Why I Busk
TEXT IAN MCPHERSON
I began busking instead of signing on the dole. The weather was good, so I headed into town with my guitar and after three hours, came home elated by the response I got from Joe Public. Two days later, I went back. 'This will tide me over for a month or two, at least until winter,' I thought. Nearly five years on, I'm still to be found, guitar in hand, 'The Music Man', as some folk call me.
The idea of busking always interested me; that is, if things went bad, you could make a few quid from some skill or talent. Real working buskers are not failed or amateurish musicians. They are often original, independent artists for whom taking their music directly to the people remains one of a limited number of options.
I am a self-taught rhythm guitarist with a preference for upbeat melodies. My repertoire straddles country, folk, blues and rock 'n' roll - influences that are reflected in my own songs. I perform instrumental breaks on harmonica and sometimes add a ukulele or mandolin for variety. Harmonicas are my biggest expense; their quality declines and their price increases.
Recently, the frets on my guitar needed replacing as they were so worn that playing could be painful. A new guitar might have been a better investment but my old bowl-back is, like me, well weathered and people compliment me on its sound. My voice too, matures and changes in ways that surprise me; for inside remains the little boy who was told at school that he couldn't sing.
Competitive only with myself, I strive to do my personal best and keep my material fresh and rehearsed. Anytime my performance feels lacklustre, I call it a day; I have no wish to give a dour minority an excuse to view buskers as beggars. I only play songs I genuinely like and do not court popularity. I like to be myself.
Being, or becoming oneself is part of the joy of busking; watching and responding to the ebb and flow of the crowds as an angler studies the currents of a stream. Fishing is a good analogy for busking. Cycling, too. You can become lost in the moment and also less judgemental; less concerned with other peoples’ business, lifestyles or careers, and less worried about the future. You become, literally, tuned in. It is like a dance. You are with the passers-by yet separate and alone.
I do not claim to be the best busker around, but I am one of the few genuine examples and the cultural contribution I have made is real. A local band put my photo on the cover of their debut CD and I have inspired others to play the guitar, or to busk themselves or just do something different. It is nice to hear such stories. I meet lots of interesting characters. One day I will write it all down.
Sadly, there are also rude or difficult people and petty thieves to deal with. Snobbery can also be an issue for the working class bohemian.
Once, a lady stopped, took my hand in hers and said, “You know, people here love you”. I love them too.
Music is the sound of love, and I make music for the people on the street.