Free The Night!

night tube

It’s happened! London is open! 24 hour tube service at weekends!

I feel so proud of London and the way it is developing; it has so much to offer and the all night tube is a long awaited necessity for a 24 hour city. 

As a London Underground busker this affects me even more than the average Londoner. My optional work hours just changed dramatically in the form of late night busking pitches! I’m not sure I’ll be taking on too many 2am busking slots…but it’s nice to know I have options. 

I was lucky enough to make history on Friday as the first ever Night Tube busker. I performed at Brixton for the Mayor’s entrance at midnight, I took the first Night Tube to Oxford Circus and then I pitched up  from 1am-4am; performing for very excited (and slightly inebriated) Night Tubers. 

It was a lot of fun and the atmosphere was like that of New Year’s Eve. People were happy and chatty; the total opposite of your usual tube journey, where eye contact is strictly forbidden. 

Here were a few highlights:

  • Hearing Sadiq Khan do the first Night Tube announcement and cheering along with a carriage full of TFL staff, press and Londoners!
  • A group of very happy, tipsy hippies who joined in singing Teenage Dirtbag and started a trend of commuters slow dancing in pairs
  • A Cypriot ballet teacher who’s harmony game was on point; he got really into my rendition of Valerie
  • A handsome chap who looked over in interest at the first line of my Night Train song, but soon realised I wasn’t actually asking to go for a drink with him. Although if he’s reading this…
  • Two girls at Brixton who danced to Free The Night and were the happiest, chattiest commuters I’ve ever met!
  • A group of party-goers who shouted “sing a song about the Night Tube!” at me; safe to say I blew their minds…

It was my absolute pleasure to welcome London’s Night Tube with my new single Free The Night. Official launch party is on Wednesday in Camden.

YouTube. iTunes. Bandcamp. Google Play. Spotify.

Southbank Noise Complaints – An Update

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I wanted to clear up the questions I’ve been receiving about the issues faced by the Southbank buskers recently. And I’d like to thank you all for your support and kind words!

As some of you know, the Southbank has been receiving noise complaints specifically about the busking pitch that I frequent. That spot is where I met so many of you, it is an extremely significant place for me, to my life and to my musical journey. I was distraught when I was informed that residential complaints would soon result in closure of the pitch that I love so much. 

The Southbank Centre worked hard to defend the rights of the buskers to play there but the residents were threatening legal action and a compromise was agreed. The compromise (as well as being aware of volume) is that we will stop performing after 6pm; this is a great shame because the summer evenings are so beautiful on that spot.

The other inconvenience that comes with the early shut down of the pitch is that performers who usually play in the evenings are coming down a little earlier and there are not as many hours per day to be shared between us, so everyone gets less time on pitch. But it is a small price to pay for keeping everyone happy. 

That said, it is still in discussion as to whether this will be enough to keep the residents happy. Only time and co-operation will tell.

We have also made some agreements about the number of hours and days individual performers will be using the pitch consistently, meaning there is a slightly lower chance of you catching me on the Southbank over the coming weeks. But if you are aiming to come down for a visit, please keep an eye on my social media where I post my set times as I have them!

We are feeling hopeful, thanks for all your inquiries and positivity towards the Southbank busker community. I will post further updates as I have them.

10 Things Only Buskers Understand

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1. The importance of your local toilet trivia

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I can hold it, you think. Just one more song, you think. Getting pretty desperate now, so I’d better quickly pack up my…

Have you ever hated your busking gear more than when you’re cramming it into your bag in a hurry? Full bladder and only a vague idea of your nearest lavatory. 

Needing the toilet when I’m mid-busk is my own personal idea of hell. I’ve taken to not drinking any water at all while I’m busking and then downing 2 litres when I get home. Try it! It’s terrible for you. 

2. The granny trolley

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You get ready to give a friendly nod to a fellow busker as they pass by, only to realise that it’s actually an old lady using a granny trolley for its intended purpose. And that’s a walking stick, not a mic stand.  

3. The push chair

You get ready to give a steely glare as a fellow busker approaches to usurp your busking spot, when you realise it’s actually a mother with a small child and you feel terrible forever for giving a kid the evil eye. 

4. The headphone heartbreaker 

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Someone walks by and politely removes their headphone to listen. Wow. I really am stopping people in their tracks with this old music thing! That guy is loving it so much he’s ditched his previous entertainment to listen to…oh, headphone going back in. All self esteem lost. Thats it, I quit. 

