Busking On Blisters - Chapter 1 - Part 2
Busking On Blisters
By Paul McCann
Dark Nights, Dawns And Fast Twilights.
It was the place where I busked everyday and in my mind it would always be my place . I took back my guitar from Chris and he said to me ,
“Hey Mac what about us doing a few gigs ?”
” Lets grab a bite to eat . I’d like to talk things over .“ I replied.
Chris used to be a member in a band called Thin Ice . They had been the support band for Mike Oldfield when he did a concert at the Capitol Theatre . That was the biggest gig Thin Ice had ever scored . They never really got the big break . Thin Ice were a good blues band but maybe they should have chosen a better name for the band . The reason being was the band eventually broke up in the end and some people got hurt in the process . When the band broke up I met Chris as I was purchasing some new strings for my guitar . He listened as tried out a few guitars for sale and came over to have a chat Chris . We had something in common as buskers and musicians .
That night he invited me over to his place to meet a few of his friends . We did some tunes there together and ended up busking together for a little while around the Sydney harbour . After a while we wrote a few songs together and did a few gigs for private functions .
We were like two weeping sticks of dynamite ready to explode with a melody or lyrics without any warning, in fact it was part of the passionate lifestyle writers are used to. Our appearance was deceiving with an unshaven face and clothes not ironed .
That was due to many late nights and threadbare patches of times we spent at home . Chris was very tall and slim, his legs were like two beanpoles with hinges in the middle . I called him Stretch which he liked . At six foot four and under 60 kilos he was all skin and bone . Our friendship with music had brought us together .
He was the kind of person who would really exhaust you with demands but it was great to have him around . I lived in a half house in Pendle Hill where he often called to visit . After each visit my weeks supply of coffee would be gone . .
As struggling musicians and songwriters we couldn’t get a break into the music business so that’s the reason why we started busking our songs . In order to share them with people . There were good times and bad times . With music there would be a mixture of feelings which either brought friction of harmony . Bottom of the barrel stuff that sat on the doorstep begging for acceptance in a world where some people made money and some people made music .I always counted my blessings and so far on this particular day my blessings counted up to thirty dollars which was just enough to grab something to eat . I headed over and bought two return tickets into the city centre and handed one over to Chris . Lets go in the city for a while .
We never had to wait long for a city circle train . We took an upstairs seat on the silver R-set where we sat silently for a while . Two buskers deep in the same thought, chasing after the same dream with the sound of the train on a track and in their heads a constant beat of music and in their gut a hunger that could not be satisfied . Waiting patiently for the chance to play again , on the street , or a ferry or on a bus . Where ever we go there was always a presence of passion that existed and it kissed everyone with a positive energy that was hard to resist . The music of life is busking about the love of music and its a journey out there to meet people who just happen to be passing by at that moment in time .
The never ending chase for appreciation on an escalator to heaven’s door or the pursuit of kudos crying out for more , the busker climbs that winding staircase step by step until he stands alone under the light of the moon with stars in his eyes and the day is done with the final song sung as the guitar put away for another day . Every song is like a prayer waiting to be heard . I broke the silence and said ,
“I ’m thinking about going back to Ireland this year Chris .“
He seemed shocked and replied . “Where ?”
‘Ireland and all around the U.K.”
‘Why .“ He asked
“I’m considering busking my way from place to place . Seeing new places and meeting new people as I go . What do you reckon ?”
He sat and thought for a moment before giving me an answer .
“Sounds really exciting Mac . Its really out there and if I didn’t know you as well as I do, I’d probably say you were crazy . Really , you know what , I must say that must be the craziest thing you’ve ever come up with and I’d love to come along with you Mac .“
I smiled and said ,
“Well if you can you get the air fare together you’re welcome to come along .“
“Are you going to your home town in Belfast ?
He asked .
“Sure and I must warn you you’ll be asked a few questions in certain areas about how tall you are . You’ll be a stranger in their midst .“
Suddenly I noticed saw a change in his enthusiasm .
‘Do you think I’d be a target for assassination ?”
He asked with a worried look . I laughed and replied ,
“Don’t be silly mate . Just look at you with that innocent face and your army style hair cut and your anxious attitude . No one would ever mistake you for an undercover spy .“
Now he looked really anxious .He started yanking his thumb and fidgeting .
“Do you think I’d not be safe Mac ? ”
He said with a jagged edge to the question . I had to deal with it accordingly .
“Get a grip and take the trip Chris . Let me know if you can come . I’m thinking about leaving soon .“
He thought about that a while as the train continued to make its way to the city by the time we got to Circular Quay he had decided against coming with me .
“Send me a postcard Mac and have a good time Ok .”
