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

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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)