Diary Of A Busker Day 188 Monday January 9th Winchester High Street (1. opposite Clarks, Time: 12:15-1:40pm, 2. opposite Vodafone, Time: 2:20-3:40pm).
Down at the corner of Marks And Spencer (I must visit again soon, I haven’t busked there for ages) is an ILSWELBT* I think this is Colin – I know it’s not Tony, who works at Sainsbury’s and is even louder. Whoever he is, you can hear him up the whole street. I set up where he’s just about out of ear-shot, just down from The Buttercross.
“Dangerous” Dave turns up not long into my set and asks me to keep an eye on his bike while he goes into a shop “for a minute”, then comes back half an hour later, by which time I’ve forgotten about his bike, but it’s still there. Unlike the last time I saw him, a few days ago, he contributes – a small silver coin (5P) and some shrapnel (1p/2p pieces – worthless), however for this I play him his favourite – The Third Man.
After an hour and a bit I hear some other busker, clearly using amplification, banging away (strumming) and singing (shouting), rather too close to me, a few feet away from The Buttercross. He’s a young guy who I see (and nod to, nothing else) around the street often, always with his guitar in a gig-bag, always slung over both his shoulders. I don’t know his name, he seems alright though. I decide to pack up – if I’ve been somewhere for an hour, I don’t mind too much if someone else starts up nearby. I reckon I’ve got about £15, anyway. I’ll take a toilet break and wander about and see what’s happening down the road. I also want to go and see Ben at the HMV Shop to see if there’s any news about them stocking my album – they’ve got to get the OK from “head office” in London, naturally. So, down the road to the toilet… and I’m in for a shock – it’s “closed due to essential maintenance work” and will re-open on the 16th. Well, I trust Mr. “John” (chief sanitary officer) gets those soap dispensers full up – that’s the only essential maintenance that needs doing. Us “customers” are directed to the toilets down near the King Alfred statue, just inside the entrance to the Abbey Gardens, a couple of minutes walk away…whereupon arrival I can still hear Colin, if that’s his name, blasting away. I find the toilet “experience” here differing in several ways from the other place. Firstly, and most noticeably – and alarmingly – they’ve got piped music. My uneducated guess is that it’s a Strauss waltz. Very posh. This place has even got the latest in public convenience technology, namely a Dyson Airblade handrier. In fact they’ve got two, side by side. This does to your hands, G-Force-wise, what accelerating (and going upwards) at 5000 feet a second in a jet fighter does to your face. It dries your skin while ripping it off at the same time. So this place has got the piped waltz and the Dyson Airblade. Very state-of-the-art. But it stinks – and not of the slightly sickly, too much perfumed disinfectant odour of Mr. “John’s” place. This one just smells of…toilets. It’s neglected, it hasn’t been cleaned AND there’s no soap in ANY of the (four) dispensers. I don’t care about hearing a Strauss waltz in a toilet. I can do without it, in fact if I want to hear that rubbish, I’ll go to the Albert Hall but no soap in any of the dispensers? – come on Winchester City Council (I think to myself). Leaving in disgust, with very dry but ripped to shreds and un-soaped hands, I pay a visit to see Ben at the HMV Shop – “Hi Ben, any news on my album?” “Uh…no, I’ll chase them up about that, tomorrow.” “OK, thanks. Do you know how long that saxophone guy’s been there?” ( I’m just making conversation now). No, he doesn’t.
I want to do another session – the temperature’s OK, my hands aren’t cold. I can take another hour, easily and the spot at the crossroads (The High Street/Market Street) is free. It’s a good spot, usually, but I’ve had bad days here, like anywhere else. Barbara, one of my little old lady regulars turns up. She wants to know if I can play a song which meant alot to her brother during his final illness – he died not long ago. He liked it as it reminded him of how his wife looked after him “She lifted him up, you know. That’s what he thought – “you lift me up”, he used to say”, says my little old lady, Barbara. Now, I know this song – not to play. It’s from the 1980s, I think. Sung by a woman. Bette Midler or someone like that. But it’s definately not on my list of top 100 (or even 1000) favourite songs. Actually, all I can remember is the “you lift me up” bit. It’s an American 80s ballad**, possible my least favourite pop genre. But Barbara really wants me to learn it, and I say I’ll have a listen. Oh dear. Can I really go through the pain of learning an awful 1980s American pop ballad – most probably from an awful 1980s American film? Just to play to one little old lady, who I might not see for another month? I don’t know…I really don’t.
Halfway through my set some light relief comes in the form of an entertaining 2 or 3 year old girl who “dances” nearby, her mother watching, occasionally looking at me and smiling/laughing. This is all good as people like to watch this sort of thing and her “dancing” – increases in ferocity and speed with the music, so obviously the faster I play, the funnier it looks. So, one or two people might stop and out of them one might come over and contribute. All good stuff.
At 3:15 I think to myself – I’ll pack up after I finish this song – Over The Rainbow. Then, just as I’ve thought it, I get a load of people (4 or 5), all at once, contributing…so I carry on for another 25 minutes, or so. Always the way. (This turns out to be one of my best ever sessions – financially, as, after I take off the £16 for the first session – which I counted during my break – I’m left with £23 – for an hour and 20 minutes which is an incredibly high hourly rate – almost double the usual). As I’m packing up (finally), ex cruise musician Mick pops up, on his way to Sainsbury’s or Marks And Spencer for when they put the bargain food out. As usual he’s got a few songs he want’s me to investigate – Agua de Marco (The Waters Of March) – a piece by Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Sharon Isbin – “bloody brilliant guitarist, and she just happens to be beautiful – makes you sick, doesn’t it?!”
* Incredibly loud saxophonist with equally loud backing tracks
** It’s “You Raise Me Up”, from 2002.