5. No change given 

Someone’s clearly enjoying it! You’ve spotted a fiver in the crowd and it’s coming your way! You’re already planning your Pret sandwich selection when your best customer puts their hand in the till. Picking up pound coins like they’re going out of style. £4.50 change. Thanks very much. Way to crush my dreams. 

6. The thieving toddler 

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Everyone is smiling. You’ve hit the busker jackpot and made a toddler dance! This couldn’t get any better. What a sweet moment, this shit could go viral. Oh wait. Now the toddler is taking your money out of your case. 

Oi! Punk! You’re cute but not that cute. Put the money down and put your hands in the air. Yeah, you better cry. 

(I’m joking by the way. I just smile and say “oh it’s fine honestly, take it all YOU’RE ADORABLE!”)

7. Pitch dashing 

(For any buskers who play on pitches where you have to queue up)

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What a work out it is changing pitches! Moving between one pitch and another is your new gym membership. Hello, I’m next in the queue please, just put my name down as Sweaty Betty. 

8. Minesweeping

(For buskers who play on the tube)

You may not have booked that spot 2 weeks in advance (like you should have) but whoever booked it must have had a nasty accident (thank goodness!) and it’s been left empty for you! You sign in like a total ninja and start playing as if you own the place. Then the busker who actually does own the spot turns up and you sheepishly retreat while the station staff look confused.

9. Full time busker, part time weather girl

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I wonder if it’s going to rain on Saturday…someone is pondering their weekend and you can’t help but butt in…”According to BBC it’ll be mostly dry with a chance of showers in the morning and a wind speed of approximately 8 mph.” 

You know the weekly weather report like the back of your hand. And nothing breaks your heart more than rain when your 4 weather apps didn’t predict it to be so. Cut me deep weather apps, cut me deep. 

10. The sweet sweet smell of success 

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How gross does money smell? One of my least favourite smells ever is my hands after doing a coin count. Filthy filthy lovely money.

Lonely Hearts

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I don’t remember the very first day she was there. I don’t even remember the second. But one day I remember thinking “There she is again! How many days is that now?”

This sweet, smiley, warm but shy girl had been sitting on a bench by my busking pitch every day and staying sometimes 4 hours each time. She didn’t say very much but she smiled a lot and she came back every day. After a few days she would give a timid wave as she left as if to say “see you tomorrow!”

I wondered about her a lot; who she was and why she was here in London. One day she did something unexpected: she dropped a bar of chocolate in my case and sat back down. It was an unfamiliar brand to me and felt like something out of Willy Wonker’s chocolate factory. It was beautiful. I don’t know how many weeks or donations in the form of chocolate passed by before I found out her name was Lara and she was from Switzerland (hence the chocolate!)

Lara was new to London. Trying to improve her English by working as an au pair. She didn’t know anyone and I became a familiar face everyday in this new strange city. As I got to know her better I found out that she smiled so much at the start because she couldn’t understand a word I was saying! Lara became a regular at my gigs and on the Southbank on her days off. We both shed a tear when she returned to Switzerland.

I’ve since had many more encounters like Lara; lonely hearts in London in need of a friendly face. But that first girl who stayed will always have a special place in my own lonely heart.

People

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It takes all sorts to make a world.

If you want to get a good cross-section of them I suggest taking up busking as a career.

I’ve learnt from my time as a street artist how wonderful people can be and how often they can take you by surprise.

Here is a random selection of some of my favourite people I’ve met while busking.

The Fruit Basket

“I’m getting on a plane and can’t take all this fruit with me. Would you like it?”
She was already placing the fruit in my guitar case before I could respond. But the answer was a resounding YES from me.
This was not just an apple or an orange or two. This was a fruit basket like no other. Pineapples, blueberries, bananas. The lot. I hit the fruit jackpot.
3 cherries for me. Ding ding ding!

St. Thomas

One cold day in winter a man with a frown sat down to listen, and he came back the next day too, and the day after that. After a few visits he came up to say hello.
“My wife is in hospital,” he said, gesturing towards St. Thomas’, which is a hospital just along the river.
“It’s been a nice break to come here and listen every day. Thank you.” I thanked him in return for stopping by and wished his wife the best.
He smiled, “I can’t wait to bring her by when she’s better, I’ve told her all about my walk down the river to hear you sing.”
A few weeks later, he did.

