Wednesday, May 28, 2003


The London Underground, one of the busiest metros in the world, is auditioning buskers for 200 'legal' slots at tube stations across the capital. Priority is being given to 'old hands'. LU previously tried to outlaw 'the independent music sector', but surveys have shown that 8 out of 10 passengers are in favour street music -- provided the quality is sufficient, and they do not feel harassed.

Among those who will benefit are hard-up students from London's music colleges, who help pay their tuition and residence fees by busking a few pennies of tourists and commuters in high season. Charing Cross is a favourite site for string ensembles, it seems. In the classical field, excerpts from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' are, unsurprisingly, among the favourite lollipops -- the equivalent of song staples like 'Yesterday' and (shudder) 'Streets of London'.

One practiced busker -- whose current day job includes mastering composition classes -- told NFE that there was now a definite Vivaldi downswing, however. "People frustrated at being 'put on hold' by phone management systems and call centres have started to develop a definite aversion," she explained. "I do hope LU continue and extend this licensing system," she added. "Live music is infinitely preferable to the mind-numbing musak that gets pumped into many public places these days."

But what about the less commercial street sound stream? While songs by the Davids Gray and Bowie are the proven kind of thing to attract loose change into the ubiquitous busking hat, some musical surprises can be forthcoming, too... like the guitarist picking out a theme from Michael Nyman's 'Piano Concerto', and the bass player who was recently heard ripping shards off a terrifying Godspeed! You Black Emperor cut. For such daring visionaries mindless populism just isn't worth an easier price for a cuppa. So please be extra generous to them.

Meanwhile, rumours that Brian Fernheyhough is carting his flute down to Notting Hill Gate were unconfirmed when NFE went to press. Or was that to bed...?

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