Saturday, 14 May 2011

La la la la la la busker (as in Labumba)

Hello carbon based life forms,

So now three weeks into the Amsterdam adventure and things have been moving forward. Yesterday I went busking for the first time in about seven years...

(Now for a quick Andy busking history lesson) - When I was just 19 years of tender age, I went busking around Europe with my good friend Ali Nicholls. We were fresh faced and eager to explore the world, so with that naivety we threw ourselves face first into the deep end. I had no money. Not a penny.
Me (Andy) and Ali with our mouths wide open in 2006
Really, none. I hadn't been working for a while and had spent anything I had saved up.
I went to the bank and arranged a new account so I could have an overdraft.
£400 overdraft which got spent on a train ticket that would get me around Europe.
No spending money, no rooms booked, nothing.
Just two teenagers and two guitars.
It was one of the best months of my entire life, I still fondly tell stories of our travels. We busked in the streets with varied levels of success in Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Italy and France.

Amsterdam :)
Lessons learnt from that experience : firstly, cover songs are a good idea. Ali and I had a whole bunch of our own songs (see previous blog entries for more details). We mainly played them to begin with. Our first stop off point was Amsterdam (where I am right now).  On our first day here we got up early and went to find a busking spot. We chose an underpass bit, with one little shop in, but otherwise it was just a walkway through the shopping district. We set up our stuff and then nervously began playing through our songs. We played for about an hour if I recall correctly, all our own material and managed to earn about 12 euro. Not bad for a first go. We celebrated by spending all our earnings on weed (like you do). From that time onwards we had varied success, sometimes we would play for an hour and only earn a couple of euro (which for a teenager desperate to get high was a real problem).

Some artwork from The Little Man days
[[ Rule 1 of busking : Play songs people might know. Now I am a musical snob in so many ways, I turn my nose up at covers, my main reason being that they never have the same gusto as the original versions (there are so many exceptions to this that I am ashamed of my music snobbery as I type this). I have never been in a covers band and only ever do my own sort of rendition of songs that I really like, which generally means they aren't all that well known. I need to sort this out about myself if I want to make big bank busking. ]]

Ali and I decided it would be a good idea to add some covers to our set to help increase our weed fund. We went in an internet cafe and quickly copied down the chords to a couple of tracks by The Beatles. Later on, when we had moved on to Rotterdam, we bought a cheap Beatles covers book and went about playing them.
Our most successful song was always 'All You Need Is Love', especially in Germany (we later found out that the song was being used on some German advert at the time so we were sucking people in with cheeky advertising tricks that we didn't even know about!).
We did still play mainly our own songs though, because we could only be bothered to play songs that were right in front of us, and we weren't going to be wasting any more valuable drink and drug money on songbooks!

[[ Rule 2 of busking : Pick a spot and work it. This one I also failed to follow on my new busking adventures. Staying in one spot and playing there for a period of time, returning to that spot and building up recognition is key to being successful. ]]

So Ali and I wandered around places, looking for spots to busk. This happened everywhere, but the funniest time it happened was in Salzburg, Austria. We were in need of some funds badly. We hadn't had a proper meal for a few days, surviving on a baguette with a pack of salami and cheese from the local supermarket, we needed some tasty tourist monies. There is a bridge in Salzburg that goes over the river and connects the new and old parts of the city. We were staying quite near that bridge in a youth hostel on the new side. We crossed the bridge into old town and straight away I stopped and turned to Ali, "Mate, this is perfect, let's stop here right by the entrance". Ali shook his head and asked that we continue walking about to find a better spot. So we did, we walked up the road, found another spot, same problem, not what Ali was looking for in a busking spot. We walked around the whole of old town, up and down, Ali turning down every spot I offered.  Eventually I got fed up and stopped, proclaiming that I was going to play regardless of Ali liking the spot or not, telling him that he could join me when he's ready. I sat down and started playing, Ali quickly joined me. We finished playing a song (one of our own) and were taken back by a big cheer and clapping. There was a semi circle of people standing around us applauding. We played for about half and hour and made loads of euros. When we left we discovered we had been playing at the place I had stopped right by the entrance to old town.

Now all these years later I am doing the same thing, spending too long looking for a good spot and then just playing my own songs. I need to change this if I am to be successful at this. Stay tuned for more updates on my progress :)

So, busking can be hard work, if you make mistakes like I do.

Peace and infinite love

Andy x
This is me in the shed

1 comment:

  1. Further lessons from busking around September/October blogs, featuring The Fongster100 - a legend of American blues