Diary Of A Busker Day 139 Tuesday August 2nd Winchester High Street (opposite Reflex, Time: 1:05-4:53pm).
There are three sets of buskers out on the High Street today – at the top, at The Buttercross (well known Winchester meeting place) a guitar duo. In the middle, five “folkies” playing and singing harmony and at the bottom and by far the loudest, a kid with a saxophone. However, the most interesting was a non-musical act just down from The Buttercross; a man operating a 3 foot tall figure with a grotesque man’s face. The figure appeared to be standing up and had a large rucksack strapped to “his” back which extended about 2 feet above the head. This was where the operator’s head was. He was in fact sitting on a well disguised chair, legs bent – the bottom halves being the figures whole legs. It was very funny and the figure had a hidden microphone and was spurting out shouts and unintelligable language – lots of people were watching. You couldn’t tell there was a man behind it, just this freakish figure. It must be hot in there – it’s a hot day anyway.
So, the loud sax kid is at the other end, near where the flower seller usually goes. In an attempt to get out of his “firing” range, I end up right at the bottom, near the “posh” Maison Blanc place but even there I can still hear him…
I settle in…an American lady likes my rendition of Yellow Bird and contributes. “Do you know it?” I say. “It’s warm enough for it”, she says (refering to the Calypso feel I’m reckoning) “…and I’m old enough to know it.” “Are you? I’m not!” I say (I’m not). “Oh – you ARE too!” she says, rather cheekily I thought, though perhaps this busking’s ageing me. I meet a lady, Pauline who wants to know if I play anything by Mark Cohn. “I’ve heard his name but no, I don’t do anything.” “He did Walking In Memphis” she says. “Yeah, I know the song, in my head – it’s got a quite distinctive piano bit, but I don’t know it.” A distinctive piano bit, perhaps, but would it translate well for solo guitar? However, Pauline’s given me the names of a couple of other Mark Cohn songs to have a listen to. If they’ve got a strong melody, they will be considered…
A regular of mine, a very tall, thin lady who recently “ordered” me never to play any new music drops by with her friend. She wants to know if I’ve ever played anywhere else. I try to think of somewhere more exotic than the Bridgewater Conservative Club – which isn’t hard. I tell her about when I played at the British Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia* a couple of years ago. I remember the compound where we stayed. It was surrounded by a big wall and guarded at the entrance by a turret manned by two guys with an enormous mounted machine gun – more like an artillery gun. Every few hours, day and night, the Arab prayers were blasted through speakers dotted around the top of the wall and turned to face inward – to annoy the (English/Western) residents, according to our English hosts. We were allowed out twice – once, to get to the gig, in a minibus which was scanned with bomb detectors when we arrived at the Embassy a few miles away and again on our return to the compound, and the second time when we were taken to the big souk (market) in Riyadh.
We weren’t allowed to show bare arms or legs which was OK for me, being as usual, suited in the sweltering heat of 40 centigrade (in the shade), but my companions, dressed in the traditional garb of the English rock musician, ie: ripped jeans, sleeveless shirts revealing ugly tattoos – and some of the men are just as bad – were slightly put out by this, as they thought, quite unreasonable demand. In Saudi-land you can do what you want inside, but outside you cover up. “Oh, how uncivilised!” says my regular. On the other hand… “Oh no – they’re civilised I say “…and we were treated very well. It’s just a different world, it’s like being on another planet – all this naked flesh you see here (the High Street), it’s the opposite from over there.” I remember being quite shocked by this very thing on my return after 5 days away. No wonder we’re the decadent West to them. Although they are modernising in some ways – slowly. There is now a lingerie department in the big department store – men not allowed. They still do amputations if you steal something, only now the hospitals have a special “amputation ward” so it’s all done nice and cleanly.
Just before I leave here – I’m all packed up – Lily, who I met a couple of weeks ago turns up. She’s been sitting over the road outside the “posh” restaurant. She gives me a £5 note and no, she doesn’t want any change. I initially forget her name, then when she reminds me, it all comes back, “Oh yes, you’re a Londoner and your mother was a pianist with Max Bygraves…”
* If you’re not a resident, you can only go to Saudi Arabia if you have been invited by someone who lives there, who must meet you at the airport.