This blog is dedicated to the memory of a lovely man, great musician and the conductor of Lewes Concert Orchestra I used to play double bass for, Adrian Shepherd MBE.
Green Park #1 - 6th May 2015
This session I experimented with playing some of my folk fiddle tunes an octave lower than written, and two old gentlemen remarked that I have "a lovely sound." Also I was instructed to "keep playing" by a virtually hairless man who'd managed to retain the odd white strand.
I'm sure that some people approach me with a donation just so's they've got an excuse to come up and criticize me: An ashen grandad with mint green glassy eyes and his granddaughter (I presumed), handed me some money and said of my music, "We can't dance to that!" I sped up promptly to the pace of a sprint, and in so doing, obtained sir's stamp of approval: "That's better!"
Sid the melodeon player arrived to do his session and told me that regarding TFL's plans to have all buskers re-audition for our licenses in 2017, it's rumoured that London mayor, Boris Johnson, would like the young 'GLA' buskers IN and the older, less good-looking buskers such as himself, OUT. He recounted, too, how he'd seen the "mad Armenian accordionist" at Bank #1, who'd complained that when he gets home, all his wife wants is sex.
Green Park #1 - 9th May 2015
I'd been feeling thoroughly despairing following the Tory win of the UK general election yesterday, but my friend, Gavin Knight's terrible news that his baby son, Luka, had just been admitted to hospital in Glasgow with the rarest form of meningitis, shook me to my senses pretty quickly.
My close concert pianist friend, Nuna Kurek called me from a landline as I was walking to Hainault station to say that her mobile had been "cut," but that she thinks of me always. Her words energized my playing at Green Park this morning, and I thought and prayed for Luka every minute.
I'm delighted to report that with the love and positive thinking of friends and family, together with the fantastic work of the staff at Yorkhill, amazing Luka is well on the way to making a full recovery.
An elderly Asian character (who has gently pestered me here before), asked me if he could have my phone number. I didn't want to rile him by telling him to get lost, and so I gave him a false name and number thinking that this would shut him up. He passed me a bright yellow square of paper with his name and phone number on it and I realized that my plan had failed when he kept counting the digits in the number I'd given him: He'd figured out that something was amiss. I promised to call him, and mercifully he ambled off.
I made up some folk fiddle tunes of my own which contained double stops (the bowing of two separate strings simultaneously): A commendatory black guy and his family gave me in excess of £20, and I received a £5 note from a coffee-skinned dude I thought I recognized. A man with bulging eyes said of my playing, "Sounds lovely," plus a sweet little boy handed me a 5p and squeaked, "This is for you."
Oxford Circus #2 - 10th May 2015
I started at 10 am instead of my usual Sunday slot of 8 am today, and yet again, my earnings were less than I usually garner at these times. The reason for this became clear at the end of my session...
A bubbly blonde with permed hair and a good-hearted smile stretched out her hand above a dismal crowd to give me coins, and a number of women walked past, thought better of it, then returned to throw me change. I was given 1p by an Asian guy who followed this up with a "sorry," and plenty of unseeing and unhearing people kicked my accordion case as they scuffed by.
I managed to make at least one person happy, though, and it was nice to feel needed as a musician when a black lad with a severely deformed face had a dance with his carer to my accordion melodies, and a foreign man I ended up feeling stupid for smiling at because of his vacuous response, asked me for my business card and whether I give accordion lessons.
Whilst heading back to the office via the ticket hall I heard a deafening rock band playing just outside the entrance to the station and mentioned it to the station supervisor who said that the council don't move them on and that they're setting up earlier and earlier. I said that this could explain my loss of earnings because by the time the public get down to me, they've (to quote the supervisor), "already heard it."
He went on to bemoan how the Underground aren't even allowed to employ loudspeakers to announce the times of the last trains and that rowdy discos in the surrounding area spill out onto the street and nobody complains. Quite.
