Frank Turner’s Lyrical History of Mankind

[First written on 8th December 2020, re-published as 4th edition on 15th April 2022]

One of the (many, many) things I like about Frank Turner’s songwriting is how he seamlessly weaves historical or literary references into his lyrics. I’ve always liked history: studying it in school, reading historical non-fiction and fiction, learning about it still. For me it is always a delight to hear a smart historical reference in a song. Sometimes I recognize a reference right away. Sometimes I learn about the historical event in a different context years later and have a classic light bulb moment.

In early December 2020 I thought: Why has no one yet compiled a list of all the wonderful historical and literary references in Frank’s lyrics? In chronological order. With context. So, I just did. Let’s call it my biggest lockdown project.

I’ve restricted this to Frank’s own songs: no Million Dead or collaboration etc. It doesn’t feature “No Man’s Land” either, because those songs have less references, but are in fact all about historical persons or events. And the “Tales from No Man’s Land podcast” provides all the context. I’ve also probably missed a few references in my “research”. I blame that on me being German and not being as well-versed in English history / literature as a native English person might be. I doubt anyone reading this here is more versed than Frank anyway.

So… “Frank’s lyrical history of mankind” starts not in England, but in Egypt.

Around 1300 BC

Moses was old, a chill in his bones.
Falling apart, he knew in his heart that his time had come.
As he lay in his tent in the hot desert sands,
He smiled at how he would never see his promised land.
(Journey of the Magi, 2009)

What better person to start with than this guy, who supposedly lived in Egypt around 1300 BC? According to the legends (aka the Bible) he lived for over 100 years and what an exciting life he had. Most of us have heard about him at some point in our religious education, I assume. Whether or not he has been a real person, he is still part of our common history or if we don’t want to call it that at least our folklore (in the original sense of the word). [Wikipedia]

According to the bible Moses was told by God that for him – God that is – to recognize the homes of the good Israelites and to not kill their firstborn child,

“they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it” (Exodus 12:7)

which is referenced here:

Wiping the blood of your friends on your lintels.
(Non Serviam, 2022)

Only a few decades later the Trojan Wars supposedly took place in what we know as Greece. If they took place at all, because by now historians doubt it and consider it all just part of the Greek mythology. Be that as it may, around 800 BC Homer wrote an epic poem about these wars: the “Iliad”

An Iliad played out without a shadow of doubt
(Poetry of the Deed, 2009)

What actually started the Trojan Wars? According to the mythology it all came down to the Trojan prince Paris being tasked with giving a golden apple to the most beautiful of three goddesses: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. He picked Aphrodite, because she offered him help to win the most beautiful mortal woman in return. What followed is one hell of a complicated story [summed up here].

But if I had an apple to give then it would be yours.
And the others would rage as I turned them away,
But you’d follow me down to the shore.
And for you I’d start a war, so baby yes I’m sure.


You’re wary and you’re wise like Athena,
Like Artemis, you’re wild and you’re free,
You carry yourself like you’re Hera,
But quietly you’ll always be little Aphrodite to me.
(Little Aphrodite, 2016)

Homer didn’t just write the Iliad though. In modern times we might say he also wrote a spin-off 🙂 “The Odyssey”, which begins after the Trojan Wars ended and it follows Odysseus on his long, long, long way home. [Wikipedia].

Now Odysseus sat tired and alone.
He’d always held out, against all the doubts, that he would come home.
But now he was here, his soul felt estranged.
His wife and his dog, his son and his gods, everything changed.
(Journey of the Magi, 2009)

Classical Era

Homer in the 8th century BC already puts us in the Classics: Greeks and Romans and such. An era we know a bit more about and where we more or less know when things happened.

In 399 BC for instance the philosopher Socrates was put on trial and sentenced to death, which Plato described a few years later. According to Plato, one of the things Socrates stated while on trial was: “The unexamined life is not worth living” [Wikipedia]

And I’ve heard it said that the unexamined life
Isn’t much worth living, and I’m sure they’re right,
So I had a go, I tried examining life.
It wasn’t much worth living – I guess they’re right,
(Once We Were Anarchists, 2007)

And here comes my recent lightbulb moment. I must have heard about the “unexamined life” – Socrates reference before, but had clearly forgotten it again. It was brought back to my mind recently though with a… cute Dino comic.