A New Best Friend

Leather jacket and a nose piercing, this guy’s pretty cool, I thought.
He was standing by a tree listening with a big smile and warm eyes. When I’d finished playing he introduced himself and confirmed his cool status by being American and a lone traveller.
We said we should definitely meet up if I was ever in LA, I was sceptical we’d ever meet again.
Then, late last year I made a trip to visit family on the West Coast and got in touch, we had a blast hanging out in California and he has since become one of my favourite people on the planet.
Sometimes your best friends come into your life when you least expect it.

James McAvoy

Last year James McAvoy was in a play in Trafalgar Square. I was performing as part of a promo event for it and James himself was there. We had a polite conversation about music and then I was on my way.
Over a year later I was busking on my usual spot by the river and who else should walk past but James McAvoy, waving at me like an old friend?! I waved back, wondering if he knew someone behind me, perhaps sailing along the Thames…
Later that day I was grabbing a coffee on the Southbank and I spotted his smiley face again, making a beeline for me and extending a friendly hand.
“Hiya, don’t know if you remember me,” he said, “James?”
I shook his hand, so starstruck I could barely speak. I nodded to signify I did indeed remember.
We had a lovely chat, I don’t think I even bothered to ask how his massive acting career was going, which was very rude of me. But I thanked him for coming to say hi and let him and his son go on with their day; just rocking along being the nicest famous person on this whole earth.

My First Houseshow

I offered to play in people’s homes as part of a crowdfunding campaign.
To quote Amanda Palmer: “Is this what crazy people do? Is this how crazy people die?”
(Quite possibly, but I’ve been very lucky!)
All of my houseshow supporters have now become regular contacts and friends who I am so glad to have met, but my first visit to a home will always stick in my mind. I performed for 5 people; sitting in a circle, drinking wine, spilling tea and eating biscuits.
Whenever I see this particular group I laugh myself sick every time and smile for a week afterwards.
I am particularly fond of the main organiser of the houseshow, Sonja. She once rocked up on the Southbank on her roller skates, which is really the best way I can paint a picture of how cool she is.
That first houseshow taught me that wonderful things can come from trusting people and Sonja and her friends are my favourite reminder of how kind people can be.

Why Should I Bother Paying Tax?

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I make 70% of my income busking on London’s streets.

“It must be great,” people say, “because it’s all tax-free!”

I’m very happy to inform them how wrong they are; that even though my income is cash-in-hand and constantly fluctuating, even though I could easily keep HMRC in the dark, I declare every penny of it. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Avoiding a bit of tax here and there doesn’t strike many people as wrong, it feels like everyone is doing it. But personally, I feel very proud to pay tax. I was born in a hospital, educated in a school and one day I would like a state pension. I believe in the welfare state and protecting the vulnerable. Avoiding tax is like stealing money from people who need it more than you.

If there is one person who should know how important that tax money is, it is our Prime Minister, David Cameron. If Cameron really believes in this country, it’s future, the vulnerable, the education system and the NHS then why is he so reluctant to contribute to it?

What kind of example does that set, if our own Prime Minister doesn’t think taxes are worth paying? Why should I file a tax return on my bag of coins when he’s dodging a tax bill for his £200,000 inheritance?

The answer is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Of all people, the PM should see those loopholes as problematic, and be encouraging people to do the right thing. Not offer the rather pathetic excuse that “everyone else does it!”

If everyone decided to use tax loopholes and avoid doing their bit then our whole infrastructure would fall apart. And no amount of finger-pointing and lemming mentality will put it back together.

Even if I wanted to dodge the system and steal from the needy, on a busker’s salary I don’t have a fancy accountant to help me fiddle the numbers and ship half my coin purse offshore. So I guess I’ll just settle for a bit of honesty on my part and hope that I won’t always be paying into a system that is broken. That one day the same rules will apply to everyone.

She Only Sleeps When It’s Raining

rain

I smile when it rains.

Sometimes I do a little excited dance or I look up and say “what a horrible day!” with a HUGE smile on my face.

I really do love my job, but because it is so weather-dependent I tend to overwork myself when the sun shines; or even if the sun is hiding away behind clouds. As long as it isn’t raining, I’m busking.
Even when I cut myself some slack and take a day off, I spend that whole day looking at the sunny sky and wondering what the Southbank is doing right now, like a love-sick fool!

I feel like I’m missing out if I’m not there; that I’m losing potential new fans and friends by the minute. Or old fans will go looking, and when I’m not there in my usual spot they’ll take my CDs that they once loved and throw them into the Thames. (It’s funny where your mind goes when you’re imagining the worst possible scenarios…!)

But sometimes, a beautiful thing happens; I wake up in the morning to the pitter patter of rain on my window. And I feel my whole body relax, every muscle takes a big sigh of relief. I pick up a book from my nightstand and read a few chapters, or I snuggle back down in the covers and go back to sleep.

