To make a living as an artist on the streets of London takes more than just a bit of nerve…
I’ve always been fascinated with the sub-culture of busking.
How do people find their way into performing on the street for bits and pieces of change? Why do they subject themselves to potential abuse from the public? Do they have any greater artistic pretensions or are they content with their piece of pavement?
For the last month or so I’ve been travelling around some of the major artistic cities of the UK, seeking out the buskers and street performers that manage to scratch a living on the high streets of Britain. Every city has its artistic community, but only a precious few of these people have the balls to take their work onto the streets and confront the general public with it.
During the festive season the high streets and squares of our major cities are packed full of shoppers eager to get their Christmas shopping done. With the spirit of generosity in the air this is an ideal time for buskers to make some money. You’ll usually find them crowding the corners of the popular shopping plazas and competing for attention on the main high streets in most cities during December, so I jump on a few trains and see who I can find.
With the Christmas markets in full swing, there’s an air of festive excitement in Manchester, reflected by the throngs of people who’ve flocked to the high street with the express purpose of cramming their faces with food and grabbing a few gifts whilst they’re at it. What they don’t expect is to be confronted by Jason Jeffrey’s a full-time mime and professional clown.
“Although my work is meant to entertain people, I take what I do very seriously. People are often taken aback when they see me in my full mime outfit, but once they get past the absurdity of it they tend to stop and watch for a bit. I make the most of my money during this time of the year, if it wasn’t for Christmas I’d go broke for sure.”
The tube stations are rammed full of people when I descend into the labyrinth of tunnels that funnel commuters, tourists and shoppers alike to their chosen destinations. Echoes of Eric Clapton’s Layla bounce off the iconic white tiles of Elephant & Castle station and I make my way over to Claire Shanks, who cradles her Gibson Les Paul as if it were her child.
“Not many people are used to the sight of a woman in her 40s laying down these classic rock tunes. I often think that it’s the surprise element that commuters enjoy the most, I actually get more money during the morning rush hour than at the weekend.”
Liverpool has long been an icon of fashion, but it’s also a city with a thriving commercial district. During the Christmas period thousands of shoppers come to the city to make the most of the decade-old Liverpool One shopping centre, which makes it a perfect time for some of the more creative buskers to make their mark. Enter Jay & Calvin, two Nigerians who’ve been tearing up the High Streets of the UK with their novel tumbling routine.
“We never thought that we’d make a living out of messing around with a football and a couple of glass bottles, but somehow it just kind of worked! We came over here in 2008 and although we might be getting a little old for it now, we’re going to continue until we have enough money to go back to Nigeria and retire.”