Socrates died by drinking hemlock, which is what a lot of people might think of when they hear “Hemlock” in the first place. At least I did…

Banish me and sentence me to drink the hemlock
(Non Serviam, 2022)

Fast forward a few centuries 50 – 30 BC in Egypt, where Cleopatra ruled, partly with support from the Romans under Julius Caesar, who also was her lover until he was killed. She later was in a relationship with another Roman leader, Marc Anthony. That ended rather tragically as well [More from the BBC archive].

I’d say I was Anthony begging at your door,
But I know that you’d laugh and just ask me what for,
And then you’d roll your eyes as I fell on the floor
To swear that I’m yours.
(Cleopatra in Brooklyn, 2016)

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…”

Those days being of course the ‘Year 0’. The Birth of Jesus Christ. I know some people consider that a mythological tale as well. I call myself an agnostic Catholic, so… I just don’t know. We all heard the story though, about the stable and the baby in the manger and the three Wise Men, the Magi from the East: Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.

Now Balthazar rode for seven long years.
Eastwards and far, he followed his star, and it brought him here,
To a stable in ruins in some backwater town,
To a virgin defiled, no king but a child, too small for a crown.
(Journey of the Magi, 2009)

I recall some interview (?) a while back when Frank was a tiny bit annoyed that he made a geographical error here and hadn’t noticed it until later. I admit I probably wouldn’t have noticed it at all had he not pointed it out. Spoiler Alert: The Magi came from the East. Thus they didn’t travel east-, but westwards. Oh well… At least Frank used “to ride” in the correct grammatical tense here 😉 [In joke for the hardcore fans].

60 years on the Romans ruled most of southern and central Europe and had also started conquering the British Isles. Where they met some opposition of course and one of the fighting armies was led by… a woman: Queen Boudica or Boadicea. [More on Historic UK] Not to be confused with a certain cat, many of us have grown quite fond of during lockdown – livestreams…

Corinna rides like Boadicea tonight.
Fearful crowds part ways without a fight.
Corinna rides like Boadicea tonight.
London town trembles at the sight,
Because tonight is her night.
(Our Lady of the Campfire, 2009)

Queen Bodicea on the Thames Embankment

The Roman emperor at that time of Boudicea’s ultimate defeat by the way, was Nero, who only few year later had troubles of his own at home in Rome. In 64 AD for instance, when the Great Fire of Rome burnt down most of the city. [Wikipedia]

Then retire to your palace on Smith Street as the old Rome burns.
(Cleopatra in Brooklyn, 2016)

80 – 100 AD

Around that time the Gospel of Luke was written / put together and Luke 4:23 says:

“And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.” [King James Bible]

Hey physicians, heal thyself.
I’ll make my own way down to hell without your help.
(Demons, 2018)

3rd Century

I didn’t find solid evidence that Saint Christopher was killed by Roman decree or if it just happened at the time of Roman rule in the 3rd century. He is recognized as martyr though and is, of course, the patron saint of travellers. [Wikipedia]

Not a lyric, but a fitting title for a song about a touring musician

St. Christopher is coming home, 2008

Middle Ages (500 – 1500)

In the late 9th Century England – well the West-Saxons and the Anglo-Saxons – was ruled by Alfred the Great, who did not just defended the country against the Vikings, but also codified a set of laws, the Doom Book, also known as the Laws of King Alfred [Wikipedia].

That Winchester’s should be the only law across the land,
The law of old King Alfred’s time, of free and honest men.
(Sons of Liberty, 2009)

Our story picks up in 1100, when

A low and evil deed was done
In the dark of the New Forest.
(English Curse, 2011)

I think the story of the curse itself might fall under creative licence, but the fact remains: King William II (aka Rufus) was killed that year in a ‘hunting accident’ in the New Forest. [More from the BBC]

The Middle Ages keep the references coming…. “The Fisher King” is a part of the whole King Arthur / Holy Grail legend from the 12th century [Wikipedia].

And in Battersea power station, the Fisher King
Ponders on his ruin, among many other things.
(The Fisher King Blues, 2013)

Of course there is another hidden reference to that in “The Angel Islington

Fuck the fishing, I will abdicate
(The Angel Islington, 2015)

The next bit was a bit tricky to actually put on the timeline. Stories of Saint George, who slayed a dragon and saved an innocent woman were told over centuries in the Middle Ages. He’s supposed to have lived in the 3rd century, but he’s featured here in his role as Patron Saint of England, as which he only emerged a thousand years later. Some consider the reign of King Edward III as the era when Saint George as patron saint was established; among other things through the Order of the Garter, which was set up in 1348. [More from The Royals]

Jay is our St George, and he’s standing on a wooden chair,
And he sings songs and he slays dragons, and he’s losing all his hair.
(I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, 2007)

Saint George statue (in Stockholm, Sweden though 😉 )

Edward III’s successor to the throne was his grandson Richard II, who in 1381 quickly crushed down a Peasant’s Revolt. [Wikipedia] The Peasant’s Revolt had a lot of causes, political and socioeconomical and was triggered by a new poll tax. It had a bit of an early success, but was crushed down in the end. Wat Tyler, one of the leaders was killed shortly after he met the king [Wikipedia].

