We interview Jonny Walker, who's possibly Britain's busiest busker, and a vocal activist for busking rights. Here, he talks about busking and gives some valuable tips for those who fancy becoming one.
As we said on a previous article, Saturday 18th July is National Busking Day. To highlight the work of these street artists who help keeping our streets vibrant and alive, we talk to Jonny Walker, who can probably claim to be Britain's busiest busker!
Jonny is originally from Liverpool but now travels nationwide, busking everywhere from London to York with his trusty Gibson J-45. He also started the Association of Street Artists and performers (ASAP!), and have spent the last year campaigning for public spaces that are open and allow a sense of community to emerge.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF NATIONAL BUSKING DAY?
For a professional busker like me EVERY day is national busking day! Nonetheless I think national busking day is a worthwhile initiative because it emphasises the positive contribution that buskers bring to the streets of our towns and cities every day of the year. It's great to see a national initiative supporting busking.
HAVE THINGS IMPROVED SINCE THE 2012 PROTEST IN LIVERPOOL?
In 2012 Liverpool brought in what would have been one of the UK's most restrictive busking policies. The Keep Streets Live Campaign began as a protest movement against those plans which Liverpool fortunately soon abandoned.
In 2015 things couldn't be more different in Liverpool. The council have worked alongside the busking community, the Keep Streets Live Campaign and the Musician's Union to introduce a best practise guide to busking designed to protect spontaneity and promote good relationships between those who use the cities streets. Liverpool City Council have set an international benchmark for how to engage with the busking community positively by introducing policies designed to support street culture.
WHAT TIPS DO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BUSK BUT NEVER HAVE DONE IT BEFORE?
Busking is a wonderful opportunity to gain a new audience. Don't focus on the people who will ignore you, or even the few people who may heckle you. Your audience are the people who stop to listen or smile at you as they walk past. Focus on them. Remain positive. You could be having a very bad day but the next person walking up to your case could be carrying a fiver!
Most importantly of all, stop putting it off...just find a street in a town or city you like and go for It!
WHAT'S THE ESSENTIAL BUSKER GEAR?
This depends on what instrument you play. The basic set up is just you, your instrument, and your instrument case to collect the coins (and, hopefully, the notes!)
As an acoustic guitarist and singer/songwriter I use a battery powered AER compact mobile acoustic amp, loop pedal and a microphone to support my performance. It enables me to sing and play more quietly and still be heard over the street noise.
If you play the bagpipes or drums you probably won't need an amp!
WHAT MAKES A GOOD BUSKER?
If you like people you'll be a good busker. Busking is as much about making connections with people and brightening up their days as it is about virtuoso performances. There are some buskers who are technically very good players but don't engage with the crowd that well, whilst others might not be as skilful musically but are great at connecting with their audience.
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE TOWNS TO BUSK?
I was born in Liverpool and it is still one of my favourite places to perform on the streets because of the generosity of spirit of Liverpudlians and the chance to meet the people who come from all over the world to experience the city's rich cultural history.
Other favourite places include Norwich, St Albans, Cambridge and York. In fact, as a rule of thumb, anywhere with a cathedral or a minster is a good place to busk!
WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE ACOUSTIC GUITAR?
My trusty old Gibson J-45 without question.
WHAT SONG SHOULD EVERY BUSKER KNOW?
It's probably the most overplayed song in world history but I still get more requests to play Wonderwall than any other song! Similarly overplayed but much more wonderful is Hallelujah. I have played it many times but never grown tired of it!
WHAT SONG SHOULD A BUSKER NEVER, EVER PLAY?
There are no fixed rules for this, but I'd prefer it if you didn't play 'Mustang Sally' or 'Simply the best'!