Monday, February 25, 2013


I started under the awning outside Knightsbridge tube. The road was too loud, my fiddle was too quiet. My bow is losing it's hair, it's almost past halfway. Just couldn't get the volume I needed to get peoples attention. I took a risk and headed towards Marble Arch. If you go up the escalators and turn right into the tunnel there's a T junction. This is both a good spot to busk and beg. The homeless guys who occupy the foot tunnels have a rota for this spot. If there's no one there I'll busk it. Some times I've been busking there and a bloke has wordlessly sat down beside me and started begging. I just move when this happens, don't even say much to them. Maybe I should pack a tambourine for such occasions. It's good etiquette though, they're basically saying 'bugger off' and 'you've got as much right to be here as I have' at the same time.

There was already someone there. I had a choice: get back on the tube or go to the quieter tunnel behind the Australian War Memorial. People pass through this tunnel about every minute or three. It's not a good footfall, but sometimes if you strike a few sweet notes you can get a good hit rate. At one point I was hitting substantial change from one in every four or so punters. Good practice, but not getting the bow hair replaced. I stopped when I found myself engineering tunes that started when I heard footsteps at the end of the tunnel and reached a crescendo as they drew almost parallel. I also played a little game of doing really whacky dances for the security cameras while no one was walking through the tunnel, then standing on the spot when people passed. 

I got the number 10 to High Street Kensington, but the crowds around Harrods drew me off and there I was stood outside the main entrance opposite some bloke collecting for charity. He didn't look that bothered about collecting until I turned up, must have been a long day. I played a few tunes and people had a choice. Busker or charity, it did him good, before I piped up they were just busy ignoring him. Then my D string snapped. That's twice in a row outside Harrods.

Friday, February 22, 2013


The snow was milling about unsubstantially, unsure of where to land. The Thames was swollen at the turn of a full tide. I stepped off the 414 and headed across the bridge to Putney.

Under the awning between Boots and TK Max. 'Anyone able to move their fingers in this weather deserves a reward.' £1 'They do, cheers man.' Then I realised what he said and felt a bit big headed for a bit. Then I thought about it a bit. 

Did he mean that I wasn't playing that well, but never mind because it's cold? Bugger it. A pound is a pound. I used to do a bit of rowing, so I'm used to moving about in the cold. Fiddling's no different, you just wiggle your fingers more, which is a good way of keeping them warm. My main problem was my hangover, so I lit a fag.

I did some work for a singer a little while ago for a song called 'Anklets'. Out of it I've developed a kind of rhythmic chordal riff that I've sandwiched in between some baroque. I thought it sounded classical, or at least a bit mysterious, but people have started to do impressions of highland dancers as they pass, so yet again it sounds folky. The original is an urdu folk song about a young woman in anklets dancing around, singing about her lover, while trying not to wake him with her jingling anklets. My version is a bit less refined. I'm thinking of calling it 'Anklets in the Air.'.

Anyway, I played that one. Nothing. My fiddle was clearly out of tune. I struggled on for a bit and made about £30, then a woman came up to me and handed me a £20 note. 'Are you sure?' I said, taken aback. That's generally what I say when someone hands me a note. She looked annoyed and said 'Yes, I'm sure.'. So I said 'Thankyou very much.' and she said 'I've got cancer and I want to live until I die.'. 

Thinking about it, she probably needed that £20 to help pay for some living, but she'd looked so annoyed when I said 'Are you sure?' that I put it in my pocket and shook her hand. I didn't ask any questions. The nurse inside me was screaming. We exchanged a few looks and she walked on. 

I kept an eye out for her as I played on for another 20 minutes or so. I was thinking of giving her my phone number for if she ever needed some fiddle. Any time any place.

Then I started to think about death. A lot of people have last rights before they pass. Maybe musicians should offer their services to play for people facing death. It would be interesting. 

When I was on my final nursing placement the nurses convinced me one morning to play some fiddle at the nurse station after a night shift. It was a high dependancy unit and as it was mid summer there were only four patients in. The ones that could be awake were awake. There was a lovely old woman whose hair I'd helped wash the night before. The qualified nurse showed me an ingenious technique. She had her door open and jiggled along as I fiddled.

She didn't die. When she recovered she wrote a lovely letter and mentioned me in it. I think the surgeon who'd saved her life was a bit pissed off. My ginger beard helped, she complimented me on it while I was massaging her scalp.

Monday, February 18, 2013

West Hampstead.

Never been to West Hampstead. Been through, never to. So I went yesterday on the advice of another fiddler who went there to get his bow repaired and fiddled up the price in the time it took. That's just over an hour. 

I started off by playing some sound billiards on the main road just up the hill from the rail station, bouncing my fiddle off the sharp brickworked offices above a bathroom shop up towards the Black Lion in one direction and over the railway tracks in the other.

There were residential single glazed windows above me, so I didn't stay too long. £30 later I'm off up the road to have a look at the fire station. Nice old building. Looks a bit like fireman Sams' one. 

West Hampstead has public toilets! This meant I could buy a pint of ale from the offy and enjoy the park before splashing me boots. There's also a little opening next to a jazz club that leads up some steps to a terrace that over looks some well kept back gardens. 

