busker: musician or actor, usually itinerant; def. Concise Oxford Dictionary.
My real guitar playing began on the Poverty Bay river flats in the back of the school bus. It was 1969 and the Maori
kids from Waiherere Pa would climb aboard for the 12 mile ride into Gisborne bringing their guitars and songs up to
the back seat we had already occupied. The bus was old and slow and had about 10 stops to pick up all the school
kids. The maori kids soon had a beautiful old Maori song going with the Kingi brothers playing their very beat
up nylon string guitars, the rest of them all harmonising perfectly for 5-6 songs and by then we would be at school.
I was a new kid on the bus having moved with my parents from Wellington, New Zealands capital city, to a farm on the
rich pasture and fruit land of the Waipoa River flats.
My guitar was a birthday present from my parents - a real shiny blond Kawai steel string model. A music subject at
school in Wellington had provided my first knowledge of how to play. The records in my parents collection were
pretty tame. Mainly folk and orchestral, Mitch Miller, Burl Ives, Stanley Holloway and shows like South Pacific,
My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music, there were no Beatles or Rolling Stones LPs that is for sure. At school I was
making friends who were getting the pop and rock n roll vibe. Folk music was also popular. I struggled with small
hands over a big wide fret board. My first live concert was New Zealand's truly great and enduring Hamilton
County Bluegrass Band.
Soon after that along came the film Woodstock in which I particularly liked Richie Havens use of hard strumming on an
open tuned guitar. I also liked Canned Heat, Santana and John Sebastian and Country Joe and the Fish . I began learning
folk songs like This Train and House in New Orleans. I could also play some Beatle songs like Honey Don't, Hey Jude and
The Ballad of John and Yoko. The difference between rock and folk music was a real source of intrigue for me. I guess I
was ambivalent to NZ pop artists like Ray Columbus, Lee Grant and The La Dee Da's and The Simple Image.
Anyway my new Maori friends playing their music on the way into Gisborne each school day really brought another
level of appreciation - and I was soon learning and flirting with polynesian strum patterns. I swapped the shiny
Kawai guitar for a crusty looking but great sounding classical instrument. My parents were horrified as usual.
They had bought me the Kawai to replace my first guitar, a grand old Hofner f hole model I had bought with money
from working as a caddy at Paraparaumu golf course. The Hofner had been smashed to smithereens in an incident
involving an obese boy called Barry who sat on the case. Needless to say I was soon seeing a guitar as a
despensible item if the tone and feel of the instrument was not appealing to whatever style I was into at the time.
It is exciting to experiment with anything at all, but upon discovering the joys of improvisation my interest in
guitar playing started to become obsessional. I began to realise technique and knowledge breakthroughs for a
musician are like keys unlocking doors to rooms full of treasure. But at the time that old folk classical guitar
was the way to advance and succeed. Since then I have enjoyed dozens of guitars. It is a wonderful instrument
allowing self expression at a very basic level or displays of virtuoso dexterity. There is not a guitar shop I can
walk past and these days a lot of my week is taken up performing with guitars, talking about guitars and songs and
songwriting, and looking after the six guitars I have travelling with me.
I perform as mainly as a busker, which is how I get to play private gigs at all sorts of venues. My act is a one
man band singing folk and blues song, old time and modern. I sing and play harmonica, jaw harp or kazoo while
picking and strumming any one of a range of string instruments and keep the beat with my two feet using a tamborine,
stomp box and foot bells, all at the same time. If I get the mojo working right I can get a crowd to stop and
listen real quick. Occasionally I collaborate with a mate who plays didgeridoo or tea chest base.
Street performers experience mixed receptions, the best reception being good applause with cash or sales of
merchandise. The worst receptions vary from performer to performer, I have been moved on by police, security
workers, ordinance officers and ordinary old shop keepers. I have never been abused or threatened. I have
performed at markets & fairs, on boats, on trucks, on stages, on a bowling green, at cafes & hotels, at weddings
& birthday parties, at retirement villages and just plain old out there on the street. Often a fifty dollar bill
has been placed in my hat by an appreciative listener. I rarely fail to have a pleasant if not downright
exhilarating experience when I busk in the street. After 5 years of busking I have got my favourite spots and
times to perform.
To work as a busker, there are a few rules to get your head around. Local government bylaws provide guidelines,
stipulate conditions and facilitate licensing for different types of acts. To understand some of the challenges
that street performers face it is best to spend time somewhere famous for it's buskers. There are lots of international
busking festivals and fringe festivals where the vibe, camaraderie ( and occasional rivalry ) between acts adds to much
of the atmosphere of a host city . Ferrara Busking Festival in Spain is the world's oldest street performers gathering,
Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival is mecca for every serious street performer. Then there are the CBD malls and
hospitality precincts in towns and cities where buskers entertain people going out to dinner, to the theatre, to clubs etc.
Subways, ferry terminals and other transport hubs are popular for buskers but are often heavily regulated.
For musical buskers understanding the acoustic environment of your busking location is crucial to your success.
Alternatively some performers carry out a " gorilla raid " which is the practice of setting up briefly in a thoroughfare
where busking is illegal but lucrative if apprehension is avoided. The gorilla raid is best achieved by good local
knowledge, a sharp lookout and the ability to pack up real quick and run fast carrying your equipment.
A lot of people would like to try busking but don't where to start. If your personality is one of a fragile nature you could
find it difficult placing your hat on the street. On the other hand if a bold personality applies to the task of gathering a
crowd the reward for a well performed act can be considerable. Seasoned buskers are there for the crowd and both parties
know it. For an audience to show early appreciation with a gold coin or better still a note is a great source of energy and
encouragement to the performer. If an act continues to build a crowd and performs for between 5 - 15 minutes there is an
expectation by the performer to be paid by those who have watched the full performance. Five, ten & twenty dollar notes
should be offered for watching a busker for periods up to and longer than 15 mins particularly for a circle performer.
Circle performers are actors, comedians, puppeteers, jugglers, contortionists who begin their act by attracting attention then
encouraging others to join the crowd in a growing circle. Sometimes another busker or an assistant will carry a hat to collect
the tips , this person is traditionally known as " the bottler ". Coins are appreciated as are applause and comment about the
nature of the performance. Walk by performers are musicians or statue actors who find a location where they sit or stand to
perform and rely more on the donations of people walking past. In Europe the tradition of gypsy buskers is celebrated and
traditionally public performance of music, circus and theatre is both accepted and supported.
Here in Australia and New Zealand, buskers can still be a curiosity in some rural areas but urban environments
increasingly provide street performance opportunies for busking acts of all types. Insurances are carried by
professional buskers to satifsy the indemnity requirements of venue operators and local government.
By supporting buskers in the streets, fair grounds and markets around your town you are in fact sponsoring
public art. Street performers on the Sunshine Coast are both regulated and supported by The Sunshine Coast
Regional Council by the provision and identification of performance areas in public spaces throughout our local
government area. Applications for a street performance license can be made at any time of the year but the
12 month license duration currently begins in June.
The Sunshine Coast in Queensland Australia is home to a number of talented street performers
some of whom are professional buskers who travel the world to ply their art. You can see them
performing at public venues and markets and most are available for private functions.
So if you enjoy the public performances provided by buskers on the Sunshine Coast or anywhere else please show your support
by generous donation and remember to applaud, smile and offer thanks. The performers truly appreciate your generosity and
will be further encouraged to keep the happy vibe going on the street. I might just be one of those buskers and hope to see
you enjoying our public amenities and the enhancement that street performance provides.
The 2011 Bulcock Busking Competition is running in conjunction with the Caloundra Music Festival - Oct 7,8 & 9