Wat Tyler led the people in 1381
To meet the king at Smithfield to issue this demand:
That Winchester’s should be the only law across the land
(Sons of Liberty, 2009)

King Edward III, King Richard II and three (!) King Henrys – IV, V, and VI – fought a war with France: the Hundred Years’ War from 1337 – 1453. [More from the BBC]. In 1415 a surprise English victory at the Battle of Agincourt boosted morale among the English forces and started a new period of English dominance in this conflict. [Wikipedia]

From the land of revolution and Agincourt
(To Take You Home, 2008)

16th to 18th Century

The fact, that I’m just stating centuries and not specify certain periods like “The Renaissance” or “The Enlightenment” (later on) clearly shows that I’m not a historian. I know, that all those centuries can be sorted into much clearer defined periods. But at the moment I honestly can’t be bothered to look those up. Sue me.

Anyway, we’ve reached the Elizabethan Age. The time of William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616). And in some way our story picks up, where we left of still in the 15th century: Henry VI, during whose reign the Hundred Years War ended with English defeat, also experienced massive troubles on the home front. The War of the Roses. Google it. At some point Henry’s nephew became king: Richard III. In 1592 Shakespeare wrote a play about him and here’s a quote:

A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse! (Richard III Act 5, Scene 4)

Which, obviously, also is a song on “Sleep Is For The Week”

My Kingdom For A Horse, 2007

Shakespeare wrote “King John” supposedly in 1596 and there is the line

Heaven take my soul, and England keep my bones! (King John, Act 4, Scene 3)

England Keep My Bones, album title in 2011 and of course another lovely nod with

London, you can keep my bones
(Farewell To My City, 2022)

In 1599 Shakespeare wrote “Julius Caesar” (see: Cleopatra) in which Marc Anthony (again… see: Cleopatra) says the following at Caesar’s funeral:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears (Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2)

Sounds familiar?

Hear ye, hear ye, friends and Romans, countrymen
(I Still Believe, 2011)

1601 saw “Hamlet” take shape and come to life. Many of us know “To be or not be? That’s the question” and “There is something’s rotten in the state of Denmark”, but there are a few more well known and established quotes from that play, like

‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks,’ (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2)

The make-up doth protest too much.
(Heartless Bastard Motherfucker, 2008)

The Elizabethan Age was also the age of seafarer and explorer Sir Francis Drake, best known for his circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition. In 1578 before leaving the port of St. Julian (Argentina) to cross over into the Pacific – after he had his co-commander Doughty executed for treason! – he gave the following speech [Historical account of all voyages…]

But, my Masters, I must have it cease; for I must have the gentlemen to haul and draw with the mariners, and the mariners with the gentlemen: and let us shew ourselves to be all of a company; and let us not give occasion to the enemy to rejoice at our decay and overthrow.

and no longer all of a company
(The Resurrectionists, 2022)

Half a century later we’ve now reached the reign of King Charles II (1660 -1685) who “is thought to have been the first to insist that the ravens of the Tower be protected after he was warned that the crown and the Tower itself would fall if they left.” [More from HRP]

When the ravens leave the tower,
And you’re cowering for fear in the city;
(Going Nowhere, 2018)

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) was a French philosopher and also a mathematician, physicist, theologian. Those lists of accomplishments always make me feel a bit like a slob. I’ve got one job, isn’t that enough? But I digress… Besides various scientific papers, he later in life wrote a lot about philosophy and religion; those pieces were posthumously released as the “Pensées” (Thoughts). The most famous thought from that: in my own words in short: you’ve got more to gain if you believe in God, than if you don’t. It’s called Pascal’s Wager [More on Wikipedia].

