The London Underground at 150 – a slightly jaded celebration of the Tube in pop music

The Longon Underground - copyright Transport for London

The London Underground – copyright Transport for London

The London Underground is 150 years old today. For tens of millions of people across the UK and abroad the tube is a living symbol of the vitality and scale of London. It can be evoked instantly in the gorgeous iconography, from the London Underground symbol – that neatly bisected circle – to the feverish, evolving, insectile beauty of Harry Beck’s map.

The very names of the stations evoke either London’s grand age (Bow Church, Bank) or its constant re-inventions (Canary Wharf, Hoxton). The names can be mythic (Angel, All Saints) or eccentric (Elephant & Castle, King’s Cross), speak of alluring wealth (Knightsbridge, Maida Vale) or gritty reality (Stockwell, Archway). It’s a beacon of metropolitan glamour and, still – after 150 years – bustling modernity.

All feelings which last for approximately 1 week of living in London, when the endless delays, the Kafkaesque nightmare of engineering works, the rusty decrepitude blighting swathes of the network, the endless push’n’shove of drunks’n’tourists and the sheer stressy hell of rush hour can permanently tarnish the brightest enthusiasm. And yet, and yet…

There are still moments where the London Underground briefly feels like a thing of wonder and beauty again. When the Victoria Line, the network’s unsung hero, swoops you from the deepest South of Brixton to the far North East of Walthamstow in less than 40 minutes. The sheer beauty of Clapham Common and Clapham North’s single platform stations, sleek cylindrical monuments to urbanity – when not filled by thousands of frothing commuters at 8.13 on a Tuesday morning. The long, steep elevator of Angel tube station, lifting you slowly towards the genteel bustle of Islington. The way that Canary Wharf’s vast cathedral interior prepares you for the looming sci-fi surrounds of Canary Wharf itself.

And then there’s pop music, where the Underground has continued to exert an alluring influence beyond what it actually has to offer. Hundreds of great pop songs have referred to the London tube, or places evoked by tube station names, from rusty old classics like “Baker Street” to modern gems like Duffy’s heartbreak lullaby, “Warwick Avenue.”

Pulp used “Mile End” as a symbol of bedsit London, teeming with seedy energy, while The Jam captured the menace of late 70s Britain in “Down In The Tube Station At Midnight”. Even Fergie (the pop singer and crystal meth bore, not the ex-Royal) had a clumsy crack at evoking capital class on “London Bridge”. Rather more memorably, it was the aggressive artificiality of Canary Wharf that inspired Radiohead’s sublime “Fake Plastic Trees”

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Special Frankmusik London show this Sunday (6th Jan) – come along and toast 2013 with some fizzy champagne pop

proud gallery

Yes, we know Pop Lifer has gone a bit Frankmusik-crazed of late (it’s even worse inside our heads) but when we get excited about something we get very very excited. Besides, we wanted to spread the word on the last show Vince will be doing in the UK for a while, before he heads back to LA to make the pop album of our dreams.*

He’ll be appearing this Sunday at the gorgeous Proud Galleries in Camden, along with a special support act, from 6.30 onwards. Admission is FREE, which makes it even more recession-friendly than Orange Wednesdays.

We’re particularly excited that he’s gonna be playing “Captain” – the most addictive, madcap new pop song we heard in 2012 – for the first time live, as well as other new material and perhaps an older classic or two. And if you’ve never seen Frankmusik live… well… let’s just say the boy really can SING.

So come along. Catch him while you can!


* or there will be trouble

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“You can’t stop me unless you cut off my hands, and then I’ll play piano with my feet” – Frankmusik’s New Year Resolve

Piano man

Where it all began – Vince and a piano in Croydon. Picture: Jaime Gill

“I work better with some dysfunction and adversity to go up against,” explains Vincent Turner (better known as Frankmusik) intensely, talking to himself as much as to us. He’s actually remembering the making of his first album – “Complete Me,” his cult 2009 hit which just happens to be one of Pop Lifer’s favourite records of the last five years – but he could just as easily be talking about his present situation.