The tube station looked inviting with a sunset developing. Tube tracks cut the skyline down over the bridge, exposing a clear atmosphere glowing away with the light of approaching spring.  Here I had one of the best busks I've ever had, aided by a 10cl bottle of Bells. It took me an hour to fiddle up £40. I've done £60 in an hour before, but not had as much fun. Some strange acoustic affect meant that my fiddle was loud without having to try too hard. It really confused me because there were no structures above me to reflect the sound. I was busking into the sky, but the sound was staying close. It meant I could really get into the rhythms. 

It was an intimate busk. People milled about for a bit, checking their phones, trying to teach their toddlers how to throw a £1 coin into a fiddle case. That sort of thing. The whisky made me feel like we were all at the same barbeque.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Bloody Jazz.

So there I was busking outside the Natural History Museum, but if you'd just been in the Science Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum, you'd be forgiven for thinking I was busking outside them. 

Two young Chinese lasses came up to me. One of them was a fiddle player. They edged over from their group and stood next to me while I was playing, just out of view over my left shoulder. They clearly had something to say.

"I like your playing very much." A good start. Her friend was translating because she wasn't impressed by her mates perfect English. A fellow violin student. "Would you like a go?"
"Oh, no, it's been months since I played last." "She worked very hard on her playing since she was three and she's 13 now." "I've had a lot of exams recently and I haven't had a chance to play but I passed all of my grades."

She's 13 and she's grade 8.

"I only got up to grade 5." They looked at me like I had just told them I was an orphan. Mind you, I did kind of say it in that kind of tone of voice. Eventually I talked her into having a go. Given that judging from her size, she probably played a half or 3/4 size violin and that mine is slightly larger than your standard strad copy, she was pretty good.

She's called "Grape". She's going to send me some music, so I think I'll look up some sheet music of some folk tunes and maybe try and transcribe a few of my busking tunes so she can try them out in China.

While I was chatting to them a mum came up with her two primary school age sons. They stood there and I recognized them from another patch. I think it's High Street Kensington, but I'm not sure. They looked like they wanted some music, but I was too busy forging important international connections. I had to apologize to them as they left. Probably lost a customer there. 

Then the sweet tones of a saxophone being played extremely well wafted over from the direction of the Science Museum. I stopped to powder my bow and asked  a bloke wandering past with his family "Is that a full band down there or what?" "No, it's a double bass and a saxophonist." "Cheeky buggers, I was her first.". He giggled and walked on. That was probably the first time his kids had heard the word 'buggers'. I decided to play on, but the bloody jazz lads were really good. It's difficult to play folk tunes with conviction when you've got something you'd rather be listening to drifting over from the Science Museum.

Friday, February 1, 2013


So I'd just picked all the pound coins and 50p pieces out and put them in my coat pocket and I was scooping the remaining shrapnel up when I saw the shadow of an outstretched hand over the case and I thought 'No fucking way mate.' and I looked up and stated "What?" to the hairy short bloke in front of me. "It's not much." He said with £3.50 in his hand. 'No fucking way mate.'. He was after something, he was lightly swaying and he was holding the money in a manner that suggested he'd rather spend it on beer than give it to me. I could identify with him because that's exactly how I felt about the cash in my hand, so I put it in my coat chest.

Case empty of money, bow in case, violin still out on the pavement resting on shammy leather, roisin crushed under foot because I balanced it on the edge of the case and it fell off and I didn't notice then someone trod on it. They're going to have lovely smelling shoe soles for a bit. I picked banger (My great grandads' fiddle.) up and tucked him under my arm.  

"Mate, I'm done busking now and I've made enough so I'm not really after your cash."

"OK. I'm just after a go on your fiddle."

I made an assessment. He was swaying slightly, his chin was down, but his eyes were up and he had lovely delicate fingers. He was a bit hairy, but in the right places and his hands were dirty, but that happens when you're next to main roads for long periods of time and it's not like my fiddle and bow are surgical instruments.

"Put this shammy leather on your shoulder and rest the bum end of the fiddle on it lightly." I handed him banger neck first into his left hand. He rested the fiddle lightly on his shoulder in the manner of this bloke:

So I tightened my bow up, dusted it with roisin and put it into his right hand. Eventually, with a little suggestion, he balanced it using his thumb as a fulcrum and proceeded to play the instrument about 5mm away from the strings in the air.

"My violin teacher at school said my chin was too small to play the violin" He said and I said "Your violin teacher must have been a right wanker then, take your fingers off the strings and put the bow on them just in front of the bridge."

"Like this?"

"Yes, now move it perpendicular to the strings and remember to stick your elbow out." Both elbows out he played the fiddle. He had the right pressure, but he was scared to move the bow too quickly in case he damaged the violin and I was like "That hung on a kitchen wall for 40 years gathering airborn grease, the only way you'll damage it is by smoking too close to it."

So he increased the pressure but not the velocity, so I shut up for a bit because I was distracting him. I lit a rolly up.

He came up to me yesterday with an acoustic guitar slung infront of him inside a shoulder bag in the manner of this bloke:

He's bought a snazzy new hat from the proceeds. Wolfy.