A big part of the reason for me doing a show on that level is accessibility.

“I feel it’s important that everybody who wants to buy a ticket for a show can do so, not least because when I was a teenager I was not the kind of guy that would be in the know and get to the cool gigs and be on the right mailing lists.”

Frank Turner - The Way I Tend To Be video

The sense of being an outsider is evidently something that has shaped Frank’s personality and music.

When I ask him if a line in his song I Still Believe - “I still believe in the saints” - relates to his local football team, the 32-year-old tells me: “It wasn’t intended as one and in a way I’m fine with that.

“As a kid I got the s*** beaten out of me every Saturday for about five years for not having a football team and I feel like I have earned the right not to have a football team.”

Given his status as an outsider, it is not surprising that he struggles to come to terms with his mainstream following.

He says: “It’s a subject I’m still grasping for the vocabulary to deal with.

“On the one hand, regarding myself and talking about myself as the underground, underdog is increasingly ridiculous but, at the same time, I spent 15 or 16 years growing up with underground music.

“My mindset is bred in that situation.”

Indeed, success did not come over night.

By his own reckoning, he has played 1,518 gigs since he went solo in 2005.

That constant touring has bled through into his music, which bears recurring motifs of travel and a romanticism toward the road and escape.

“I have done an absolute s***-tonne of touring and I love it,” he says. “It’s my favourite mode of existence.

“That desire to hit the road and run is something that everyone has to a degree. I certainly think there is a tension in my songwriting – and I feel very pretentious saying this – between escape and homesickness, that is unresolved.

“Whenever I’m on tour I get days when I’m homesick and dying to go home but you give me three days at home and I’m absolutely dying to go on tour again.”

Frank Turner - Wessex Boy video

When I ask Frank his career highlight to date, you would expect him to say his top 20 album, headlining Wembley Arena or performing at the Olympics, but that’s not in his character.

He says: “I don’t want to sound down on the Olympics because that would be churlish. It was a very odd, surreal thing to do, and fun but really it is not in the frame of reference of what I do for a living.

“My highlight is what I do for a living.

“When I was a kid, I told my friends and family I was going to be a musician and everybody laughed at me and called me an idiot.”

Despite his alienation with fame, an undoubted highlight was his appearance on Celebrity Mastermind earlier this month, which he won with Iron Maiden as his specialist subject.

“That was a weird one,” he says. “When I was a kid, I was a geek.

“I got a scholarship to a school (Eton) and I was in a rarified, intellectual atmosphere, which was an enormous privilege and one that I’m grateful for.

“Within that, Mastermind was something we used to talk about.

“It’s funny to me because the kids I went to school with are now all working for NASA or are professors and I’m the odd one out who went and got tattoos and play rock and roll music – and I’m the one who was on Mastermind.

“And I f*****g won. The first thing I did was e-mail my friends from school.

“I’m not ashamed to say, I was slightly gloaty about it.”

It is typically Frank Turner though, that the reason he was on the show – charity – is paramount.

He says: “The important thing to say is that it was a fundraising deal for charity and we raised a whole bunch of cash for people who need it, which is way more important than any self-indulgent Mastermind s*** from my end.”

Frank Turner and his band The Sleeping Souls play the O2 on February 12, with support from Flogging Molly and Beans on Toast. Tickets cost £25 at axs.com

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