Goodbye 2016

At the beginning of 2016 I had no voice.

I’d suffered a nasty cold in the preceding December and welcomed in the new year from my bed; ill, grumpy and sad. As a singer, there really is nothing worse.

That New Year’s Eve was a sad omen for the year to come, as I spent most of 2016 feeling like I had no voice. I have always been an advocate of positive attitudes and optimism as a way of life, but I struggled to see the bright side of 2016. Needless to say, it was an eventful year outside of my own little bubble, and I think most people felt the negativity surrounding the past 12 months.

Personally, I let 2016 get the better of me, I let the negativity envelope me and I checked out of the year by October. I blamed all my own idleness and slip-ups on a bad year, instead of facing up to the reality that I’ve grown complacent. I like to think I work hard, but I know I’ve got more to give and now is the time to start.

Now 2017 is here and I’m writing a New Year’s blog a week late. (Great start Charlotte!) But I won’t let 2017 get the better of me. I won’t demonise it and let it take the blame for my complacency and my failures. We are not defined by what goes on around us but by how we react and what we choose to focus on.

I want to spread more smiles this year. Whatever 2017 has to throw at us.

Happy New Year 🙂

Merry Christmas London!

With Christmas just around the corner, I’ve been busking some Christmas songs and feeling very festive amongst the Southbank Christmas Market.

While the London Eye and it’s surrounding areas are not shy about the holiday spirit, it’s not so easy to spread Christmas joy in London. Specifically on the tube, people are not feeling so festive, take that from a busker down in the trenches. Our local dialect in London is complete silence with minimal eye contract, and I’ve received many a disapproving eye roll for singing Christmas songs on the London Underground, despite Christmas being a mere 2 weeks away! . But I’m doing my best to spread Christmas cheer, singing loud for all to hear. 

As the weather has turned undeniably cold I’ll be hibernating and busking on the London Underground on rainy days or cold days (below 5 degrees C). But I’ll be on the southbank as my first port of call on the following days, please do come along and say hello! 

december.jpg

Merry Christmas London!

 

A Little Time Away

During the summer I work non-stop. I cling on to the warm days and nights because I know they are fleeting. When my body aches for sleep I try to remember fingerless gloves, biting cold February mornings and numb toes and noses. I tell myself; be the ant, not the grasshopper. 

I don’t love summer, if I’m honest. I spend the whole time dreading the fact that it will end but also willing it to end soon so I can guiltlessly sleep-in, with the sound of rain on my window. 

Summer is over now and my time is my own again. The southbank is quieter and colder and I can afford to take some time for myself. I am writing this on a plane headed to America. 

In the weeks leading up to this trip I worked like it was summer again. I worked every single sunny day and I even took to the underground on rainy days that I would usually have spent catching up on sleep. But I wasn’t plagued by the reluctant summer fatigue that I often feel in August; money driven, fearful of winter, leaving my heart back home in bed.

This time, I wasn’t working to save every penny, I was spending every day at the Southbank because I know how much I will miss it when I’m gone. 

When rent and bills and overpriced coffee drive me to make music, it makes me so unhappy. I must remember that feeling when summer comes around again. 

This autumn I was driven by love for what I do, cherishing every chance I got to go and busk until my voice gave out. Knowing that absence makes the heart grow fonder and my love for street performance keeps on growing. 

Until next time, Southbank. 

A Stone In My Guitar Case

On Friday night someone dropped a stone in my guitar case.

I heard the unfamiliar thump and spotted it amongst the coins. I stared at it for a few seconds in confused disappointment. Why did someone put that there? Did they want to signify their distaste for my music? Did they throw it at me from a distance? What if it had hit me?

I looked up, hoping to identify the thrower. All I saw were smiling faces. Eagerly awaiting my next song. I looked down at the stone again, deflated by it’s unwanted presence in my guitar case. I started singing again but I kept looking around suspiciously for the culprit.

