It’s the end of the fourth day since I hit the road, and my third day of busking. As one would expect, days are passing by too fast, and I’m not getting to do everything I had planned on doing (alright, as one who knows me – the queen of procrastination – would expect). Busking and moving between busking spots (‘pitches’) is taking up most of my day, and after a few sessions of playing I find myself exhausted and not in a state for doing any PhD work.
This I hope will be fixed soon with an alteration of my schedule (I’m thinking of a daily 2 hours of PhD work every morning, before I start any harping) and with my upcoming escape from big cities and into the wild landscapes.
But let’s do the opposite of what is usually advised (yay such rebels!) – enough with the future, let’s talk about the past!
It’s been an exciting and eventful three days, and it all started in Plymouth.
I couldn’t have asked for a better start for this journey. My 1.5 days in and around Plymouth were just as enjoyable as it gets.
I got into the city late afternoon on the Saturday and walked around the area where my guesthouse was, just to discover how near the ocean was to it, and how beautiful this ocean is.
I decided that evening that I was going to try and busk on Hoe Road, next to the ocean the following day.
This was the evening when I greeted you from ‘Seagull-ruled Plymouth’ (This paragraph is for you Isabelle). Fear not – I haven’t been attacked by a seagull – though some unfortunate little children have been. The seagulls are the masters of Plymouth – their calls wake you up in the morning, they walk close and proud, fearing no man – and they attack people and snatch their food, which can’t be nice. They are such a nuisance that policies are sought to fight them; that falcons are sent to attack them; that people are fined for feeding them and contributing to their wellbeing.
Anyway – I managed to maintain a good working relationship with them during my time in the city – and they did not come to claim my busking pitches (maybe because I was carrying no food with me…).
The next day I had my very first busking experience! Prior to leaving, I googled busking-related information for most of my destinations, and in particular the first few. I highly recommend doing that to anyone who wishes to try out busking, as many important bits of information are out there.
The most important thing for me was to see that I was not going to breach any law or regulation by busking, but I’ve also googled ‘busking spots in…’ and ‘busking in…’. Searching out Plymouth, I’ve encountered a wonderful post written by Kat, one of the city’s buskers. It had some personal stories of buskers, and much useful information for me. I also found out that the Plymouth buskers had a Facebook group run by Kat! I decided to post on the group and ask whether it would bother them if I played in Plymouth, and whether they could give me some tips for where to play.
The generous Plymouth buskers responded with many useful tips, and browsing through these I eventually decided to start my day at a town called Tavistock, just north to Plymouth.
Tavistock is a pastoral little town lying along a beautiful river bank, with remnants of a 10th century abbey at its centre. It was a rainy morning, but at a magical timing the rain stopped just as I got off the bus. Don’t be marvelled by it quite yet – it continued a few minutes later – but lovely little things like that kept on happening and encouraged me along the road. I got to the town centre where a flea market is held on Sundays, and to keep my harp sheltered from the rain I located myself under an archway just next to the market. I took a deep breath, set myself up and started playing.
Due to the weather not many people passed by, but all in all the responds were very positive. A lovely lady from one of the market stalls requested that I played 'Green Sleeves' - which challenged me into improvising this piece, which I'd never really played before. A family sought shelter from the rain in ‘my’ archway, and their two charming children – Megan and Lucas – were the very first people to have ever dropped coins into my busking hat. I told their parents about that, and they were kind enough to (sort of recreate and) document the moment for me:
Megan’s curiosity towards the harp filled me with joy. I enjoyed explaining to her about the instrument and telling her the story of my trip in a way that’s reserved to children – with children it’s like sharing a secret or telling a story – me and my harp are going on a journey - an adventure - through the land where its music was born, a land of bards and hills and beauty. How much more exciting can it get?
I was lucky enough to have had two Cambridge friends travel around the area and come to visit me. They arrived about midway through my session and provided me with a major boost of moral support and encouragement. This was great for a first session and made me feel like I wasn’t a complete stranger.
We then had lunch together and I headed back towards Plymouth while they headed back to Cambridge. The money I earned in Tavistock wasn’t great, but I was thrilled to have survived – and even enjoyed – my first attempt (plus on the way back to the bus station, about an hour after I played, some people stopped me to say that they've enjoyed my playing, which was thrilling for me!).
In Plymouth I decided to busk some more. I realised that my sitting stool was missing a screw (which made it even less comfortable to sit on), but miraculously enough – just as I chose my location (on New George Street, where Sunday shoppers were constantly passing by) – I looked down at the floor and there was a screw, just waiting there. It fit perfectly and stayed in for the rest of my playing session (after which it fell off and disappeared somewhere). Just another one of these little travel-miracles.
Peopled stopped, smiled, asked questions – it was probably the best session I had so far. The highlight was when a man dressed up like a leprechaun (it wasn't a costume, it was a fashionable statement!) stopped and listened, and after a short friendly conversation gave me a £5 note and went his way.
Having finished playing in the town centre, I decided to do what I’d resolved on doing the day before – go busk on the sea. I found a spot in front of an ice-cream van and played. This is not a spot where people usually busk, but I’ve decided to play there for the beauty of it.
At the end of the day I started heading back to the hostel, when all of a sudden I saw a message request from Kat – the musician who wrote the post and runs the Facebook group. She’d said that one of the buskers was having a BBQ on the waterfront that evening, and that I’m invited to come along.
I must admit (and excuse me for getting sentimental here) that I was truly touched by the invitation. I know that BBQing is not an excuse for not doing any PhD work, but I was really happy for the gesture of hospitality and gladly joined. It was gorgeous. A really fun group of people welcomed me, some of them jumped into the sea, most of us just chilled and had some drinks. Once again, there was no sense of strangeness. It all just fell into place. I’m eternally grateful for the merry bunch of Plymouth musicians for helping me start off my journey like that.
and this is where we were doing the BBQ...
From there, I continued with Phil – one of the city’s most experienced and long-working buskers (he’s been busking for about 40 years!) – into a pub where live music was being played. It was truly a lovely evening, and Phil is a very special character. We’ve decided to meet the next morning for a communal busking session, and so we did (though I must admit that I didn’t feel I could naturally incorporate my harp playing into Phil’s well-arranged beautiful folk songs). When I realised I had to run in order to catch my train to Bristol, we parted, and off I ran.
I took the train, and two hours of beautiful sceneries later, I was in Bristol. Two days in Bristol have taught me some busking lessons that are worth remembering, and I will write about these in my next post.
The shift into a big city is well-felt. It is definitely… a city. And not being a city-person, there are some parts of it I didn't enjoy, yet I did have some wonderful encounters with people – musicians and non-musicians alike – during my two nights here, and earned some food for thought for the rest of my trip. I will write more about Bristol in my next blog post.
In the meantime, greetings to you all from bustling Bristol.
A wandering harpist