If life gives you demons, make a deal.
Meet them at the crossroads, cross your fingers, and then sign and seal.
Hey philosophers, make way.
Pascal never had too much stomach for gambling anyway.
(Demons, 2015)

In 1667 John Milton publishes his epic poem “Paradise Lost” about the biblical story of Adam and Eve, the Fall of Men, but also the Fallen Angel Lucifer. In this poem Lucifer states

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heaven.

which is considered the origin of another quote in the work of another famous writer: James Joyce. In “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1916) the main character Stephan Dedalus hears the following in a priest’s sermon:

Theologians consider that it was the sin of pride, the sinful thought conceived in an instant: non serviam: I will not serve. That instant was his ruin.

Which Stephan Dedalus states once more in Joyce “Ullyseus” (1922)

The intellectual imagination! With me all or not at all. Non serviam!

I found a good article which explains a bit more here. And of course this all leads us to…

Non Serviam, 2021

Almost a decade later in 1755 Benjamin Franklin, a scientist, writer, philosopher, politician, diplomat (once again, all those jobs!) in the American Colonies included the following in a letter written on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” [Source]

Because a man who’d trade his liberty for a safe and dreamless sleep
Doesn’t deserve the both of them, and neither shall he keep.
(Sons of Liberty, 2009)

10 years later, in 1765 a revolutionary organisation in the colonies, called the “Sons of Liberty” fought taxation by the British crown [Wikipedia].

Stand up, sons of liberty, and fight for what you own.
Stand up, sons of liberty, and fight, fight for your homes.
(Sons of Liberty, 2009)

Now let’s move back London, one of the major geopolitical forces next to Amsterdam and Paris in Europe. And basically the whole world at that point.

Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) was a writer, biographer and… a Londoner [More here]. His possibly most famous quote from 1777:

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

A man is bored of life if he’s bored of these islands,
(Sweet Albion Blues, 2014)

Facing Samuel Johnson down.
A soul to wear down London Town,
(The Angel Islington, 2015)

I got tired of London, not tired of life.
(Farewell To My City, 2022)

London Skyline, View from Alexandra Palace, 2019
London Skyline, View from Alexandra Palace, 2019

A few years later and we’re back in France, where the Enlightenment combined with the horrid living situations for most of the population led to one of the most consequential public uprisings in modern history: The French Revolution of 1789 and with it the birth of the Tricolore as the French Flag [More on Wikipedia].

From the land of revolution and Agincourt
From a king’s blood stain on a Tricolor,
(To Take You Home, 2008)

While American colonies fought for indepence and the French people fought against oppression, the Italian adventurer and authour Giacomo Casanova (1725 – 1798) travelled around Europe on a variety of missions. He’s mostly known now for the many compliacted affairs with women, but just from the bit on Wikipedia, I think he might have led a quite interesting life. I might add his autobiography to my long list of books to read. One day. Anyway, here’s a song title…

Casanova Lament, 2008

Another reference to the late 18th century could be the tugging the forelock as a sign of respect or rather deference originates, which probably originates from Nelson’s (1758 – 1805) Navy. [One Word A Day]

But I will not bow down, I will not tug on my forelock
(Non Serviam, 2022)

19th Century

The 19th century continued with violent revolutions and with wars and not for the first time I’m starting to think that “revolutions and wars” might possibly be the natural state of the human race. And that the peaceful prosperity most of us in the West have gotten used to in the last few decades was the exception. What an utterly depressing thought. So better not dwell on that.

We’ve reached the early 1800s, where the German Composer Beethoven wrote not just music, but also love letters to Josephine Brunsvik and where Napoleon was in the last throes of his regency. Napoleon had also loved a woman called Josephine, made her his Empress, but when she couldn’t bear him a child, discarded her. As (powerful) men so easily did back then. Argh!

I could have been Napoleon, could have been Beethoven,
I’m a defeated commander, I’m a half-deaf composer,
I’m Napoleon on Elba, and you’re a hundred days in 1815.
I wrote all of these letters to my immortal beloved
(Josephine, 2015)

Wikipedia tells more about Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved“, Napoleon’s Empress Josephine and the “Hundred Days”.

Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) was a French writer, art critic and… dandy, might be a good word to describe him. Short time revolutionary in the revolution of 1848 as well [More on Wikipedia].

Put your Baudelaire away,
And come outside and play.
(Poetry of the Deed, 2009)

The 19th century is, of course, also the age of Industrialization with all the good and all the very bad that came with that. I think we’ve all learned those basics in history class. One of the most influential – to this day – philosopher, economist and social revolutionaries of this era was, of course: Karl Marx. I think we’ve all heard of the Communist Manifesto, he wrote together with Friedrich Engels in 1848. [More on Wikipedia].

