Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Funless festive busking for the second year running - 12th - 20th December 2015

Someone had written some uplifting slogans in place of adverts on the tube back to Hainault, and I couldn't resist trying to capture the accompanying commuters' faces.
Green Park #1 - 12th December 2015
Just after 7 pm on 5th December, a man was arrested at Leytonstone Underground station after a stabbing during which he was claimed to have shouted, "This is for Syria!" The police were quick to treat this an act of terrorism, and Leytonstone is only about a half-dozen stops from where I live. The next morning I was due to busk at Oxford Circus but was too frightened to go plus it would've been stupid to have gone considering that more trouble of a similar nature could've been brewing.
I then spent the best part of a week feeling angry; as if I'd had no choice but to allow the threat of terrorist activity to control my ability to work on the Underground and put some money aside for Christmas. In other words, I'd completely lost my nerve.
In a bid to regain my confidence with respect to being out in crowded spaces, I went and did my fundraising stint at Tesco, Barkingside for Marie Curie cancer care. The session was enjoyable and went very well even though my heart was in my mouth the whole time - especially when a shopper left her trolley unattended outside the store for a good 15 minutes while 'security' took a look then did zilch about it.
Happily, the next day I felt able to attend my busking session playing 'Christmas and folk' fiddle at Green Park: On signing in, I noticed that the supervisors' office had been freshly painted, however I barely garnered a "Hello" from staff.
I played to the impersonal, piss-taking, snobbish fashionistas - many of them carrying umbrellas which put me in mind of drenched vampire bats, that typically populate this area at 10 am on at Saturday, but it felt good to be performing again; it's a basic need in me that I must fulfill, and my Polish concert pianist friend, Nuna's reasoning that "the only really true thing is love," energized me because I agree with her.
At the start, an exotic Chinese woman deposited a handful of change and lavished me with what I'd hoped were compliments that I was unable to hear; a mother removed her golden-haired little girl from the 'Winter Wonderland' crowd that was forming to go up the escalator and loudly told her off, and I found myself feeling more fatigued and hormonal as time went on.
I tried out some new polkas and tagged some of my favourite Christmas carols on the end of my set, then a 'know-it-all' Irish busker I knew from Waterloo probed, "Are you leaving?... WHY?... Have you got another pitch anywhere?" He couldn't believe that I wasn't going to make the most of the opportunity to continue playing here during the Christmas weekend rush. "I've finished and am going home," I replied, wondering why the hell I should have to justify myself to him.
Oxford Circus #2 - 13th December 2015
A woman wearing an 'upside down turkey' hat caught my eye; I took (directly from her scrunched hand), 50p from a small red-headed girl with pigtails and met other good-natured children - one holding a cone of candy who wished me, "Merry Christmas!"; a young woman skip-danced down the corridor to my 'folk' fiddling; people sang along when I performed a few Christmas carols; an elderly foreign man confessed, "I like music!" after tipping me, and I recieved a thumbs up from a 'Rasta' girl who told me that I was doing really well.
I played for an extra 40 minutes because the session had been very lucrative - until the neon lighting zoned me out, and as I was packing away, a black guy passed, raving noisily about God and then arrived the stench of shitty nappies, which lingered forever. Later on in the day, my partner, Jan, suggested this could've been a stink bomb.
There was a woman in tears stood next to a police officer outside the supervisor's office (I think she'd been mugged), and inside, a bullish policeman demanded to know if I needed to get past him: I'd left the pitch at the right time, and immediately began to panic that I could be about to be shot or blown up by terrorists.
Green Park #1 - 14th December 2015
As I was setting up, the 'D' string on my violin went all slack, followed shortly by all the rest of the strings going out of tune: I took this as a bad omen for the session - which did, in fact, turn out to be the worst I'd ever experienced here.
One guy wished me a "Merry Christmas!" and a family looked all excited about presenting me with - 1p! I tried to take joy in the physicality of playing and that I'd had the balls to come, but it was so dispiriting performing to persons who were mostly ignoring me.
