Frank Turner is in a positive frame of mind for new tour

Frank Turner, one of Wayne's favourite musicians
Frank Turner, one of Wayne's favourite musicians

It says a lot for how grounded an artist is that they can still be amazed at their ability, six albums into an increasingly successful career, to sell out a medium-sized venue in just a few hours.

But that’s exactly what you get from man of the people Frank Turner, the folk-punk singer who’s gone from playing acoustic gigs in front of just a couple of dozen people to selling out Wembley Arena.

And although his name has been up there in lights, you’d probably still have a job convincing him that he has headlined the Royal Albert Hall, and played at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

He and his band The Sleeping Souls are currently touring in the United States, before returning to the UK for a gruelling 16 dates in 22 nights.

The tour includes a date at the 1,200-capacity Newcastle University, which is a notch down from his last Tyneside appearance, at the O2 Academy, which is almost twice the size.

“I’m going to be on tour with this record for a very long time, and it still sounds odd to be talking about Newcastle University as a small show.

Turner is in his element when playing live, whether it's for a few dozen people, or several thousand.

Turner is in his element when playing live, whether it's for a few dozen people, or several thousand.

“Newcastle has always been very good to me, both as a solo artist and with Million Dead (his pre-fame hardcore punk outfit) and it sold out very quickly.

“We have a North East core to our road crew, and they are good people, it’s always a show to remember.”

Turner is never happier than when he’s touring, whether it’s as a lone troubadour, or with his band, The Sleeping Souls.

After a couple of warm-up gigs in the UK, including a first-ever gig in the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge (“I’m always looking for somewhere new to play”), he played well-received solo sets at Reading and Leeds Festival, before heading off to the States.

It still sounds odd to be talking about Newcastle University as a small show.

Frank Turner

It’s typical of the man that he’d rather be playing for his crowd, wherever they may be, than sitting at home, writing new songs.

“I much prefer being on the road, getting back in the saddle, I’ve had a certain amount of practice,” he says, underplaying the fact that he’s played 1,731 shows, and counting, since going it alone in 2004.

The current tour is promoting his sixth album, Positive Songs For Negative People, which reached No 2 in the UK charts when it was released last month.

It marked something of a back-to-basics approach for the 33-year-old, whose previous album, 2013’s Tape Deck Heart, also just missed the top spot.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about debut albums. When a band makes a debut record, they essentially roll into the studio and play through their extant live set.

“There’s freshness, an excitement to it that bands often lose as time goes by.

“I wanted to try and make a record that had that young, exciting feel.

“This also tied in with the fact that to date I don’t feel like I’ve made an album that captures the live experience of seeing me and The Sleeping Souls do what we do best.

“So I had it in my head to make a record quickly, having worked on the songs for a long time beforehand in a live setting.”

As always, the trick lay in translating the album as it existed in Turner’s head to the point where others could lend their interpretation, and bring it to fruition.

He and the band decamped to Nashville, where, with the help of producer Butch Walker (Katy Perry, Hot Hot Heat, Pink, Fall Out Boy), they set to work.

“The ‘Souls and I flew to Nashville in December with a suite of very well-rehearsed and road-tested songs, and smashed out the album in nine days,” says Turner.

“Pretty much all of it is live, and I’m proud to say that with one exception every vocal take on the record is unedited as well. The end result is everything I wanted it to be.”

Where Tape Deck Heart was very much a break-up album (“I was at a place in my life, having a really rough time”), Positive Songs… is, as title suggests, a much more upbeat offering.

It’s bookended by two acoustic tracks, beginning with The Angel Islington, a love letter to North London, where the Hampshire native now resides when he’s not touring.

Even more moving is the album’s final track, Song For Josh, a eulogy for a friend who took his own life.

Its subject headed the security team at Washington DC’s famous 9:30 Club, and it’s all the more poignant for the fact it was recorded live at the club, and with not just friends but members of his family present.

“We were passing through DC on tour not long after Josh had passed,” recalls Turner. “I’d written the song and played it out a few times, but by now the idea of recording the song in Washington DC had began to germinate.

“I only had one shot at it – I wouldn’t have played the song twice at the show. I had slightly screwed up the trial version that we recorded at that night’s soundcheck, so when it came time to perform it in front of an audience I was somewhat nervous.

“But in the end the gods – or perhaps it was Josh – were smiling, and I played it the best that I ever have.”

The song touches such raw nerves that it must take a lot to sing it, but paying tribute to lost loved ones seems to bring out the best in Turner.

“Yes, it’s an extremely emotional, but a lot of my songs are,” he says, before adding, “we haven’t worked out what we’re going to do with it live just yet.”

• Frank Turner is at Newcastle University on Saturday, November 14, with support from Skinny Lister and Will Varley. It’s long since sold out.