Diary Of A Busker Day 300 Friday October 26th London (1. in front of The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Time: 5:45-6:12pm, 2. Hungerford Foot Bridge, Time: 6:42-7:13pm).
It’s a funny thing but, looking back over my diary, whenever I come to a landmark day, I’m never in Winchester, even though 99% of all my playing is done here! It’s also exactly two years since I started this busking lark, so it’s a double landmark day. Wow. Yippee.
During the day, I was occupied – at the folk’s flat in Finchley, waiting – since 11 o’clock – for an electrician to arrive to sort out the meter. He eventually turned up – at 4 o’clock. After that, I thought I’d try and make some of the train fare back by busking in the West End, on my way back to Waterloo. But it’s a cold (very cold) and windy (very windy) day. I get off at the underground at Charing Cross and walk up to Trafalgar Square – I’ll do a set there, then another one on the bridge, near Waterloo. I set up right in front of the concrete wall in front of The National Gallery, and start with The Third Man, of course…and get a bunch of young blokes in front of me for a couple of minutes. One of them really likes it and wants to listen more but another one wants to get moving and drags him away. They leave me some change, though. All of 12p!
After three songs, I’m interupted by some taped music – it’s Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer blasting from the square. There must be something going on there tonight as there’s a huge stage set up – PA speakers, lights and everything, on the south side, facing me and the gallery. I stop playing and hold my arms out and up in despair! Some passers-by react – by rolling their eyes skyward. Then Sledgehammer is turned off and all is quiet – apart from all the traffic, helicopters, sirens and millions of bodies trampling by, of course. I start up again, with Bond, in honour of Skyfall which is having it’s premier somewhere up the road, in Leciester Square. But I’m stopped again – this time by a woman in one of those offensive High Visibility Jackets (HVJ) carrying a walkie-talkie. ‘Sorry, but could you stop for just five minutes? We’re doing a sound-check and we can hear you. Just five minutes.’ ‘Five minutes, yeah?’ ‘Yes, just so we can do the sound-check.’ ‘Yeah, OK.’ So my tiny amp – microscopic compared to their gargantuan f*** off PA – is stopping them from doing a sound-check? Give me a break. Oh well.
I shut down and put my hands in my pockets and the woman goes and stands with another walkie-talkie wealding, HVJ-wearer, down at the end of the wall on my right. But there’s no sound or sound-check, as far as I can make out. No Peter Gabriel or anything else. After the five minutes has come and gone and there’s STILL no sound and the two HVJs are still standing there, I’ve had enough – and I’m really cold! I’m packing up and getting out of here. So, what have I made? There is the 12p from the blokes at the start… And that’s it – out of the hundreds, maybe even thousands walking by – not one other person leaves me anything. 12p – that’s it. “Come to the big city and make your fortune, my son!”
I walk down to Charing Cross Station to get some crisps and a chocolate bar, but mainly to warm up as my fingers were freezing – I almost couldn’t feel the ends. After 20 minutes, I’m out and on the Hungerford Bridge, where I walk to almost the middle, thinking I’ll set up there – to be central, but it’s so windy I walk back to the side and set up there, where it’s still really cold but the wind’s not as bad. It’s bad, though.
I start – again with The Third Man – and an Irishman correctly identifies it as a Chet Atkins arrangement. He doesn’t contribute. Then Albatross, and another man stops to inquire – ‘Deep Purple? Free?’ (Free? Free me from this hellhole of cold and apathy!) Thinking he’s putting in a request, I play the intro riff to Alright Now, but he says ‘No – what you were playing, what is it?’ ‘Oh – Albatross. Fleetwood Mac, from 1969.’ ‘Oh, I was ten years old’, he says. ‘Ten? I was…(I have to think about it)…seven.’ ‘Oh yes, I thought you were about my age. You need a haircut. And trim your eyebrows (how about that? Come to the big city and get insulted!)…you’ll look twenty-five’, he says. And before I can say something like ‘Do you usually comment and give fashion tips to people you don’t know?’, he’s off.
A couple who’ve obviously witnessed some of my past crimes, walk by. ‘Winchester?’, which I suppose is a one-word question. I think a better one would be ‘Why?’ ‘Why are you out here on a bridge in the unbearably freezing cold?’ Or just ‘Why?’ Anyway, I reply – ‘Winchester – yeah. Have you seen me before?’ Yes, they have and they don’t contribute, either.
At 7 o’clock I really am nearing the end – in so many ways, but I need to get someone to take a photo for my album. I would ideally like to get a contributer to do the honours, but this is no place for an idealist – I’ll be here forever, so I get one of a bunch of Japanese tourists to do it. The guy has three trys as my camera’s batteries are running low – like the ones in my body are.
Just after the photo, I’m so cold – I decide to do one final tune, the most inappropriate one I can think of – Here Comes The Sun. Or Here Comes The Frost(bite in my fingers). I can barely play the damn thing – I can’t feel the ends of my fingers now, especially of the left hand. This is a dangerous thing as it’s impossible to tell how hard I’m pressing down on the strings and they could get cut. BUT! – I get a pound coin from a lady, for my pain! Instant SONG OF THE DAY status is bestowed! It’s a far cry, however, from that day – that golden day – in the summer when the same song got me 50 or 60 pounds…all I can think of is when I started in Southampton, exactly two years (and 300 Days) ago, and the cold – what it was like – the same as now. In fact it’s colder now…or I’m older – I’m definately older. And I think – ‘It’s happening again: I’m playing through yet another winter – the ONE thing I didn’t want to do.’ And all for £4.23p (train fare? That won’t even get me to Clapham Junction…) Sod this for a living!