On the back of getting the response to my Freedom of Information request, on Saturday afternoon I took a stroll along an unusually quiet South Bank and got chatting to a street performer who I will name as Mr G. (He doesn’t want to be identified but gave me permission to use his quotes).
Mr G is a 42-year-old musician whose been playing his saxophone all over the world for the past 17 years. This is his full time job and he tells me how he’s played at festivals and roadshows in the USA, South America, Australia and Europe. Every summer he travels up to Edinburgh to perform at the annual festival too.
He tells me he is “immersed in his craft” and says he is a performer “for all the right reasons”.
Mr G performs along the South Bank because he likes the crowds and says “they really appreciate my music. They feel it and for me, it’s a huge validation”.
Our conversation drifts, and he says how it’s becoming harder to earn a wage by playing the music that he loves. When I asked him to elaborate, this is what he said…
“…Street performing has always been one of the easiest ways to spread the message about your craft. Some say it’s a little ‘ego’, but it preceded all these ridiculous talent shows. Contestants claim it’s their dream and that it’s all they’ve wanted since they could remember, but what they really want is a number one record and some royalties. If they really wanted to do it, they’d get out on the street and let people know what they’re all about.
“Busking on the South Bank is brilliant but it’s also very difficult. You’re really depending on the crowds, whether there are events going on at the Southbank Centre, if the weather is good…
“I say it’s becoming harder because it’s so difficult to filter the good from the bad. That might sound a bit strange but you get so many “performers” who are here to make a quick buck. They’ve got no interest in entertaining people. They’re not particularly talented.
“I’ve witnessed fights, physical fights, over pitches and performance space. They think because they’ve performed in a space once, they’ve marked their territory and it belongs to them.
“There aren’t so many singers or musicians any more. You’ll get the odd dance crew or performance artist and they’re really good; well rehearsed and very entertaining. You can see the passion coming through their performance.
“But you also get these guys, mainly from Eastern Europe and further afield who can barely speak English. They dress up and just stand there, hoping people will give them money. Money? For the sake of standing on the spot being dressed up as a lizard?!
“They can’t interact with their audience. It’s heartbreaking in a way because that’s they very core of street performing. To them, this is just an easy way to make money.
“Street performing isn’t regulated around here, but it really needs to be. If I was asked to sign up to a code or accept a pitch and a membership card, I would. I’ve built a reputation over the last two decades. I’m dedicated. I never made it in the way I wanted, you know, back in the 90s when getting into a band with your mates and making something out of nothing was the way of life.
“But I’ve enjoyed success in my own way, and I’m very happy about that. And incredibly thankful too. I wish something could be done to preserve the reputation of what I do.”
–Very interesting words, but has Mr G got a point? Does street performing in public places like the South Bank need to be regulated in order to separate the talented from the not so?
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