Exploring The UK – Busking in Liverpool

This Bank Holiday weekend I was visiting family in Liverpool. Taking time off is not really my style and when the weather is good I feel twice as guilty for not being in my usual spot under the London Eye.

However, busking in London is changing lately, it feels like more than double the number of buskers queuing up to play. And with sound and time restrictions being placed on most pitches, its harder than ever to get a good day’s worth of pitches, especially on busy weekends and holidays. I can’t rely so heavily on London and the Soutbank for busking anymore; it is not as readily available or reliable to me as it once was – but that’s ok, change is not always a bad thing. I’m constantly on the lookout for new places to play and ways to to innovate and push myself out of my comfort zone.

I decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and the trip out of town, I brought my small Roland Street Cube along with my guitar and was lucky enough to be granted a busking license by Liverpool One Shopping Centre.

 

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On the Sunday I was designated a little spot by Costa Coffee. I had an audience of coffee drinkers sitting outside listening, the road was a cut through to the centre so the footfall was good, and the acoustics from the surrounding walls created a nice sound for me.

I set up my mic stand and decorated it with flowers, lay out my cards and my guitar case with a few coins to start. I stood up straight and looked around, I was very nervous in this new place. I started tuning up my already-tuned guitar, fiddled with volumes, adjusted the height of my mic stand, fixed my hair; anything to avoid actually starting to make a noise and grab any attention. Then, just as I began to think I would never find the confidence to start, a man handed me a £5 note and his girlfriend nodded her hair rollers at me as if to say “good luck”. I thanked them both and struck my first chord confidently. This was going to be a good day.

The two hours flew by with lots of smiling faces and a few memorable characters who came over for a chat. I was very pleasantly surprised by the response, from those who took my card, those who enquired about CDs and those who just dropped a coin with a happy nod or a “go on girrrl!”
The following day I was given a spot with more footfall and more of an ‘audience’ feel thanks to the grassy steps that many shoppers were using as their picnic or ice cream seats. After my successful Sunday session I was more confident and engaged with the crowd the best I could, although I’m not sure my little amp was quite reaching the steps at the top!

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One man stood and listened for a few songs before saying “I like you, you’re not too loud. Some of these buskers are too loud.” At first I wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or not…But after a nice little chat it was clear he had enjoyed the music and not just the volume of it, he even took a CD away with him. “Come back and see us, won’t you?” he said “It’d be nice to have you busking here more often.”

I’ve been personally invited by a Scouser to come back and busk there again, so London had best look out!

I gave my heart to London and you’ll always find me there, but I think it’s time I went on some adventures! Let me know if you’d like to see me busking in your city; where are the best spots near you and who do I need to speak to about performing there?

Thanks 🙂
Charlotte

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Busking In A New City (Part 2)

Hello,

It’s been months since I last posted on this blog! I have left you all in suspense! My last post was about busking in a new city. Perhaps you thought that I tried, got myself arrested and was never seen again! But you will be pleased to hear that this is not the case.

Since my last post I have had successful and unsuccessful attempts at busking in new places and I’ll tell you all about them below!

October 2017 – Bern – Switzerland

Bern Busking

On my Autumn European tour I took my Roland Street Cube and performed in the streets of Bern. I was so pleasantly surprised by the response from the lovely Swiss passers by. My tour manager – Michael, hi Michael! – had researched the spots and how they work. Busking in Bern is easy enough for those wishing to turn up and play, but they politely suggest that you move along every half hour or so in order to avoid noise pollution in the same area for too long.

I set up with my back to a pretty fountain, in between two noisy tram lines and amongst the little shopping district. My audience mostly looked at me dubiously from behind pillars on the side walk and would sometimes brave their way into the middle of the street to drop me a few coins and take pictures. Every so often the trams would rumble past and I would be totally obscured, visibly and audibly from my audience and I started to make a joke out of it by pausing my song completely until the tram had gone, making the little crowd chuckle as I restarted, mid sentence when I re-emerged.

I had been warned by fellow buskers that Switzerland was not known for being as generous as perhaps Germany or even the UK in terms of financial tips for street art. However it must have been my lucky day, because my short time busking in Bern was very profitable and I was astounded by the generosity and encouragement that this city bestowed upon me.

