Frank Turner’s Songwriting Survival Kit
From his beloved Gibson acoustic to his Clive James books, these are things that the folk singer-songwriter can’t do without
Sharing is caring, which is why we’ve been encouraging you all to share your #songwritingsurvivalkit with us on social media. Whether it’s the tatty notebook that’s attached to you or your trusty old guitar and amp, we want to see those pieces of kit that are essential to your songwriting life and will be re-posting all of the images that you hashtag.
For this issue, singer-songwriter Frank Turner talks us through the items which make up his #songwritingsurvivalkit from his beloved Gibson acoustic to his Clive James books, these are things that he can’t do without…
1. GIBSON COUNTRY & WESTERN 1957 ACOUSTIC GUITAR
I bought this guitar a few years ago, it didn’t come cheap, but it’s in absolutely mint condition, and I absolutely love old Gibsons. Something about a guitar that plays easy, that has a great sound and has age and wisdom, helps my fingers find the right places for new songs.
2. MY MUM’S UPRIGHT PIANO
My mother got an upright piano from her parents for her 21st birthday, and it was in the house when I was growing up. My sisters and I used to argue about who would inherit it, but one day my mum was moving house and just decided she didn’t need it in the new place, so I snaffled it. “It’s not the best piano, but it has charm and memories. I’m also not the best pianist, but when I get stuck in a rut musically, shifting to a different physical layout often helps me find my way through to where I’m going.
I have quite a complicated and arcane system of notepads. Currently, I’m running about five. I have a couple of small Moleskines and some larger, cheaper ones. Some of them were gifts – from my partner, from a friend. Different types of words go into different notebooks, it’s difficult to explain what the breakdown is, it’s instinctive. A few years ago I ditched computers and typing for writing lyrics, apart from for final drafts. I find the physical act of writing much more satisfying, and I like being able to look back through my crossed-out edits.
I carry my MacBook and my audio interface with me pretty much everywhere I go. I use a simple SM58 for vocals and DI my guitars, and use Logic to put together demos of new songs. They’re very rough sketches, structural mostly, with basic arrangement ideas, which I then take to my band, The Sleeping Souls, to work up. It’s good for me to get my basic arrangement ideas down first so the others can see where I’m heading. Technology has made all this so insanely easy these days. I used to have a Tascam 4-track, and I don’t miss it.
I read voraciously, and that helps keep my mind ticking over when it comes to writing. I read a lot of poetry, novels, literary and artistic criticism (especially Clive James). I don’t regard myself as a poet – lyrics are a separate discipline, to me – but keeping a steady diet of interesting words and ideas coming in pushes me to be more ambitious in my own wordsmithery.
6. NONE OF THE ABOVE
Actually, songwriting remains an entirely ephemeral act for me. Some of the best stuff I’ve written has been jotted down on a supermarket receipt, hammered out on a broken ukulele at a friend’s house. I don’t get much say over how and when the good stuff comes, you just have to be ready for it. Afterwards, you sit down and build songs from the nuggets of inspiration, but that central moment, when things just arrive, is delightfully ineluctable, and always will be.