Busking On Blisters - Chapter 1 - Part 1
Busking On Blisters
By Paul McCann
Dark Nights, Dawns And Fast Twilights.
Australia in the seventies was exciting and fashionable . Girls wore platform shoes and mini skirts . Fellas had long hair and they wore bell bottom jeans with denim jackets . Their were love songs with lyrics and highways that allowed traffic to flow freely . One of the things I remember in the seventies was my early morning train rides on the Sydney system . What an experience it was to travel all stations to Redfern on a Red Rattler . They were called Red Rattlers because of how they looked and felt . In appearance they were unique . Rusty red and fading fast , extremely noisy and uncomfortable . Their carriage doors were too heavy to open or close so they were always left open . The windows inside were the same . No one was ever game enough to try and open them because of the embarrassment involved when you couldn’t do it . A journey on a red rattler was a boneshaker . It filled with swaying emotions and shunted you back and forward into people around you . If you stood near a door the chances that you could fall out an open door was always on the cards . Sometimes if you stuck your head out the door it was possible to imagine you were riding on some huge metallic rattlesnake that weaved along the track .
I lived a half a house in a western suburb of Sydney called Pendle Hill . My place was near the railway station and I used the trains quite often when I went busking in town .
One morning before the sun arose I sat waiting for the train to arrive in to Pendle Hill station . With nothing else to do but stare into space I sat there on a seat on the platform looking at the glow of tail lights from the slow moving traffic that crawled across the bridge by Pendle Way . The foggy shadows that covered neon street lights looked eerie in the early dawn . I gazed into the sky as some coloured clouds welcomed the waft of first morning light .
Suddenly the train pulled in to station . I boarded and took a seat and sat beside the window of the red rattler . Thick morning dew covered the glass and as I tried to squint through the drops of water I watched two droplets race down the window . They ran into each other and the rush was gone . Apart from me there was nobody else on board but the driver of the train . I almost felt like one of those drops of dew . Alone on a train racing down the track .
I felt a sense of the blues come over me so I took my guitar from its case and plucked a couple of the strings to a rhythm of the lonely clickety clack of the train on the track . I was really getting into this twelve bar boogie when suddenly the train screeched to a stop at Parramatta station . I quickly put my six string back into its case and pulled open the old door of the red rattler and jumped off the train . I made my way from the platform to the exit gate where a ticket collector stood wearing this green hat and grey overcoat .
As I made my way to him I began this frantic search through my pockets for my weekly train ticket . On the platform there were three other people besides myself and I was the only one carrying a guitar case . I seemed to attract some of their attention .The ticket collector sharply blew his whistle and the red rattler departed the station . I made my way to the exit gate and the ticket collector gave me a wave . I smiled and left the station .
I strayed down Argyle street into Church Street . At this time of the morning Parramatta was like a ghost town . The busy buzz was silent . The hum and the hustle of had not yet begun . That’s just the way I liked it . The trick of successful busking was catching an unsuspecting audience . I had a special time and place where I busked . It worked for me . Getting there before the early morning commuters made their way through the bottom level of the entrance ramp underneath Darcy Street . The natural echo of guitar and voice reverberated off the walls in the tunnel sound . The natural deep acoustic sound, always provided a nice presence for your audience . I was aware also that where I stood, was the main thoroughfare and the only way in and out of Parramatta station .
Each morning before busking began I made sure I had a good breakfast . The routine was a walk to City Extra having a talk to the street cleaners in Phillip street . Over the years I got to know some of them . As I wandered down through town I saw Robert busy up-ending the council rubbish bins into the back of his truck . He gave me a wave and said .
“G’day mate , How’s it going ?“
“Ok . What’s happening mate ?” I said .
He took his hat off and replied .
“I’ll tell you what mate and I’m fair dinkum about this . I reckon they should put padlocks and chains on these bins . So far I’ve only found three where they should be . There has been rubbish everywhere else except in the bins that are provided for the purpose . I’ve found empty bins on top of traffic lights . Another was hoisted up on a flagpole . I’ve had others stacked up on top of each other . It’s the devils bloody playground around here at night .“
Robert loved to have a chat .
I said ,
“You know what mate , sometimes I think they have filled their heads with too much rubbish mate . The problem is they never empty them .“
That always did the trick for Robert . He loved to hear stuff like that . He said ,
“I’ll tell you what mate I don’t know what the kids are coming too these days. Maybe their parents should put padlocks and chains on them .“
“Padlocks wouldn’t keep them in mate . “
I said and he replied ,
“You’re probably right mate . You know what I reckon . They should be locked up in prison mate and only let out once a day to do my job . That would soon change their tune .“
The conversation was interrupted by a strange noise that was getting closer and louder by the second .
