“The Road isn’t a Competition”
At the time of this interview, Frank Turner has performed 2492 shows. But the last 20 of them took place in a venue known only as “Frank’s House.”
The lockdown has affected many people, few more so than professional travellers and touring musicians. I lost my job as a travel writer, while many artists and entertainers are at risk of losing theirs, too.
Through his Independent Venue Love series, Frank has helped raise over 150K to keep small gig venues afloat. Beyond this, his music and books have been an inspiration to many travellers.
So, I thought it would be interesting to interview Frank and uncover his thoughts on travel, especially related to the strange and uncertain times in which we live.
If you’ve ever been to a Frank Turner gig, you’ll know they’re a crowded, sweaty experience. More punk than folk, there’s a raw physicality to Frank’s performances.
He crowd surfs; he abandons the stage in favour of the mosh pit; he even invented the wall of hugs. With a two-metre social distancing rule currently in place, what does this mean for the future of live music?
It seemed obvious, then, to begin by raising the issue of the lockdown.
Based on your touring history, this lockdown period must’ve been the longest you’ve stayed home in a while.
FT: I figured the other day that this is the longest I’ve been in one place since I was 7 years old (shipped off as a kid to boarding school) so it’s definitely been a radical change for me.
It’s been scary and frustrating at times, but it has also given me a chance to pause and take stock. The future is very uncertain for me, professionally, so I’ve been thinking about other things, like music production, more writing and so on. We shall see, but it’s been interesting for sure.
‘I didn’t choose, no I was chosen by a life that must be lived in passing through’– Frank Turner, Wanderlust
What advice would you give to people who want to travel hard, while looking after their own mental wellbeing?
FT: I suppose the most important thing I’ve learned is that the road isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a competition. I was definitely engaged in some kind of arms race to tour harder than everyone else for a time, but after a while I noticed it was killing me, and that no one else was really taking part in the game.
It’s OK to stop and smell the roses from time to time.
‘The journey brought joys that outweighed the pain’– Frank Turner, Journey of the Magi
According to your book, your “Worst Day on Tour Ever” involved a trip from Estonia to Latvia. What was so bad about this trip?
FT: I’ve only been to Tallinn that one time and would love to go back (though of course right now I’d just like to go… anywhere).
That day was just insane, so long and full of every conceivable kind of catastrophe – police searches, lost passports, broken down cars, corrupt cops, car accidents, more corrupt cops, cancelled shows, it was laughable after a while.
One for the books, for sure, but not overly keen to relive that.
‘The path I chose isn’t straight and narrow, it wanders around like a drunken fellow’– Frank Turner, If Ever I Stray
With the work you’ve done in Sierra Leone with WAYout Arts, do you find yourself drawn to more meaningful travel?
FT: I guess I think of my trips to Sierra Leone in a slightly different mental bracket to my regular touring, it’s a different venture, with different aims and logistics. It’s certainly something I’m very passionate about, and wish to continue doing (pandemic allowing).
I’d hesitate to say that my touring positively impacts the world per se, but then that’s not really the specific intention. I’m an entertainer, and doing my job well is fulfilling to me and to other people, kind of by definition. But it’s not really important, in the grand scheme of things.
In addition to my own questions, I reached out to the Frank Turner Army (it’s not a cult). Here are some more questions from Frank’s biggest fans.
From Rod: when you start playing live gigs again, will you continue to crowd surf and dance with audience members, or are those days gone for good?
FT: I have no idea really; it depends on both what the regulations are and how people, in general, are feeling. I’m dying to get back to playing proper punk shows, but I also want to be responsible and considerate. We shall see.
‘Landing pads for boring tourist shopping chains’– Frank Turner, Jet Lag
From Christina: Why do airports make you sad?
FT: Because they’re identikit. I sort of feel that airports should be more unique, more indicative of the character of the place you’re in – and that is actually true of a few of them, Auckland springs to mind – but in general, they’re bland, boring, overpriced malls.
‘Posters of Dylan and of Hemingway, an antique compass for a sailor’s escape’– Frank Turner, I am Disappeared
From Maximilian: Are there any souvenirs you’ve collected from particularly important or memorable trips?
FT: I’m something of a hoarder as it happens. I keep a lot of stuff, my house is jammed with flotsam and jetsam. In particular, I’ve been collecting military challenge coins in recent years, which I love, though they’re mainly a North American thing. But there’s a lot of tat lying around, haha.
The future is uncertain for all of us, but all credit to Frank Turner for making the best of his situation. He’s managed to continue entertaining his fans, while keeping the independent music scene alive.
Hopefully, we’ll be back in the centre of the circle pit soon. But for now, let’s use our time to reflect on how we can become not just better travellers, but better humans.