She Only Sleeps When It’s Raining

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

“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

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

circle
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

busker
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

gold lady
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

LS

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

OC

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

LU

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!