I am lulled by the masterful work of guitarist John-Kåre Hansen (who no doubt has listened to a Pat Metheny record or two in his time…) as I swill on a fine “Cortado” – and I consider how funny the diaspora of such disparate, yet complimentary pleasures in life! Jazz, rooted in African rhythm, some Western harmony, and modern technology to seal the deal with its electrification & its capacity for distribution. Concocted in America, argued to have been perfected in Europe; some say Scandinavia. Coffee, that which I am sipping of Columbian origin: Devised in Italy, translated and watered down by Starbucks, tweaked and remodelled Down Under, stolen by the Brits and delivered, at last, to Norway (with a shot of Iberic influence thrown in for good measure).
All of this has led me to reflect on my own journey these past months, the first baby steps of my #BUSKtheGLOBE tour across the British Isles, Spain, Northern France, Benelux, the Rheinland, and now Scandinavia. An album is on its way, I’ve made connections all over the world, and people everywhere are wanting to hear my story. I’ve also managed to get my damn heart broken, have upset the occasional neighbour in towns I’ve played in, and have struggled greatly to understand my own role in this mad world we all call home. I’m just beginning to figure that one out, now, almost a year later.
I have come to see that my lifestyle operates as two concurrent projects, as it were: One is that of an alternative to modern day life, spent learning and evolving via cultural exchange, adventure and constant new experiences. The second, more poignant project, is that of my music, wherein I am attempting to change the world, ever so slightly, note by note. As my street performances have developed, the repertoire and performance style has put the general public at the forefront. I want to connect with strangers each day, in the hopes of having a positive effect on their life. Everything, right down to the clothing I wear when I perform has been considered “under the microscope” in order to maximise the potential to make a connection with someone. This is NOT about making money to survive (though donations are always greatly appreciated!) – it is about catching the attention of an individual in an attempt to move them. My studies in Music Psychology have left me as a more considerate musician (I feel), with a deeper respect of the two way relationship between performer and audience member.
Music is one of the most emotive crafts within human existence, and those of us lucky enough to have developed skills in this domain must be wary of the power they hold. Music has the capacity to heal, to neurally recalibrate and re-animate individuals for whom movement has become a real challenge, perhaps due to age or disability. Music evokes memories like nothing else, and it is capable of reminding some people who may have lost sight of the important things within the madness of their humdrum, busy and stressful lives of the following thing: They can still feel!
I struggle to see the role I play at times, on rainy street corners when “no one is listening”. But then a stranger approaches me and thanks me for brightening that dreary day of theirs, and I realise that even in low moments of mine I am still making connections with people, and doing my job well. We, as musicians – better yet, as humans – hold the key. On the street, I have the power to make somebody’s day just a little better, and I think that is something really quite special. This is harder to achieve on a stage; there is an ineffable sense of disconnect, and people pay the premium to be part of the experience. I provide my service for free, and am capable of touching people from all realms of society, regardless of their status, economy or ethnicity, and I’m damn sure I’ll make my way around this whole flipping planet to ensure my music reaches anyone, everywhere.
My role as a busker is by no means benevolent, however. For every email or message I receive thanking me for easing a hard time someone has had in their life, or informing me that my story or my music has led them to make a change for the better, I cannot help but think of the neighbours I have upset in various towns, intruding on their tranquil Sunday afternoons. I suppose there is a Yin and Yang to much of what we do, but rarely is the equal and opposite reaction as prominent as when a distraught and overworked mother yells at you when you are just trying to create something which to some is quite beautiful. I struggle fully to understand their plight; I’ve never lived in a busy city centre and I’ve not had to deal, perhaps, with far less considerate buskers whom have driven these poor souls to distraction?
No doubt, this is another illustration of the power music has, and a warning to those of us who hold the key to unlocking such powerful emotions, both positive and negative, that we must take care. I’m trying my best – I promise – to be a better busker and a better individual, but I’ve a long way to go, still, on this adventure across six continents. I have at least five continents’ worth of knowledge and experiences still to grow from.
Let me finish by saying that when you next see a street performer, do yourself a favour and stop to listen. If they know what they’re doing, allow yourself to be moved. Allow yourself to think; allow yourself to feel. You’re doing the performer a massive favour in this exchange – it’s what they are there for – and I’ll bet that informing them of the effect they’ve had on your day will mean more to them than dropping a euro, dollar, pound, kroner, franc, zloty or rupee in their hat possibly ever could (but us buskers certainly appreciate the donation as well!).