After a half an hour, I had a little crowd of listeners perching on nearby steps, applauding and singing along to The Beatles. I decided to move along to another fountain and do another stint, but the streets were quieter by then and the crowds had subsided. It was still nice but I wished I’d got to Bern sooner and had the chance to play a few more times before the sun went down. The following day was a Sunday on which there is no busking allowed, so I’ll just have to go back to Bern another time!

March 2018 – Frankfurt – Germany

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On my recent European tour I visited Germany and went into the centre of Frankfurt to find a spot. Reminiscent of my successful time in Switzerland, I found a pretty fountain to perform next to.

Frankfurt was fairly generous and responsive to my performance, but I found myself constantly on edge because the area didn’t feel as safe or as relaxed as Bern had. A little too close for comfort was a very angry looking homeless man playing football with a paper cup. As his one-player-kick-around got closer and closer to my guitar case I felt a bit uneasy. I was lucky to have the support of Michael and my boyfriend, Conor, close by at all times. Conor tried to ease the situation by gently kicking the cup in another direction, to tempt the man away from my personal space. But the homeless man did NOT like anyone else touching his precious cup and explosively told us so in very loud, angry German words. His reaction has confirmed to me that Conor is the bravest person I’ve ever met.

After continuing to share the area with homeless Steven Gerrard, it became pretty clear that he meant absolutely no harm to anyone; unless they touched his cup, in which case there would be hell to pay. That feeble little cup was all he had in the world. So we left him to it.

Frankfurt has a few rules on busking, one of which is not performing with amplification; I slyly ignored this and decided to just keep my volume low and my expression blank if the police came prying. Luckily I had no interruptions from the police, just a few more altercations with homeless and/or crazy people shouting in German at me. I think that’s what you call Schaukeln und Kreivsverkehre. Another Frankfurt rule is to move on after an hour playing in the same place. So I moved over to a spot that looked less crowded, but actually turned out to be more profitable and comfortable; there were ledges for people to sit on and a nicer atmosphere in general.

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My summary of Frankfurt is that while busking was fairly easy and financially worthwhile, I did not enjoy it much. I think I’d rather make less money and not feel constantly on edge.

October 2018 – Meinz – Germany

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I had a few days in Frankfurt, but since I’d found busking there a little bit stressful I decided to try a another city close by. I had heard that Meinz was very pretty so took a short train ride out there to play.

It was very quiet in the town centre and I was nervous to start in the empty streets; I suggested to my team that we go get brunch first – we all agreed and found the cutest place for some food while we waited for the town to wake up. It was called Wilma Wunder and this is not at all relevant to busking but it was SO CUTE if you’re ever in Meinz, you know what to do.

The centre didn’t seem to get much busier even after we had eaten, so I set up and started, hoping my sweet dulcet tones would bring the people. I played for about 25 minutes with the odd drop and a sweet smile here and there, but generally it was so empty that even if everyone in the area had dropped me a euro it wouldn’t have covered my train fare (or my yummy brunch!) But I didn’t mind, I did sell one CD which I was proud of and this was really more of an experimental experience, plus I got to see a lovely new town (and did I mention; brunch?!)

As I headed back to the station with my team we heard a man singing opera and discovered a much busier part of the town that would have, perhaps, been a more suitable spot for me. We listened to the opera man for a few songs, dropped him a coin and accepted defeat this time, our pockets empty but our bellies full.

October 2017 – Marburg – Germany

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The last place I tried to do some busking on my most recent tour was Marburg. A pretty place that I’ve heard lots about. It was similar to Meinz, pretty but quiet. I decided to try busking there, especially as I found a fountain to perform next to (that seems to be my go-to when I’m busking somewhere new!)

Before I even started I attracted the interest of a lovely German lady who worked nearby. She bought my CD before I’d even sung a note! I kicked off with one of my own songs and the empty streets were filled with my music and no people.

Then, just I had hoped, my dulcet tones had attracted someone to come and listen. Well. Not exactly. Just one person appeared in response to me singing and it was a strict, no nonsense German police officer. He pointed to my amp and gestured by swiping across his throat, I assume he wasn’t threatening me with a death sentence but just telling me “no amplification”. I cooperated and apologised in broken German, he wasn’t unkind but he was firm and unsmiling. That was the end of my busking in Marburg, less than one song and it was over.

