Sunday, July 10, 2011

History in Music

Frank Turner
England Keep My Bones
Album Cover
I wanted to write about something a bit different this posting. Now obviously, historical fiction feeds itself on, well, history. Ok, that’s trite. Everyone is inspired by history in one form or another, be it something personal that happened ten years ago or something affecting nations or peoples thousands of years ago. Experiences help artists to create and enrich their creations, be it a novel, a sculpture or painting, a film or a piece of music.

For the past year now I’ve been listening to the music of a particular artist that I wanted to bring to your attention. His name is Frank Turner and he is a folk/punk musician from Winchester, England. He is also a history nut which, on these pages at least, counts for a lot. I spoke with Frank at his last show in Toronto, at the El Mocambo, and he was very gracious and polite despite being mobbed by fans of all ages. He was there at the t-shirt table, talking with folks, taking photos and shaking hands even though he was about to hit the stage in a few minutes. No pretence or arrogance to be found.

Frank Turner’s music is pretty wide ranging, from rebellious punk lyrics and rhythms to nostalgic reminiscences of his beloved England. His love of history creeps into his songs and lyrics on a regular basis. The title tune of his 2008 album, Love, Ire and Song, has references to the 1905 Russian Revolution as well as the Life Brigade search and rescue organization founded in Tynemouth in the 1860s. On his album, Poetry of the Deed, the song Journey of the Magi is a wonderful tune with lyrics referring to Moses, Odysseus and Balthazar. Fantastic songs as well as all the other offerings on the albums.

At the beginning of June, Frank released his latest studio album, England Keep My Bones, the title of which is a quote from Shakespeare’s King John. On this album Frank explores the land he loves and no doubt misses very much while on tour – something he is constantly doing. One particularly gutsy song on the album is English Curse. This is a pro-Saxon, a capella number about the assassination of William Rufus in the New Forest. When I saw Frank perform this tune live back in May, he sang this song and, despite the head-scratching “What the hell is this?” looks on some of the younger faces in the crowd, it sounded brilliant. He had people cheering, if not for the story, then for the fact that he did without his guitar.

So, if you like history (which I assume you do if you are reading this blog) and music, check out a great, hard-working, independent artist and modern-day troubadour. Frank Turner’s website is:

He’s on tour again so, if you have the chance, go. You won’t be disappointed.