Soundtrack of the Streets

April 15, 2013

In the hubbub of London, it’s often that you’ll pass a busker. With crowds frequently blocking the view, the busker’s tune is often heard above a sea of people; eerie street music from an unknown source. This is the soundtrack of the streets, but it’s not often that you actually stop and listen to the music; music which is barely heard above the buzz of traffic, chatter and city life.

Flicking through a newspaper on the tube the other day, an advertisement caught my eye; an audition call for buskers. Considering them as musicians who’ve passed an audition put these performers in a different light for me, and I cast my mind back to those who’d made a lasting impression on me.

The first which came to mind was spied in Covent Garden. As I exited the tube, an unusual rendition of Oh When The Saints wafted through the air. Looking around in an attempt to find the source of this strange, muffled-trumpet-like noise, I spotted a man huddled around a traffic cone. How he discovered this innovative instrument beats me, but it pleased the crowds both on the street and online. YouTube videos aside (of which there are many), the traffic cone busker has appeared in many articles and blogs, including the aptly-named Urban Guide for Alternative Use.

Then, there was the flaming tuba in Victoria. Sitting on a speaker and smartly-dressed with a bowler hat, this musician played a mix of jazzy numbers while flames simultaneously shot out from the top of his instrument. With help from an entry on Street’s Got Talent (a website for ‘London’s hottest street performers’), I established this to be Christopher Werkowicz – a Polish busker who’s been playing the tuba since 2010. Another with a trusty following online, Fire Tuba – as he calls himself – has his own Facebook page with a few hundred fans.

Equally memorable, the third act involved a man, a guitar and a bright pink Muppets puppet. Unlike the previous two, who took centre stage out on the street, this busker played his set at the bottom of the escalators at Camden Town tube. Whilst he plucked the guitar and sang a range of well-known tunes, his sidekick puppet sat perched by his side, strumming on a tambourine.

In an age where people go around plugged in to iPods and phones, earphones in and oblivious to their surroundings,  these exotic musical interludes and snippets of concerts often go unheard.  When they are heard, however, it’s clear that many of the buskers on our streets are not simply musicians but genuine street artists.

(Helena Hamlyn)