Vince, its fair to say, has had a tricky couple of years. Five years ago he was bankrolled and heavily hyped by a record label which nonetheless seemed unsure what to do with him, especially when the album didn’t become the overnight smash hit it should have been. Though, to be fair, Vince seemed unsure what to do with himself.

What he opted for was fleeing to Los Angeles within three months of the record’s release, where he recorded a follow up which breathed new life into the “difficult second album” cliché. In the last year he’s been dropped by Island halfway through a tour, quixotically changed his name to Vincent Did It and back again, and is licking his wounds from a traumatic relationship “that fell apart as quickly as it came together.” If adversity truly fuels Frankmusik’s best work, then his third record will be quite something.

Vince certainly has his hunger back: “as soon as I’ve got the record I’m happy with, there’ll be no fucking stopping me,” he declares. “And everyone can go whistle.” From most other pop singers without a deal this would sound like an empty threat or a hollow boast (try and imagine Shayne Ward saying it for full hilarious effect).

Two things make Vince different. The first is that his talent is unquestionable: the piano prodigy’s first album was uneven but also utterly distinctive, energetic, bristlingly modern, surprisingly soulful and brimming with glorious day-glo pop melodies. The second is that he has just sneak-released a new song, “Captain”, which sees him not just recapture his early zip and verve (largely MIA from his second album) but add rocket fuel. It’s one of the best things he’s ever done and the most addictive, energetic, adorably hyperactive pop song we heard in 2012. To call it exciting would be a massive understatement.


Vince on 45s – the records that made Frankmusik. Picture: Jaime Gill

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“There’ll be no holding me back” – Frankmusik on his plans to shake up 2013 (interview preview)

Vincent Turner AKA Frankmusik, at Studio South London, Dec 2012. Photograph by Jaime Gill. Vinyl collection by Vince.

Vincent Turner AKA Frankmusik, at Studio South London, Dec 2012. Picture: Jaime Gill. Vinyl collection: Vince.

2012 ended with a bang at Pop Lifer Towers, thanks to one of our very favourite pop stars, Frankmusik (aka Vincent Turner). We’ve been a bit obsessed with Frankmusik since his fizzy, frequently fantastic debut, “Complete Me”, caused a stir back in 2009. Since then, Vince has been based in LA (more on that later), so we were thrilled when we learnt he was back home for Christmas to play a couple of shows and plot his third album. We were even more delighted when he gave us the chance to “sort out a quick interview” while he’s in town.

That quick interview turned into a marathon conversation at his London HQ, home and studio in Croydon, followed by a fruitful photoshoot (a couple of sneak previews above and below, though we didn’t manage to persuade him to get naked for this one, sorry fans). We got an exclusive listen to some of the new record (absolutely dementedly brilliant, from what we’ve heard – nobody else is doing music like this, though in five years time everybody might be) and a fascinating insight into Vince’s creative process. Continue reading

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Our Xmas present to you – free download of Frank Ocean’s debut album “Nostalgia Ultra” (yes, it’s late, but so are you)

Reposting this from 5 months ago, as a late Christmas present. We’ve noticed a big increase in the number of people visiting this page – presumably as a result of Frank Ocean’s second album, “Channel Orange”, deservedy winning just about every end of year poll in the world. So to make it easier, here’s the link again.

Hello to those who have asked where you can find “Nostalgia Ultra”, the Frank Ocean album referred to in our earlier blog.

free album below, no catch

Well, at the time of writing, go here to find a nice easy zipped download courtesy of the friendly folks of Get Right Music.

For the law-abiders among you, don’t worry – this is all legal (well, we think so, we don’t yet employ an in-house lawyer here at Pop Lifer) – Frank Ocean himself put this album out for free last year as a result of frustration at his record label’s refusal to promote it.