Despite my busking failure, I played a very nice gig in the evening at a place called Q. The man who owned it was an absolute delight and he has big plans for live music in his venue, so I think I’ll be back there in the future!

Conclusion

Busking somewhere new is scary. It is harder work than busking in your comfort zone, especially with a language barrier. I found it much more tiring and harder work but very refreshing.
I want to continue to break my all too comfortable habit of busking in the same place. While London and the Southbank will always be my favourite place to play, discovering new spots and seeing the world is becoming more and more enticing, so expect a lot more stories from the globe this year and next.

 

 

Busking In A New City

I often get messages from buskers who are visiting London from other parts of the UK or even further afield. Busking in a new place requires a bit of research and often the rules aren’t clearly outlined anywhere so the best thing you can do is get the inside scoop from a fellow busker who knows the ropes.

When I hear from buskers visiting from out of town I always feel a pang of jealousy for their bravery. I have grown so comfortable and safe in my London bubble that I rarely stray from my one spot that I know so well. I make resolutions to be brave and go out busking somewhere new, but it’s hard to tear yourself away from the comfort of familiarity.

Today I hit the road for Germany and I’ll be visiting 3 German cities and briefly popping into Switzerland. While I won’t have much time between travel and gigs I am taking a small busking amp (a Roland Street Cube) with me and I will be trying to do some busking while I’m there!

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few buskers from Hamburg, briefly busked in Cologne and got some info from locals in Bern, so I feel confident to give busking a go in these new places.

A few things that are important to check before you travel to a new city to perform on the streets:

  • Where are you allowed to perform?

    Most cities will have areas that either welcome street artists or are especially strict. It’s a good idea to check before you go, especially for the latter as being arrested in a foreign city is not ideal.

  •  Where is good to perform?

    It’s great to know the places that allow busking and making sure you have permission to perform there, but if that spot has low footfall or a lot of other performers and noise to compete with then you’re mostly wasting your time. Look online or ask locals for popular spots but also little known places that are hidden gems for buskers. Open spaces with lots of restaurants and cafes or near a market are always good. But remember to check the rules first as local traders can be less than welcoming to street art when they’re trying to run their own businesses.

  • What time can you perform?

    There is some common sense involved, for example maybe don’t crank your amp up at 5am. But as well as sociable busking hours, there may also be specific rules for the city. I have found in the past that Cologne in Germany has a half hour rule: you can perform for the first half of each hour but the second half you must stop performing. eg. perform from 14.00 to 14.30 and then be silent 14.30 to 15.00. This is to stop repetitive noise constantly being played and to give those working nearby a break from the noise, also supposedly it encourages performers to move between spots in the break to create variety. In all honesty though, I think it is mostly to discourage people from street performing at all; it’s quite an inconvenient rule that doesn’t benefit buskers much. It’s good to know though so you know why you’re being told off at 14.31!

  • Can you use amplification?

    Every city is different and while some do seem to encourage street performers, they don’t always want any amplification; this can be a killer to acts that rely on amps for their shows. Being diligent with volume wherever you are is always important but double check the rules about amps if you want to use one.

  • Can you sell CDs?

    Selling music on the streets is often a very tricky subject as it is technically street trading which requires a license pretty much everywhere. Always be careful of this in a new place and be aware that street trading illegally can carry a hefty fine or arrest. Often a good loophole is displaying CDs but no price and allowing people to pay by donation rather than advertising the CDs “for sale”.

I’m giving all this advice but please note that I’m actually about to embark on this adventure myself, so I still have a lot to learn.

I have busked in the odd new place over the years but my expertise is really in London and even in my own city I haven’t properly explored all the spots available. I’m hoping this week will inspire me to go on a lot more busking adventures. I will let you know how it goes!

I will also be gigging out here and then returning home for a big gig next weekend.

Upcoming shows:

2nd October – Pony Bar – Hamburg
3rd October – Helter Skelter – Hamburg
5th October – KulturCafe – Cologne
6th October – Cave 54 – Heidelberg
8th October – ONO – Bern
13th October – St Pancras Old Church – London

 

Photography by Aaron Sebright

Hello & Hi

There is a lot of waiting around for buskers.