He said as we made our way to another platform . We decided not to do the City Circle thing and made our way to the Basement instead to see who was playing there .
We stepped off the train at Circular Quay in Sydney. It was almost evening and already a brief twilight hall fallen . The lights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge began to twinkle against the winter evening sky. It almost could have been captured in the words of a song but I had to put away that thought for another time .
The crowd on the street were an interesting mix of city workers heading home Late night shoppers out for a bargain and tourists mingled with night life steppers like ourselves . We hurried along to the steps that bring you down into the Basement , one of Sydney’s best live music venues,
Tonight a blues band were playing . Chris knew some of the people who ran the Basement and we got in for free . It was mentioned that we could possibly get a gig there on evening . We sat and soaked in the atmosphere as the band began to play . The Basement was buzzing.
Although I had been here a few years ago there was a different feeling about the place The Basements soft lights filtered across a sea of faces as its patrons jostled for their seats. People’s voices filled the air as the music added a kind of static backwash to it all . Maybe I felt a bit lost there in this sea of faces and in the mix of the music but whatever it was it fuelled the fire in my belly . Now more than ever I wanted to do my overseas busking trip . I wanted to strum my way through the streets of Ireland and beyond .
I sensed the six string in my case was itching to leave .
Suddenly the cross-talk on stage shrieked out all around the room.
With feedback problems I gave Chris the nod and we went over to grab some potato wedges and a drink . We returned to our seat near the stage and enjoyed a nourishing moment .
I hadn’t really seen a live blues band perform for a few years and was amazed at the high level of musicianship and sound quality we were hearing from the people on stage . A live performance for me always reflects the heart of your talent. So mush plastic things can be produced in a studio with over dubs and mixing and arranging but when its live you can feel the emotions from the very heart and soul . This kind of music is what speaks to us . Anticipating the ups and downs of a performance creates presence that brings a warm glow . Its warms us like a comfortable coat on a cold winter night .
It can also challenge and change an audience moods .
Playing a guitar and singing a song is very much a spiritual thing . It can be personal as well as visiting the audience around who have come to share the experience .
At the end of the performance the band received a warm reception from the crowd around the room . The audience showed their appreciation.
After the gig Chris and I made our way up the steps to the pavement, then back down the streets to Circular Quay where we made our way to City Extra for a cup of coffee . We sat just where the Manly Ferry comes in and talked about my trip to Ireland . After we finished we walked down along the quay and took in the backdrop of Sydney harbour . It was aglow with twinkling lights, shinning stars and a special sprinkle of magic called night life .
The pier was thick with people on an escape from the daily grind . There were buskers with flutes and guitars . Some even played saws and fiddles . Some angrily disputed who owned the spot where they played .
I still had enough small change for a bucket of hot chips and bought us one each . Chris burst out with a sudden left field though and said ,
“Hey I know this guy nearby . I can borrow his guitar and we’ll do some busking in town tonight . Eh what do you reckon Mac ! “
The cash kitty was a bit low and so I said ,
“ Sounds great Chris . Lets go and get that axe .”
Some people call a guitar an axe or a gun . I like to think an axe sounds deadly artistic and very dramatic even . Anyway Chris asked me for a coin to make a phone call which I did . He disappeared into a phone booth and rang his contact . He was talking for about ten minutes . Finally he came out from the phone box and said .
“ He’s home for a little while and says its ok to use his axe .”
“ So Where does he live ?” I asked .
“Up the Cross .“ Came his reply .
I nodded in agreement and we made our way to Opera house steps then marched double time to the Domain .
“Are you on speed or something ?”I asked .
“No, I’m straight . What do you mean “ He answered .
“The way you’re walking you must be on something .“ I said .
“What do you mean ?” He answered .
“Well I’m running to keep up with you and you seem to be taking the scenic route to Kings Cross that’s all . ” I said .
“Oh no , I just take good care of myself Mac and I’m trying to remember the best way to his place . I haven’t been there for a while and I’m just getting my bearings . Are you on speed ?“ He asked in reply .
“No. I do look after myself I’ll tell you , I am straight .“ I said .
“I used to do that .“ He said as he lit up a cigarette .
“Do what .“ I replied .
“Look after myself “ He said .
“What was it happened that made you give it up ?” I asked .
“Rock and roll I suppose .’ He replied .
“How did that affect you ?“ I asked .
“Being mixed up with the music business is not the what I’d call the healthiest lifestyle around .“
I nodded to the affirmative and said ,
“It does tend to get its hooks into you .”
“Sure does Mac.” He said .
We took a moment and sat on a seat there and watched life passing by .
‘Before I leave Sydney , I’m going to go busking across then harbour . I said
“Hey man that’s so cool “ Chris said .