And you’d be surprised how much it DOESN’T rain. Take it from someone who only gets a day off when it does. Imagine your weekend depended on bad weather, and if the sun shone you’d have to say to your friends: “Sorry guys, I can’t meet you for coffee today, its sunny”.

So next time you look out of your window at a classic grey London day, before you sigh at this country’s terrible luck when it comes to the weather, take a moment and smile for me, cosy in bed.

Charlotte has the day off today.

Community

charlie timeout

“Are you ready yet?”

I turn to Captain Jack Sparrow as I pick up my guitar case. He shakes his head and gestures that he’ll finish his eyeliner first.

“Ok see you down there!” I shout as I make my way towards the Southbank, accompanied by a chatty magician and the lady made of gold.

When I arrive I’m greeted with two air kisses from Charlie Chaplin, a big cuddle from The Queen’s Guard and an impromptu dance with a lawyer who moonlights on the electronic saxophone.

Or as I call it, Monday.

The London street performing circuit is a community. A lot of us know each other, we look after each other and support each other.

It comes as surprise to many that a lot of street artists are full timers. We don’t do it on the side of another job or in between studying. We chose this as a career and we do it 5 or more days a week. The pitch is our office and the other performers are our colleagues.

At first, the only things we share are our slightly eccentric life choices and arbitrary performing locations. But as time goes on, we see each other every day and relationships develop; we share stories and jokes and ideas and sometimes our lunches.

There is the odd fall-out, controversy or scandal; there are cliques and hierarchies and rivalries. But in general, we get along pretty well and we understand and rely on each other. We are loyal, strong and positive, it is a wonderful community to be part of.

I’m so grateful for the friendships I have found in the street performing world. They have changed me as a person, taught me how to make a living from the thing I love and shown me the beauty of trusting everyone you meet.

London’s Best Busking Pitches

London

Busking in London? What a minefield!

London busking is divided up into a lot of different boroughs.

Some are licensed, some aren’t. They all have different rules and they’re not always policed with regularity. This has lead to a lot of confusion about London’s busking policies and the city has been dubbed as a bit of a busking nightmare.

To an outsider it is an intimidating place to start busking and there is a fair amount of controversy about whether pitches should be licensed, debates about exclusivity/hierarchy and I’ve even heard people’s human rights being brought into question.

As an insider, I think London’s busking scene is pretty simple. I’m not saying it always makes sense but in my opinion, it works.

Lesson 1

Know your show. Buskers are generally divided into 3 categories:

Large Shows/Circle Shows/Circus Acts

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If you’re juggling, riding a unicycle, use a lot of space or the words ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ you’re probably this. These acts tend to collect money at the end of their show.

Musicians/Small Shows

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If you attract a small crowd or require sound, this is your act. These acts either collect money throughout their performance or attract a small crowd and collect at the end of their show.

Living Statues/Walk By Acts

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If you don’t make any noise, stay mostly in one place and attract punters one by one, this is you. These acts collect money throughout their time on pitch.

Lesson 2
Know your pitch. Some pitches are specifically made for certain acts and most official pitches have a verbally arranged queue and swap over between acts. For Large Shows swap over is 40 minutes and for Musicians it is generally an hour.

There are A LOT more than 8 pitches in London, but just to keep things simple, here are 4 licensed pitches and 4 open pitches in our fair city:

NB: I’m not a busking expert by any means. I’m just a busker. Everything below is true to the best of my knowledge from the “scene” but I welcome any corrections.

Unlicensed/Open Pitches

1. Leicester Square

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This tourist hotspot is one of the only pitches that I know of in London where “large shows” and “small shows” share the pitch. It is my understanding that the swap over time here is 40 minutes (adhering to the custom “large show” timings).
There are also some smaller pitches in the Leicester Square Gardens for musicians.

2. Piccadilly Circus

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There are two pitches for Living Statues and a Small Show pitch. A very popular pitch for musicians.

3. Trafalgar Square

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The pitches are not technically in the Square, they’re up by the National Gallery. But there are pitches for all busking acts there.
Slightly inundated by floating Yodas currently but perfectly usable pitches. (If you don’t know what I mean by that just…you need to see it to believe it.)

4. Oxford Circus

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Dotted along Oxford Street you will find pitches for all busking acts. It is the shopping district of London so always busy and there are a fair number of pitches open.