We swap over every hour so that each busker gets a turn, so if you want to play you’ve got to wait in the “queue” of other eager performers. During the summer there are usually 3-4 of us on pitch at once which can mean up to 4 hours waiting for your turn.

I’ve learnt that the only way to make a living doing this is to make good use of that down time and I spend it doing admin, updating my website, writing blogs (like this one, currently waiting for my 3.15-4.15 set on the Southbank!) and writing songs.

Last year I was on a busking break writing a sad, slow song about heartbreak. I was looking down at my guitar in a world of my own, when an unexpected voice interrupted my melodic daydreaming.

“Hey, sorry to bother you, do you know what the time is?”

I looked up in surprise into a pair of crystal blue eyes. An extraordinarily handsome man with messy ginger hair and an amused smile stood before me, waiting for a response.

I started smiling, wondering why he didn’t just ask Big Ben for the time and hoping perhaps he didn’t really want to know the time at all but just wanted an excuse to talk to me! Perhaps he spotted me here, writing songs from the depths of my soul and he thought “I must speak to that beautiful girl!” I started to imagine what my mum might think of this handsome man (my new boyfriend!) when I took him home to meet her. We’d have beautiful children, I’m sure of it! What a wonderful love story this will be when I tell them all about it…

His smile started to fade as the uncomfortable pause got longer and I realised that he did, very much, want to know what the time was.

Quick, I thought, how do you tell the time? I looked at my bare wrist in vain. I started patting around me on the floor for my phone to give him an answer. I stood up, triumphantly.

“It’s ten past one!” I said with confidence.

“Thanks a lot!” he said. He smiled politely and walked swiftly away.

I slumped back down next to my guitar, my face a little hot from pure embarrassment. I looked at my phone again trying to distract myself from the utter shambles I’d made of a perfectly simple interaction. It was ten past two.


 

Then I did the only thing I could do in this situation. I wrote a song about it.

It’s called Hello & Hi and I will be releasing it on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon Music on Thursday 17th of August!

Come see my band play live at the launch gig!

Thursday 17th of August
Tooting Tram & Social
8pm – John Clapper
8.30 – Lucy May Walker
9.15 – Charlotte Campbell + band

A Little Help From My Friends

I don’t have “work colleagues” as such. I’m self employed and in many ways that means spending a lot of time on my own. You learn to get used to, and even enjoy, your own company when you work for yourself.

I quite like that I don’t have to make Monday morning small talk about how my weekend was, but I crave company sometimes and wish I had a water cooler to gossip next to!

Sometimes I wander over to the local coffee shop without a single desire for coffee, but in the hope of seeing a familiar face. In fact, the baristas there are some of favourite people, they bring up my mood and my energy levels more than the coffee itself. (But the coffee does help, thanks Beany Greens!)

Of corse there are the buskers themselves, my sort of “co-workers”. I am ashamed to admit that when I first started out I saw all other buskers, performers, singers, songwriters and often women as little more than competition. It’s an exhausting way of looking at the world, let me tell you! I’ve since realised that it’s a lot more fun, productive and reasonable to see all other buskers, performers, singers, songwriters and most of all women as allies, as friends. Nobody will understand your day to day life better than somebody else doing it, and celebrating each other’s successes together makes for such a positive environment which can only lead to more success all round.

There is so much great busking talent emerging in London right now and to be part of that community is an honour.

Healthy competition is great, but talented and inspiring friends are better.

Here are a few of my favourites, I hope you enjoy them!

Belle & The Busker
Sherika Sherard
Lucy May Walker
Karina Ramage
Emily Lee
John Clapper
Lewis Fieldhouse
Martha Paton
Simeon Turtle
Charlie Law

Peak Season

 

Being a busker has more structure and routine than you might expect.

When you start doing it full time you start treating it like a full time job and your hours become regular, your schedule follows a pattern and your days become surprisingly predictable.

This is truer than ever during peak season; summer. Like any job, there are busy periods and quiet periods and then, of corse, there’s Christmas…But for me, the summer is my busiest time and my busking schedule is non stop. Make hay while the sun shines, as they say.