Lord knows what they were thinking. While “Nostalgia Ultra” isn’t as fully realised, fully rounded and fully beautiful as “Channel Orange”, it’s still  one of last year’s five best albums.

What with recent revelations, you might think “Songs For Women” – probably the catchiest song on board – was something of a red herring, but given the general mischief at work in the lyric, you can’t help but wonder if Ocean knew this song was one day going to be greeted wryly. Similarly, on first listen, 50-Cent favourite “Novocane” might sound like typical rap bragging – “Superhuman, even when i’m fucking” could be the abhorrent Chris Brown – until you hear the desperation and melancholy underpinning it: “I can’t feel, can’t feel a thing.”

More typical of Ocean are the slower and more reflective songs. “Strawberry Swing” samples Coldplay and is a gorgeous, shimmering and gentle meditation on childhood, while the brooding, organ-driven”Swim Good” finds Ocean heartbroken and driving out to the sea – maybe never to come back. And on “There Will Be Tears” Ocean reflects on his briefly known and departed grandfather to gorgeous effect. His honesty and vulnerability were there all along.

“We All Try” is the purest pop number, and should by all rights have been a global number one. On it Ocean sings of sin (“I don’t believe my hands are cleanly”) and sadness (“Can’t believe you would let me touch your heart”) but ends on a note of ringing positivity: “I just don’t believe we’re wicked/ I know that we sin, but I do believe we try.” It’s a sort of soul “Everybody Hurts” and gives the clearest indication of just what Ocean would achieve on “Channel Orange”.

And, yes, that is Radiohead you can hear in the background of “Bitches Talkin”.

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Advent Calendar Day 24: our PJ Harvey Award for album of 2013

And it looks like we might have made it, yes it looks like we have made it to the end – of our pop culture advent calendar. For those of you who have joined us on this from day 1, or just hopped on along the way, thank you. It’s been a long blog slog at a manic time of year, so we’ll probably take it easy here at Pop Lifer for a while, but it’s been a fun ride too.

Along the way we’ve examined the impact of the Olympics, lauded the genius of the Internet and  brainpicker’s unearthing of amazing online nuggests, enjoyed the furious brilliance of Plan B’s “Ill Manors”, expressed our longing for the return of Goldfrapp, named the Leveson Inquiry as the year’s most gripping drama, considered whether the Hillsborough victims are edging closer to justice, had fun and frolics with Frankmusik, enjoyed Grayson Perry’s ambiguous class commentary, congratulated Stone Roses for reuniting in a way that didn’t make us gag on our disgust and much, much more.

Yesterday we named Plan B as our single of the year, so today we inevitably turn to the album of the year. The truth is it wasn’t a viciously competitive year. We’ve said here before that it’s been a dull year for pop, a verdict surely proved by a glance at the UK top 10 at time of writing.

The UK top 10, courtesy of UK Official Charts,

The UK top 10, courtesy of UK Official Charts,

Do we really need to say much more? We supported the new number 1 for helping fund the Hillsborough families in their fight for justice, but we can’t defend it musically, let alone the rest of the bland, dead-eyed, “will this do” fare served up by the rest of the top 10, or the ongoing debacle of Gangnam. As for number 3, we remain convinced that this Britney Spears and duet was what the Mayans were warning us about: not the end of civilisation, but the end of a civilisation worth living in. The presence of Olly Murs and Flo Rida on the same record 4 positions further down surely proves this theory beyond contest.

Strangely, it’s in the form of albums that music has been far healthier – a form which should really be dead by now, given the way that digital distribution has not just shattered the physical ubiquity of the album but also disrupted that whole patient, long-form way of listening. 2012 has given birth to some brilliant albums : we particularly loved the collaboration between David Byrne and the terrifyingly talented St Vincent, the well loved Grimes record and Jack White’s surprisingly focused solo record.

But two albums really stood out for us over the year, and are the only ones we stil play regularly long after their release. So here is our album of the year and our runner up, one probably a controversial choice, the other most certainly not. Continue reading

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