In chapter 01 “Bourgeois and Proletarians” they write

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned…

Funnily enough I came across that quote in a novel in 2021 and thought “That sounds familiar…” 🙂

When everything you had that was solid
Has melted into air;

(Going Nowhere, 2018)

In 1852 Marx wrote an essay about the French coup of 1851 in which Napoleons nephew Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte seized power by force. The Essay is titled “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” [More on Wikipedia] and it includes the following lines:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

The first time it was a tragedy, the second time it’s a farce.
(1933, 2018)

While Louis Bonaparte was seizing and keeping power in France, England was at war once again. Against Russia in the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) this time. In 1854 a military action involving the Light Brigade of the cavalry failed disastrously [More on Wikipedia].

And then ride to the valley like the old Light Brigade,
(Love, Ire & Song, 2008)

Lets leave war and disaster for a bit now and have a look at literature and arts, which often explore human relationships and human psychology especially in those troubled times. One of the most known and accomplished writers from this time was Russian poet and writer Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881) [More on Wikipedia].

That Wat Tyler, Woody Guthrie, Dostoevsky and Davy Jones
Have all dissolved into the ether and have crept into my bones,
(One Foot Before The Other, 2011)

Another Russian writer is referenced over 10 years later: Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), whose probably best know novel “Anna Karenina” (1878) includes the line

“He was in the position of a man seeking for food in a toyshop or a gunsmith.”

Trying to find us some kind of food in toyshops and gunsmiths
(The Resurrectionists, 2022)

Frank also references one of the great English novelists of this time or at least “borrows” from him: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870), who at some point mischievously left a calling card which stated “Charles Dickens – Resurrectionist – in search of a subject”.

Searching for subjects, we are Resurrectionists.
(The Resurrectionists, 2022)

1900 – 1945

Still more revolutions and more wars *sigh* Let’s start with some arts and culture and entertainment for the masses. Or at least the public and not just the gentry or nobility. The turn of the century saw the rise of British music halls in the tradition of Vaudeville [More on Wikipedia].

This is my family’s trade, my father built this place
At the turning of the twentieth century.
We are the ghosts of Vaudeville,
We are the fathers of the halls,
(Balthazar Impressario, 2011)

While the music halls in England started to decline across the pond a new musical genre started to emerge in the Mississippi Delta. The (Delta) Blues, which lay the ground for the great blues and rock’n’roll music to follow [More on Wikipedia]

Some say he’s from the Delta
(The Zeitbeast, 2022)

At the same time on the other side of Europe – in the Russia Empire – people were revolting. Twice within less than 15 years and we’ve all felt and still feel the reverberations of the 2nd revolution for decades after. [Wikipedia on the 1905 Russian Revolution and Bolshevik October Revolution in October 1917].

So come on old friends to the streets
Let’s be 1905 but not 1917,
Let’s be heroes, let’s be martyrs, let’s be radical thinkers
(Love, Ire & Song, 2008)

Almost around the same time – in 1915 to be exact – an American-born British poet published a modernist poem: “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. That poet was, of course, T.S. Eliot (1888 – 1965). The ‘of course’ now makes it look like I knew of him and had read some of his work prior to Frank introducing me to his poetry. I didn’t. Or only very vaguely have heard of him, as in a “Isn’t that a writer / poet?” sense of way. [More on Eliot]

And I confess I still haven’t read anything from him. He wrote long modernist poetry. And English isn’t my first language. It’s daunting. Anyway, I first looked up Eliot in the summer of 2013, when as a newbie fan I worked my way through Frank’s back catalogue and tried to figure out “who that Prufrock person is, who isn’t actually featured anywhere IN the song” 😉

I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, 2007

It’s safe to say though that Frank very much appreciates T.S. Eliot’s work. For instance “The Waste Land” (1922) where the first (of five) part – “The Burial of the Dead” – opens with the lines

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

and the third part “The Fire Sermon” ends with

Burning, burning, burning, burning
O Lord Thou pluckest me out
O Lord Thou pluckest

And I will find a way that leads from cruel April into May,
(The Opening Act of Spring, 2015)

I am lost and I’m gone away
(Oh Darling Thou Pluckest Me Out)
And I don’t even know where you are
(Oh Darling Thou Pluckest Me Out)
And I don’t even know who you are anymore.
(Sea Legs, 2008)

The title “The Waste Land” is also a reference to the “Fisher King” (see above) who according the legend rules the Waste Land and there are various more references to that in the poem, even if the Fisher King as such isn’t mentioned by name.

