John Turrell is a working class Geordie who, like most of us, is many things in life. A loving husband and a devoted dad. A fun drinking companion and a trained carpenter, whose struggles to support his young family in precarious economic conditions will resonate with millions. In short – John is Everyman.
But, unlike most of us, John Turrell is a gloriously gifted singer and songwriter. With echoes of another charismatic vocalist, the legendary Tim Buckley, who spent several years as an LA taxi driver, John’s obscure toils on London building sites and daily travails are all good news for music fans. As John says, “you can’t sing soulfully without having lived a bit” and these experiences are intrinsic to his becoming the next big voice in British music following the release of his debut solo album “The Kingmaker”.
John has already developed a devoted cult following with the deeply funky dancefloor fillers, Smoove and Turrell, enrapturing everyone from Glastonbury festival goers to Russian mobsters in shady Moscow clubs. And he was elected by the listeners of Craig Charles’ Funk & Soul Show on 6Music as the dream vocalist for the “The Fantasy Funk Band” supergroup, which will be reconvening for the “Proms in the Park” season in London in September.
As such a pedigree suggests, there is no doubt about John’s vocal virtuosity. But it is his authentic ability to write songs that connect with people that has inspired even greater loyalty from those already in the know.
The soul that John’s voice exudes is the product of a perfect marriage between music, emotion and storytelling about life as he lives it. It is this combination that makes him an exceptional artist and has come together to spectacular effect on “The Kingmaker”. The record melds John’s magnificent vocals with a soulful soundscape and singer-songwriter sensibility to produce a 21st Century British “state of the nation” album that provides a perfectly-timed and compelling commentary on “austerity Britain”.
John explains that “The Kingmaker” is driven by his and songwriting partner, Nick Faber’s, desire to create “a genuine album that is strong enough musically and lyrically to inspire people to keep coming back to it. Nick and I were keen not to let our angst override the music but you can feel it. It comes from the tough times we both lived through when we were writing these songs”.
Musically, the album succeeds emphatically in its aim of using different styles to create a coherent whole. But, most of all, it is infused with added depth by John’s evocative lyrics and his “never holding back in the way that I sing them”.
John’s words explore the intersection between the political and the personal and the pitting of the powerful against the hardworking everyman. The album is a heartfelt expression of the struggles of working people from its very first lines - “I believe in nothing more than those who have got and those who ain’t / from your house to the poor house / the line you cross if you can’t pay”.
But, as with John himself, the album has a much more rounded, multi-dimensional character than a purely political protest record and the redemptive power of love is an interwoven theme of “The Kingmaker”. Alongside the passionate anger and yearning, John’s exuberance and positivity are equally to the fore. Rather like the best of the bands, such as “The Specials”, who provided the soundtrack for the last disastrous recession, his songs simultaneously radiate an infectious spirit of defiance and a joyful love of life.
So who is John Turrell? He is a great bloke, a big personality and an even bigger talent. With the heart of a Jarrow Marcher and the voice of a soul legend, this is his time. People get ready.
Paul Knott, Music Journalist
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