10 Things Buskers Are Tired of Hearing

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?!


From London To Nashville

It was an ordinary day in October.

I’d been playing on the Southbank for a few hours. I got there at 11am and usually within an hour I would be relieved of my post by another busker. By 3.15pm I was still the only busker there that day.

I don’t really like to take a break until another busker comes along because:

1) The queue on the Southbank is sometimes 3/4 hours. If I’ve got that pitch to myself I like to make the most of it! AND I know that sod’s law is as soon as I leave to take a break, another busker will turn up and I’ll have to wait another hour to get back on.

2) I have a lot of stuff; my amp, my guitar, my bag of cables etc. It’s all a bit cumbersome and squeezing it into a toilet cubicle or winding it through a busy coffee shop is never ideal. If I wait for the next busker I can leave my equipment there, securing my place in the queue to play after them and saving me the trouble of hauling it around with me.

3) I’m a slave to my own work ethic. Every moment on the Southbank I want to be playing and the only time I’m not is because the pitch is in use by someone else. I can’t bare the thought of the spot being empty. Sometimes you guys send me pictures of a rainy Southbank and nobody playing and my heart cries a single tear.

So other than the odd sit down for a snack and maybe trusting a passer-by to watch my things while I dashed to the toilet, I’d been on that pitch for a good 4 hours.

As I began another set a crowd started to build, everyone was in good spirits and I was really enjoying performing for them. One man in particular stayed for a while to listen, he had kind eyes and the look on his face encouraged me to keep playing even though I was a little tired from a full day of busking.

After the crowd dispersed this man approached me to enquire about my CD. We got talking and he told me about his home, his grandchildren and his life. He was from the States, Ohio to be precise.

“Oh right, I’ve not been there,” I said, “Is it near Nashville? I’ve got this silly idea that I want to go to Nashville some day.”

He looked amused, “It’s a few states over from Tennessee. Nashville is a great place.”

We talked some more before he continued his journey through London, and I held that day in my memory; this man had really endeavoured to let me know how much my performance had moved him. It was exactly why I liked busking so much and it’s wonderful to be reminded of that.

It wasn’t long before I had an update on my Kickstarter Campaign. One trip to America and a thank you note from the man from Ohio. I was going to be playing at his granddaughter’s 5th birthday party and then take a mini trip to Nashville, Tennessee. I lay on my bed and cried with happiness.

Fast forward to April the following year and I was on my way. I stayed in Ohio with this beautiful family, they welcomed me in like I was one of their own and I still feel like I am. Every time we get in touch I feel connected to my second home and I often feel nostalgic about the short time I spent on my All-American adventure.

During that same visit I made it to my dream city, Nashville, TN. Known as a hub for musicians and songwriters, I was in my element and made a lot of plans for my next ventures as a musician. I visited a recording studio and finished 3 songs there with some Nashville session players. It was the most astounding experience of my life and it flew by like an absolute dream.

I stopped back in Ohio before I went home and said goodbye to the family who had made me so welcome, and to Ernie who had made all this happen. “See you soon!” I said, and I knew that I would make sure of it.

From my trip to America I took home the love of a new family, an insight into songwriting as an art, a couple of songs that I recorded there and some peanut butter M&Ms. All in all, it was a pretty life changing experience.

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Waterloo Sunset’s Fine

Every day I look out on the world through my window.

Waterloo is my favourite place to busk. It’s actually my favourite place in the world.

The Southbank was the first place I felt at home playing my music and I’ve become a fairly frequent face on the riverside over the last 4 years. It is an unavoidably desirable place; it beckons art, culture and romance with its picturesque views of the river and the London skyline.

But Waterloo station has its own story to tell. Hundreds of people pass through that station every day, from scurrying commuters to confused tourists; it’s like a slightly more agitated version of the Love Actually opening sequence.

I like it so much because it is where London meets the rest of the world. It is a connection point for Londoners getting from A to B, a destination for journeys from around the country, and a tourist hotspot for worldwide travellers to catch a glimpse of London’s most iconic sights. You can meet someone from all walks of life in Waterloo, and I usually do.

I also love Waterloo because both the station and the riverbank have an element of impermanence; everybody is just in transit, to another station, to another city or to another country. It reminds me regularly that everything changes; that those happy moments of spontaneity, enjoying the views on the Southbank are fleeting, but so are mundane commutes and hard days at work.

So whether I have a good day or a bad day or a nothing-out-of-the-ordinary day, Waterloo helps me to remember that tomorrow I have a whole new one. I’m lucky enough to be one of those travellers passing through on my way home every day.

As long as I gaze at Waterloo sunset, I am in paradise.

Sleeping Rough

It’s very cold in London right now.

I don’t mean to preach, because we all know the reality of this situation, and everybody’s problems are big in proportion to their own lives. But being homeless in the winter is a fight for survival. Approximately 7,500 people were homeless in London last year. That can make rough sleepers such a common sight to Londoners that we become immune to the sight of them. But should never become so accustomed to the sight of suffering that we forget that these are people in need.

Sometimes people presume that if you’re busking, you must be homeless or in trouble, when the truth is that a lot of us are no worse than struggling artists, for which I count myself very lucky. In truth, I spend a measly few hours each day playing on the street and then I go home to my warm bed. I can’t imagine the struggle of living every day in that endless chill.

As busking, begging, homelessness and the street all seem to be connected in people’s thought patterns, I decided this week I would use my little blog to share a few stories of my encounters with London’s homeless.

They’re just stories about people, but they’re nice stories, and they’re nice people.

I was busking on a windy day in winter and somebody approached with a drawing of me. I liked it a lot and tucked it away in my bag for safe keeping. As I carried on with my day a few huge gusts of wind kept stealing my flyers and even took my mailing list for a ride. I decided to give up on my battle with the gale and go home.

Michael, a tall and friendly rough sleeper who is usually kitted out in khaki camouflage and army boots approached me with a piece of paper in his hand.

“Excuse me miss, this blew right into my face just now and it looks a bit like you!”

He handed me the crumpled drawing, it must have escaped my bag while I was retrieving my wayward flyers. I was elated.

“Thank you so much…That’s really kind. Thank you.” I tried to compensate him with a few coins, he looked pleasantly surprised but brushed my hand away.

“Thank you for the music,” he smiled, as he hoisted his backpack onto his shoulders and wandered away. I see Michael every now and again, he quite likes my Streets of London song. I like making him smile.

When I’m rich and famous:

On a particularly cold day a few winters ago, two men sat down on a bench in front of me. They listened intently and chucked a pound in each before sitting for nearly an hour. I soon ran out of new songs to play them; I laid down my guitar and switched off my amp; blowing warm breath onto my hands and stamping my numb feet. The two men stood up, smiling. I nodded at them to thank them for listening,

“Bit cold, eh?” I quipped.

They laughed knowingly and one said “Preaching to the choir kiddo.”

I froze. And not just because it was it February.

“Oh! I didn’t know! Do you…do you want your money back?” I looked down at my near empty guitar case. Their two pound coins glared back at me.

The man cracked open a White Lightening and toed the froth with his shoe as it hit the ground.

“Don’t be rude. We’re homeless, not cheap.” He walked away and I looked on in embarrassment.

His pal threw me a comforting smile, “He’s just messing about. You brightened our day, really.”

His beer welding friend returned to add “We’ll have it back when you’re rich and famous, mind!” I smiled. He smiled back.

If you see someone sleeping rough this winter, you can contact Streetlink to get that person some support. Send Streetlink the location of a rough sleeper or check out their website for more details.

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