“Wait on mate “ Robert said .
He went over to the truck and grabbed his brush from and looking slightly perplexed he went over beside the automatic teller and leaned on it . Somehow it seemed to give him a kind of security . I was intrigued by Roberts change of demeanour and t was then I saw what was behind it . There it was . Grating and grinding its way along the gutters of Church Street was this large yellow mechanical sweeping machine . Complete with flashing lights and hoses that spat out a chemical spray from its water tanks on to the side of the road . Robert stood like a man under pressure and spat on the ground . Then he pointed to the machine and said ,
“See that mate , thats my arch enemy mate . I was here long before that machine ever swept up . these streets and it’s slowly taking over . Soon it will be after my job .“
“Its getting late Robert , I’ve got to go , See ya mate .“
I said and he in response lit up a cigarette and shouted in clouds of smoke , ,
“Hooray then “.
I made my way to City Extra, the twenty four hour joint in Church Street .I took my usual seat opposite the overhead TV screens . I loved the way they always allowed you to settle for a while before coming to take your order . It must have been about twenty minutes later when the waitress came over and smiled as she took the menu away .and said ,
“Good morning sir “
I replied . ‘ It’s bitter cold outside .“
“Yes sir . Would you like to order now .“
She said and I looked at my watch and said ,
“Do you have darjeeling ?”
”Yes sir .“
“I’ll have a pot of that .“
The music of Fleetwood Mac was on the radio softly playing in the background . The tone was friendly . The joint was empty bar three .
“Do you want anything else with the pot of tea sir ?”
“Some toast “ I replied .
“Brown or white .“ came the speedy reply .
“I’m not racist in any way . Why don’t you choose the colour for me .”
“I think brown bread is much better for you .“
“Does that pencil work ?.“
She almost started laughing but somehow held a tight grip on notepad and pencil in her hand .
“Will that be all sir ?”
“I’ll have two eggs fried with two sausages in between the brown bread .“
“Sunnyside up ? She asked .
“Yes please .”
“Will there be anything else sir ?” She asked .
“Could you keep an eye on my guitar for me while I use the bathroom .“
“Certainly sir .“
She left me with a smile and I went in to freshen up before work .
I washed my face combed my curly hair and returned to my seat where breakfast was waiting for me . I took to it like a four legged friend with a nose bag , ready to run down the last furlong of a hungry mile to the post . I enjoyed some new inspiration and scribbled down the lyrics of a song going through my head . The melody was the same one I had found on the train to Parramatta a little earlier on .
I called the song , The Day Dropped In and the lyrics went something like this
The clock on the counter said a quarter to four , I walked into City Extra like a hundred times before . I sat myself down and I had a pot of tea , I watched Good morning Sydney on the colour TV . The day dropped in and said hello nice to see you . I thought I’d bring you a song to sing now that the night is through .
I poured my thoughts down on paper and my tea in a cup the I got up to my feet as the morning sun got up . Within my heart and soul I played this new tune and the waitress she smiled as she walked across the room .
Lyrics of songs would come like that , inspired by everyday life . With a new song I sat and watched the day start to drop in . People arrived into the café and I listened to the clinking of china cups and the tinkle of tea spoons on saucers and for a brief moment I chanced to look into the faces of those other patrons in City Extra .
There they were . Aloof to me watching them sipping down coffee and eating raisin toast . They looked like a crew of known suspects in a line up for some who done it show on TV. Writers like myself often sit back and observe life a little different to most people who are busy with their jobs or their catching up with the gossip of love and other possibilities in their lives .
After I had eaten and tuned up for the new day I walked out of City Extra to the bright light that brought shadows before my feet . It was always there , my shadow and it followed me all the way to the overhead railway bridge near Argyle Street where I made stood on the corner and opened my case and began to play a few of my own songs . I had an instant reaction and money was placed into my open guitar case . I played without a break until lunch and I used some of my cash to grab a burger before returning to my spot . A lot of times I was able to take in a lot of what was happening as people went about their daily duties . Life was an interesting parade of people passing by .I remained until twilight before packing my guitar away .
