“I Don’t Have Time”

We’ve all got 24 hours to get everything done today.

525,600 minutes a year to sort it out. How is it then, that some people are in a rush and some are not?

In London, everyone is in a rush. It’s because we think that our time is more valuable than other’s. (side note: it isn’t!). I once met a Londoner who had lived in India for 5 years.

“I couldn’t do that,” I said, “I’d be so hot! I can’t deal with the heat. How do you deal with the heat?”.

“They walk slower there.” He said, calmly.

Imagine that. Not being in a rush. What a novel idea.

This conversation always comes to my mind when I observe tourists. People on holiday appear to have more time; they walk slower. Londoners always have somewhere to be whereas tourists aren’t sure where they are going. It sounds like knowing where you’re going would be the better option, but if you spend too much time looking forward you might find that you miss something along the way.

One summer afternoon, as the sun began to set, the riverside statues awoke from their poses and wiped off their make up, I was busking to an empty Southbank. Three happy tourists approached with backpacks and big smiles, they listened for a song or two with great appreciation. Just as I thought they were going to turn and leave, they began riffling in their bags; out came three big maps of London. They each placed a map on the ground and sat cross-legged in front of me.

I continued to play and more friendly faces found seats on the floor to listen.

I soon had a gaggle of tourists sitting on jackets and maps and bags, listening to my street gig and enjoying the spontaneity of their shared experience. They didn’t have anywhere to be and this place was as good as any, dare I say, better.

How often would you have time to part take in a shared encounter like that? If you were passing by would you say ‘Oh how lovely, its a shame I’m running late…”?

Recently I’ve tried to do less every day. What I mean by that is plan less so I can do more. Rather than make an unachievable list of goals for the day and run around like a headless chicken trying to complete them, I make a short list of tasks that need doing, and leave time for error, spontaneity and living in between. So, if I should so fancy it, I can sit down on the floor and listen to a busker play as the sun sets without a care. Just like a tourist, and I don’t even need to leave my hometown.

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Where Have You Been?

I don’t have a boss. I make my own rules. 

That said, I have a few people who keep me in check:

  1. Me. I’m pretty hard on myself and I tend to clock between 40-60 hours a week. Busking makes up about 50% of that and the rest is admin, other gigs, songwriting, recording etc. 

  2. Licence Managers. If I’m not seen to be using my Southbank licence, I’ll lose it. The same goes for my underground licence. So I’m always sure to put the hours in.

  3. Fellow Performers. I often get other performers checking on me if I miss a few days of work. Charlie Chaplin *blows up my comms* (he phones me a lot) if I’m off sick, but it’s usually out of concern for my well being. 
  4. Finally, I have you lot. Some of you enquire about my busking schedule with excitement and inquisitive joy! But, and I hate to say it, some of you are right nags!

Something I want to make clear is that I love what I do. While it is my job, I don’t consider it to be hard work and every chance I get to go and play on the streets, I take it. There are only two things that keep me away from busking:

  1.  Exciting, music related opportunities/gigs 
  2. Being sick in bed. 

For the past 8 weeks, unfortunately it’s been more of the latter. I’ve tried to keep a cheery front online: post regular updates, videos and even get out busking when I can. But this winter has been a rough slog, full of frustrated tears and petrifying fear that I won’t be able to sing the same way ever again. 

This is how it began. On November 24th 2015 I was singing in a London tube station, when a noise I did not expect came out. It wasn’t the note wanted to hit. It wasn’t even close. I was mortified. A man passing by gave an encouraging nod as if to say “Yes, I heard. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone”. I went home early that day feeling dejected. Little did I know that I had 2 more months of this to go.

By early December I had to accept the truth. I was ill. My worst nightmare!

“You need to rest!” Cried my mother.

“You’re not eating enough!” Scolded my grandmother.

“Get a real job!” Shouted the crazed man who harasses me at Leicester Square tube station (I’ve told the authorities but he keeps coming back…)

I did need to rest. But people were asking where I’d been already and I hated to let them down. Plus I had no other income to speak of. I wrapped up warm and got back out there, when I should have just stayed in bed. Every morning that I started to feel better I would go out in the cold, sing, then go home feeling worse.

In the weeks that followed, I was still busking and gigging but I was playing everything in lower keys than usual  (about 3 semi tones down) because my top range was practically non existent. And my usual 6-7 hour days were reduced to 2-3 hours, if I could even manage that.

