Busking on Blisters - Chapter 3
Busking On Blisters
By Paul McCann
I watched the pigeons glide over the rooftops of Edinburgh , their feathers cutting slices from the winter wind, as they skimmed the streets in search of a place to perch their weary wings . Almost screeching to a stop on icy window ledges in the fading twilight of the day . It was two days from Hogmanay and a trickle of tourists had arrived for the party . I was one of those caught up in the flow as ripples of excitement touched the hearts of many in this noble Scottish city . I had already found suitable accommodation at a total cost per night under twenty pounds I had never seen people walking around in Kilts before and as I walked through the shopping centre I was intrigued by the sight of people who seemed to be in the world but not of it . They had a distant look about them that kept something secret like an alternative approach to life I had see a few times before . It was as if I was sitting on the edge of déjà vu looking back through time at a similar experience . Sometimes in life there are great moments of time when we are able to reflect back through the years and find common ground . It is the gift of recognition to a greater mystery that unfolds in a second with an impact that can changes our lives .
As we live and breathe we come to an important milestone on our journey through life where we stop and see this connection . Like a song you’ve heard before but can’t remember where and as you listen to it you begin to sing it and it sinks in because you’re part of that living thing . What ever you do or who ever you are , music is life and life is music . Your position in life could be Military , Religious , Education , Politics , Sport , or even in music itself we all recognise the same thing, that music and song has made some kind of impact . Soldiers who had a mission to fight for had a song in their heart . Religious vocations have also been assisted with music and song . It is a spiritual experience . In a world where we are building a new legacy of peaceful tomorrows there are songs for that . So many songs to share with the world out there and a busker has a mission in life to bring those songs and music where they have never been heard .
Not only buskers but poets as well have a responsibility to share and leave a legacy for the future . Buskers today can share image’s of life through music and song for this generation in this place and time where we find ourselves . Some people might regard busking as a kind of street begging but it is much more that that . Busking is a vital source of bringing a positive energy with music into the world with a message of strength and courage for others to enjoy in a proud and passionate way . The world today needs buskers and street theatre to deflect the negativity of war and conflict . Through sharing music freely with others it brings an expression of emotions that witnesses peace and love to the world in an alternative approach with an answer to the those who feel lost or confused in the aggression that goes on around the world today . Buskers can make a mark and sing a song or two about life that invites all cultures and creeds to be part of the sounding out of life . C’est La Vie , a sense of mysticism in the world. What a great wealth we hold as lovers of music and song . There are people in the world who appreciate the lyrics of life .
There was a welcoming of strangers everywhere probably attributed to the coming of Hogmanay . With my guitar under my arm and the shortest day of the year almost here I thought I better not waste any more time . Even though my fingers were numb with the cold I stood there on a corner on the royal mile and began to play my six string . My voice cracked in the crisp air as the passers by ushered their way along with parcels and prams . Some stopped and took a swig from wee drams in their inside pockets and listened for a minute or two before moving on . My fingers fumbled picking the strings , so I strummed and the faster I played the more I found the cold left me . It was only when I hit an A minor seventh chord and hammered it a little that I lost the third string on the guitar. I carried busking with five strings and money was beginning to spin and now there was something to sing about . After the fifth string on the guitar snapped I had to improvise using four strings . It was becoming a little difficult to play but not impossible so I stood there busking with four strings for the duration of the evening . When the fingers were almost blue with the cold I went to buy a burger and chips . On the way back to the hotel I stopped for a pint of stout and listened to a live band in a pub and was starting to feel ok about being in Edinburg . After a few more pints I went to the bar and asked to speak to the manager of the pub . This fella there told me he would go and get him . A man came out from a back room and approached me and said .
“Good evening . What can I do for ye “.
I asked him if there were any positions available and held up my guitar .
He looked at me and said,
“Sorry but we have enough musicians at the moment. “
” No problem “ I replied .
“How long are you staying?” He asked.
“At least until the New Year.” I said .
“Where ye at the Fringe ?” He asked .
“No , is that another pub? ” I replied .
“Nay man , the fringe . The Edinburgh festival .“
“Sorry I didn’t know man . When is that on ?” I asked him . He smiled and poured a slow pint into an empty glass .
“Here , that’s a pint on the house man . The fringe happens here in Edinburgh , every August . You wanna get yerself to that that gig . Check it out . There’s some kind of committee that runs it . ”
I took the pint from him and said
“Cheers man . I’ll have a look at that .”
“Ok good luck . I’ll leave you with it then.”
He said and then he walked back into his room.
I finished my pint and took my guitar and left the pub . Sometimes you need to seize the moment . There are times , it works and other times it won’t . Always worth a try .
Outside the snow lay thick on the street and a brawl was in progress on the pavement up ahead . A crowd had gathered around to watch .
The traffic had slowed down to a crawl as they were wanting to have a look as well . I stood nearby a started busking in ears shot of the fight and to my surprise a got some of the crowd who were watching the fight come over to have a listen . Getting some interest was brilliant and a warm reception from the locals was encouraging . I formally thanked them for coming and said
“I hope I passed the audition “
They all laughed and thanked me for playing . Seemed to me they had a fondness for artistic folk in Edinburgh . It looked promising to me. For a day or two I wandered around with my guitar looking for spots to go busking . I loved the Lothian Buses and walks along the Promenade at Portobello Beach . As an outsider I was made welcome in most of the cafes and restaurants . I put myself on the streets busking wherever I could with tingles in my toes and a jingle jangle in my pockets from the small change . A buskers blessings you know. Busking is a way of life . You put the pennies in your pocket and the readies in your shoes and underneath your socks your had blisters on feet from the tramping the street .