Licensed Pitches

5. The Southbank

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Spots by the London Eye, Jubilee footbridge and National Theatre are all  licensed by audition through the Southbank Centre. While the scheme is fairly oversubscribed with applications, there is a space outside the Tate Modern Art Gallery that is still open pitch.

6. The London Underground

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Run by TFL and for musicians only. The auditions are not publicly advertised but are offered to those who enquire.

7. Covent Garden

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This is one of the most iconic places for street performing, and the licensing rules are a little confusing; differing from pitch to pitch. Licensed by the borough of Westminster.

 
8. Camden

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London’s most controversial busking pitch. Camden only recently brought in a licensing scheme which was hotly protested but is now firmly in place and can be applied for through Camden council.

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I know it sounds complicated. But you sort of have to get out there to understand it. It’s like trying to explain to someone how to swim; you need to learn by doing.

If you want to join one of the licensing schemes then send out emails and applications and wait for your audition; but there are plenty of open pitches to play on in the meantime or instead, so don’t be intimidated by what appears to be a red-tape city.

This is the bare bones of London’s busking scene and I highly recommend you visit buskinLondon for a better understanding of the city’s busing laws as well as the specific pitch locations.

I hope this was somewhat helpful. Happy busking!

 

10 Things Buskers Are Tired of Hearing

ed sheeran busking

I am a full time busker.

I love what I do and I’ve got some wonderful anecdotes, some totally unique interactions and bizarre stories from my time busking. Connecting and interacting with people is the name of the game and that comes pretty naturally to most buskers. The general public are pretty great 99% of the time, but there are some people who just don’t know when they’ve crossed the line from friendly curiosity to outright rudeness.

NB: I feel the need to point out that this is a bit of light-hearted fun and I would never begrudge someone who’s intentions are good.

That said, here are a few lines that buskers hear over and over again…

1) How much do you make?

I make a living. How much do you make at your job? What’s that? You don’t feel comfortable talking about that with a total stranger? How very interesting.

2) Why don’t you go on X Factor?

Because I already make my living from music. I’m not busking as a cry for help, I actually like doing this. I’ve chosen it as a career path, please accept my choices and stop assuming I’m desperately seeking a record deal.

3) Can you play Wonderwall?

Yep. I can play Wonderwall. Nope. I’m not going to play it.

4) Did you know Ed Sheeran was a busker?

Here’s the thing. I’m not about to say that Ed Sheeran was not a busker at all. But please, can someone show me some footage/photographic evidence of Ed Sheeran busking that is not that one picture that circulates the internet of him as a skinny teen, in a dark green shirt, busking that one time. You know the one.

Was he a busker? Or did he busk once or twice, and now he’s the beacon of hope for every busker ever, that our sad little lives might get better some day. (Sarcasm. I like being a busker.)

(This one is particularly prominent at a party; forced to make small talk with your friend’s new boyfriend, an account manager who’s really into music.)

5) I’m sorry I don’t have any change…

That’s ok. I also accept notes.

6) I’m actually thinking about getting into busking, too.

Oh are you really?! Well, let me know when you do so I can come and interrupt your busking set.

I’m very open to emails about my life as a busker, questions about licensing schemes in London and equipment queries.

But when I’m standing there, attempting to build a crowd and earn my rent for the week, that is not a good time to come up to me and talk about yourself.

7) About other buskers

I have a lot of love for other buskers and will happily celebrate their achievements, but I don’t want to hear that you saw some other busker on this same spot the other day when it was “absolutely packed” and they had a “HUGE crowd”.

That’s a great thing to happen for them, I never doubted their talents. Please stop sharing it with me.

It isn’t helpful, it isn’t positive and it isn’t a competition.

8) It must be great not having to pay tax.

Actually, I do pay tax. Because this is my income and I’m proud of it and that’s the right thing to do and that’s how our society functions.

Yeah I know. Starbucks are the worst!

9) I’m making a documentary about buskers…

What a unique idea. If you want some inspiration I’ve featured in a million documentaries already so you may find those helpful.

I am so very willing to assist you with your project and answer your questions. But please respect my time on pitch and don’t interrupt my set to ask me a favour. Email me. Wait until I’m finished. Whatever you like. But not when I have a crowd.

Please. Never. When. I. Have. A. Crowd. 

10) Can you play Wonderwall?

You again? OK look, I’ll play Wonderwall if you’ll go away afterwards. And I’m only doing the first verse and the chorus…

…ok everyone’s getting into it now…may as well do the “backbeat” bit…

…wait, where did all these drunk people come from? How does everyone know this song?!