After a few more songs I realised this stone was weighing me down. It was making me doubt if I was good enough; if someone wanted to throw things at me or donate me pieces of coal like Santa, then why am I even doing this?

I decided to end my set, my mind was too clouded by the mean old stone. The crowd rushed forward to thank me with donations and smiles and words of encouragement. As one girl approached I saw her foot brush a stone on the ground, it flicked upwards and flew towards me. I watched it as it landed at my feet. I glanced down again at my stone and I laughed.

I laughed because, for all the energy I had wasted on this stone, I had just learnt something pretty important.

That one little negative stone had caused me to miss out on so many positive exchanges that came my way. It had probably landed in my case by total accident and yet, I’d spent nearly an hour thinking about it and all its malicious symbolism.

The pile of coins I had amassed from my set had been dropped in there out of kindness and gratitude and positivity. Every donation was someone wishing me well. Every coin was a smile. And I’d let each of them fall without a second thought. So distracted was I by the stone that, as it turns out, carried no meaning at all.

Next time you find a stone in your guitar case. Even if someone put it there on purpose. Don’t think about it. Just throw it away. Make room for the coins. And the smiles that come with them.

The End.

Authenticity

Recently that word keeps cropping up in my life; authentic. 

Someone told me this week that what I do is authentic. What does that mean? Honest? Heartfelt? Or even just simply not auto-tuned? I thought about it a lot because I wondered what made other music “not authentic.”

I’ve spent a lot of time comparing myself to others, especially recently. It’s a bad habit. “Her voice is better than mine, his songs are better than mine, her luck is better than mine…” etc. I get so caught up in the things I’m not; I get completely overwhelmed by my own insignificance and flaws and I can barely remember what I am.

But this word, authentic, it made me snap out of it. I’ve got what I’ve got and if I had anything else I’d be somebody else.

My love for what I do is genuine, my passion for spreading joy is strong, my lyrics are personal and therefore truthful and my voice isn’t perfect, not professionally trained or outstanding, but it’s mine. 

In a world of smoke and mirrors and instagram filters, I think authentic is probably the biggest compliment anyone could ever give me. And its such a beautiful and rare trait to see in other people. It’s such a relief to realise that just being is enough. That’s all I need to do. Just be. And then I get lovely words like authentic thrown at me. 

Authentic. Yeah. I’ll take it.

Covers or Originals?

This is an age old question. Especially for buskers.

Should I play cover songs or my own songs?

If you’ve got the talent to write your own music then surely everyone would rather see you showcase your ability to write?  Surely everyone would rather hear something you wrote from the heart than an imitation of the music in the charts?

But here is the sad reality of the situation; everyone wouldn’t. In fact, the majority of people wouldn’t.

The human ear loves familiarity and the general public hears the same songs on a loop on popular radio stations. Not many people love a song when they first hear it but after a couple of listens they find the familiarity of it comforting.

When you’re busking you’ve got less than one song to convince someone walking by to stop and listen to you, if it’s not a song that they know they are much less likely to stop.

This is not a question of whether you write good songs or whether you don’t. Whether your songs are better than your cover songs or whether they aren’t. It’s just a question of making a sensible song choice for your audience, and if your audience is on the move then you need to pin them down with something they know.

Here’s the important part though, once you’ve caught your crowd in a net of popular cover songs, that’s your chance to announce your own composition. Once you’ve convinced an audience to stop you have created a street show, and the stage is all yours, take it away!

I often get asked why I don’t play more of my own music while busking, and I’m flattered by the question. But the fact is I know the algorithm for a good busking set and the ratio of covers to originals is about 5 to 1.

Some musicians and buskers may turn their noses up at playing cover songs but personally I quite like paying my rent! And I learn a lot from memorising the songs that people love; I think it hugely improves my songwriting. Cover songs are a wonderful tool for gaining attention, then you can use that attention to showcase your original music.

Now that I have your attention…In September I’m taking on a challenge to write a lot more music. I am attempting to write a new song every day and put it up for you to hear it on Patreon. The most popular songs will be uploaded to YouTube the following week.

