Hot on the tracks of the release of his latest album No Man’s Land, Frank Turner will be back in South Africa this April. The Original Colette Carr had a quick chat with him to find out more.
Hi Frank, how are you?
I’m great thanks. In the middle of a UK solo tour, all good.
You have graced our shores before. What did you think of South Africa, was it different to what you imaged?
I’d actually visited once as a tourist, when I was about 19, and loved it then. The shows were awesome. I do my best to be open minded and ready to learn whenever I visit places that are new to me. I made some good friends in short order in South Africa, always a good sign.
Boy, that’s one hell of a long time ago 😉
I made some good friends in short order in South Africa, always a good sign
As it’s your second time touring here, we gather you took a liking to our little part of the world. What are you looking forward to the most?
Seeing my friends and making new ones! I’m not yet sure if my schedule will allow for much in the way of tourism (hopefully, but you never know!). Splashy Fen sounds like fun too.
You’ve had significant tattoos done backstage after a set. Any plans for an African inspired one this time around?
I’m open to suggestion, haha, though it has to be said that I’m starting to run out of space, so it might need to be something small.
We were lucky enough to be in Croatia last year and saw you guys perform at InMusic Festival (show number 2354). A highlight was your wee speech in Croatian. How long did it take you to learn that?
Oh I was reading that out off a sheet of paper, alas my brain is no longer supple enough to memorise that stuff. Still, fun to do, a way of showing a crowd that you recognise where you are, and that you’re the visitor.
In South Africa we have 11 official languages! Will you be gifting us with some words in one of these at the shows?
I think I’d need some advice as to which was the best one to go with, but I’m always up for trying that stuff out!
A way of showing a crowd that you recognise where you are, and that you’re the visitor
We are loving No Man’s Land! And what makes it even more powerful is the fact that it’s a man who is putting this out there. Did your wife have any influence on you gaining insight into a woman’s perspective, or did you evolve to that yourself?
Thank you. It’s a record I’m very proud of, a labour of love for sure. The idea emerged from a project to write history songs, the gendered angle came later. But I certainly spent time seeking the advice of my wife, my mother and my sisters (among others) about the approach, the tone of the lyrics and so on. I didn’t want to be crass! Hopefully that worked out.
Indeed it did. It’s a beautiful offering 🙂
Would you consider yourself a feminist, and what does the term mean to you?
I would, though I’m cautious about being overly forthright about that, simply because that’s a conversation that needs to be led by women. I don’t want to try and place myself at the head of a parade that isn’t mine to lead.
What message do you have for men who are afraid of female empowerment / equality?
Grow the fuck up?
Thank you. It’s a record I’m very proud of, a labour of love for sure
This isn’t your first African trip this year, as you were in Sierra Leone at the beginning of the year.
We watched the video of the welcoming song you received when you arrived at WayOut in January, you looked pretty stoked, can you tell us about that?
It was my third trip out there, so I have some connections and friendships already extant, but nevertheless the welcome song thing (which is quite common out there) is incredible to experience. To be that far from home and that far out of my own cultural comfort zone and yet be welcomed is a special thing for sure.
So, you did some ‘Johnny Cash’ style shows while there. What made you decide to play in prisons in West Africa?
That was the prerogative of the charity, WayOut Arts – they run my schedule while I’m out there. They have been working with the prisons lately and asked if I’d be up for including them on the program, and of course I said yes. The criminal justice system in Sierra Leone is… dubious, shall we say. And regardless, there are strong reformative arguments for including the incarcerated anyway.
You said that these prisons have arrest quotas. Were you ever worried that you may have been arrested? You have a lot more under your belt than mere loitering. 😉
Haha, well, true, though not in Sierra Leone! I was not; as a white person, there’s a certain aura of protection, and it’s often possible to buy your way out of trouble (I’m told). But people who we work with at the project have been scooped up and arrested while I’ve been there, for no good reason, and that’s pretty outrageous to witness.
Gosh, that’s shocking and scary!
To be that far from home and that far out of my own cultural comfort zone and yet be welcomed is a special thing for sure
Music can transcend all barriers – race, class, language – what has been the most magical experience of this you have had?
I’d say one of the shows I did in Freetown in January. I was essentially the opening act at a gathering of East Freetown gangs for a rap battle. I was about as out of place as you could possibly imagine, but the crowd gave me the time of day, and got into it by the end. That felt pretty incredible to me.
You’re on tour A LOT! What do you look forward to the most when going back to England?
Seeing my cat, and being back in London Town, still the greatest city in the world.
In West Africa you played what you call ‘Africanised songs’ – will we be getting any of those at these gigs?
I think that the way those songs changed was very much led by the people I was playing to and with in Sierra Leone, I’d be pretty cautious about making those changes unilaterally! But I guess we shall see.
Well thanks for the chat. Super stoked to be getting to see you yet again.
We’ll be up dancing up in the front row – as some guy once said – “Because we’re not dead yet” 😉
Catch Frank Turner live in South African at these shows
Splashy Fen Music Festival, KZN – 12 April 2020
Tickets available here
Rumours Rock City (JHB) – 13 April 2020
Alongside The Shabs & Jay Bones
Tickets available here
Mercury Live (CPT) – 15 April 2020
Alongside The Shabs & Sam Chalcraft (UK)
Tickets available here