Two foreign men - one with an elfin face and beard, half fell down the escalator as if they'd been drinking heavily at 10 am; a posh middle-aged lady with a grey / blonde bob wheeling a suitcase put her hand up flatly twice in a gesture for me to stop, and it was at this point I decided that Christmas carols weren't appropriate for the insidiously depressing mood.
A carroty-haired 'whistler' busker I'd never seen before took over the pitch and put a teddy wearing a 'Father Christmas' hat on the fishing stool next to him. He asked if I'd got everyone in the Christmas spirit, to which I responded, "No - it was dire!" "It's because it's a Monday," he said, and regaled how he'd had his busking license for about four years, that he busks for four week stints and then disappears off somewhere for a while.
Knightsbridge - 18th December 2015
The last time I performed at this station was on the afternoon of the 13th November 2015 Paris Attacks; an event, according to my friend, Louis Royer, people want to forget. For Louis and I, though, the victims and their loved ones will always be honoured and remembered through our music.
A female Asian station supervisor made sure I knew where the staff assembly point was, directions to which were drawn in a diagram on the wall above my head where I was signing in.
Members of the public were generous: A lady told me that my 'folk' fiddling was "Lovely!"; I got given a £10 note by a young woman sporting a sleek brown bob, and I hollared, "Thank you!" to the backs of the family of a little girl with gappy teeth and bunches done up with red and white ribbons, for their offering of 6p.
My busker friend, 'alto sax' John, asked me how it was going at "Boyd Towers" and informed me that he wasn't being rude, but that I'd struggle to busk acoustically on Leicester Square #1 because raucous commuters on their way to shows tend to congregate near the pitch. He reckoned that our type of busking isn't appreciated at Christmas because people want cheesy Christmas songs, and mused how Madonna and Kylie are both great artists for their advancing years.
Green Park #1 - 19th December 2015
Straight away, a young man gave me over £1 and wished me good luck for my session on accordion, and a Chinese family proudly bestowed me with eight pennies.
Overall, however, I felt as if I could've been busking standing on my head with no knickers on and still nobody would've noticed me - save for an older lady from the 1980s with crimped platinum blonde hair who enthused as she tipped me for the Scottish song, 'Annie Laurie', "I love the accordion!"
A boy cuddling a dark green plastic dinosaur and a guy carrying a wreath of orange flowers under clear plastic came and went, then I saw 'alto sax' John again, who talked about Woody Shaw - an American jazz trumpeter he believed had had perfect pitch, and wanted to know why the American jazz double bassist, Esperanza Spalding is so popular. I said that I didn't know because even though I can appreciate she's mega-talented, she's not my cup of tea.
Oxford Circus #2 - 20th December 2015
Even though my accordion sounded out of tune and as usual people (many of them in 'Christmas' jumpers) were far from high on festive sparkle, I collected surprisingly good money.
A couple of men sang along to 'My Way', and busker, Claude, who sells C.D.s when we're not supposed to, took over and played the same three chords with vocals he's always playing when I come across him.
St. Paul's - 20th December 2015
My gamble to do this session even though odds on it was going to be too quiet, didn't pay off, except I visited St. Paul's Cathedral for the first time. It didn't impress me, though, and neither did the sight of a bench covered in vomit nearby. I'd been more interested in trying to spot the First Dates restaurant.
The accordion turned out to be far to quiet an instrument to play here - especially with the tube din and over-loud, lengthy station announcements telling customers to get off the train or to remove their coats if they become ill  due to the weather still being relatively mild.
A dark-skinned foreign lad asked me what instrument I was playing, then couldn't pronounce "accordion" after numerous attempts (he thought that it began with an 'l')!?; a cuddly woman / man with a greyish blonde rope-like plait gave me £1; a mother parked her boy with an overgrown wedge of yellow hair in front of me to listen while she made a donation - but he was totally disinterested, and a touristy woman asked me where Soho was.
Back in the office, the station supervisor told me that all of the buskers had found it dead here yesterday, too - possibly because people had already done their Christmas shopping. 

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