If you’d like to support me on my new project then click here or find out more about it here.

 

Free The Night!

It’s happened! London is open! 24 hour tube service at weekends!

I feel so proud of London and the way it is developing; it has so much to offer and the all night tube is a long awaited necessity for a 24 hour city. 

As a London Underground busker this affects me even more than the average Londoner. My optional work hours just changed dramatically in the form of late night busking pitches! I’m not sure I’ll be taking on too many 2am busking slots…but it’s nice to know I have options. 

I was lucky enough to make history on Friday as the first ever Night Tube busker. I performed at Brixton for the Mayor’s entrance at midnight, I took the first Night Tube to Oxford Circus and then I pitched up  from 1am-4am; performing for very excited (and slightly inebriated) Night Tubers. 

It was a lot of fun and the atmosphere was like that of New Year’s Eve. People were happy and chatty; the total opposite of your usual tube journey, where eye contact is strictly forbidden. 

Here were a few highlights:

  • Hearing Sadiq Khan do the first Night Tube announcement and cheering along with a carriage full of TFL staff, press and Londoners!
  • A group of very happy, tipsy hippies who joined in singing Teenage Dirtbag and started a trend of commuters slow dancing in pairs
  • A Cypriot ballet teacher who’s harmony game was on point; he got really into my rendition of Valerie
  • A handsome chap who looked over in interest at the first line of my Night Train song, but soon realised I wasn’t actually asking to go for a drink with him. Although if he’s reading this…
  • Two girls at Brixton who danced to Free The Night and were the happiest, chattiest commuters I’ve ever met!
  • A group of party-goers who shouted “sing a song about the Night Tube!” at me; safe to say I blew their minds…

It was my absolute pleasure to welcome London’s Night Tube with my new single Free The Night. Official launch party is on Wednesday in Camden.

YouTube. iTunes. Bandcamp. Google Play. Spotify.

Southbank Noise Complaints – An Update

I wanted to clear up the questions I’ve been receiving about the issues faced by the Southbank buskers recently. And I’d like to thank you all for your support and kind words!

As some of you know, the Southbank has been receiving noise complaints specifically about the busking pitch that I frequent. That spot is where I met so many of you, it is an extremely significant place for me, to my life and to my musical journey. I was distraught when I was informed that residential complaints would soon result in closure of the pitch that I love so much. 

The Southbank Centre worked hard to defend the rights of the buskers to play there but the residents were threatening legal action and a compromise was agreed. The compromise (as well as being aware of volume) is that we will stop performing after 6pm; this is a great shame because the summer evenings are so beautiful on that spot.

The other inconvenience that comes with the early shut down of the pitch is that performers who usually play in the evenings are coming down a little earlier and there are not as many hours per day to be shared between us, so everyone gets less time on pitch. But it is a small price to pay for keeping everyone happy. 

That said, it is still in discussion as to whether this will be enough to keep the residents happy. Only time and co-operation will tell.

We have also made some agreements about the number of hours and days individual performers will be using the pitch consistently, meaning there is a slightly lower chance of you catching me on the Southbank over the coming weeks. But if you are aiming to come down for a visit, please keep an eye on my social media where I post my set times as I have them!

We are feeling hopeful, thanks for all your inquiries and positivity towards the Southbank busker community. I will post further updates as I have them.

10 Things Only Buskers Understand

1. The importance of your local toilet trivia

toilet sign

I can hold it, you think. Just one more song, you think. Getting pretty desperate now, so I’d better quickly pack up my…

Have you ever hated your busking gear more than when you’re cramming it into your bag in a hurry? Full bladder and only a vague idea of your nearest lavatory. 

Needing the toilet when I’m mid-busk is my own personal idea of hell. I’ve taken to not drinking any water at all while I’m busking and then downing 2 litres when I get home. Try it! It’s terrible for you. 

