Frank Turner accompanied by his band, the Sleeping Souls.Nicolas Padovani

The arrival of the new year is a prime opportunity for self-reflection; to celebrate the past year, and to make resolutions for the next. During a year as challenging for us all as 2020 was, with its disappointing lack of opportunity to do very much, many of us found respite in music. Indeed, music has played such an important role this past year, that it has become a valuable part of our new-year reflection, not just as something which we did, but as something with which we really engaged.

While 2020 brought for me an array of new albums from my favourite bands, there was one artist in particular who was central to my year in music: Frank Turner. For those unfamiliar, Turner is a folk-punk singer originating from Hampshire, whose songs focus on relationships, mental health, and politics, among other issues.

“I was captivated by the song’s mix of iconoclastic anger with intelligent discussion”

Initially drawn in during early August by the conspicuously titled “Thatcher Fucked the Kids”, I was captivated by the song’s mix of iconoclastic anger with intelligent discussion. Listening then to the wonderful 2006 EP Campfire Punkrock, upon which this song originally appeared, I heard repeated back at me many of the sentiments that I had felt over the course of the lockdown. Beyond the cathartic pleasure of such egocentrically relatable songs as “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the One of Me” and “I Really Don’t Care What You Did on Your Gap Year”, the work’s unity of self-reflection with self-celebration showed me guidance through the difficulties of lockdown, and set some sort of stability against a year otherwise lacking.

Concert Photo of Frank Turner in Berlin, Magnet ClubThomas Huntke

Turner’s lyrical path, with its personal, political, and philosophical struggles mapped out across a twenty-year career, has been both elucidating and inspiring for me over the past few months. His desire for self-improvement is evident in much of his song writing, particularly the aptly titled “Redemption”, and can be traced through his discography, allowing the listener an insight into his issues. Indeed, hearing Turner identify his problems has encouraged me to think about how the same issues have impacted me; hearing him work through them has encouraged me to strive for my own improvement and seeing him turn them into profound artwork is a constant inspiration for me to express myself creatively, at a time when this has been difficult.

“but these imperfections, as long as we can recognise them, can help us to work on ourselves.”

However, the benefits of musical reflections are not limited to that intended by the artist. As Turner sings in “Try This At Home”, ‘there’s no such thing as rock stars, there’s just people who play music’ – and these people are flawed, as are we all. Some of Turner’s earlier lyrics read as potentially problematic – ‘she’s not as pretty as she thinks she is, just picture her after she’s had kids’ in “Reasons Not to Be an Idiot”, for example – and his attitude towards religion in “Glory Hallelujah” is perhaps less accepting than I would strive to maintain, but these imperfections, as long as we can recognise them, can help us to work on ourselves.

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Turner does redeem these mistakes of the past, though: recent live performances of “Reasons Not to Be an Idiot” feature edited lyrics, and his latest album, No Man’s Land, was dedicated entirely to appreciating a number of often-unappreciated female historical figures. This recent work, including representations of Egyptian feminist leader Huda Sha’arawi in “The Lioness”, Byzantine poet Kassia in “The Hymn of Kassiani”, and the wife of William Blake, Catherine Blake, in the Carol Ann Duffy style “I Believed You, William Blake”, is among Turner’s most powerful song writing, and is testament to the value of personal reflection and the growth that can come from it.

For me, a look back at 2020 is a look back at a newfound musical obsession, but also at continued intellectual stimulation and personal growth during a time when these felt so unattainable. It is the music of Frank Turner which has helped me to these places. Regardless of the particular artists which encourage these processes in each of us, it is important to appreciate them, and reassuring to have them by our side as we enter a new year shrouded in uncertainty and anxiety.