Busking tends to be a pretty draining experience. The nature of the beast is that about 90% of the people passing by do just that – pass by and ignore you. Which is, of course, a bit of a nightmare for the immediate responses of any performer. And those that do respond can be worse than blank. All the people who smile but don’t give you anything, for instance. Or, with a busking repertoire based largely on Irish fiddle tunes and classical pieces, all the people who might be enjoying it – but look a lot like they’re taking the piss. And one downside of going electric (though I think it’s pushing up takings by effectively increasing the range from which I can be noticed / enjoyed) is the occasional person walking very close by while I’m, say, engaged in the impassioned middle section of the Thaïs Meditation with their fingers in their ears…
All too often, the only way to measure success and motivate myself to keep going, by myself, for usually two hours on the go with only sip-of-water-and-a-stretch breaks, as the aches start to build up and I can usually hear my fingers playing less well by the end of the session, is by the financial results. Which, while on average well worth the having, are individually unpredictable and usually determined by many other factors more than the quality of my playing.
So it’s gratifying to get the occasional written-down testimonial that can be come back to in search of slightly more solid affirmation that I’m actually being a musician when playing in train stations with usually about 20 seconds to reach someone – by definition, while footfall is high, people are all on their way somewhere else and only comparatively few find themselves with even the length of a number to kill between incoming and outgoing trains or before the person they’re meeting arrives.
As fluke would have it, one recent session produced two such affirmations. I was at Clapham Junction, at ‘thank God it’s the weekend’ o’clock – Friday evening rush ‘hour’ (this being London in the era of flexible start and finish times partly to spread out the commuters, I reckon each peak actually lasts at least 3 hours; I played for 2). In general, I’ve had bad experiences with that time of the week: people are tired, or relieved at getting away from the stress; they’re either intent on getting home to their family and dinner (chippy run perhaps) or headed in a posse to the workplace pub (every office and workshop has one) for that pint-and-breathe because it’s the weekend. Paying attention or parting with cash are unlikely.
But, seemingly some people were going against that flow. A few people said nice things at the time, which is more humanly and emotionally connective but easier to forget. A chap with an acoustic guitar stopped to listen for quite a while and made very sure he had my contact details between numbers before leaving; he turned out to be a freelance children’s storyteller and musician, and we had a quite wide-ranging and useful conversation by text message later. He also forwarded to me a text he sent to the Metro, though I haven’t picked up a copy to see if they printed it:
Some wonderful Irish violin music at Clapham Junction station today. We should all have been dancing on the overbridge! Then down the Tube tunnels to some great jazz clarinet and jazz saxophone. Lots of classical music too, on a variety of instruments. Cost of these wonderful concerts? Anything from zero upwards. Long live the London buskers!
Rather more unexpected was a comment on my homepage – even with considerable efforts I can’t succeed in remembering a compelling candidate for who this might be from, though it appears from the email address used to post her first name is probably Giulia:
I just heard you playing at Clapham Junction. Thank you for brightening my Friday afternoon!
Sometimes that’s all it takes to bolster the self-estimation of a performer with several borderline chips on their shoulder.
Much to be written about recent and upcoming non-busking performances, but it will have to compete for my time and attention with rehearsals and practice (for the same reason!).