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)

Meet My Band

Dear diary,

The universe is a funny old place. I’m a firm believer in going out to get things you want, work hard and don’t wait for other people to make your dreams come true. However, I do seem to have the most wonderful luck and just sometimes great things just happen to fall into my lap.

Way back in 2013 I was playing solo gigs around London, my full time busking career was just starting and I decided to bring something a little different to my indoor shows.

“I need a band,” I thought. I was toying with that idea but not really acting on it. Then my band sort of happened to me.

One morning I opened my Facebook messages to a friendly greeting from a drummer who’d caught me busking. “If you need a drummer for live shows let me know”. I replied, “I’m looking for a band actually. I’ll find a bassist and we should get together to rehearse.” Drummer: Check.

Days later, I was busking by the river and I saw a figure watching me, a bass case slung on his back. As he approached to drop a coin I quizzed him, “is that a bass? Do you play? Any good? Wanna be in my band?” Bassist: Check.

I couldn’t believe my luck when two accomplished players arrived at rehearsal, having learnt my first album, ready to gig. The three of us started gigging regularly and we had a lot of fun and sounded great, there was something missing in our sound but I hadn’t considered adding other instruments. Not until a keys player popped up out of nowhere.

I think Will first heard me busking at Kings Cross station. He said he wanted to grab a card but got caught up with the trudging commuters in their relentless march from A to B. It was like fate when he opened Time Out magazine the very next day to see my smiling face. He contacted me via email and I wasn’t convinced I needed a piano player “but thank you for your interest”. Luckily, he persisted and we met up to jam out some songs. He was phenomenal. Keys: Check.

My final band member took some seeking out. I had it on my mind that I wanted a violinist or electric guitarist for some melodic additions to my band sets. I was passing through Paddington station when I heard a guy busking. He was looping guitar solos over chords of popular chart hits and it was really cool. I took a picture of his sign and gave him a follow on twitter, where I asked him if he’d be up for joining my merry men. Electric guitar: Check.

To this day I thank my lucky stars that each of these fellas fell into my life; one way or another. They’re a fantastic set of musicians and I love performing with them at my live shows.

Come and hear us doing our thing tomorrow in Camden. John, my guitarist is going to be my opening act before joining my band to rock out some guitar solos! They really bring my songs to life and I’m so grateful to them for being part of my musical journey!

Tuesday 21st March
The Monarch
Camden

8pm – John Clapper
8.30 – Lucy May Walker
9.15 – Charlotte Campbell mit band

Free Entry!

Saturday Night

Dear Diary,

It was Saturday night. The sun had set a few hours before but the Southbank was still bustling and warm from the heat of the first day of spring.

I was performing my last set down by the Hungerford Bridge and there was a crowd building; first in a semi circle around me, then people stood on the bridge above, leaning over the barrier to listen.

I strummed my last chord to a gentle applause when I felt a figure appear next to me, apologetically she said “please, can you play 1,000 Years by Christina Perri?” I nodded and as she walked away she said something else, but I didn’t catch it.

As I started to play the song the couple she had arrived with began to slow dance, she had clearly requested it on their behalf because this song was special to them and I was glad to be giving them such a special moment. More and more of a crowd had began to gather; listening and watching this couple dance. He lead her slowly into the centre of the audience and knelt down on one knee, holding out ring and a smile. The crowd erupted when it happened and she threw back her head, her eyes filled with tears. She nodded and the crowd cheered again.

As for me, I was trying to keep singing 1,000 Years by Christina Perri, without much luck. I was practically sobbing. I love my job.

Love,
Charlotte

What Do Busking & Vodka Have In Common?

Dear Diary,

Have you ever drunk too much vodka?

I don’t know about you, but vodka either makes me very happy or it makes me cry. They say that old potato juice is a mood enhancer; so if you’re already in high spirits then *somebody get the shots in!* but if you’re going through a bad break up, then vodka is probably not your friend.

You might be wondering what this has to do with busking. But, as it happens, busking and vodka have more in common than you might think.

*note: this is not an article about how all buskers are drunks, spending your kindly donated coins on booze. Nor is an advert for Grey Goose. Please drink responsibly.*

Sometimes you go to work in a foul mood, we’ve all been guilty of it. Buskers have to make rent too, and sometimes we put on crocodile smiles and fake it ’til we make it. Maybe you’ll be lucky, maybe you’ll catch a lovely crowd of people who turn your whole day around, but the likelihood is you’ll get back what you give out, and that includes negativity.

I try not to go busking if I’m not in a good mental place. If I’m feeling a bit low or anxious or angry about something then I know that busking won’t fix it, and I don’t want to inflict those feelings onto others. If I can afford to stay at home then I will, to make sure I’m projecting only positivity. When I do go out busking I feel my joy reflecting back at me like a mirror, and I go home feeling  warm and fulfilled. Busking brings me a lot of happiness, but I’ve learnt the hard way that it is not a cure for sadness.

