Frank Turner: 'I'm a libertarian. That doesn't go down well in the music industry'

PUBLISHED: 11:25 26 November 2015 | UPDATED: 11:25 26 November 2015

Frank Turner. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

Frank Turner. Picture: Yui Mok/PA

PA/Press Association Images

Back in his hometown of Islington, the folk musician tells Charlotte Beale about his moral conundrum of mixing politics and art.

Frank Turner is back home in Holloway, for a brief stint, between three months on the road across the US, Europe and the UK. “Holloway is one of the very few places in the world I feel properly at home”, he says. “When I moved to London aged 18, I came straight to Holloway, and I’ve lived in or around the Road for a long time since.”

Recuperation is particularly welcome after losing a friend in last weekend’s Paris attacks. Briton Nick Alexander was selling merchandise for American band Eagles of Death Metal, who were performing in the music venue Le Bataclan when Islamist gunmen opened fire. Turner is “gutted”, describing Mr Alexander on Twitter as a “wonderful human”.

Turner’s respite in Holloway is short-lived, however; after returning to his regular haunt at Alexandra Palace tonight, he and his band The Sleeping Souls will set off to the US and Mexico for more tour dates, finally wrapping up in December. It will mark the end of yet another hugely successful year for the former Million Dead frontman, who, since releasing his first solo record, Sleep is for the Week in 2007, has become one of the biggest folk rock stars in the UK.

The singer’s latest album, Positive Songs for Negative People, which reached No. 2 in the UK charts in August, opens with a song called The Angel Islington, which mourns a separation. “I’ve broken all the things that I could break”, Turner sings.

Does he agree that Islington is being broken – “socially cleansed”, as his MP Jeremy Corbyn claims – by the combination of Tory housing benefit cuts and exorbitant property prices?

“I think ‘social cleansing’ is taking it a little too far, myself. Obviously there are concerns about the disadvantaged, but Holloway is a resolutely mixed area in my experience, and I don’t see much sign of that changing myself.”

Turner, 33, won’t be drawn further on his MP’s new leadership of the Opposition. “For personal reasons, I try to maintain a distance between my art and my politics, partly because I operate within a left-wing milieu and I’m a libertarian.

“Being pro-market, libertarian, extreme liberal - however you want to put it - doesn’t go down particularly well in the music industry.

“It’s a moral conundrum for me, because part of me wants to stand up for what I believe in, but at the same time I’m much more interested in making music and in sound and art and song-writing, than I am in spending my entire life arguing with people on Twitter and Facebook about politics.”

This angst doesn’t stop Turner tweeting prolifically and inventively, though; a recent live tweet feed from him documenting the progress of a first date at the table next to him was hugely engaging.

“Guy on (Tinder?) date next to me in a restaurant has now been talking over her for 15 straight minutes. LET HER TALK MAN.” Turner wrote. How does it feel having 150,000 Twitter followers hanging on your every tweet?

“It’s a double-edged sword. Social media is a tool; it’s morally neutral. It’s extremely powerful and can be used for great good or great evil. I’ve used it for things that have been really great, like Twitter charity shows, where you drop hints that you’re going to play and then you have a gig and people come down and donate money.

“But social media does seem to breed a sense of entitlement among music fans. There are people who feel they’ve been short-changed because they come to see me, I pour my guts out for two hours on stage, and then they didn’t get a selfie with me afterwards and therefore they feel didn’t get their money’s worth. I find that slightly problematic.”

Then in a typically Turner way, where he opines and then qualifies his opinion with a reflection, he concludes: “It exists. You can’t uninvent it, so you’ve got to find ways of making your peace with it.”

Frank Turner plays Alexandra Palace tonight. Tickets are available at alexandrapalaceevents.seetickets.com

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