Walking through your local town, it’s inevitable you’ll be caught between the faint sound of an old guitar being strummed and an artist taking to the street as if it’s their centre stage. It takes a lot of guts, ambition and talent to put yourself out there and perform in front of people you know, but how much more gut would it take if those folk were complete strangers? People that hadn’t paid to see you, hadn’t asked that you perform for them and would rather not hear your Ed Sheeran covers whilst traipsing around town, desperately trying to shop without a distraction.
When I think of the term ‘busking’ the first image to pop into my head and more than likely your head too, is someone playing their guitar in public. This would not have always been the case as many many years ago street performance took place in various different forms and musicians had to make do with what they had. Though nowadays it is mostly associated with music, busking was previously associated with caricature, mime, dance and live poetry amongst other performances. How things have changed since medieval times, as back then local merchants used to go out of their way to hire buskers to perform outside their businesses as this increased sales and strung attention to their stores. Now, we try to avoid eye contact with buskers so that we don’t feel guilty about not having the energy to dig through our falling apart purse just to throw away our last 10p.
For many artists their journey began on a street corner. One of the most well known examples of this is Tracy Chapman, who sang and played her guitar in Harvard Square, later being spotted by a student at her university whose father owned a major record label, opening many musical doors for the talented young woman. Busking is not a world away to the already famous. You’d think attracting a huge audience in the street would be completely off limits but many artists have taken to public performances just for fun since establishing themselves. The Kooks busked at a Los Angeles intersection in 2008 and more recently, Olly Murs busked undercover earlier this year in Covent Garden for 45 minutes and earned just under £20.
Musician Ray Wilson who has recently made a name for himself in America after the release of his debut album Troubadour earlier this year, has never taken part in busking but says he would like to experience it one day. “It has so many elements of basic human connection.” Something we all overlook with busking could be the simplicity of it. Dusting off an old guitar and just singing. No autotune, no fabrication, no extension of income. This is why we should support buskers. They’re pure and the deep dark depths of the constantly changing, throat-grabbing youmustbeperfect music industry hasn’t got to them yet. Wilson says he always makes sure to recognise buskers and let them know that they’re appreciated. “I always stop and give them my attention and applause. If I have any cash or change it’s theirs.” When asked if he felt buskers held any particular stereotypes in society, Wilson says that he personally doesn’t make assumptions but noted, “society as a whole lumps them in the ‘undesirable’ category.” and recommends watching Amanda Palmer’s YouTube video on her story as a street performer.
But how do buskers themselves see it? Do we make unfair assumptions as to why someone would busk? Daryl-paul Anderson began busking around Crawley, West Sussex at age 26 and says he does it for the extra income and to test out his new music. “I busk to try out new songs to see if they work and to be tipped whilst practising. I’m an artist and musician by trade so it’s good to get some extra income.”
Buskers are upcoming artists. They’re artists with potential that are known to be robbed, abused and even heckled by the general public. Buskers are future artists with enough potential in their pocket that it’s worth parting with your last 10p.
Words by Zara Rowden