The happiness doesn’t come from busking itself nor can it be found at the bottom of a bottle. The happiness has to come from inside you first, and then it will be enhanced by your surroundings (or by the alcohol.)

Stay safe. Drink responsibly. Busk responsibly.

Cheers,
Charlotte 🙂 x

Storm Doris

Dear Diary,

I managed to avoid the worst of storm Doris by taking a little trip away last week. So luckily I wasn’t blown into the river along with my guitar and microphone stand!

The wind had already started to pick up a few days before so I found myself facing a few “Marilyn” moments while busking on Monday, not to mention getting my hair into an absolute state.

Despite it being a particularly windy day, (if you’re interested in the weather specifics, the wind was up to 20mph with gusts of up to 30. My usual cut off point is 15mph because that’s when I start to lose flyers to the breeze and the noise of the rustling trees picks up on my mic and I barely can hear myself so 20mph is too…oh…you’re not interested? Fair enough.) there were lots of people about. I think half term was staggered across the country this year so a few schools were still off and the atmosphere was perfectly busy without feeling hectic.

I was happily playing to nobody at all, with a few appreciative passers by, when one of my favourite things happened. A little girl sat down cross-legged on the floor. Not a rare occurrence but one that always fills me with joy when it does happen. It’s such a decisive gesture. I take it as the most precious token of appreciation to be given the attention of a child.

The next thing that happened is rare but magical. Her mother; a young, pretty, well-dressed and well-to-do woman looked down at her daughter with an expression I couldn’t quite read. I prepared myself to watch her scold her little girl, “don’t sit down there, it’s filthy”, “no darling, we aren’t stopping here for long, up you get”, “what on earth are you sitting on the ground for?”

But I read this woman and the situation all wrong. This beautifully dressed mother in her white trousers sat down cross-legged next to her daughter, pulled her up onto her lap, squeezed her tight and beamed over at me, nodding her head to the music.

Many other families followed suit and soon I had a cluster of parents and children sitting down on the ground to listen. It was such a thrilling sight and I loved this lady for being so far from who I had guessed she might be.

I spend every day watching people, and they still manage to surprise me.

Love,
Charlotte

P.s. Thanks Geoff Martin for the featured photo! And for braving the wind in order to take it!

weather

The Psychology of Tipping

Dear Diary,

This week I posted a funny (in my opinion…) tweet about a comment I overheard.

tweet

I felt like the irony was self explanatory but to many it wasn’t; lots of lovely tweeters jumped to my aid with their sympathies. I very much appreciate the sentiment of those telling me not to take it to heart, but felt like many had missed the point of what I was saying. It got me thinking about how tipping is perceived by onlookers in comparison to how it actually works, through the eyes of the performer.

The girl was right, I did have lots of coins in my case already. I’d had a stroke of luck when the next busker didn’t show up to play after me, so I played their slot too. I played for 4 hours, non-stop! I didn’t clear out my case in between because the crowds were coming thick and fast and I didn’t want to waste time that I could be singing. Besides, it shouldn’t matter how much I’ve already got, if you liked what you heard and want to donate then you should, shouldn’t you?

I don’t expect my Starbucks for free just because Starbucks already has lots of money.

I had a few comments from supportive tweeters that, perhaps, I would make more money if I cleared my case out, to create the illusion that I had less. There’s a similar theory I’ve heard in the past about how I ought to dress; that my aesthetic is stopping people donating. If I looked a bit more “scruffy” people would feel sorry for me and I’d make more money.

Both those points, while well intentioned, slightly miss the point of what I’m doing. I’m not trying to make money, the money is a necessity for sustaining what I do and an extra blessing on top of sharing my music and my name with a new audience. If pity is the main emotion I incite when I’m out busking then I’m not doing my job properly.

This also brings to surface a really interesting psychological phenomenon I’ve witnessed after many years of doing this full time. People are sheep and copycats and everso predictable. While the girl in the aforementioned tweet is an exception to the rule, I have found that the more money I have, the more money I continue to make.

Firstly, people love to have their opinion shared by others, and seeing someone tipping a busker confirms their suspicions; this musician is good. It legitimises the practice and other’s are likely to follow suit. Secondly, even without seeing the money dropped, a healthy guitar case of coins assures them that they are behaving correctly. They are giving this musician a thumbs up, just as so many others have done already.

I have found the same with social media interactions. While the first 100 or 1,000 “likes” are hard to come by, once you’ve been validated by a few people, others are quicker to support what you’re doing and your fanbase is easier to grow. I don’t mind it and I don’t think people are fickle for being this way, it’s just human nature; we are pack animals and we want to be part of something bigger. It’s kind of adorable.

I always start my set with 6 pound coins in my case. A gentle hint at the sort of donation I’m aiming for. Some people say you should always hide your £5/10/20 notes away, so people don’t think you’re earning too much. I disagree, but I usually hide them away anyway, before the wind takes them and deposits them in the river for me.

Love,
Charlotte