Euston - 14th May 2015
It was my first time busking at Euston. The pitch is two floors down at the bottom of escalators opposite the southbound platform of the Victoria line, and so the sound my violin produced was very dry. Absurdly long and loud station announcements blasted me away in batches of four every three minutes, which was nigh impossible to contend with - but I wanted to play today in remembrance of my friend, Peter.
The quality of the coins that came my way were good (mainly £1 coins) in spite of the torrential rain outside, and I got asked for directions twice; to Wembley, and then to Oxford Circus by a likeable middle-aged Scottish couple. A gentleman who strongly resembled TV's Catchphrase host, Roy Walker, stood next to me, listened to me play for a while and gave me £1. A well meaning man with the demeanour of my second cousin, Paul, bent down to place money in my case and as he was straightening up, hit is head on the scroll of my violin.
I got the thumbs up from a crew cutted guy and as I was packing away a touristy bloke asked me if a combination padlock he'd found was mine.
Euston - 16th May 2015
I said a cheerful "Hello!" to the staff in the office as I signed in and was met with silence and cold stares from both of them. I raised my eyebrows and muttered, "Right, okay...," to which the one sitting at a desk responded, "I haven't seen you here before."
Extra determined to do well now, I struck up a bold Irish fiddle tune and witnessed a number of commuters wearing fancy dress - most notably two young men dressed in brown monks' cuculas.
A stylish bloke asked for my business card and if I'd be willing to come up to North London to perform at a private function. I informed him that I play the accordion too, to which he replied, "Well, your violin playing is very nice," then a small sexy woman with glittering brown eyes and short blonde hair darted towards me fresh from the platform, gave me approximately £1, and wished me a nice day.
I was slow clapped by a black teenager and at one point the disturbing din of the trains and station announcements became overwhelmingly irritating - especially since one of the announcers kept repeating, "There is engineering works..." instead of "There are engineering works..." (I'm a stickler for good grammar just like my dear late grandma was).
I was flung fistfuls of £1 coins by a family of foreign tourists and I felt proud to be still earning money as a live musician in an age when such an occupation is no longer as highly valued as it should be in this country.
Oxford Circus #2 - 17th May 2015
Last night's wonderful BBC 4 documentary, Je t'aime: The Story of French Song with Petula Clark replayed in my head on my way to Oxford Circus with my violin for an 8 am performance: "You're here early," the station supervisor remarked. It was hot down on the pitch, but I very much enjoyed playing here this morning. I was stood opposite one of the new Dusty show posters. Ever since seeing her distinctive face in a newspaper obituary column when I last lived in London in the late 1990s, Dusty has been one of my main musical influences.
A number of things were playing happily on my mind: Nuna said to me at the end of our phone conversation a couple of days ago, "I hug you like a boa" - something the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin wrote in a letter "To the Same" in Paris, 1837, as were the words of the fine French poem, 'The Sadness of Water' by Paul Claudel.
Nobody who made a financial contribution really spoke to me, but a woman with red hair told me that what I was playing sounded nice, and a lady dressed head to toe in pink wafted by.
For the first time in five weeks of playing at around this time on this pitch, I made enough money to pay my bills for the week - probably because there was no rock band playing outside, no heavy rain, and no engineering works on the Central line. One of the station announcers kept saying, "Walsamstow Central" instead of "Walthamstow Central," however: Grrrrr.
Green Park #1 - 17th May 2015
I made 67p for 40 minutes worth of playing folk fiddle: Need I say more? The people that trickled by - in particular the football fans amongst them, showed zero interest in what I was doing. My feet ached, and so I gave up for the day. John the alto saxophonist stated that he'd be returning to play here in 10 minutes, and guessed correctly that I shall be going to Paris to play and see friends again at the end of the month.
Up in the office, the excellent accordionist I see often was shouldering a Roland accordion case. He agreed with me that the tourists don't seem to want to give buskers as much money anymore - even though he's changed his set list; he'd made just £10 at Euston this morning.