Has it really been ten years already?
When originally released in June 2011, Frank Turner’s fourth studio album, ‘England Keep My Bones’ was met with critical acclaim and went on to achieve commercial success, debuting at number twelve and ultimately being certified Gold, which helped move Turner on to the next step of global audience awareness. Already the darling of the folk-punk masses, the quality of songs on this record took him more towards the mainstream, resulting in performing at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and even headlining at Wembley Arena. Now, ten years on a commemorative edition of the album has been released by Xtra Mile, which includes the original, a bonus disc of unheard demo recordings – this two-disc set available in a multitude of different colour vinyl – and as a download-only offering 15 additional a Capella or acoustic solo B-sides.
Taking its title from text in Shakespeare’s King John, the album’s central themes are death and England. Opener ‘Eulogy’ – yes, the celebration of a person’s life spoken at their funeral – sets the scene with a brass band statement which gives way to raucous guitars and a typically shouty Turner vocal. He meets his late grandmother in ‘Peggy Sings the Blues’. ‘English Curse’ is the tale of how William II met a grisly end – so death AND England – listeners convinced that it is an old traditional English folk song but is in fact cleverly written and styled by Turner in the modern day. The heavy ‘One Foot Before The Other’ details that even in his own death, Turner and indeed all of us will live on through the true cycle of life.
But it isn’t all death, of course. ‘Rivers’ is an excellent folk song extolling the virtues of England’s great waterways and its ‘island-ness’. Connections to our hometowns are celebrated in the upbeat ‘Wessex Boy’, one of the songs performed at the Olympic opening ceremony, and coping with drug addiction is shared in ‘Nights Become Days’. There are gentle folk songs, folk-punk songs, cornet-led folk songs, even a little folk-blues. Something for all the folk family.
The ‘El Paso’ demos are interesting. It is almost possible to track the development of some of the material before the final cut on the ‘main’ album. Some lyrics were changed or added or removed and some songs simply didn’t make it to the big league. The acoustic set is probably more for Turner aficionados, although it is fascinating to see how the very heavy ‘One Foot Before The Other’ is treated as a single acoustic guitar and vocal number.
Musically and lyrically, this is a fine album and it is not difficult to see why it was such a success on first release and how it catapulted Turner into the stratosphere. The commemorative collection works well; the balancing of the original against demos and acoustic versions provides good insight to the development of the songs. Of course, there is some repetition but that is simply the nature of the beast, songs have a demo life before being recorded for an album. It just doesn’t seem like ten years since it was first released.