bestbuskers

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How can you keep on moving unless you migrate too ?

Captain@Kenilworth Arts FestivalAhoy there viewers – I met Paul Hogan a couple of times when I visited my friend Andy who was building the Walkabout Creek Pub sets for the first epic Crocodile Dundee film at the old meatworks near Byron Bay. Hogan was the real deal I thought, hospitable, informative, without pretense and of course fun to have a few beers with. But all that has bugger all to do with my story . . . except for the fact Paul described himself as a painter who did some performing to help pay the bills.

Hogan in person seemed incredibly modest for someone who had achieved national fame and whose artistic ball was being hit for six along with World Series Cricket, the Hawke leadership, The Little River Band and just about anything else that was popular post World Expo in Brisbane. Like countless other boomers I was taking my family to Expo and had stopped at Byron to check the waves. I had been a student in Lismore at the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education now called Southern Cross University. Belongil Beach is where I often surfed and my old sailing mate and movie set builder Andy Chauvel was well ensconced in the Gilbertsons Abbatoir now being used by film producer John Cornell for his artistic endeavours. Byron Bay was a very different place back in the eighties and early nineties, a place where Gary Timperly ruled the waves, Jack the bastard police sargent ruled the street and the Byron Bay Echo was lampooning local government politics with out reserve. I can’t remember seeing any buskers in Johnson Street back then. It was the Expo site at Southbank where I along with millions of others first encountered the magic of street performance.

At that time I could never have imagined I would be one day making my living working as a busker . . . occasionally performing at SouthBank although more often my street performance in Brisbane is at Jan Powers City Farmers Market situated at the top of Queen St Mall between the Treasury Casino & the City Administration building every Wednesday. Thanks to Jan Power including me in her roster of market musicians I have been a regular performer at the Wednesday market for nearly two years. Without intent I have somehow built a rapport with city workers and the market stall holders . . . who along with tourists show their appreciation and really make the already enjoyable market gig real fun. The people from corporations like mineral giant Santos come and scoff their market food and sit or stand around listening to my folk n blues songs. I have sold a lot of my Tales of a Drifter CD to people with the Santos logo on their shirts. Is it a corporate fan club they have in that skyscraper . . . do corporations employing thousands of people and dealing in minerals and oil have fan clubs . . . these are thoughts that run through my mind as I play my songs . . . sometimes people ask for a song they have heard me play . . . like Sixteen Tons . . . an American folk song made famous by Merle Travis . . . it’s a ( protest ) song about the exploitation of Kentucky coal miners . . . unreal I think to myself.

I sometimes busk and perform in other locations and events around Brisbane to break the cycle of playing on the Sunshine coast streets. One hour and a half train ride from where I live in Mooloolaba and I can frequent a CBD where lots of buskers ply their trade. My favourites are usually musicians of the one man band variety . . . like banjoist Crazy Bear Robinson . . . who I have a chat with when I see him performing in the Queen St Mall. His singing, tamborine and banjo playing is syncopated perfectly to suit the jazz and blues style he delivers. You can hear him on this site in my Busking Life blog. I do like watching comedy performers and Mark aka Charlie Chaplin is one of the best. His routine is so polished and the buskerholics in the mall where he is often located queue to put a coin or note in his tin. The buskers life is not one I recommend to combine with paying a mortgage . . . in fact the freedom of spirit and artistic endeavours of a busker generally more suit folk of an itinerant nature . . . and there good readers is the rub.

Almost any busker regardless of their virtuosity who stays in one location too long will be asked to move along. As you can gather from my story, I try and move around in my weekly street performance cycle to avoid this sort of confrontation . . . and I am rarely challenged . . . and usually encouraged to return. I where ever possible liaise with the shop & cafe staff in the locations I perform to better manage the volume and sometimes content of busking performance aware that even with the appropriate permit and insurances and observance of the permit conditions buskers can be asked / forced to move on. This happened to me recently in Bulcock St Caloundra, a location where I have performed once or twice a month for the last five years and enjoyed huge appreciation and encouragement by the nearby cafes and their patrons. The complaint ” that I was bad for business and disturbing the customers ” was made by the owner of a nearby beauty parlour directly to the local council who quickly sent the enforcement officer who subsequently inspected my permit and then expressed the difficulty of his job. Although he said I appeared to be not breaching any permit conditions the business owner wanted me moved on despite his ” personal reluctance ” as he could see the folks in cafes continued to come and make their donations to my guitar case during our ” interview “.