I headed to the platform and took a seat and waited for another red rattler to bring me back . A train rolled in as the day dropped out and I fell into a seat and relaxed for a while before departing the train . There was no one there to check for my ticket at Pendle Hill which was just as well because I didn’t have one . I walked up the steps and walked back to my half a house in Burra Street . Night time had come to whisper hello and I passed the remainder of the day putting together some new melodies and lyrics . I was pleased about my new song The Day Drooped In and recorded it on an old ghetto blaster in my bedroom . I had a coffee and drew back the curtains . To my surprise the night had left and dawn had already arrived . I quickly put my six string back into its case and walked out the front door down Bungaree Road where I walked down the steps to the railway station .
Once I got on the train I realised I didn’t have my weekly ticket again so instead of going to Parramatta I got off at Westmead as I knew no one would be checking for tickets there at Westmead at this early hour . It was a nice walk along the pathway that ran through the park to the city streets .
Parramatta park with plenty of space that would invade your thoughts with sounds and images of nature with shrieking cockatoos perched on branches of Jacaranda trees that overlooked their kingdom abode , like kings or queens upon a tree branch throne . Their bright yellow feathered head dresses stood tall on their heads that proudly adorned them with a look of nobility .
Other residents of the park stirred about to welcome you to their abode . The geese near the picnic areas by the river gathered around in a circle gossiping in a gaggle as they do just to stir you up and tell you a story of who and what life was all about . Ducks glided in to quack their way through a new day . They played hide and seek with their friends, diving under the water and then resurfacing somewhere else a few minutes later . In a special way all the inhabitants of the park welcomed the regular visitors and the tourists . Along the river bank rats scurried for cover into their holes . Water bugs hovered over the muddy surface of Parramatta river . Now and then they disappeared as small fish leapt out of the water and swallowed them . Both sides of the river bank were covered with weeping willow trees .
In the middle of the park, beyond the cover of tall conifers the ground was littered with acorns that scattered themselves all around the mossy barked pathway . Lurking in the foreground was Parramatta Stadium, the home ground of The Mighty Eels rugby league team . Along pathways in the park you were met by regular early morning joggers who pounded their way into another new day . One must admire the routine of joggers who rise to each day with a personal fitness attitude to life . When ever I met joggers I felt some camaraderie with them . My own routine was similar to theirs . Maybe what I was doing had a sense of ritual attached to it . Even thought my everyday existence was different to most people I saw parallels to it . I made sure I had lung filled with fresh air to breathe and enough space to keep a clear head . Each day was a kind of pre planned map to make a musical contribution to the larger community where I lived .
I approached the gate out of the park that stood beside the ex-service men’s club and saw a helicopter high in the sky making its way across the blue sky where it hovered like cloud gazing down at the traffic that was at a standstill on Lennox Bridge . Horns were tooting in trucks and cars, engines were roaring and exhausts were spluttering out fumes into the air .
Suddenly the song of birds singing and the gentle presence of park life had been blasted away by the cacophony of the morning rush hour . The calm stillness had been broken and now I was captivated by the hustle and bustle of this crazy motion of life . There was a song there begging for words . There was melody screaming to get out . Somewhere there in this orchestra of life the busker was begging again to be heard . Lingering on the sidewalks , looking for an audience , time was almost right . One never likes to keep the audience waiting too long so I made my way to my usual spot .
The walk through the city streets was fast and furious . I was caught up on the sidewalk with sound of high heels hoofing along the pavement . Office girls who strutted their way like a parade of pretty flamingos dancing to the same tune . Behind them came the bunches of brief case wielding barristers and their broad stepping swaggers that bounced them along the footpaths like human medicine balls looking for a set of ten pins to bowl over on the way to their office for another day . Students with the fever of academia pushing them towards their graduation day , mothers with babies in strollers , tourist with back packs , this way the usual audience who came along each morning to the stage of life and very soon all of these would be at my mercy . My busking spot was in view and most times I never knew what appreciation would come but whatever came along I was hoping to bring a warm affectionate welcome to their day .
I took my guitar out from its case and began to play and sing . Somewhere between the bars of blue suede shoes , a fellow busker friend called Chris came and said ,
“How’s it going Mac ?”
It tricky trying to talk between singing the lines of a song but every now and then
I let the six string do the talk as I spoke to Chris .
“Going good . How’s things with you ?”
“Tops , take five Mac .“
What he was really saying was lend me your guitar so I can do a few numbers Anyway before I could answer him he grabbed my six string and played a Johnny Cash song . I sat down on the ground and counted how much money I had made so far and listened to Chris for a while . After he finished playing a few songs he gave me back my guitar .
“Welcome to my spot .“ I said .
End Of Part 1
Link to Part 2.