‘Kind of a farewell .” I replied .
We jumped a bus and got off a Kings Cross with some nine to fivers making their way home . It was prime time for most going home to have dinner and watch TV shows .
As the bus departed we walked along William Street where scantly clad girls stood outside shop fronts seeking attention . Their were crowd pullers trying to persuade punters to come inside and see the greatest show on earth .
“Not far now “ Chris said.
We turned into and a side street and swaggered along for a few minutes until he stopped by a wrought iron gate to a parlour house . We stopped at a wrough iron gate and went into a doorway where black and white tiles were laid on the ground in front of the front door with an opaque window with lead light coloured glass .
Chris pressed a buzzer on the wall .that whirred with a soft buzz . A voice on the intercom asked .
”Who there ? ”
“Hi Russell its Chris .”
‘Ok come in.”
The unbroken sound of a electronic latch was heard as Chris pushed the door open .
We walked into a cold dark hallway that begged for a drop of disinfectant . I followed him upstairs to the second floor to door 7A where he knocked loudly three times .
A harsh voice behind the door called out .
“Who’s that .”
“Andy .“ Chris replied .;
“Andy who ?” The voice answered back.
“Andy sat , Andy watched , Andy waited till his billy boiled .“
The door opened and the guy started singing .
“You’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me .“
We all started laughing .
“G’day Russell , are you going to ask us in or what ?” Chris Said.
“Come on inside .“ He replied .
We were welcomed into a small bedsit with dog poo on the floor and a cat sitting on a sofa .
“ This place always looks and smells the same every time I call. “ Chris said.
“Sorry I’ve no air freshener . Take a seat . “ Russel said .
“It’s ok mate . We’re not staying long “ Chris replied .
Russel lit up a cigarette and said ,
“So what’s happening?”
”Russell , I’d like you to meet Mac . He’s a fellow Muso and Mac meet Russell “. ”
He reached out his hand .
“Nice to meet you.” I said .
“Likewise, Mac “
“The thing is we're going to do a bit of busking for the late night crowd in the city . “
“ Hang on a sec .“ Russell turned down the volume of the portable radio that sat on top of the bar fridge . Chris continued .
“ Can I borrow your guitar Russell ?“
Russell walked over to a side table and lifted up a framed photograph of a dark skinned girl in a bikini . He held the photo before Chris and said ,
“You know that guitar means a lot to me Chris . It’s a memory of her . The first thing she bought me before we split up . So what’s going on with you anyway . . Weren’t you going to get a band together after Thin Ice broke up?”
Chris held the photo and replied .
”Sorry about that Russell , well you had a few good years together . Like me and the boys in Thin Ice . We just couldn’t get along .” He handed back the photo .
Russell put the photo back where it had been and went and got the guitar .
He handed it over to Chris and said .
“You know I wanted to smash this after she left . Look after it for me please .“
“Thanks Russell . I’ll bring it back tomorrow “ Chris said .
‘Push off then, I’ll see you later.” He said
“Love you like a rock .“
Russell replied . ‘Rocks have no feelings Bro.”
“You know what I mean “’ Chris said .
‘No worries . Good luck .“
We mad eour way to the main event on George Street . The city lights were aglow and we sang and played to passers by . I had played my fender and Chris played Russell’s six string lender for a while and the music blended in to the night with the right echoes across the street . People threw money and cigarettes into the open guitar case . A few even brought us a hamburger which was really brilliant . Some stopped to listen and talk .We had drawn a good crowd and then a crowd of Hare Krishna’s arrived chanting and playing with their drums and symbols . They took over our spot and pur audience . We couldn’t drown them out and our show was over .
We packed up and made our way back to Town Hall station for the last train to Parramatta .
Sometimes it’s more than the money and it’s not just a show , it’s the life that only busker knows . To share music with others until the next time comes around .
Chris and I played our guitars on the train and some of the passengers enjoyed our jamming session and fired in some requests . After we pulled into Parramatta station I said goodbye to Chris .
“Send me a post card from London .“ He said .
‘If I’ve got time . What’s your address ?’”
“Well , I’m having some hassles at the moment and let’s just say I’m between places at the moment with no fixed address . Do me a favour Mac ,l go knock them dead over there.”
We shook hands and he walked off .
I grabbed a taxi back to Pendle Hill and started packing a suitcase . My mind was made up . I was going busking . Never got much sleep as the neighbours were arguing with each other . I couldn’t wait to get out of that place .
I opened up my piggy bank and the next day withdrew all my savings from the bank for my trip .
The big issie was I was venturing out inbto the unknown .
End of Chapter 1
Link to Chapter 2