Last Sunday’s livestream was rendered distinctive by my having had not one, not two, but three requests during and shortly after the previous show, making this by some way the programme I controlled the least. One of them (I won’t reveal which) is something I probably wouldn’t have chosen myself, so a certain amount of being ‘stretched’ by my audience which is good!
The set list went:
House of the Rising Sun
Fire on the Mountain
The Reel o’ Tulloch (variations by J Scott Skinner)
Strip the Willow (requested by my mum) (she had the ceilidh dance in mind, but I found two tunes in the right rhythm called Strip the Willow and The Willow Tree)
Bach: Allemande from the suite in C major, originally for cello
Telemann: Fantasia no. 5, originally for violin
Hoffmeister: Etude for solo viola no. 11
Scarborough Fair (requested by Bob Prigmore)
Dark Streets of London (requested by Karen Jones)
I never know quite what challenges these solo performances are going to throw up, besides requests that may or may not be tricky to accommodate. (Some, indeed, are likely to be downright impossible: someone who I think hadn’t heard me before came in on Twitch part way through the Skinner, which contains lots of fast notes, double stops, ricochet bowing and so on, and asked for Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole or the Sibelius violin concerto, having apparently been fooled into believing I’m a virtuoso violinist! I should be flattered, but I’m certainly not going to support the deception … ) The Hoffmeister I played this time would be an almost entirely straightforward piece (unlike any of the Bach and Telemann I’ve been exploring on viola), were it not in F sharp major (6 sharps, and none of the open strings of the instrument are in the tonic scale) – I suspect this may have been a deliberate choice to up the ‘technical étude’ credentials of the collection, not least because the preceding number in the collection is in a little less threatening B flat minor (5 flats). Conversely, I ended up with a purely self-inflicted problem in Dark Streets of London, dropping my mandolin plectrum near the beginning of the closing instrumental section. I was well aware playing mandolin with the thumb / fingertips is not a conventional technique and decided by the time I’d finished the phrase that I wasn’t going to be able to deliver a convincing ending to the set in that matter – the strings are too tight and the instrument not resonant enough, you just can’t get a decent melodic sound that way. Which meant I had to leave my percussionist, er, left foot, keeping time for a few bars while I bent down and found the pick on the floor. Things no lessons would have taught me even if I had had any on mandolin …
Meanwhile, wondering how the return on investment would compare to the online busking sessions, I went properly busking for the first time certainly since lockdown and probably rather longer than that (chronic fatigue ruled it out for most of the winter) on Sunday. Unsurprisingly, there’s no sign of the London train station scheme restarting. Greenwich is the nearest area to home I’ve actually seen anyone busking, so I headed there to experiment, cycling with this lot:
Unfortunately, Greenwich is still about three and a half miles away, with a certain amount of uphill and down in both directions you can’t plausibly go round. The combined bike out – play for 2 hours – bike back sequence seemed a good idea when I left the house, a perfectly valid one when I left Greenwich, and a terrible one when I reached home. I’m going to hope the blame lies more with my fitness having melted away over chronic fatigue pacing and lockdown inactivity than with the ongoing state of CFS as such, but it was certainly deeply unpleasant.
Having been given grim reports by former locals about there being only a handful of viable busking pitches (there are no legal restrictions, other than the usual one that landowner’s permission is needed if you aren’t on public land) and those having the same people on them every week, I was very happy to be able to set up at the main entrance to Greenwich market early in the afternoon – the food stalls were evidently back in full swing and a pub with a back entrance into the market had an outside bar going too, so footfall was pretty good, and I was actually under an arched / columned entranceway so if the forecast rain had eventuated before I left I at least would have been dry and relatively unconcerned about my violin (and indeed amp). More to my surprise, no stallholders or market staff asked me to move on – it can’t possibly be public land, but the market policy must be to allow buskers that aren’t in the way, don’t clash with another busker (there were none thankfully) and aren’t offensive. Which is a nice liberal change from most private landowners, eg shopping centres, which will send security guards out to chase you as far away as possible.
I had some appreciative actual listeners (mostly people sitting down to eat food-stall lunches) and made some money, but the cash problem is unsurprisingly more acute even than it was in London last year – few people carry it, most shops are trying to avoid taking it, and the alternatives for buskers are never quite as convenient for punters. I must create a revised sign with a QR code for my PayPal link.
All of which leads me to a tension, hopefully to be eased by gradual improvement of the fatigue situation – I would like to give busking in Greenwich another shot, not least as I was a little rusty on my busking set, but it certainly didn’t make me enough money to really justify ditching the livestreams and focusing on in-person busking instead. So on Thursday I will be back online, and please do listen in and tip generously. But next weekend I hope to get back to Greenwich and do some more playing to people I can see and hear, so if that’s your neck of the woods and you might want to listen for a bit let me know and I’ll drop you a message when I’m heading over there!