Bury St Edmunds – Buskers’ Corners?
All the bergs where I’ve lived have nicknames. Oxford – the City of Dreaming Spires. Chicago – the Windy City. Paris – the City of Light.
Bury’s could easily be the Borough of Hair Salons. Or Coffee-Shop Junction. If the cap fits wear it, right? Certainly one suitable nickname might be Buskers’ Corners.
As a young man, I busked with my trusty key-of-C Hohner harmonica when I was ‘skint.’ Setting out with a life-size colour cardboard cut-out of the Duke of Edinburgh as my sidekick, like the two hitchhikers in Janis Joplin’s classic “Me and Bobby McGee”, the Duke and I played every song the passersby knew.
As reliable as Bank-Holiday rain, busking always fetched a loaf of bread, 15p; a pint of milk, 21p; assorted sliced meats and cheeses, 98p; and a pint of beer, 75p (Hey, I said this was when I was young!)
I often busked near an exotic hippy girl selling flowers next the refectory at Bristol University. A pretty free-spirit, she left an indelible impression on me. Thirty years later I made a pilgrimage back there. The refectory was gone, now a non-descript chain restaurant, but a pretty grey-haired woman was there still selling posies.
I don’t know how you feel, but there’s nothing better than a town with street life – vendors, evangelists and, of course, buskers.
Two I know told me what it’s like busking here. Self-taught guitar player, Jack Austin, says the pickings are good. “Like all towns it can be a fickle business, but Bury is very friendly, and, compared to other places, I’ve had a more consistent success rate here. Plus I’ve picked up many of my private bookings from Bury for weddings etc. over the years.”
Philosophical guitar strummer/song-writer Tracey Cracknell agrees. “Busking takes a lot of energy and hopefully enhances the atmosphere of a town centre. I’d do it anyway now I’ve got the bug, regardless of whether money was involved, as it’s legal.
“Buskers do it to get their music out there, to connect with the public and with other musicians, and also as advertising if they take bookings for private functions, so I guess any money offered by passersby is an added bonus. And surely it’s only begging if money is being actively sought by means of playing on people’s emotions purely for their money,” she says.
Whereas Tracy is new to busking, Jack’s been around. ‘Kent and East Sussex, then to France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Luxembourg. Travelling alone gets lonely though’,
Tracy and Jack each sing Bury’s praises. “I’m treated very well, I treat others with respect and acceptance, and I think that is reflected in how they treat me,” Tracy says. “If I’m looking for a new spot to busk, I’ll often go into a shop to check that it’s okay to set up outside. I’ve only been asked to move on once by a shopkeeper, and that’s fine, I moved on, no stress.”
Thinking of busking? Jack says it isn’t for sissies. “It’s harder than it looks. Be prepared to take knock-backs.” It isn’t all gloomy, though, says Jack. “It’s where a lot of great musicians plied their trade in the early days, so don’t be ashamed.”
According to satisfied customer, Lisa, on Jack’s website, she’d recommend buskers for any booking. For her function, ‘Jack provided a beautiful backdrop, never overpowering the conversation’.
Tracy says: “I appreciate people who always make eye contact and smile, sometimes stopping for a chat.”
-- Popular speaker and lecturer Michael Apichella is an award-winning writer and an artist who’s made the UK his home for well over 30 years. Visit his Website at www.michaelapichella.com or follow him on Twitter, @MApichellaPhD