Green Park #1 - 10th June 2015
Last Tuesday afternoon on a bench in Versailles, Nuna Kurek - Polish concert pianist and partner of my late violinist friend, Peter, gave me another of his books he used to treasure - Mel Bay's Complete Irish Fiddle Player by Peter Cooper. I discovered when I got home, that I know the author, Peter Cooper: I met him last June at Islington Folk Club where he was doing a gig.
This book came into my life at just the right time on my journey to becoming an accomplished Irish folk violinist. Up until now I've learnt the tunes by heart quite instinctively - mainly by listening to the recordings of great players like Tommy Peoples. There's a lot I don't know about technique, though, and this session, having read the opening chapters of the book on the tube, I concentrated on introducing more marked accents into my performance to make the music dance; bowing patterns for smoother transitions between phrases, and the exploitation of the fiddle's natural resonance.
Engineers were whacking the living daylights out of a nearby escalator as per unsual, but this time there was the added annoyance of them yelling across to each other to contend with.
An elderly black man gave me the thumbs up and a younger suited and booted black guy, then a grandmother and granddaughter listened to my playing intently before flicking money into my case.
Sid, who busks on melodeon, revealed how sometimes the morris dancers he accompanies at charity gigs simply don't turn up: "There's no such thing as commitment nowadays," he reflected.
Knightsbridge - 10th June 2015
On arrival I noticed that the industrial fan situated almost opposite the pitch had been switched on. Its loud whirring was going to be impossible to compete with as an acoustic violinist, and so I prepared to set up away from it a couple of paces along the corridor - as I'd seen other buskers do. Immediately I was told by a female staff member (who spoke to me as if I was something nasty she'd trodden in), that I must move back onto the designated area for buskers.
I'd made okay money already today, so I figured that just going for it for half an hour despite the noise wouldn't hurt: A family gave me £2 straight off; a generous blonde with a bob and rosy cheeks placed a £10 note in my case, and a beguiling young transgender person with a cropped beard and feminine, tattooed arms passed by.
Back in the office the station supervisor told me that he didn't have the authority to allow me to move off the busking pitch slightly, so that I'd have more chance of making money, and that the fan will be on all summer for health and safety reasons: Fabulous.
Westminster - 11th June 2015
Beforehand, I really hadn't wanted to play my accordion so near 'Tory Central' (the Houses of Parliament), suspecting that it would end up being a waste of time... and lo and behold it was.
Just as I was about to start, an 'illegal' accordionist bloke swooped by the pitch hoping to take it, but the session started off well: The acoustics suited the accordion, and I was making good money. Then a flautist started up outside the station just yards from where I was playing, thereby taking my potential trade. It was pointless attempting to continue and all I'd made was the peak hour tube fare I'd spent to get here.
The monosyllabic station supervisor told me that because the flautist was playing on council and not TFL property, he couldn't move him on, to which I responded that they should close the busking pitch so's not to waste licensed buskers' time. He didn't give a toss, of course.
Green Park #1 -12th June 2015
This afternoon my friend Tessa's neighbour said that regarding the boiling hot, crowded conditions on the Central line tube during the summer, "They treat cattle better than that.": It was a nightmare journey into London this morning; a last-minute change of platform at Hainault, long delays, and a sleeping hulk of a man kept leaning on me. This, together with the heat and unwisely reading The OCD Workbook while all this was going on, caused me to panic.
The garish lighting above the pitch didn't help how I was feeling, but playing the violin (trying to conserve energy by not lifting my fingers so far off the strings), calmed me sufficiently so that I could carry on and complete the session.
I was convinced that it was TV game show, Going for Gold host, Henry Kelly gave me money; an American lady put a dollar bill in my case, and I focused on adding more swing and bounce to Scottish and Irish folk tunes.
Oxford Circus #2 - 14th June 2015
It was the least edgy I'd ever known it on this pitch at 8 am on a Sunday morning, save for one drunk with a can in his hand who checked with me if it was correct that it costs £150 to audition to be a busker on the London Underground and that if successful, they take all your benefits away. This wasn't true when I auditioned just over two years ago, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if this was indeed the case nowadays.
A Fred Flintstone lookalike praised me for my "very nice" Irish fiddling, and there was an announcement reporting a "person under a train'" at Stratford: I wondered what had been going through this poor person's mind just as I'd arrived here.
Last night there was nothing on the TV so we ended up watching a CBS Reality show I couldn't shake: All session I was attempting to imagine what Carol and Reggie Sumner had gone through when they were buried alive for their money by Tiffany Ann Cole and accomplices in Duval County, Florida, USA on 8th July 2005.
A fellow violinist gent threw me some money, indeed lots of violinists - and people with lovely smiles walked by and I made my bill money for the week. A little Asian boy was adamant that he wanted to listen to me but his mum kept dragging him away.
Liverpool Street #2 - 18th June 2015
I took over the pitch from a flautist. We moaned about how expensive it is to travel even just one stop on the tube, and that with all the early morning bad behaviour and smells that occur on there, one can arrive to busk feeling stressed out. He remained on the pitch next to me cleaning his flute for 10 minutes which was off-putting, then a man threw me in excess of £1, which landed in the flautist's case. The flautist kept a percentage of this for himself but I couldn't be bothered to argue; I just wanted him to go away.
An old woman with a grey bob and an incredulous look on her face carefully inserted a £1 next to the one that was already in my case, and a 'suit' looked at me as if he was going to beat me up. The only ray of sunshine was a man who resembled a shrivelled Elvis who said that he liked my accordion version of jazz standard, 'My Way'. He thought the melody for this song was based on the ballet, 'Spartacus' by Aram Khachaturian. I think he might be right. You can decide for yourself by listening to it here: https://youtu.be/jLKGB9tPLFg.
Oblivious to everything that was going on around him, a bloke on his mobile kicked my case along the corridor, spilling its contents, and screechy, 'little girl' voices of female 'suits', cut through my performance.
I did my back in for a measly £15.76 for just over two and a half hours of playing. Revising my set had been constructive, but all the time I was thinking how London really isn't me - but what choice do I have without the money to make changes? I fantasized about a really interesting, characterful, rich person coming up and engaging me in conversation and missed my friend, Nuna, who is the same as me in a creative sense: I resolved to write and text her a haiku a day.