One might be forgiven for thinking that playing at the opening of the London 2012 Olympic Games would form the pinnacle of a career.
At least it might be regarded as an artist’s main highlight of the year.
But for singer-songwriter and former Million Dead frontman Frank Turner, introducing Danny Boyle’s spectacular to viewers across the world came second to his own Wembley Arena headline show in April.
“The Olympics was great,” he admits on the day his city show is moved up from Brighton Dome’s Corn Exchange to the Concert Hall.
“I believe that life is about collecting experience – there was no way I was going to say no to the Olympics as it was only going to come around once in my lifetime.
“It was bonkers to be part of, but it was something detached from the fabric of reality.
“The Wembley show felt like the culmination of a lot of hard work. There’s an escalator of venues in London, you do the Barfly, then the 100 Club, the Scala, the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, the Roundhouse and the Brixton Academy.
“The next level is Wembley Arena or Alexandra Palace. There is something iconic about Wembley Arena, though. It holds a place in the national consciousness.”
Putting the show together was a daunting task.
“It was a long road to get there,” he says. “Probably my main obsession when I was playing the show was to find a way to remain constant. I didn’t want to radically change the intimacy, which is a big part of the music I make. I wanted to create a sense of intimacy even on that scale.”
It is a problem that Turner has had to face having grown from a cult concern to a genuine unit-shifting artist, whose last album England Keep My Bones broke the UK top 20, selling more than 60,000 copies.
“If I only played 500-capacity venues, the vast majority of people wouldn’t get tickets,” he points out. “I guess I have to find some middle ground between those things – and Wembley did have that feeling of intimacy.”
It is that heart-on-sleeve intimacy in Turner’s work that has earned him national attention. His songs are generally direct and politically influenced, backed by an acoustic guitar and sung in the unaffected troubadour folk-singer style well-loved by the likes of Billy Bragg and Brighton’s own Chris T-T, who Turner counts among his friends.
He built up his audience in the traditional manner – constantly touring with a real industry to the point where he has been quoted saying “to call myself a musician, I need to be playing music every day”.
“I take a couple more days off now than I used to,” he says. “I look after my voice. As well as being a couple of years older, I tend to play longer sets of 90 minutes-plus a night. I need a few more breaks.
“I stand by that statement though – my favourite thing on a day off is to get the guitar out and play around.”
He was frustrated that he hadn’t played Brighton in a while.
“The driving ethos behind the UK tour was that for quite a long time we had been doing these abbreviated UK tours, to Manchester, London and Birmingham,” he says. “We were worried that we were going to become one of those artists that does massive but short tours in the UK.
“We would go out and spend two months in the US and then in the UK would only do five dates. It felt like we’d finished before we started. I’m looking forward to getting into the swing of a long, heavy tour in my home territory.”
His impressive work ethic has seen him just finish recording a new album – his fifth since 2007.
“We haven’t finished mixing it yet,” he says. “I have a suspicion that’s going to take a while.
“It’s not radically different stylistically – we haven’t taken any left-hand turns.”
His increased status has meant he can recruit a big-name producer to work with him. Rich Costey is famous for his previous work on albums by Muse, Foo Fighters, The Shins, Weezer, Arctic Monkeys and Bloc Party.
“It’s not been in the realm of possibility to work with him before,” says Turner. “He’s miraculous to an eye-popping degree in terms of his creative direction.
“I wanted to make a country rock sound – something like The Band’s The Last Waltz. It has such a great feel to it, it’s like a jamboree, with a million people playing on it. I love that album.”
Although initially Turner wanted to bring in a similar cast of guests to The Band’s farewell album, he changed his mind midway through the recording.
“I had a long list of people who I wanted to get involved,” he says. “But halfway through I realised I didn’t want to go down that route.
“If you look at a record like [Bruce Springsteen’s] Born To Run it’s not a guest-heavy record.
“It’s an ambitious thing to say but classic records don’t have tons of guests all over them – they stand on their own merits.
“I felt that me and the guys in the band had all we needed to put this record together.”
Support from Tim Barry and Jim Lockey And The Solemn Sun.
- Frank Turner And The Sleeping Souls play Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, on Wednesday, November 28. Doors 7pm, tickets £18. Call 01273 709709