Monthly Archives: April 2012

Why I Don’t Like Frank Turner

Why I don’t like Frank Turner. 

Hello avid readers. I figured that this post may gain somewhat of a negative reaction from some of you as Frank Turner is quite a popular guy. So I’d like to start by saying that this is my opinion, you are very much entitled to your own, even it may be completely misplaced… in my eyes at least.

I thought I was going to love Frank Turner.  A lot of the music that I really, really love revolves mostly around the lyrics. And… through the grapevine, I heard this was Frank’s strongpoint.  I’d heard his little song about Winchester and thought it was ok, if a bit annoying. And when I heard he had written a song called “I knew Prufrock before he was famous” I thought that was it… I would love him. It was a cracking title, but no more than that.

Frank Turner’s lyrics are dull and bland. They simply aren’t poetic. Many of you may say this isn’t the point, and that with songs like “Thatcher Fucked the Kids” he’s deliberately just being angry, and pointedly political. But, this is where it all sort of goes wrong for me.

Now, I wanted to stay clear of making comparisons to Dylan with Frank.  I have a tendency to compare people to Dylan, but when I read in the NME that Billy Bragg said that Frank Turner followed in the line of politico-folk singer songwriters “I see a line that runs through Dylan, Joe Strummer me and Frank.”  I could no longer avoid the comparison.

To begin with. Dylan never consciously tried to be a political songwriter, and he strayed away from this by about the time of “Bringing it All Back Home” and his political songs, were still beautifully crafted, angry, poetic songs. He wrote incredible lyrics. There’s no getting away from it.  Take the opening lines of Chimes of Freedom,

“Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll

We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing

As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds

Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing”

You can’t say that’s not poetic. I’m not going to get too weighed down in what I mean by “poetic” because we all have our own definitions of words, but there’s no denying Dylan’s poeticism.  Dylan speaks with anger, but still poetically, and makes a point that is clear, but at the same time, multi layered. I don’t want to get too deep into what I mean by that, this post isn’t about Dylan. But, the same cannot be said for Frank,

“Whatever happened to childhood?

We’re all scared of the kids in our neighboorhood;

They’re not small, charming and harmless,

They’re a violent bunch of bastard little shits.”

There is nothing clever about those lyrics. You might think I’m saying that because there’s swearing in it, and that it’s being blunt. But, it Is just poor writing.  The swear word is just planted in there as if to say, yeahhhh look at me, I can swear, I’m a punk folk singer, yeahhh.  . Swearing in songs can be used well, if you want examples of this, go to the Libertines…

His points are pretty clear, and there’s nothing clever about them. He sort of just says them. He also name drops ridiculously. He mentions Jack Kerouac, Baudelaire, TS Eliot in his writing, but it’s so unsubtle, that It really is just name dropping.  Something in his lyrics just seems false. I’m not convinced by anything he writes.  (He describes Jay Jay Pistolet from the Vaccines as being the last of the romantic poets as well, which is a bit bizarre.) Anyway, at the heart of Frank‘s writing is a big hypocrisy. He pretends to be a sort of Working Class Hero, and is portrayed as such in the media (in NME they describe how he was once a struggling song writer e.t.c) but… he went to Eton for christsake! Eton!

Now this would be fine, if his songs were good. But they’re not.   And I think this is why his song writing is so stilted and unconvincing. How he has managed to convince so many is beyond me. He is an average singer, average guitar player, and his songs all sound the same. There must be clearly something I’m missing. Try to explain it to me if you like… but many have already tried.

I just don’t like Frank Turner.

The Band or The Artist – who is better?

Everyone has a favourite band, this one group that they love and would travel miles to go see. But chances are, there’ll be one person in the band that they love a little bit more than the others, someone they idolise. 99% of the time, that’s the singer. I love Pearl Jam, but I’m a bigger fan of Eddie Vedder compared to the other members. Equally Nirvana are incredible, but the majority of their fans are in it for Kurt Cobain and less so for the ever maligned Krist Novoselic (Grohl has other issues). Why do we always look for one person in a group as the main man? It might be beacuse they write the songs, so the real power of the songs is coming from them.

Let’s not ignore the age-old tradition of the singer-songwriter. The one man/woman that makes all the music themselves. The Bob Dylan, the Elliott Smith, the Frank Turner. These guys do alright without a bunch of people around them, don’t they. They don’t need a band, and seem to be doing well enough on their own. Nowadays modern artists with a bit of dosh can recruit/computerise the sounds of the rest of a band. Which leads us all to this question….

Is a band better than a solo artist?

What you get with one artist is all the undiluted genius of that one person. If that person is partularly Godly, then this is amazing. We just need to look at people like Dylan and Neil Young to see artists with clear vision crafting the music that perfectly expresses them. There’s no dicking around and each song comes directly from the heart. With one guy in charge of music and lyrics the songs can be direct, and focused in on the emotion.

The problem of course comes in that no artist can ever do better than they can. That may sound like a nonsense sentence, but here’s where the band has the advantage. A singer/songwriter can make the best music he/she possibly can, but a band can make music together better than anything they could seperately. Don’t believe me?