Over the years, I’ve started to be overcome with a feeling of dread as the warm weather approaches. Probably similar to the feeling in the pit of your stomach on Sunday night, when you know Monday is inevitably upon you. I’ve been lucky not to experience that end-of-the-weekend-blues since school, but I do experience it when the summer holidays are near.

Of corse I love the warm weather, finally I can busk without fingerless gloves and three pairs of socks on! And all the people, children especially! The big crowds and the thrill of entertaining, that’s why I got into this business. But summer is exhausting and wracks me with guilt.

Summer is my messy bedroom, crawling into bed and back out of it is all I have time for. Summer my is my sticky sun creamed skin.
Summer is pretty backless dresses.
Summer is my sunburnt shoulders.
Summer is the Southbank’s peaceful atmosphere suddenly shaken up by school holidays.
Summer is people everywhere.
Summer is someone always sitting in my favourite shady spot.
Summer is queueing for hours behind buskers who didn’t seem so keen to be a street performer back in February…
Summer is taking a day off and kicking myself that I’m slacking.
Summer is BBQ invitations that I have to turn down.

Summer is long, beautiful days where I fall in and out of love with my job from one hour to the next. Summer is exhausting and I spend most of it wishing it would end. Until the days start to grow shorter and the leaves start to fall off the trees and the cold sets in and I wish it would be summer all over again.

The Wedding Singer

Lately, I feel like I’ve been doing more wedding singing than busking. It’s been a a bit of a dream, if I’m honest.

I swap my thick coat for a fancy frock, doc martens for high heels, cup of tea for a glass of champagne and my bike for an uber to some posh venue where someone usually assists me with my heavy amp and flowery mic stand. (My flowery mic stand is always the same.)
My favourite thing about all of these weddings is not the grandeur of dressing up or the free nibbles or the free bar (always a professional – I solemnly swear!)

I love the stories at weddings. The couple’s unique romance from start to present and the tales of guests from far and wide. And especially, the story of how the couple came to book this busker from London for their big day. It’s always a pleasure to hear about how they happened to stumble across my music. For some I was a soundtrack to their courtship; taking walks along the Southbank to find me singing their song, or bonding over my CD after a day out in London. Others booked me as a surprise for their partner or a surprise for their guests. Some found me on YouTube and have listened for years or quickly grabbed a card as they rushed for a train.

The ways in which these happy couples’ paths happened to cross with my own always blows my mind. It reminds me of what a magical existence I am fortunate enough to lead, that I should find myself in the presence of so many beautiful love stories. Not just once I am there, singing a stunning bride down the aisle or accompanying a first dance; but long before and long after.

When I return to my busking spot after being part of somebody’s big day I feel so grateful to have the chance to be the soundtrack to the love story of the next couple. And the next. And the next.

Starts With A Smile

Dear Diary,

Two American tourists beamed at me as they rolled their suitcases my way and dropped generous donations into my guitar case.

They took a few steps back and sat down on their luggage to listen for a while. Their faces shone with excitement for my next song and they cheered loudly at the end of each tune.

I was grateful for their enthusiasm, it had been a long day, a long week, in fact. Their energy was pushing me forwards.

I hadn’t planned my set properly and when I had a mind blank I looked out to their expectant faces, hoping it would help my brain find the next song to sing. I settled on an Ed Sheeran song – you can never go wrong with Ed! They agreed with positive “woo”s when I announced my choice.

The positivity and excitement they brought to the atmosphere was contagious and soon a crowd was gathering to listen. I told them all about my little claim to fame – about how Ed Sheeran personally got in touch with me earlier this year and the crowd clapped and cheered for my story.

The audience was growing and just as I started another Ed Sheeran tribute I spotted a smiley policeman appearing through the crowd. He was dropped a coin in my case and tipped his hat.

“Thank you so much.” I said. He nodded and walked away

After a slight hesitation I shouted after him “And thank you for your service!”

The crowd cheered loudly in agreement and he held up his hands in appreciation. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment. The atmosphere of that shared experience will stay with me forever.

The two American tourists were still smiling away at each other and at me. I wonder if they knew that it was their beautiful energy and positivity that had brought this little scene to a head. They served as a reminder to me that you can be a catalyst for wonderful moments and memories, it all starts with a smile.

Love,

Charlotte

 

(Photo by Marc Walker – Immaculate Photos)