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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Frank Turner chats to a student newspaper

As I often like to say and to write, if I don’t regularly quote me, who else will? And once upon a time, I wrote (on page 4, left hand column, of this), in a paragraph about the many different ways there are to be an effective libertarian, this:

Or perhaps you contribute crucially to the cause simply by (a) calling yourself a libertarian when asked what you are but not otherwise, and (b) being a nice person in all other respects. By merely proving that libertarianism and decency can cohere in the same personality, you will be a walking advertisement for the cause, as I might not be.

Now I don’t want to accuse Frank Turner of regarding himself as a member of any sort of political team, any sort of promoter of a “cause”. He is first and last a musician and an artist, not “a libertarian”. But the more I learn about this man (and thanks to Google sending me emails whenever anyone mentions him I have been learning quite a lot about him lately), the more he strikes me as the living embodiment of the above notions. It’s not that he is incapable of arguing his political corner. Merely that, on the whole, he prefers not to, and just to get on with his work and his life.

Consider this Frank Turner interview piece by Anna Burn, published today by Cherwell.

Near the beginning, Burn writes of the “clear tension” between Turner’s “old, anarchist politics and his new libertarianism”. And at the end of her piece, she writes this:

“People have historically been quite rude about rock and roll as serious art,” he says. “To me rock and roll is proper art, but it’s also disposable art, it’s adolescent art. What’s great about rock and roll is that it’s music about being young and pissed on a beach and getting your first kiss and then dancing until dawn. Sometimes people want to make rock and roll into this high art and I love it because it’s low art. It’s almost a sort of Liechtenstien thing. It’s pop art.” He grins wryly, seeming pleased with the pun. “All my influences are rock and roll.”

And with that last declaration, we’re done. As we’ve been talking he’s been putting his coat back on so that he can dash down to catch a train to London and film his tribute to Pete Seeger for Newsnight. For a man who’s on his longest break from touring in seven years, he’s still remarkably busy, and yet he can still spare a few minutes to chat to a student newspaper.

As he runs down the stairs, I realise that this is why he is a true folk singer – he’s open to everyone prepared to engage with his work, and he makes it worth their effort.

Note the Pete Seeger reference. This is not a man who allows a thing like politics to get between him and an admired fellow musician. See also Billy Bragg.

14 comments to Frank Turner chats to a student newspaper

  • He’s playing the O2 this week, and I shall be there, sitting up in the stands with my wife enjoying his music and art qua music and art, but safe in the knowledge the sales revenue is being counted up in the category labelled “that newfangled libertarian stuff”, of which I hope FT&tSS are the first example.

    For me, his politics don’t define his art but it’s a much more comfortable experience to be listening to something good if it does not contain a lecture that happens to be a lecture that pisses you off.

    See also: the now defunct Nizlopi, novel and original musicians in many respects but not their politics, and so they throw in digs at their opponents who they assume won’t also be fans. Daft really.

  • I’m also a regular reader of this blog, so this was a nice surprise this morning. Thanks Brian.

  • A man of taste and decency!


  • RAB

    Hi Frank.

    Here’s a book I recommend, if you haven’t read it already, you being a folkie and all…


    Damn good read and well written. Chock full of Leftie fantasists of course, but then the Music Biz has always been like that, as you know only too well. 😉

    I’m sure your friend Billy Bragg would enjoy it. I gave it to my oldest friend, The Luddite Hippie of La Honda for Xmas. He is a pretty fair musician over in California and writes political and protest songs, but his politics are coming from the opposite end of the left/right spectrum to mine. We remain the best of friends after 50 years though. Some things like true friendship totally transcend politics, don’t they?

    All the best to you good Sir.

  • Thanks for the tip RAB, a book I’ve seen around but not read yet. In return, let me recommend Simon Napier-Bells’ “Black Vinyl White Powder”. Easily the best history of the British music industry that I’ve read, fascinating, original and refreshingly unpolitical.


  • Prufrock

    See you Wednesday Frank!

    Thanks especially for the engraved Zippo and shot glass in the box of pre-gig tat. Already put to plenty of good use.

  • Julie near Chicago

    So let me get this straight. We, who presume to stand for the principle that nobody has a right to expropriate the lives of others, are supposed to give “artists” a social pass (not to mention the accompanying bucks) regardless of the evil they support?

    No. They gave their “art” to the cause of evil; they subverted the minds of the young by encouraging the young to believe evil falsehoods, to abjure reason, to accept the propaganda and faux “Utopias” being peddled by a**h***s. And in so doing, to support, to promote! the worst mass murderers of modern times–and their agendas.

    The utter loss of one’s reputation as a human being, and the total public neglect of one’s work–however good it might be in itself–are none too high a price to pay for one’s support of the persons, the acts, and the agendas of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, etc., etc., etc.

    As an example, if you (“one”) genuinely judge Mr. Wagner’s music to be the epitome of excellently made art, you can say so without paying him with money to support and spread his opinions, and without inviting him to join your guests in your living-room as though he were a human being, and indicating that Here is a Great Artist, Everybody on Their Knees. (And, oh, to change the object of our worship, p***ing in the fireplace at such a gathering doesn’t prove much except that you’re a schmuck and a lot of know-nottink High Society lose their minds with awe and reverence when confronted with a grown man who has the chutzpah to behave publicly like an untrained toddler. It’s a form of giving them the finger, the fools. Shade of Pollack, take note.)

