We’re well into summer now and the good weather provides for the outdoor life for all of us to enjoy. Cafe society hits its peak, encouraging pleasant moods bringing with it a great, healthy ambience all around…along comes your not-so-friendly-busker, judging by the look on his face! Without a moment to waste, he breaks into a tune – more often than not on an accordion – the duration of which can vary between 25 seconds and one and a half minutes. He then stops and produces the proverbial cap, tin or cardboard box expecting a tip for his ‘performance’… Performance? What performance?
Being a musician and radio presenter myself, I’m well aware of what a good performance comprises. He’s played half a song, not having learned the melody correctly, with dud notes here and there, leaving out parts of the tune and calling it a day, not having played the full length two and a half or three minutes the song is meant to last, with a glum look on his face to boot which reads, ‘I’m so fed up, let me get on with this quickly, take what these idiots will give me and move on to the next lot, they won’t know any better!’ – Or so he thinks!
It has to be said most of those are pretty good.
It could be that some of these buskers realise they’re not that good and by providing a bit of badly played music of sorts with a miserable face, punters will be happy to give them a pound or a few pence just to get rid of them, regardless of the unworthy performance. The point not to be missed here is, they could do so much better if they engaged their brain, learnt the RIGHT SONGS (which is so important), made good use of facial expressions and body language and where appropriate, interact with their audience…works wonders and it’s win, win all round!
But it’s not all bad and gloomy. There are and have been, some excellent street artists, singers, musicians and performers in our midst. ‘Wali’ from Philadelphia and the guy – still here – playing his guitar sat at the end of the tunnel at Casemates, some excellent singer/guitarists, guitarists, combos and yes, even excellent accordionists and violinists: two come to mind, and it shows when some have been professionally trained and stand out as they grab your attention.
I’m thinking of one guy in particular on the accordion with his well prepared backing tracks (which is allowed and enhances the performance) and a violinist playing classical and well chosen popular pieces – both with their heads screwed on aware of what’s expected of them. The violinist reminded me of string quartets performing in Covent Garden in London and a Russian ensemble I witnessed playing outside a cafe in Helsinki in Finland…result? I kept on ordering coffees whilst my other half did the shops! We’ve also had a group of four or five musicians playing in town, who played the right songs – the ones people recognise and want to hear well played – whilst giving a happy performance interacting with each other and passersby. Now and again,
‘Rondallas’ (folky combos made up of Spanish university students) playing happy tunes in a lively manner serenading their willing audiences sat in cafes, and restaurants as well as high street shoppers, come our way… Then on the down side we’ve had a so called ‘clever dick’ pretending on his violin to be playing beautifully reproduced classics emanating from his amplified speaker sounding perfect. He was not even going through the paces correctly as he hardly ran up and down the violin’s neck to reproduce the higher notes! Passersby unversed with the detail approached him donating coins for his supposed, ‘fine violin playing’.
You must be clever about how best to promote yourself and your music.
There’s also been another musical duo of accordion and trumpet with the latter playing three correct notes in every five during their pathetic performances, and then we have the ‘money for nothing grabbers’. From time to time we have the individual marionette-ing a doll over a piano playing – or NOT playing – recorded music with the ‘artist’ operating the stupid puppet, just pulling its arms up and down, and again, punters falling for it.
When it comes to pavement artists and street performers and statues, it has to be said most of those are pretty good: The guy with the briefcase and ‘flowing’ tie in the levanter gusts was well presented as are the motorbike riders, who come round every now and then, seemingly balancing in mid-air. The statues and sculpted figures have to be given their due for all the make-up and costumes they wear not to mention the time spent preparing all of that as well as the long periods standing or sitting motionless, however, the guy producing soapy, wet, messy bubbles can be a pain in the backside, but he does entertain the kids… They deserve a coin or two. No, it’s the musicians that need looking at, to my mind.
There are also those youngsters sitting on Main Street benches who just play their original material – for which they have to be commended. Clearly they are determined to promote their self-penned material which is great. But if you also want to make a pound or two for a burger and a coffee you need to attract the attention of an audience, who by and large, like to hear the well known tunes, hopefully well played. Therefore, I would think, mixing your own material with mainstream songs people are in tune with, would be a good idea.
In the 60s, Don Partridge had three or four chart hits having been picked up by record producers whilst busking outside the cinemas in London’s busy Leicester Square, so you never know when and where lady luck will next strike, but you must be clever about how best to promote yourself and your music.
So, for the musicians – young or those less young – who come to our shores hailing from all over Europe and other distant lands equipped with accordions, trumpets and other instruments, where required, ought to be auditioned before being allowed to perform in our town. It can’t be difficult to suss-out the good from the rubbish. Some need to be told to go away, rehearse what it is that they’re attempting to do, become properly acquainted with their instruments and improve their work and sort out the material they want to play, they can audition once more. Those conscientious individuals I’m sure will be able to improve and show their worth deserving of a bona fide street busker on our Main Street pavements. Healthy reward at the end of their daily stints will no doubt follow… but let’s audition them first!