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Songwriter Frankmusik: How I'd make Croydon a better place

After three years in Los Angeles, Frankmusik has returned home to Thornton Heath. The synthpop star tells chief reporter Gareth Davies how being threatened with a knife outside a bookmakers reminded him of his passion for Croydon - but also how it needs to change...

"JUST had a knife pulled on me in Croydon and managed to make a run for it," read the message Thornton Heath pop star Vincent Frank sent out to his 31,000 followers on Twitter. "Lucky to be alive. Didn't want to die before this album came out."

As any journalist would, I contacted Vincent – who performs under the name Frankmusik – and asked whether he wanted to speak about what had happened.

"I know this may sound slightly bizarre," replied the singer-songwriter, "but however much Croydon can drive me up the wall sometimes, it is still my home and the place I was born.

"I think Croydon gets a bad enough reputation without my confrontation attracting more negative attention.

"I would love to help it become a safer and better place to live, but the restructuring that would need to take place seems utterly impossible with such a lax approach to town planning, integration and civic immersion."

So, I suggested, instead of an article about how a music star was threatened with a knife in Thornton Heath, why not a young role model talking about what he thinks should be done to make things better?

A few days later we were sitting in the Clocktower Cafe, talking over a cup of tea about the incident outside a bookmakers on Thornton Heath Pond on April 18.

Vincent, 27, who returned to Croydon in January following three years in the States, said: "I went to buy a packet of cigarettes and a big guy came out of the bookies and was trying to get my attention.

"I was ignoring him, hoping he would realise I was on the phone. But when he continued to address me, rather loudly, I realised he didn't care and was very much interested in getting my attention.

"When I carried on ignoring him he pulled out a rather large knife. He nearly cornered me but what I attempted to do – and successfully, thank goodness – was run for my life.

"With all of these situations it was over as quickly as it started. I didn't stick around to see what he wanted. I was mainly shocked and upset because I had to run and I'm a heavy smoker and I don't enjoy that.

"What did cross my mind was, why did this happen? It was by two bookmakers and right next to a bank. I just thought, on a logistical term, that doesn't make sense. I've not got anything against gamblers, but there's only so much I feel is necessary in one place. In a low income area, that kind of thing has to be spread out. You have to make it not as highly saturated."

Vincent isn't the only one who's concerned. In March, shopkeepers and residents in London Road united in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stop a new bookmakers from opening in Broad Green, where one in four shops sells alcohol or fast food.

They complained about the cumulative impact of the area's pawnshops, off licences and betting offices but, as Paddy Power's experienced QC argued, they were powerless to stop the application.

"That's exactly what I mean," said Vincent. "When I came back to West Croydon for the first time I was really shocked

"All I could see was 'cash for gold' and quick loan places. Evans Cycles had been replaced with a pawnbrokers. They are everywhere.

"People don't have any money and they are getting rid of the last assets they have or taking a quick loan when they need cash. It doesn't make any sense to me and it feel like there's something bigger going on."

As a musician, Vincent may seem an unlikely champion for better town planning.

But having split from his label Island Records, and back in Thornton Heath after breaking up with his American fiancée, Frankmusik has something to say.

"When you wake up and walk through Croydon and all you see is the frayed edges of society taking hold – derelict buildings and empty shopping precincts like Allders, all they are is psychological billboards for failure," said Vincent.

"They are massive signs which say 'You are failing as a town, you are failing as people' and we don't need to see that.

"As adults, our fondest childhood memories are to do with outdoors – parks, swings or things like that. I might sound idealistic when I say this but Croydon needs to be more green. I don't mean in a carbon footprint kind of way. I mean literally.

"We need to flatten these empty buildings and create more civic areas. At the moment Croydon is all about consuming. The high street, Purley Way, all these things send out the same message – if you've got money, come in, if you don't, get lost."

Vincent's first album in two years, Between, is due out in July. Beyond music, however, the now indie-musician wants to get involved in politics.

He said: "I think there's no point trying to educate the youth – they are already too poisoned.

"I can take on the adults who are poisoning the youth though, and that's what I intend to do."

Songwriter Frankmusik: How I'd make Croydon a better place

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