Diary Of A Busker Day 186 Saturday December 24th Winchester High Street (1. opposite Card Factory, Time: 4:15-4:30pm, 2. opposite Clarks, Time: 4:45-6:05pm).
I happened to be in town at around 10 o’clock in the morning and was amazed by the number of people already playing. Of course, on the day before Christmas, there’s bound to be a few out, but this was ridiculous! I decided to make a list, from The Buttercross down to Debenhams (yes, there was even someone down there).
1. near The Buttercross: 12 Salvation Army brass players…and sitting on The Buttercross, (2) The Iron Boot Scrapers – four guys in smart striped jackets who’ve come all the way from Brighton. They tell me they’ve been here awhile and have another three hour wait until the Salvation Army lot finish. On the ground is resting an unusual instrument which I’m pleased to say I correctly identify as a susaphone.
3. opposite Phase 8: a duo – a ukeleleist(?) and guitarist.
4. opposite The Body Shop: young guy strumming an acoustic guitar.
5. outside the HMV Shop: teenage strummer.
6. about 40 feet down from above: a duo – two teenagers (tuba, snare drum) who, yesterday made £90 in four hours.
7. outside Debenhams: young strummer with amplifier.
8. almost opposite the above: someone singing in a market tent.
9. just off the High Street opposite the Brooks Centre: Frank Williams (and his accordion). He’s got two white packets containing three elements which, when rubbed, create a chemical reaction which produces heat. “There’s too many buskers on the High Street”, says Frank, correctly.
…and by the time I’ve walked back up, there’s another accordionist, opposite Waterstone’s, near The Buttercross. With all this lot going on, I reckon I’ll wait a bit before coming out. To tell the truth, I don’t know how anyone made any money and some of them were so close together, it was unbearable, particularly if one’s playing in E and one’s in F! Torture to the ears. Actually, at several points, you could hear three sets of buskers playing.
Before going home, I chat to the little Rumanian Big Issue seller, although I can never understand a word she says. Only ever, “It too cold” or “No one buy”, whilst looking around and holding up her hand indicating desparation.
I give it a few hours then return about 4 o’clock and find (fortunately) that it’s not so busy – it couldn’t have got more busy, anyway. Standing by the Christmas tree near The Buttercross, there’s a young guy, very young – about 12 I reckon, playing a guitar with a music stand in front of him. He’s easily got £40 to £50 in his guitar case. I ask him how long he’s been here. “About half an hour.” “Really?! Well, good luck!” The Iron Boot blokes have got a crowd at the corner of Market Street, and they’ve got amps, so there’s no point in playing anywhere near them…it’s down in front of Debenhams. I play about 4 songs, then a big van parks more or less in front of me. I’ve picked the wrong time (and place), as all the market traders are loading all their stuff back into their vans and cars! My van man gets out and apologises, “Sorry mate, I’ve heard you lots of times before – sorry about this.” It’s OK, I understand. Then, just as I’m starting to pack up, a guy who’s been talking to him comes over and hands me a fiver (£5 note). That’s not the end, a minute later, as I’m about to set off (my “rig” tear-down time is extremely minimal), a kid about 10 comes up and gives me…another fiver! “Well, thanks – and you never even heard me play!” “Yeah, you played Silent Night, didn’t you?” Yes, he’s right – as part of my Christmas Medley, along with Little Drummer Boy, White Christmas, Jingle Bells and another I’ve forgotten the name of. My own arrangements, too. “Yeah, I did. But that’s alot of money, do you want some change – I have change, you know!” I feel like he’s giving me his pocket money, or something. But no, he doesn’t want any change. What a nice, kind lad.
So, I’ve done alright for fifteen minutes – two fivers and a few coins. I set up and carry on, back up at the busy part of the High Street, near where the little Rumanian lady is, who I’m starting to feel very sorry for. It’s quite cold and she’s been standing there all day. After a while, she comes over and I ask her how it’s been. “No good, it too cold. No one buy. Three (magazines), one hour.” I give her one of my fivers – she needs it more than me – my good deed of the day.
…later on, two blokes I don’t like the look of walk by, one ambles up – I think he’s drunk. “What I want to hear…is Dire Straits, right?” “No, sorry”, I say. I can’t even be bothered to point him in the direction of my song list. “Walk Of Life – Dire Straits.” “Nope, sorry.” “He walks off, muttering something. Just after 6 o’clock I decide to call it “a day”, as they say. It’s been a bit strange, I haven’t been out here busking for almost three weeks, and, today, haven’t seen any of my “regulars” – not Marie-Therese, Anthony, Ian, “Ragtime” Phillip, Delia – she would have been in yesterday (Tuesdays and Fridays), but it rained all day, so I postponed my return till today. Actually, as I’m about to leave, one of my regulars does turn up – a lady, about 60. She sees I’m cold and wants to buy me a whisky -“to warm you up”. Normally, I wouldn’t agree to this kind of fraternisation with my “clients”, but, what the blazes, it’s Christmas! We go to O’Neills, the faux-Irish bar, up near The Westgate, on my way home. We get our whiskies – in pint glasses. Classy joint. My benefactor is going to see some of her friends at the hospital, then to the midnight mass at the cathedral. She starts telling me things about her life which I’d prefer to remain ignorant of, “…and then my husband, ha ha (her conversation is interspersed with small chuckles) had an affair, ha, but I’m not into threesomes, and I’m incontinent – see that? (points to her shopping trolley), I’ve got my nappies in there – do you want one? You know, if you’re caught short…where are the toilets in here?…” Enough! Thanks for the drink – enjoy your midnight mass…Merry Christmas!
Earnings: £36.43p. (actually £31.43p – minus £5 given to the Rumanian Big Issue lady)