The last T.S. Eliot reference I found – for now, there might be more – is the end of “The Hollow Man” (1925)

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Not with a bang but with a whimper.
It wasn’t hard, it was kind of simple.
(Anymore, 2013)

A few years later in 1933 Hitler came into power in Germany and quickly turned the country into a dictatorship. And much much worse. It didn’t start suddenly with the war in 1939 and we all do well to remember that [In-Depth analysis].

The first time it was a tragedy, the second time it’s a farce.
Outside it’s 1933, so I’m hitting the bar.
(1933, 2018)

Between 1936 and 1939 Spain was torn apart by a war between left-wing and right-wing parties, royalists vs. republicans, Communists vs nationalists. About half a million people lost their lives. In the end the nationalists won which led to the Franco dictatorship till 1975. [More on Wikipedia]

If it were just the best of us against the rest of us,
It wouldn’t even really be an argument at all.
It would be a victory, or a Spanish Civil War,
But I’m really not so sure that it is the way it is at all.
(Common Ground, 2018)

In September 1939 Britain and France declared war against Germany, after Germany had invaded Poland and ignored British ultimatums. By 1940 the front had moved west, Germany had occupied Belgium and British troops had to evacuate from Dunkirk. On June 18th 1940 the new prime minister Winston Churchill gave a rousing speech in the House of Commons, calling for support and unity and determination to defeat the Germans in the to expected Battle of Britain: [Complete Speech]

If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

So don’t you worry, all things must end.
There are sunlit uplands around the river bend.
(Glorious You, 2015)

As we all know the Battle of Britain started soon after, where during “The Blitz” bombing campaign against Britain in 1940 – 41 more than 40.000 people lost their lives, over 100.000 were injured and 60% of London was damaged or destroyed. But the “bombed but not defeated” morale of the “Blitz spirit” prevailed. [More on Historic UK]

It’s easy enough to talk about Blitz spirit
When you’re not holding the roof up and knee deep in it.
(The Next Storm, 2015)

During both World Wars the church bells in the UK were silenced, partly because they were melted down to use the material to build canons and such. Partly to not give away location of settlements. In both wars the bells were rung to signal the victorious end of the war. [HistoryHit]

So sound the alarms and the sirens, the bells in the churches
(The Gathering, 2021)

1945 – 2020

It’s a bit tricky now to move on from a war with so many casualties and the atrocities of the Third Reich to something ordinary as music and literature. Which is, of course only ordinary in contrast to big world changing historical events. Music, literature, songs, books and stories are vital for any civilised society, because we reflect and learn and grow and heal through it. At least I hope we do.

Anyway, the next few references in chronological order are about songwriters / writers / novels. And the first at least still has a political context. Woody Guthrie (1912 – 1965) was one of the most significant American folksingers, politically and musically. In 1940 he wrote his most known and influential song “This Land Is Your Land” [More on Wikipedia]

That Wat Tyler, Woody Guthrie, Dostoevsky and Davy Jones
Have all dissolved into the ether and have crept into my bones,
(One Foot Before The Other, 2011)

In 1952 John Steinbeck published “East of Eden”, a novel about two families – the Trasks and the Hamiltons – and in Frank’s own words: “it’s about moral responsibility and the idea that in the end we’re each of us responsible for the choices and decisions that we make and that blaming it on somebody else is the coward’s way out” (quoted from the Live in Newcastle Album, 2020).

Adam Trask is on my back and in my ears,
And the sound comes clear and brings the awful truth
That I can’t stand what I’ve done to you.
(Redemption, 2011)

In 1957 Jack Kerouac published his first novel “On the Road”, which made him into an icon of the Beat Generation and influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, The Doors. [More on Wikipedia]

Leave Kerouac at his desk;
We have romance in our risks.
(Poetry of the Deed, 2009)

Another compilation of references can be found – of course in “I Am Disappeared”. Let’s round those up in chronological order.

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961), of course, should be known by name anyway to most of us. Novelist, journalist, Nobel Prize laureate for Literature (1954) [Wikipedia].

Another Nobel Prize laureate for Literature in 2016 is, of course, Bob Dylan. I feel weird trying to give you some context for Bob Dylan. I admit I know songs of course and some of his life and the influence he so obviously has on folk music and culture and everything [Wikipedia].

Posters of Dylan and of Hemingway,
An antique compass for a sailor’s escape.
(I Am Disappeared, 2011)

There also of course is the Song to Bob, which is actually a new take on Dylan’s song to Woody Guthrie. Sort of Meta, eh?

