Going Underground: Meeting London’s Buskers

Busker CaseAs well as being a good place to find work and the only place in England where you can buy bagels at 3am, our fine city is the crucible for talent. Whether it’s trad jazz, bleeding edge UK bass or the busker on the street, year upon year, London attracts legions of musicians all looking to try their luck on its many stages. Some hope to make it big, some have a point to prove and some just want play for the joy of playing (although the generosity of the public never goes amiss).

I hit the streets in search of some of London’s buskers, and found tales of exotic travel and a bulwark against the ever earlier creep of the Christmasisation of our public spaces. And no, before you ask, I didn’t see Katherine Jenkins.

Paul Rumbol

Paul Rumbol, guitarist and singerOxford Circus

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

After I quit my day job as a cartographic draughtsman in the eighties I realised that busking was a nice way to augment my meagre earnings from music so I started doing it more regularly.

How long have you been doing this?

I first went busking back in the late seventies/early eighties as a teenager with my then girlfriend. We would occasionally busk in the South Kensington tunnel at weekends. I have a Brazilian band too, we actually started out busking as a trio, myself on guitar and vocals, a Brazilian friend on percussion and my ex wife dancing. The band grew in size and stature, and for 10 years or so I was having some reasonable success with the band so I didn’t go out busking. I only returned when things were slow.

That’s a nice guitar…

Thanks, it’s a Frameworks Modern Classic, custom made in Germany. I also play the Brazilian instrument the Cavaquinho. For 20 years I’ve been the band leader of Brazilian/Latin world music and dance group Viramundo.

Where is your favourite place to busk?

I’ve busked all around Europe! My favourite places have been Paris and Perugia in Italy.

What’s in your repertoire?

I play a wide range of material to keep things interesting for myself. Brazilian music, pop, reggae, soul and my own compositions, and I alternate between instrumental and vocal songs.

Have you cracked out the Christmas songs yet?

I don’t play Christmas tunes to be honest. I figure that people hear enough of that bombarding them in every shop, cafe and bar they vist, and they don’t need me adding to it.

David Hodge

David Hodge; Piper, Westminster Bridge

How long have you been busking for?

About twenty years – all over the place.

All over the place? Where have you been? Kensington? White City? Aldgate?

No! all over the world! South America, Russia, Eastern Europe…

Wow, with the bagpipes?

Yep! Russia is good, if a little dangerous. I love South America. Eastern Europe is very nice.

Have you named your bagpipes?

George, [whispered] but only because you asked! [laughs]

What’s in your repertoire… just fifes?

Mainly, but whatever people want to hear. Traditional things. People wouldn’t want to hear pop music on bagpipes.

Have you cracked out the Christmas songs yet?

It is a little too early, but ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ maybe, maaaaaybe ‘Jingle Bells’.

Mark Campbell

Mark Campbell, whistler, Euston Station

How long have you been doing this for?

I am 51 years of age and I’ve been busking for eighteen years.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

I was a telephonist for West Mercia Police, before they centralised and moved it to Telford, and I lost my job. I was on the dole, living with my mum for fourteen months, scraping by with my giro. I saw a bloke busking, thought I’ll give that a go. I signed off on the dole and told them I was going to be a street troubadour! It was more lucrative than the giro, and I enjoyed brightening people’s days. I don’t expect money though, and I thank each and every person who drops something in.

Where is your favourite place to busk?

Green Park is a good pitch, so are Canary Wharf, St. Paul’s and Liverpool Street. I like going to Chester, Reading and Windsor too. I live in Wolverhampton and travel down here [to London] four days a week.

What’s in your repertoire?

Normally I do old favourites.

Have you cracked out the Christmas songs yet?

I have already started my Christmas stuff. Not that I have any religious conviction (other than Manchester United) but I do some hymns because they are very popular.

Photos by Olivia Geraghty

This post originally appeared on Spoonfed on 30 November 2011

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