Let’s look at the great songwriting partnerships. Lennon/McCartney, Morrissey/Marr, Jagger/Richards. All these groups shaped music incredibly and their songs are some of the best ever written. But when apart, they just couldn’t match the stuff they did together. Lennon was awesome, but he couldn’t top his beatles stuff, and I just don’t like McCartney at all. The Smiths were nothing without the interplay of Marr’s music and Morrissey’s lyrics, and as his solo stuff proves, the words are not enough to be great.

Yes, Artists can create great, focused songs of deep and clear emotion, but it is in the fusion of influences and styles that real genius comes. Looking at the great bands shows us that the whole really can be greater than the sum of its parts.

As everyone know knows, I adore Arcade Fire, and Win Butler’s songwriting is clearly phenomenal, but it’s the band that really makes it what it is. Also lets not forget, you can rock out a hell of a lot better with a bassist and a drummer than you can on your own.

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Road to Blissfields, Winchester – Review (Taming the Savage, The Joys of Sleeping, Winterhours, Ben Goddard, Arp Attack)

So yesterday (7th April) I headed down to The Railway to review the Road to Blissfields Winchester competition, where four bands duked it out to try and gain a spot at the local festival. I was competing in the competition for young writers to review it and hopefully win a press ticket to the actual festival. You can’t say much in 250 words so I’m using this review to say what I really want to say about the night, and hopefully to offer a real criticism of the acts in a way that might be useful to them and also useful for people who might enjoy their sounds. Pre-rant over, now I can get into it.

After a little delay with getting in, and some very, very loud shouting from one of the organisers, the night was kicked off by Taming the Savage. Fronted by Josh Savage, they played a driven set, fusing hard rock and indie styles into something fairly individual. Guitarist Harry layered Strokes-esque guitar lines over the top of the solid rhythm section of bass, guitar and drums. The band did look a bit nervous, which was understandable considering they were tasked with getting the night going, but it would’ve been nicer to see them really let go and rock out a bit more. The crowd reaction was pretty positive with lots of nodding heads around the stage. The highlight came when they debuted a new song, full of stop/starts but pulled it off perfectly, showing off how tight they were, despite having a stand-in bassist. They closed the set with a rendition of the only song I had heard before the night, Take Off Your Shackles, a more balladic tune, which I will leave here as a taster off the band.

The next act to take to the stage was The Joys of Sleeping, aka Sam Hatchwell. Stepping in at the last minute with just a loop pedal and what looked like an amazing guitar was pretty brave thing to do. Sam’s music is very atmospheric and very delicately crafted, and he told us he normally has a few other people on stage with him when he plays. This would’ve helped a lot, as it was hard for him to get the whole style across with just what he had on stage. When he did call upon a guest bassist and guest guitarist to perform a song apparently only written 25 minutes before the gig the set really got going, and respect must be given to the guitarist who delivered an awesome solo and also did some great vocals too, and most importantly showed the potential for what the music of this band could sound like when it all comes together. I’ll leave the only track the internet seems to have by this band, Dude York Pt.1, right here.

I should state clearly, that I had never heard of any of these bands before I knew the line-up of the gig, and the first time I heard their music was in the morning beforehand, while doing a bit of research. That said, I really, really liked Winterhours, the third band of the night. Their sound is heavily americana influenced and roaring guitars built up to soaring choruses as the band really rocked out. They were phenomenally tight and the love they had for music came across really strongly in their performance, despite having a stand-in drummer (who was excellent). A great performance of their new single Sleepy House was the highlight of a set unfairly cut short, singer Alex J Dunne’s voice sounded fantastic when reaching for the higher notes in the chorus. The recording sounds like someone slapped Bon Iver in the face and told him to man up and rock out, and it is no surprise that they have been getting plays on 6music. I would strongly recommend downloading the single from iTunes, as I really enjoyed this band, and will definitely be keeping tabs on them.

The last act in the battle was Ben Goddard and the Heartbeats. I don’t want to be mean, it’s not very nice to be critical of a local band, and it’s not very productive, so I’m just going to come out and say it. I didn’t like this band. The music was just too poppy for me. I heard the word ‘love’ said more times in 20 minutes than in my entire life, and the fan club at the front trying to get everyone dancing along felt far too cynical, however well intentioned it may have been. Nevertheless they went down the best out of all of the acts in the night and their performance was ridiculously professional and polished, with each song being performed spectacularly tightly. You can judge them on your own with their latest single, This is Love, here.

As the night grew darker, the judges conferred and we were treated to a performance by Arp Attack a band already at the festival, and as their set proved, deservedly so. Currently in the studio, they delivered a gutsy set of almost all new material which sounded fantastic. Sampled beats and an array of synth sounds, layered over live drums and treated guitar, while frontwoman Frankie danced away, doing everything from singing to synths to grabbing some sticks and joining drummer Kev. Their sound was a fierce brace of electro-pop and jerky rhythms, sounding something like an all electronic Slow Club would be. They’re about to embark upon a little tour of the UK once out of the studio, and I strongly recommend going to see them, especially as chatting to them revealed that they were all really nice people.

Finally, with references to Highlander, the winner was announced… Ben Goddard and the Heartbeats will now be joining Arp Attack, The Noisettes, Lucy Rose and many more at this summer’s Blissfields Festival. Go check it out.

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