He explained that even though he was confused about the location description of the busking pitch on my permit … it would be best if I left. I asked if it was the nature of my songs, the volume or just a general disapproval of buskers that led to the complaint. I asked how a town and local government body that hosts a Buskers Festival in conjunction with a well supported and growing music festival could deny a local and legal busker the opportunity to enhance the public amenity and bring some joy to Bulcock Street. He talked about the privacy act, talked about his not quite understanding the permit conditions, talked about ” changes to busking permits ” got out his pad & took some notes. Naturally disappointed but not wanting spoil someone’s day I packed up. Before leaving the shady location I had come to think of one of the best busking pitches on the Sunshine Coast I proceeded to visit the close by businesses to thank them for what up until that day had been a great arrangement ie street entertainment, support or at least tolerance for performing art and a meal for a dedicated busker at the end of the day. I had only sung two songs before all this occurred. I had however noticed the angry looking woman from the beauty parlour standing in front of me with the mobile phone pressed to her ear. I only wished she had spoken to me before ringing council and registering an official complaint. Would an apology or explaination of busking ettiquette to the beauty parlour lady I had upset be fruitless. I understand not all folk like buskers, maybe I was too loud, maybe she thought I was homeless, maybe the people who do like my tunes and presence annoy her too. These are the thoughts I had as I made my way down Bulcock Street pushing my trolley full of equipment looking for a new spot to perform.

The pleasant woman in the letting office told me she most appreciated my asking if I could busk outside her premises. Her permission was granted on the proviso that I would not stand outside and play the bagpipes for a couple of hours – we had a chuckle – I suggested if she did not like the volume, my songs or my street presence she should come and tell me and I would disappear never to bother her again. There are also cafes in this vicinity but best of all there was a pedestrian crossing directly in front my newly arranged performance area. Pedestrian crossings serve as a conduit to bring people safely across a busy thoroughfare . . . right to where I and buskers the world over are playing their songs. Of course there is motor traffic rumble that makes performing near a crossing a greater accoustic challenge . . . however beggers can’t be choosers . . . so with a permit to perform in Bulcock St and permission from the adjacent business I set up and began. Today was the first fine day in weeks, with plenty of sun and nice temperatures people had shed their umbrellas and where sitting in Felicity Park across the road from where I was busking. I use a small 3 channel battery powered amplifier to mix and deliver the sounds of my harmonica, my voice and cigar box guitars, my foot bells and stomperine put a steady beat behind the amplified sound. It has taken a long time to get my one man band sound to where it is. But it has all been a lot of fun . . . and that is folks . . . for me what the busking business is all about. So happy to playing my tunes after the earlier dissapointment I look up to see folks from the park headed across to my side of the street. Lots of interest, lots of toe tapping, lots of smiles and lots of coins in my case . . . after 15 minutes it was time to check the pulse of the people in the letting office who had been good enough to approve my endeavour. I took a quick break and popped my head in their door to speak only to be amazed and thankful to be greeted with ” we really like it – thankyou “.

Upon resuming the venture and with a new found feeling of acceptance and enthusiasm I was stoked to be singing and bringing from my soul a deliverance not often achieved. And the good people passing by showed interest and encouragement by way of more coins, more smiles, pats on the back and inevitably a chat about my weird looking instruments. It felt great to back on the horse . . . until I looked up from my concentrated effort to combine the playing of five instruments simultaneously to see yet another council officer standing before me. I stopped playing and heard first ” you’re too loud ” followed by ” where is your permit ? ” and then ” What is your name ? ” no please thankyou or how do you do with this guy either. I showed my permit and suggested I save further interrogation by leaving immediately . . . again explaining I did’nt want to spoil anyone’s day. Again the good folk of Caloundra came to my emotional & financial rescue putting in coins & notes and further pats on the back as I packed up my LOW RENT Orchestra equipment. Again I communicated my thanks to the adjacent business who had encouraged my performance and enterprise in a street that is at it’s best full of people enjoying the warmth of the Queensland sun and the vibrancy of a busy but often noisy avenue. Now that must be good for business !

Given the local council ordinance directions as I pushed my trolley of equipment back to the van I could not help thinking of the words of yet another American folk song in my repetoire ” How can you keep on Movin unless you Migrate too “.

See you on the street folks . . . Lord have Mercy ! ! !

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