On September 12 2005 we reported the announcement that Million Dead were splitting up after four years together.

A short time after, RoomThirteen’s Andy Latham, a big fan of the band, spoke to Frank Turner and drummer Ben in their tour van during their final set of dates.

“The reasons why we decided to go our separate ways are not to do with business and it's not to do with music,” Frank explained. “We're not complaining because we're not making enough money and we're not complaining because we all think different things about music. It's a personal thing and with that in mind I think we all think it's not particularly dignified to have your arguments in public. Without wanting to sound offensive it isn't anybody else's business and we've had our arguments and discussions and it seems the sensible thing to do to walk away from this at this point, with a solid body of work and with us all vaguely talking to each other. Rather than let it get to a point where it gets really silly and it's horrible, so that's basically the party line.”

You can relive the end of Million Dead byreading the full interview and also a review from that gig in Manchester.

Most interesting for the story of Frank Turner’s solo career to date is his answer to the “what are you doing next” question. When asked about his plans to go solo he said: “My thing from now is to try and have a go at that, to be honest it's very different from what Million Dead does. I'm discovering already it's a different corner of the industry and it works in a different way. It's what I want to do, that sounds a bit like Neil Young, Billy Bragg, that kind of shit and why not? A lot of country and folk music is very simple and direct, it's a simple format, it's just this either works or it doesn't, it's just a voice and a guitar. Who knows how it will go but that's my next plan.”

Andy Latham’s closing thought as his final Million Dead live review reflected on the end of a truly great live band was to comment “That they're gone is a real shame but they've left a fine legacy and hell, what a way to go!”

Disappointing though the end of Million Dead undoubtedly was, with the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight we’re able to say that the following three and a bit years have been a fantastic journey to observe, we can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like from the centre of it. Sitting under the umbrella labelled ‘the music press’ it’s easy to be swept along by the constant conveyor belt of gigs and festivals, become very matter of fact about CDs being thrown at you from all angles and dismissive of the infuriating hype which surrounds even the least deserving. The important thing never to lose sight of is the reason we’re in this game in the first place, because we’re fans. Just as Frank Turner is marking the first three years of his solo career with a compilation containing everything not to appear on either solo album, we at RoomThirteen will take this opportunity to reflect on the rise of an artist who we’ve followed arguably closer than any other.

Regular readers of this website will doubtless know, or at least have had the opportunity to find out about Frank Turner, but just in case you’re a new comer to him, maybe following the recent daytime Radio 1 exposure for ‘Long Live the Queen’, here’s a few useful facts (nicked from his biog) on Frank-Turner.com.

He was born in Bahrain (granted not a useful fact as such but moderately interesting) and was shaped musically by, amongst others, Iron Maiden, Counting Crowes and Johnny Cash. The first half of this decade was spent in punk bands and, from October 2005, he’s been a solo artist, which is where we continue the story.

Our first experience of the Frank Turner one man band thing came at the Manchester Retro Bar in November 2005. That night we noted a number of qualities remained from the Million Dead era which have been crucial to his steady rise since, relatable lyrics, passionate performance and accessible interaction with his audience all stood out from day 1.

As with the last Million Dead review, our first for Frank Turner was written by Andy Latham, who observed that, “it's rather strange seeing him standing up there alone with only an acoustic guitar for company.”

Set opener 'The Real Damage’, which featured on his first demo, was said to “follow the tradition of artists such as Richard Thompson and Billy Bragg in that it tells a tale of contemporary life with irony and humour. Those sentiments have always been present in Frank's lyrics but in this bare environment they are much more to the fore.”

Those early setlists were made up of a few covers (including some from Million Dead), plus tracks from a six-song demo. Recently Frank spoke to us about this first recording saying “it's interesting to listen back to now. At the time it didn't seem like it was that quick a changeover from MD to my solo stuff, but with hindsight it was pretty crazy how fast I got some songs out there, given that it was such a stylistic change. I guess I'd had something building up in my brain for a while. I think there are some good songs on there, but I also think I've gotten a lot better at songwriting in the meantime.”

If anyone at the time questioned whether this folk inspired direction change was the musical equivalent of being on the rebound, eventually giving way to a return to the tried and tested sound, Frank’s 2006 tour schedule would prove them wrong. As would the positive reaction he would get, with crowd numbers slowly rising, interest from web and print outlets such as us and, most importantly, continued support from the Mike Davies Punk Show on Radio 1. The latter really can’t be under estimated since it will have allowed Frank to retain credibility in the minds of any die-hard punk fan who may have questioned what he was playing at (although there were naturally some Million Dead fans who really weren’t having any of this hippy stuff).

The demand for more recorded material in addition to the demo and a split single with Reuben was satisfied by the release of ‘Campfire Punk Rock’, reviewed here. This EP contained tracks which would be favourites for months, ‘Thatcher Fucked the Kids’ remains a key crowd participation moment if played now.

The work in progress nature of ‘Campfire Punk Rock’ was to be expected and, for what it’s worth, the EP gained the lowest R13 scores for any Frank Turner release to date. We did however get a bite-sized glimpse of how full albums may sound with a mixture of solo offerings and those backed by a band (in this case Oxford outfit Dive Dive).

It’s fair to say Frank Turner had ideas coming out of his eyeballs as to what he might or might not do with this newly found musical freedom. In this interview on the eve of the arrival of ‘Campfire’ he talks, a lot, about the future, some of it has even happened!

That chat, inevitably, happened ahead of a gig, with the summer of 2006 seeing Frank play a few UK festivals, plus visit countries in Europe Million Dead rarely, or never made it too. One such trip to France and Belgium had been scheduled for MD but the band’s split rather halted that plan, however chance meetings with relevant people and the tour was on for Frank on his lonesome.

Click here for his European tour diary which gives an interesting insight into life on the road when you’re starting out.

Looking back at a period of time it’s possible to see key development moments which may not at the time have appeared that significant. During the autumn of 2005 Frank was back on the road in the UK, opening for The Automatic including a date at the Astoria in London. Most shows Frank had played as a solo artist up to this point will have been largely attended by fans of his former band, but, in addition to him receiving a lot of love from 6Music/Radio 1’s Steve Lamacq, landing a spot on a tour with a band very different from his own background meant that Frank was starting to get the opportunity for his music to be heard by those who otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance.

R13 writer Emma Gould, another round these parts who is something of a fan, saw him on that tour. “The Automatic was a big moment for him. Frank stuck me and my boyfriend on the guest list for the Cardiff date of that Automatic tour (we were both massive MD fans and he and Julia used to call us the Million Dead Couple because we went to all their shows and basically stalked them...well kind of!) Interestingly speaking to Pennie from the Automatic at the after show, he said that the band had to fight with the record label to get Frank Turner because they love him so much and the label weren't keen because he was unknown, so they got him his biggest shows to date! I just thought that was really cool of them.”

One year down and the debut solo album was ready to go. ‘Vital Signs’, which remains one of the greatest songs he’s written was released as a download on Christmas Day and with 2007 just around the corner, things were about to get even more busy!

Revisit the early days with these set reviews from Manchester and Kingston:

Manchester Retro Bar: November 2005
Manchester Retro Bar: April 2006
Kingston Peel: June 2006
Kingston Fighting Cocks: October 2006

Read on for part 2
here, covering the albums, aclaim, tours, festivals and the future.