Diary Of A Busker Day 129 Monday July 11th Winchester High Street (1. corner of Marks And Spencer, Time: 10:55-1:15pm, 2. opposite Vodafone, Time: 1:48-5pm).
For the first part of this long session I have the sun on me – this being the only place I play which is on the sunny side of the High Street. However, the black jacket stays on.
An old lady likes my Ol’ Man River, “That’s Paul Robeson’s, isn’t it?” “Oh yes, wasn’t he great? I’m doing a Chet Atkins arrangement.” “Yes, I could tell.” (I’m impressed) “…yes, it’s got a bit of a…” “Swing?” I suggest. “Yes, that’s it – swing.”
Ralph, my 91 year old regular, who I recently introduced to Anthony, my 72 year old regular, pops by. I notice he’s got some sort of surgical plaster on his forefinger, like he’s had an injection. “How are you, Ralph?” “I’m 92 – it’s just one thing after the other…” “Oh…well, you’re still walking around, anyway.” I say, trying to cheer him up. “Have you seen Anthony?” “No.” Poor old Ralph, I think he’d be happier if he was dead. He digs out a pound coin. “You don’t have to give me all that, Ralph.” “Oh, OK, you can have this instead.” He puts the pound back and gives me a 50p coin, instead!
I introduce no less than two new songs into the set today, Sleepwalk – the one mentioned by the young guitar player the other day and The Beatles’ When I’m Sixty-Four which I’ve done my own simple arrangement for, not difficult as it’s a simple (sparse) song in it’s original form. I play both several times over the next six hours. For Sleepwalk I turn the reverb up and use the vibrato unit on the guitar for that authentic 1950s sound. After my first When I’m Sixty-Four run through, an old lady appears from around the corner. “I always know it’s you!” she says. “Oh, is that a good thing…or a bad thing?” It’s a good thing, she says. Or is she being polite?
“Ragtime” Phillip turns up as I’m playing Lagrima, the short Spanish piece. “Oh, that’s sweet, what is it?” “Lagrima – it means “tear”, I think.” Phillip remembers when he took the guitar up when he was 15, “It was back when they didn’t even consider it a proper instrument, at school – when I said I wanted to learn it, and this was the era of The Beatles, in ’64, ’65.” While we’re talking, Frank, the accordion man walks by and looks at me, then looks at Phillip in a way that unsettles him. “God, he looked at me like he wanted to kill me.” “Yeah, Frank’s evil.”
After more than two hours in the sun, I’m starting to fry so I pack up and go to the cathedral grounds for half an hour – a long break for me. Returning to the job, I head for the shade of the other side of the street, a bit further up. I’ve been playing for a while and have just finished my “new” Zither-like Third Man arrangement, when Frank appears (he’s been sitting on a bench nearby with the dog – Kazoo, and accordion. “You went a full 47 minutes before you played The Third Man.” Not this again – and I thought Frank was my friend! Well, at least you can tell what song I’m playing, eh Frank*.
I meet a bunch of Italians – teenagers, over here studying English. As one is wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, I reel off my five Jimmy Page riffs. They like that but do I play Santana? No. Dire Straits? No, although I used to do Sultans Of Swing as my “party” piece, more than thirty years ago. Pink Floyd? No. Newton Faulkner? No. “Blues improvisation? – I know you can do it! Johnny B. Goode?” “Yes, I can do that (I do a standard Chuck Berry intro)”. “Summertime Blues?” “Yes, (I do the chord riff)”. They’re with me for almost half an hour and one of them, Federico is especially interested in the fingerstyle tunes. I tell him about Chet Atkins, who he hasn’t heard of and do a verse of a few Chet tunes, then the whole of Ol’ Man River and I’m lucky enough to get a small round of applause from a group (family?) of five who listened to the whole song – unusual. I reckon they’re from out of town – the appause gives it away.
Just after this, I take a minute break and stand up to stretch. A young guy with a guitar – he’s been watching from across the pavement comes over. “Are you packing up?” “Do you want to busk here?” No, he says, he wants to know if I’m going to play some more – he likes the fingerstyle, too (I’m glad I’m exposing this stuff to the younger generation, they might not hear it otherwise). His name is Ben and I’m sure I’ve seen him before and I’m right, as he confirms, “I’ve given you loads of money!” Ben asks if I’d like to try his guitar – it’s a Gibson. I try it out but it’s only got one pickup, the treble one – I need the bass pickup for the stuff I do. I attempt Mr. Sandman, The Third Man (of course), but it’s not right. The riff for The “Stones” Satisfaction sounds alright, though.
Money-wise, it’s been a good day but I HAVE been out here rather a long time, even so, there have been thousands and (more) thousands walking by and I reckon less than one person in 300 “gives” – I wonder if there’s a way of actually counting (with a machine?) the amount of people who walk past.
* Day 115 – Hampshire Chronicle letter.