In Letchworth, the town where I grew up, there was sometimes a busker in the town centre. Maybe an organ grinder, maybe a one man band with a guitar, a kazoo, cymbals on his head and a drum on his back. In the Paris metro on visits to the French capital, sometimes a couple of musicians would jump on and stay in the train for a few stations. They would sing and strum, sometimes well, oftentimes badly.
When I started work in Covent Garden, London, I’d often see the street entertainers there. There are strict rules for street entertainment there, so the guys and girls were actually quite good. Statues that animated themselves to the chink of a coin dropping in their hat, or more adventurous acts that would occupy the sqaure in front of the old market and drum up a crowd with loud haranguing and juggling on a high unicycle or something akin to it. They’d pass around a hat afterwards and reap small reward for their efforts to brighten a spring lunchtime for passing tourists and businessmen working nearby who were grabbing a sandwich.
My abiding memory of busking was when I took to the streets with a couple of friends, two guitars and a French accordian player. Imagine the scene: the busy Sunday market in Chalon-sur-Saône on a cold wintry day. Two British guitarists, one singing mostly in English but sometimes a bit in French, and a French accordianist that we did our best to follow in renditions of classic French musette style ditties. Incredibly, the mix went down quite well. You can see that we were cold in the picture (I’m in the middle), but giving it our all to entertain the passing public. At the time – it was late ’95 or early ’96 – the Euro was still being debated, and the French Franc was the currency of the day. 10 francs was worth about a British Pound, or $1.40. We finished that day with a good number of 10F pieces, as the Sunday crowd was a generous lot.
As an occasional supplement to our income, we were happy to have made a bit of money. We were there to enjoy ourselves, and perhaps entertain, whilst making a bit of money for the next Friday night. Some other people busk regularly because they need the money – I’m thinking especially of those Paris metro buskers who are often much closer to beggars than street entertainers. Have you had any interesting busking experiences? Do you give money to buskers because they look like they need it, or because they have entertained you?