Well hey hey Bob Dylan, I covered your song.
About a funny old world that is coming along.
(Song To Bob, 2011)

Another singer of the same generation as Bob Dylan, but a very different genre and status, I’d say was Elvis Presley (1935 – 1977). [Website] A few references to him on FTHC:

We’re motherfuckers and pharisees
(The Resurrectionists, 2022)

is an Elvis quote, according to Frank in some interviews. I didn’t find any reliable source for that yet, but I just try google quickly. And then there is the line

Some say he’s from the Delta, or that he belonged to Frank Sinatra
Or maybe Miles Davis, though he was into cats
All I know for certain is that he ended up with Elvis
And that wherever that beast lays, that’s where it’s at

(The Zeitbeast, 2022)

For completeness at this point, of course the other references here are to singer and actor Frank Sinatra (1915 – 1998), who is considered to be one of the greatest musical artists of the 20th century [Website] and jazz musician (trumpeter), bandleader, composer Miles Davis (1926 – 1991) [Website].

We’ve moved into the 1960’s and a few references in “The Zeitbeat” again. The Sunset Strip in LA was the place to be for young and upcoming musicians in the 1960: Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, The Monkeys, Sonny and Cher… [City of West Hollywood]

So he was snuffling ’round Sunset in the sixties
Until the scenesters scared him off to London Town

(The Zeitbeast, 2022)

The Marquee Club in Soho, London was one of the most important venue for the British music scene in the 1960’s and 1970’s. [History of the Marquee]

He hung out at the Marquee with Hendrix and the Yardbirds
While all that heavy shit was going down

(The Zeitbeast, 2022)

Another artist who doesn’t really need any more context: Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) [Website].

The Yardbirds do need some context, at least I thought I’d never heard of them before. When I did some research, I thought, I probably did hear the name at some point, but it obviously slipped my mind. An english rock band in the late 1960s, their lead guitarist from 1963 – 1965 was … Eric Clapton! [Yardbirds at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]

 Leaving the references to literature / songwriters behind for a bit, we’re stepping into the world of sports. The one and only Muhammad Ali is known not just for his boxing success or his politics, but also for quite a few memorable quotes. In 1964 early in his career he answered the question about his strategy / tactics as the underdog with

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

which Frank modified to

If self loathing was a sport, I’d be Muhammad Ali,
Because I can sting like a butterfly and sink like a bee.

(“Haven’t Been Doing So Well, 2021)

Chronologically the next reference is Patricia Hearst, granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, who was kidnapped aged 19, by left-wing organization in 1974. She joined that revolutionary group and participated in various criminal activities, out of Stockholm Syndrome possibly [Wikipedia].

Dreams of pirate ships and Patty Hearst
Breaking through a life over-rehearsed.
(I Am Disappeared, 2011)

In the1970s punk as music and genre and way of life ? emerged. CBGB in New York is considered to be the birthplace of punk. From the Ramones in the 1970s to Green Day in the 1990, everybody played there. It closed it’s doors in October 2016, with the legendary Patti Smith playing the final gig. [CBGB Website]

Another legendary club in NY in the late 1970 s- for a different crowd – was Studio 54: [History of Yesteryears].

The seventies found him stuck in CBGBs
Until he snuck uptown to Studio 54

(The Zeitbeast, 2022)

Another punkrock reference

Because I’m not Joe Strummer, not Muhammed Ali
(Haven’t Been Doing So Well, 2021)

Punkrock legend Joe Strummer (1952 – 2002), singer of “The Clash”, which we all probably have Frank heard talk about when asked about what influenced his taste in music.

And then in the 1970s there was of course: Bruce Springsteen. No context needed here, I think. I should admit that I still need to catch up with a lot of music he wrote. I know the hits of course, but really should spend more time getting to know his other stuff. I should make that my next lockdown project, maybe? There’s no link for further information on Bruce, I’d just feel silly.

I was walking home to my house through the snow from the station,
When the Springsteen came clear in my headphones with a pertinent question:
Is love really real, and can any of us hope for redemption?
(Redemption, 2011)

One of my favourite ‘hidden’ references is the one below. I have no idea how I worked that out, because – as I said above I’m still a Springsteen illiterate. In 1982 he released an album: Nebraska.

Well I’ve been to Texas state, I didn’t think it was that fucking great,
And Nebraska is just a bunch of songs,
(Nashville Tennessee, 2008)

And we’ve finally reached the years and events I personally remember, because I’ve lived through them. Well the first one of these anyway. I was 10 years old and even though I didn’t see it live on TV, I very well remember the news reports and replays and the articles after: The Challenger Disaster [More on Wikipedia].