Some regulars on the Southbank were enquiring about my whereabouts. I mumbled that I’d been unwell or playing on the underground.

“That underground licence is making you soft”. Someone scoffed.

It really stung that they thought that. I wished they could know how much I wanted to don my hat, scarf and fingerless gloves and just play on the Southbank like I did every winter. I’ve done it 3 winters in a row now with no trouble at all; I wasn’t afraid of the cold weather. But this illness was defeating me, people were noticing and it was getting me down. 

To make matters worse, the weather was starting to turn and busking was becoming up hill battle with my ever-weakening vocal chords.

December was a sad month. Christmas is my favourite time of year and the Southbank has a Christmas market that I love to perform at. I would usually work every day of December (except for my birthday and Christmas Day.) This year I managed a measly 3 days per week and spent the rest of the time sorrowfully eating Christmas-themed desserts and lamenting my lost voice. 

As I look back on the last 8 weeks its very clear that what I needed was a full week in bed. That would have helped me so much. But my pride and the pressure that I put on myself got the better of me. I caused myself 2 months of grief when I all I really needed was one week of rest.

So I’m taking that rest now, one week on holiday to finally shake this sniffle, cough and fatigue.

From every unfortunate situation I find myself in, I try to take a lesson away. The lesson I’ve learnt here is that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, because there are plenty of other people to do that for you. And you have to listen to your body and take rest when you need it. There is always tomorrow. There is always next winter.

People Are Kind

People are kind. Even in London.

Living in London can be overwhelming, it is so fast paced that you have to be selfish to get by. It’s so busy that people become mere obstacles between you and your destination. New faces are so regular that you forget to smile at them. It’s not that Londoners are unfriendly, it’s that there are so many people here that the desire to be friendly has been sapped from you.

That said, I’ve found a job that reminds me every day that people can be kind. Even people in London can be kind. Every time I go out and play on the street I make somebody’s day, and they make mine too, with a kind word or a smile. Busking gives me faith in humanity with every coin drop. I’m offering my only skill for essentially free. Nobody is obliged to make a donation, but most do.

According to the papers, people are doing bad things all the time. People are killing, people are fighting and people are stealing. But here is some good news, most people are good. I’ve seen it. I live it every day. They pay for music even when they could walk on by. If they’ve got the time, they’ll even say something nice. When I find myself worrying about this funny old planet we’re living on, a day of busking restores my love of humans and their innate desire to spread happiness.

Most people are kind. Remember to be one of them.

 

 

My First Day

At first, it was just to pass the time.

I started playing on the streets in 2012, to bridge a gap between finishing university and “real life”. I’d been writing music for 6 years and my dreams of making music full-time were just about coming to a close. I took to the streets to make use of my equipment for one last summer; before I sold it all on Ebay and gave up the notion that I had any talent.

The previous summer I printed flyers and CDs for a big opportunity. When that epically fell through my confidence took a knock (along with my bank balance) and I was drowning in unused merchandise to remind me of my failures. When I started busking I was basically closing down shop: Everything must go! Want a CD? Please take it! For free! I don’t want to look at it anymore.

I had dabbled in the busking world; played the odd London tunnel, entered a busking competition and lost etc. But when I tentatively placed my little amp on the bank of the River Thames, I remembered why I started making music in the first place. Every coin that landed in my case was accompanied by a smile, a genuine smile of encouragement and enjoyment. Between songs people would stop and say things like ‘you just made my day’ or ‘thanks for the music’. I was making people happy.

On my first day a man stopped dead in his tracks. He approached me and scanned my guitar case.

“Is that song on this CD?” He picked up one of my EPs and flipped it over.

“Yes, I wrote it, actually. Its for free. Have it”.

He looked sceptical, “Free?”

People don’t like to take things for free in London. Not because they’re being nice, but because it must be a trick.
I nodded.

He pulled out his wallet and placed a five pound note in my case. I stared at it in absolute awe. “Good song” he said “Too good to be free”. He took my CD and left with a smile.

I scrambled to pick up the fiver before the wind did. This was the start for me. I was addicted. I went back to the Southbank nearly every day of that summer until the cold set in. Then I bought a big coat, fingerless gloves and a thermos and I carried on going until it was summer again.