Walking through the streets of my home town Norwich recently, I heard the uncommon sounds of a banjo echoing down an old back-street. Passing two girls as they neared the close of the full harmonic chorus of Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal, I turned the corner with a full smile on my face as the languorous sound of the banjo followed.

Busking has forever been a huge part of musical culture, introducing the world to incomparable artists like Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Simon and Garfunkel. Even to talents as great as these, the streets were the only stage they had the opportunity to play and the only way their talent could earn them any money. Seeing the immediate reactions from their audience and giving their music to the world through just a guitar and an old hat, the world’s best musicians were given a start.

Busking is still the first port of call for some modern artists…

Change? Change please?

The music industry has become far more open and involving in recent years. Through the rise of social networking sites, video sharing and illegal downloading (and indeed legal downloading), new music has become available as instantly as the artists have finished recording and people have unashamedly taken advantage of this. Busking; the original iTunes however, is still the first port of call for some modern artists when they want their music to be instantly heard; the clink of coins in a hat can still mean more to some artists than the amount of Facebook friends they have.

Modern folk-rockers, The Ryan O’Reilly Band, have used the tradition to its greatest advantage. Before selling records or even having a following of fans, they were forced to take to the streets in order to earn money to record and to earn fans to play for. The streets of London soon provided them with enough money to professionally record their first album, a number of local gigs and an abundance of die-hard fans, in order to share their music on a wider scale. The self-confessed ‘street-funded’ band owes most, if not all of their success to the time-old tradition of street busking.

…easily the most accessible and assured way of performing in front of a crowd…

The beauty of busking is that it is easily the most accessible and assured way of performing in front of a crowd, and it is open to anyone (providing you have the correct permission) who has an inclination towards it. This inclination has recently begun to slowly grow and climb its way back into popular culture with heroic tales of buskers rising to fame through the relentless talent shows on television and earn a newsworthy million hits for their Youtube videos. The recent surge of acoustic, self-made folk musicians in today’s charts has also played its part in encouraging more fervent artists to take up an instrument and hit the streets with an old guitar and a passionate voice.

There are many busking festivals that take place over the summer and through the year. The Oxfam Buskers Festival takes place each year, travelling to a number of different cities over a few months to showcase the specific local talent of each place for a charitable cause. There is also the Buskers and Street Performers Festival in Cambridge. There are a huge amount of other festivals that bring the often overlooked flair of street performing ability to the masses, so if you have the confidence, the passion and the ambition and maybe an old hat to spare, then you too could be part of the growing culture and popularity of busking.

Images courtesy of Sakon Taweelerdniti and The Ryan O’Reilly Band


About The Author

Josh is an English and Creative Writing graduate from Royal Holloway University of London. He writes plays, presents radio, draws comics and listens to folk music.

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