With a single Friends out later this month (2, Belfast-born singer-songwriter Pat Dam Smyth still has vivid memories of the streets… well busking on them. In fact he managed to busk his way across the globe before signing a record deal. In a guest column he offers some advice to for would-be street performer.
Busking is a mentality. It usually begins when you have no money. That’s how I began. There is a rush when the first coin hits your guitar case. It’s earning money in its most primitive form. You become the soundtrack to a street in its daily life – the fast paced shoppers to the shopkeepers, to the homeless and the drunks, the thieves and the lonesome dogs wandering the streets. I have busked in many cities with my friend Nipsy Russell – Dublin, Liverpool, London, Athens, Berlin, Naples , Los Angeles, just starting at 10am and playing till the last bit of sun hits the street. Here’s five busking Dos and don’ts
1. Get there early The fight for the good pitch can lead to blows. Busking isn’t all sunshine and politeness, it’s about survival. In Edinburgh we set up the pitch and had a huge fight with an Australian juggler and trapeze artist. It came to blows, but the great thing was it attracted a lot of attention from the public. We turned on the generator, pushed the amps up loud and played to the blood thirsty crowd. Timing is everything.
2. Don’t give up too early There could be a gold rush around the corner. Some days you will make nothing, other days a lot. It’s a bit like fishing, you never know what you’re going to get. The count at the end of the day, the free food people give, the freedom, the taste of the beer bought with 2ps. There are highs and lows, but you are guaranteed memories worth recollecting.
3. A busy street doesn’t guarantee money Being heard is more important. You would think the larger the footfall the more money but it doesn’t always work like that. Having a street where a group of people have the space to stay and listen is more valuable. If kids are dancing, you are on to a winner. Late night busking can turn into a party and it’s a real thrill. Its music at its rawest form.
4. It’s more fun playing with someone else than on your own When Smokey Angle Shades (my old band) would busk it was incredible. We used to play on Brick lane, bringing a real piano and full PA. At one point we closed off the whole street. There were people hanging out of windows, the cops were called, but they couldn’t get past the crowds to shut us down so we kept on playing.
5. And remember, you never know who is listening In Los Angeles we were busking on a quiet street. We made one dollar in about five hours. Spirits were low, then we saw the Doc from Back to the Future. He stopped and listened, and came over and dropped a dollar in the case. That kind of made up for a bad day.
Pat Dam Smyth@Patdamsmyth
For more head to Facebook.com/PatDamSmyth.