Reg and Ron Whelk talk to Street’s Got Talent about how they got into busking and their experience performing on London’s streets!
How long have you busked for?
We started busking just under a year ago. It was never our intention to start busking. We usually play comedy clubs, art spaces and private functions. I thought it might be a good idea to hone the act in the London Underground but found out that there was a two year waiting list just for an audition. Around the same time that we had the TFL idea, a contact of mine asked us to play at the Whitecross Street Market Arts Fair at Old Street. We enjoyed it so much that we decided to try other places.
Where is your favourite place to busk in London?
We have a couple of places that we really love; Chapel Street Market and Columbia Road Flower Market. Both of these markets are always fun to play. The shoppers, stall holders and locals are always very welcoming and appreciative of street music. At the Flower Market we seem to be very popular with the tourists; they always want to have their photo taken with us! The uniqueness of our act strikes tourists as being very ‘English’, so it comes across as idiosyncratic to those from abroad.
Is busking your full time job?
No. But we try and treat it as such. I can’t tell you what we both do for a living as it would spoil our carefully constructed conceit, however, if I said the words ‘Hedge Fund Manager’ it wouldn’t be anywhere near the truth!
How often/ where do you busk?
Every weekend at the markets. We both have midweek commitments which means that busking can be difficult to organise. We tend to play clubs in the evenings. We play anywhere we can, although we tend to stay away from the really crowded spots; like the Southbank. Places such as Tower Hill and Greenwich are really good and we will be looking at working the Olympic Park in the summer.
What tips/ advice do you give to buskers?
Smile, pray for sun, be polite.
What inspires you musically?
Everything. Our set is quite eclectic. We play everything from English Music Hall songs from the 1920s, big band jazz swing from the 30s and 40s, skiffle songs from the 50s, pop classics from the 60s, to contemporary chart songs. Our musical philosophy is that nothing is above being ‘Whelked’.
How much money on average do you make busking?
Difficult question. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to our takings. It’s the one thing that we often discuss in the pub afterwards. Some days you can work your socks off for very little, other days the audience can be very generous indeed. We probably make around £10 an hour.
What response do you normally get busking? Is it positive or have you ever had any trouble?
We always get a great response when we busk. We’ve always had a great relationship with the market managers and on the few occasions we have seen the police they either wander past with a smile on their face or they stay around for a few numbers to check out our musicality. The only trouble we ever had was on the Sunday before Christmas at Columbia Road Flower Market. Near the end of our stint we were approached by a Tower Hamlets Community Police Officer who issued us with a caution for some spurious made-up offence. Rather than get into an argument, we packed up and retired to the pub, but we were seething. Busking is not illegal in this country and there was no legal reason why were stopped from playing. Interestingly, it was some local people who came to our aid and defence. Unfortunately, aggressive ‘jobsworths’ will always be a part of busking.
The Fabulous Whelk Brothers can be contacted by email at: TFWB@gmx.com. Like them on Facebook
- Emma Spedding