  • lucklucky

    “This is not a man who allows a thing like politics to get between him and an admired fellow musician.”

    The Left made everything politics. A tribute to Seeger is also politics.

  • RAB

    Separating the Art from the views and politics of the artist has always been a mute and difficult point.

    If a writer writes a great universal love song, does it cease to be great when you subsequently find out that the writer is a fascist/Communist Stalin appologist or Mao cheerleader? Or does it cease to become great when you become aware that within that song is a coded message supporting the writer’s covert and subliminal views?

    It depends when you come across the Art and the biography of the Artist I suppose, and whether the art really has a coded message, and is just not what it looks like, a beautiful love song.

    For my part, I learned of Shakespeare and Shaw and HG Wells and Dickens when I arrived at Grammar School aged 11. We already had complete sets of those authors on the bookshelves in our house, and now I set about devouring them.

    First I went for HG Wells. 11 year olds love science fiction and Wells seemed very prescient in writing things like “War in the Air” which foresaw carpet bombing of entire cities and civilian populations, total war by remote rather than face to face, when the Aeroplane had barely been invented when he wrote it in something like 1890. Then there was the War of the Worlds and the Time Machine etc. I took them, at that tender age, as incredible but plausible stories of things that might become, and feared…

    Then I had a go at Shaw. I liked his writing, it was witty, erudite, clever. I never found it Dramatic though, too many words and not enough action, and that surely is what drama is supposed to be about. It is hard not to love the ostensibly rags to riches tale of Pygmallion. Professor Higgins betting his friend that he can turn a common flower girl into a Dutchess via his reprogramming regime. Well it’s like winning the Lottery isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want to win? Except that is was socialist propaganda very slyly written, and at that age I had no idea about the intent behind the stories, I had no idea that both those men were Fabians. Softly softly catchy monkey socialists, rather than outright Marxists. Who would have forced the “Undeserving poor and the undeserving rich” to explain themselves and their continued existence before Citizens Tribunals, as to their usefulness to “Society” and if they could not, would be humanely exterminated. Oh ever humane, and nothing personal you see, heaven forfend! The authors though naturally thought themselves exempt from such questions, and impertinent questioning. “Of course my life is important, don’t you know who I am? What I have written”…. Well fuck that!

    So coming back to the point in hand; separating malicious intent from misguided thoughts and feelings, I can understand why Frank Turner can be friends with Billy Bragg, just as my friendship with the Luddite Hippie of La Honda has endured all these years… It’s called love, human one to one stuff that agrees to disagree, and won’t send you to a Gulag if you do.

  • Seeger was a decent banjo player, and a mediocre singer and songwriter. Everything else is pure politics.

  • RAB, literature, theater and film do not lend themselves to the separation of art and politics as well as music or even poetry does, not to mention the visual arts – it’s that narrative thing that tends to give the agenda away.

  • Maximo Macaroni

    What pun?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nuts. You can say “X is a great piece of music, I love it and always will” and follow that with “However, the composer of X was a low-down rotten no-good supporter of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, and there is no depth of Hell low enough to deserve him.”

    As they say: “Simples.”

    I may think the Wesendonck Songs are wonderful (especially as sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf), but that doesn’t make Wagner any less of a rotten anti-Semite. (For a short essay on this, by a Jew, see

    http://www.jewishjournal.com/cover_story/article/why_wagners_music_deserves_a_second_chance_20090218/ .)

    Now, if you have no idea at age 11 or whatever that Wagner was a rabid anti-semite, that’s no ill reflection on you, and if all your life you thrill to this music that’s no reflection either. But if you allow yourself to confuse the man’s music with the man, or worse: if you try to teach others to confuse them–then you’ve made a grave mistake indeed.

    Christ on a crutch! Isn’t it perfectly obvious that a man might be a killer or a subverter of souls (if I want to get really overheated about it!) and still write some perfectly glorious poetry about “Death upon a Mountaintop” or some such thing? And would this make him any less of a murderer? Or any less dangerous to the populace?

    By the way, I’m not talking about the propagandistic element, if any, in the art. Wouldn’t one revile Seeger as soon as one learned what he stood for, regardless of what music he wrote, whether it was any good, or whether the lyrics contained double meanings?

    And if one still harbors a love for what one once thought the man was, that’s no crime (nor sin), as long as one understands that one can’t continue to celebrate that man as he really was, nor pretend to the public nor to oneself (because the latter is too dangerous) that the man was not what one now knows he was.

    Leaving one’s love because one has learned its object was a sham or worse is very hard.

    P.S. I never heard of either Frank Turner nor Billy Bragg.

  • AWM

    I’ve not consciously heard of any Frank’s output and this post (and the links) prompts me to rectify that via Amazon immediately.

    I must say that I’ve long been a big fan of Billy Bragg’s music, ever since the ‘Spy vs Spy’ EP first appeared and got a lot of airplay on evening BBC Radio 1. However, even as a right-on student from a coal mining area during the 80’s, I always thought his ‘political’ songs the weakest part of his oeuvre. I’ve no doubt he’s genuine in his beliefs but it doesn’t work for me, and it’s even worse now since I’ve evolved to a libertarian mindset and he’s become a champagne socialist of course…

    I don’t know what it is about leftist musicians, they feel obliged to write political songs but for the most part they just don’t work, at least for me. See Pete Seeger for an even more relevant example of this trait.