Busking on the Tube: The Good, the Bad, and the Clown that sings Leonard Cohen covers in Hungarian

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Photo by Sandra Harper

Does this guy look familiar? If so, you may have been privy to one Wayne Myers’ busking performances on the London underground. He has been regaling commuters with bluesy/folk numbers for years under the moniker Fit and the Conniptions.

Here he tells us about the little old ladies who love metal, and why buskers are nuts.

What made you start in the first place?

Being a full-time musician in London is not easy. Competition is fierce and paying gigs are few and far between. Busking is not at all lucrative but it does just about fill the gap in between other work; that’s why I started doing it and that’s why I’m still doing it.

What do you love about it?

The best thing about busking on the Underground is how great it feels when you play the right thing at the right time and cheer people up or even – it happens now and again – make them dance.

As a musician you learn a great deal about music and how people react to it in a very direct and immediate way. It’s not just about the money – I often get people smiling at me, then apologising because they have no change. I always tell them not to worry about it – if I’m making some people smile then I’m definitely doing something right.

And hate?

being exposed in public in that way means that people aren’t afraid to come up to you from time to time and tell you to your face that you are shit, that you should ‘get a job’, and so on. I got massively bothered by this when I started out. But you develop a thick skin, and ten seconds later someone else has smiled and dropped a coin. You realise that the people who choose to give you abuse are telling you something about themselves rather than about you.

Is there a type of person that stops to listen to you?

Absolutely not. From time to time little old ladies unexpectedly beam at me and drop coins while I am playing heavy metal lead guitar. I love this. You can not tell what music someone likes until they tell you.

What qualities make a good busker?

Being at least a competent and confident performer goes without saying. But not every musician can pull off busking successfully. There is a certain psychological head-game aspect to it which it takes a while to learn, and some never do.
Due to the random nature of busking, you never know what is going to happen on any given pitch. It takes a certain element of mental strength to maintain a decent performance during the periods when it is not going so well.
No-one has asked you to be there, most people are always ignoring you – they’re just trying to get from A to B like most people on the tube – and it’s easy to get into a bit of a downward spiral where a poor patch affects your playing. That happened to me a lot at the beginning, but I’ve learned not to let it.

What advice would you give an aspiring busker?

my immediate answer is ‘you must be nuts, it’s a horrible gig really’. If your answer to that is ‘yes, yes I am nuts’, then good, because you’re in with a chance of cracking it.

Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work at the beginning – it is enormously hard to pull off busking successfully and it can be incredibly depressing when it does not go well. What works for another might not work for you – you have to find your own way.

I know a guy who does very well playing Leonard Cohen covers in Hungarian while dressed as a clown, but that doesn’t mean that you should play Leonard Cohen covers, sing in Hungarian or dress as a clown. I don’t. Arguably.

Could TfL do anything to make your life easier?

It would also be nice if we were allowed to sell CDs; every other busker everywhere else in the world who has a CD to sell gets to do so. But TfL have banned us from doing so for unspecified legal reasons, and negotiations with them on the subject have so far come to
naught.

 If there is one thing that you have learned about yourself or about humanity in your time as a busker, what would that be?

Never eat at a place called “Mom’s.” Never play cards with a man called “Doc.” And never, ever, forget that C treats an l-value of type array-of-T in an expression as a pointer to the first element of the array.
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One thought on “Busking on the Tube: The Good, the Bad, and the Clown that sings Leonard Cohen covers in Hungarian

  1. Pingback: The Nomadic Diary of Onyx Ashanti: Episodes #3 and #4: Exploring the Digital Memory Banks and Exo-voice Development Updates - h+ Magazine

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