2. The granny trolley

granny trolley.jpg

You get ready to give a friendly nod to a fellow busker as they pass by, only to realise that it’s actually an old lady using a granny trolley for its intended purpose. And that’s a walking stick, not a mic stand.  

3. The push chair

You get ready to give a steely glare as a fellow busker approaches to usurp your busking spot, when you realise it’s actually a mother with a small child and you feel terrible forever for giving a kid the evil eye. 

4. The headphone heartbreaker 

headphones.jpg

Someone walks by and politely removes their headphone to listen. Wow. I really am stopping people in their tracks with this old music thing! That guy is loving it so much he’s ditched his previous entertainment to listen to…oh, headphone going back in. All self esteem lost. Thats it, I quit. 

5. No change given 

Someone’s clearly enjoying it! You’ve spotted a fiver in the crowd and it’s coming your way! You’re already planning your Pret sandwich selection when your best customer puts their hand in the till. Picking up pound coins like they’re going out of style. £4.50 change. Thanks very much. Way to crush my dreams. 

6. The thieving toddler 

red handed.jpg

Everyone is smiling. You’ve hit the busker jackpot and made a toddler dance! This couldn’t get any better. What a sweet moment, this shit could go viral. Oh wait. Now the toddler is taking your money out of your case. 

Oi! Punk! You’re cute but not that cute. Put the money down and put your hands in the air. Yeah, you better cry. 

(I’m joking by the way. I just smile and say “oh it’s fine honestly, take it all YOU’RE ADORABLE!”)

7. Pitch dashing 

(For any buskers who play on pitches where you have to queue up)

running

What a work out it is changing pitches! Moving between one pitch and another is your new gym membership. Hello, I’m next in the queue please, just put my name down as Sweaty Betty. 

8. Minesweeping

(For buskers who play on the tube)

You may not have booked that spot 2 weeks in advance (like you should have) but whoever booked it must have had a nasty accident (thank goodness!) and it’s been left empty for you! You sign in like a total ninja and start playing as if you own the place. Then the busker who actually does own the spot turns up and you sheepishly retreat while the station staff look confused.

9. Full time busker, part time weather girl

weather

I wonder if it’s going to rain on Saturday…someone is pondering their weekend and you can’t help but butt in…”According to BBC it’ll be mostly dry with a chance of showers in the morning and a wind speed of approximately 8 mph.” 

You know the weekly weather report like the back of your hand. And nothing breaks your heart more than rain when your 4 weather apps didn’t predict it to be so. Cut me deep weather apps, cut me deep. 

10. The sweet sweet smell of success 

coins

How gross does money smell? One of my least favourite smells ever is my hands after doing a coin count. Filthy filthy lovely money.

Lonely Hearts

I don’t remember the very first day she was there. I don’t even remember the second. But one day I remember thinking “There she is again! How many days is that now?”

This sweet, smiley, warm but shy girl had been sitting on a bench by my busking pitch every day and staying sometimes 4 hours each time. She didn’t say very much but she smiled a lot and she came back every day. After a few days she would give a timid wave as she left as if to say “see you tomorrow!”

I wondered about her a lot; who she was and why she was here in London. One day she did something unexpected: she dropped a bar of chocolate in my case and sat back down. It was an unfamiliar brand to me and felt like something out of Willy Wonker’s chocolate factory. It was beautiful. I don’t know how many weeks or donations in the form of chocolate passed by before I found out her name was Lara and she was from Switzerland (hence the chocolate!)

Lara was new to London. Trying to improve her English by working as an au pair. She didn’t know anyone and I became a familiar face everyday in this new strange city. As I got to know her better I found out that she smiled so much at the start because she couldn’t understand a word I was saying! Lara became a regular at my gigs and on the Southbank on her days off. We both shed a tear when she returned to Switzerland.

I’ve since had many more encounters like Lara; lonely hearts in London in need of a friendly face. But that first girl who stayed will always have a special place in my own lonely heart.