On the 28th of January 1986 Christa McAuliffe
Gazed in horror as the O-rings failed,
And she died, and she died, and she died.
(Silent Key, 2015)

A year later in September 1987 Conservative UK Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher used the phrase “There is no society” multiple times in an interview and thus probably summed up her political view in all it’s disastrous consequence. [Interview for Woman’s Own]. In this case I didn’t live through it as I didn’t grew up in Britain and even though I vaguely remember Thatcher from the news at night, I had no idea of her politics. I was 11 years old in another country :-)!

We spent ten long years teaching our kids not to care
And that “there’s no such thing as society” anyway.
(Thatcher Fucked The Kids, 2008)

One last music scene reference for that decade: The Hacienda was another legendary, notorious nightclub, this one in Manchester. Open from 1982 to 1997 it was home for the house and rave scene of that time [ Oral History of Hacienda].

And later, back up in Manchester
In the midst of that loving second summer
Folks said they saw him sniffing around the Hacienda’s back door

(The Zeitbeast, 2022)

21st Century

Of course this one has to come first…

I’ve got the Twenty-First Century survival blues,
A condition brought on by watching the news.
(The Twenty-First Century Survival Blues, 2018)

Previous versions of this compilation had featured the shout-out to Franks mid-2000s London scene in the song “The Resurrectionists” (2021), where he referenced a lot of people from the song ““I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous” (2008). On second thought that felt rather less historical and more self-referential, so I culled it.

A proper historical reference – or at least reference to real events – happens to be the whole song about the London Riots in 2011. [More on the BBC]

Last night the kids set London alight,
They started out in Tottenham and the flames spread through the night,
(Riot Song, 2014)

The last of the references – for now – is one of the most profound and inspirational quotes used by Frank in any of his songs. He’s been talking a lot about why he picked “Be More Kind” as a title for the 2018 album and what inspired it: a few lines in the poem “Leçons de Ténèbres”, by the late Clive James (1939 – 2019), published in 2013

I should have been more kind. It is my fate
To find this out, but find it out too late.

And thus concludes 3.000 years of human history told through Frank Turner lyrics. Looking back on the endless wars and armed conflicts dominating even this partial and fragmented timeline of events, I more than ever agree with Clive James. And Frank. Let’s be more kind. To each other. To ourselves. To the world we live in.


  1. This has brightened up my day considerably.
    And there are not many bright spots these days, be it for the season or the handling of the problems at hand (i.e. the pandemic).

    Soooo – well done and I will keep coming back to here and check for more bright spots.

    Peter, not dead yet 😉

    1. Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yeah, writing this was a bright spot for me too, as it kept my mind occupied with lovely things instead of despairing over the pandemic

  2. This was a joy to read. I’m a big history nerd and I love franks music mainly for his amazing lyrics, he’s definitely my favourite lyricist for sure! I found out some new information reading this so thank you!

  3. This was amazing!!! I love how linear it was, with great transitions! So creative. Fabulous work!!!!

  4. Love this! I had never made the “cruel April into may” connection before, just goes to show how seamlessly Frank weaves the references into his lyrics.
    Can I suggest an addition to the list? The Fisher King is a figure from (I think) Arthurian legend, and a part of Eliot’s The Waste Land, and is, of course, featured in Frank’s Fisher King Blues.

    1. I’m grateful for suggestions to add items and am already jotting down notes for a follow-up post. Thanks for your input. I sort of knew about the Fisher King, but didn’t think of it this time

  5. Really great piece of writing, I’m a little bit jealous that I didn’t think of doing it as I’m a huge history nerd and a huge Frank fan! I learned a lot and enjoyed it greatly. Well done!

  6. I have NOT YET read this, but since I’m not dead yet, I guess I have time 🙂

    I haven’t followed any blogs lately, but like you, I used to be an avid blogger. Sometimes I even got up to 60 hits a day. Perhaps it’s something I too should reconsider in the new year.

    And like you, mid-40’s and sort of figuring things out. Nice to “meet” you fan girl!

      1. Finally, came back to this – better late than never?

        So impressed! How much time do you think you spent in total compiling all of this? As a high school English teacher, it’s appreciated!

        Hope you’re doing well 🙂

  7. Wow! An incredible piece of writing. Thank you from another big FT fan.

    I only wish there was an index by song so I could come back to this while listening.

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