Diary Of A Busker Day 428 Sunday August 11th Winchester (1. Alleyway opposite Marks & Spencer, Time: 2:15-2:31pm, 2. Opposite O2, Time: 2:41-3:35pm, 3. Next to The Slug And Lettuce, Time: 3:40-5:50pm).
Both sides of the High Street are lined with metal barriers, with an occasional gap. The reason: Family Cycle Day, but the race isn’t until 4 o’clock, so I’ve got a bit of time. Sam’s at The Butter Cross, there’s a Salvation Army band down near Monsoon, and a stage set up way down at The Broadway – I never need to go down that far – so the only place to go, apart from traipsing up to The Slug And Lettuce, is the entrance to the alleyway opposite Marks & Spencer. So it’s to there I go, as it’s FSFS (flower-seller-free-Sunday).
I get through three songs and then four kids come from the other entrance and start bashing around on their skateboards. It’s deafening – they’re louder than me! But I can’t get mad at them, after all, youth lasts such a short time, etc., and it’s a free country, etc., etc…. So a short set – 16 minutes, then I head out the back way and up the path at the side of the cathedral grounds up to The Slug…and there he is: the very quiet Rick Tarrant! If he’d been louder, I would have heard him before I got there, turned back and saved myself the effort. Anyway, after saying hello, I go through the other alleyway, out to The Butter Cross, find Sam gone so I set up in the barrier gap outside Reeves.
It starts off OK, then gradually the pedestrians thin out and all these cyclists appear – mainly kids about 10, with all the gear: helmets, goggles – but why dark ones?, Lycra outfits covered with sponsor names. And they’ve ALL got very expensive-looking racing bikes. Rich kids – they’ve got to be. The money dries up so there’s no point in playing. Another busker says ‘It’s cycle day, you never know, it might work in your favour’ – something that puzzles me, apart from I’ve got the music for Bicycle Built For Two, but he doesn’t know that, does he? I wrote it out years ago, from my Merle Travis book, did it a couple of times, then forgot about it. I suppose I could revive it, just for today.
I pack up and count up: about £10 – not really enough to go home with…but a quick investigation around the corner reveals that Mr. Tarrant has departed. I don’t know if he’s on a break or if he’s finished for good, though I suppose I’ll find out if he’s on a break, soon enough. There’s twenty minutes before the start of the race, so I set up. Apart from the usual people outside the pub and the two restaurants, there are a few at the barrier, ten feet to my right, which follows the bend in the road going past the cathedral grounds entrance. Hey, I can’t get away from this bike race thing!
I start with Albatross – a good starter I always think, as it sort of creeps up on people, unlike The James Bond Theme, for instance. I do a couple of more songs…there’s some clapping after the first Gnossienne, then there’s some loud cheering from the barrier – the start of the first lap of the race. This cheering occurs every five minutes or so, and when it does, I have to stop. It’s during one of these breaks when I switch the amp off and go over the bike song, so when the bikes have gone for another five minutes, I play it…and no response from anyone. I mean, you’d think some – or at least one – of the older ones at the barrier would turn around and nod, or something. I don’t know, maybe you have to be at least 100 to know it!, although I DID get a nice compliment and a donation from one couple. He said – and I quote, ‘You bring so much joy when we hear you play’, which I thought was a bit over the top, but very nice all the same. Then a lady stands right next to me – doesn’t say a word – and has her photo taken, like I’m an inanimate tourist attraction like The Butter Cross. I mean, you don’t have to ask The Butter Cross its permission to get a photo, she could have asked me, though – politeness and all that.
Anyway, as it’s not even a minute long, I whip out the bike song a few more times, and still no reaction – what’s the matter with people??!!” Surely SOMEONE must have heard it before! Is there no sense of OCCASION?! And every five minutes everyone cheers really loud whenever some posh 7 year old goes by at 1 mile an hour on a toy bike, cause we all love that sort of thing, don’t we all?
At 5:30 the race ends so I play the bike song one more time, and finally: RECOGNITION. At the barrier, a pipe-wielding old guy turns around and gives me a sort of smirk or grimace, and I know he’s ‘got’ it.