It was the day before Hogmanay and I observed the mad rush of people around the town . I took up a position busking on Princes Street where plenty of people often passed by . A few times I was almost crushed in the stampede that tore past where I was busking . If I hadn’t moved back up against the wall were I stood I would have been left lying like dead meat for the stray dogs on heat looking for a feed . So it time to move along to another place like Rose Street . After a while you got to see the same faces in the same places . There was this one girl who always came along Rose Street and she would throw a rose into my guitar case . The cutting edge of life would come to look at you there , the homeless , the addicts , the tourists and locals .
Every day I found other buskers would come and join in with me and we played to the passing parade . Every now and then Rose Street was just like a regular sing along session .
As the countdown to Hogmanay started , it was party time of the street and the night life in Edinburgh became a social meeting place with pun crawls from street to street and louder echoes of buskers from every corner with the sounds of bagpipes and electir guitars blending together in a wild cacophony of life .
As the conclusion of the new year was drawing near tourists facing an impossible task of getting a good view of the castle and they in turn decided to give join in for a while with the madness that had come to town . Crowds of people wandered around with lighted torches , People of all ages and different cultures were part of this celebration . From street tom street the music and dancing continued as fireworks coloured the sky in a furious frenzy of welcome to the new year . The landlady of time had served her eviction notice to the old year that was reluctant to leave .
I could smell the gunpowder in the air and see the passion of people partying . Food was cooking and queues waiting for a feed around the outside stalls . Edinburgh was overspilling with people and n one was going anywhere until the city got a green light from Old Father time . The atmosphere was exciting and the city was alive . Something was happening and it was positive . Life was good and I stood busking my last song for the year . It was new year’s eve and as the old year was about to leave it was Hogmanay’s hey day and the place was exploding with an energy of good will .
There was happiness beaming on every face . In a place beyond panic with only seconds left to kiss the year goodbye . My throat was hoarse from singing and screaming and I picked up the coins in my guitar case . Better off for the few pence and better off for the experience . I heard the sound of the traffic and there was nothing I could do to stop it . Car horns and ships , people screaming happy new year . I thought of my family and some old friends I had lost and whispered their names as the fireworks filled the sky . The noise was deafening and at my feet I saw a feather that reminded me that angels are always around . The new year’s revellers partied on into the day like an extended family who had all come home to say hello . It looked as if the party was never going to end. I stood where I could find a spot and started busking in the new year as people approached and listening to me.
I felt ok with them as if my busking had found a spot in their hearts. I had won them over. Now I could see the value of doing what I did as a busker . It all made sense .
I forgot about the cold and remembered old songs to busk . One for the money and two for the show , yeah I guess that’s just the way the money goes. That night was fond and life was good . I hadn’t felt this way in a long time.
I wished people happy new year and laughed as they shouted back the same .
There was a feeling in my heart of hope for the year ahead as I walked back to my shared flat with blistered feet through town wishing that my dreams would all come true .
A busker banks on hopes and dreams in all the different places where faces are implanted like tattoos in memory of a main streets and bridges over rivers where seagulls float out to the sea .
There was I on the edge of nowhere with something in my life that stitched it all together . The fabric of busking and sharing music is a rare a colourful lifestyle .
It does come at a cost . The busker walks a thin line between living with family and friends in the normal everyday things and surviving with new challenges in the company of strangers . The busker is always a step away from settling down and reclining back with the security of in a steady job receiving money into the bank every week . When times get tough the buskers needs to look beyond the street corners to earn some extra income . Versatility is a great asset to have in life and there are times when busking isn’t enough and a new course of action is required . This was one of those times when I thought about getting a few weeks work to boost the funds for the journey ahead . I had been to England and Scotland and my next desire was to go busking in Wales and then over to Ireland .
I had never sold a car before but I felt confident to give it a go and talked my way into a job with a second hand car dealer in Edinburgh . On my first day I started work at seven thirty in the morning . I had put together some ideas in my head about selling cars . I watched and walked around the yard like an Indian on the warpath waiting for a customer to walk in . Breakfast would have been nice but I never had enough time after I woke . Just before lunch the manager of the car yard told me he had to go out for a few hours and left me alone to look after the business . I sat there at his desk like I owned it and it happened . The first prospective customer arrived and I told him to sit down . He said he was interested in a van that had twelve thousand pounds on the windscreen . I took the keys for the Van from the office and went over and started up the engine for the customer . I knew very little about the mechanics of a car but could tell there was a suspicious knock in the engine . So I advised the customer there may be a problem with the van and to reconsider buying it . The customer was so impressed by my honesty that he went over to the front of the yard and checked out a family wagon that was twice as much as the van . After starting the engine the customer asked if he could have a test drive. About an hour later the customer returned to the car yard and handed over twenty four thousand pounds cash for the wagon and thanked me . I was amazed at what had happened . I had just sold a car on the first day as a salesman . Lunch time had come and gone and I had another customer going through the process of getting finance to buy a car .
I rang the manager of the yard and told him about the sales . He said he was not going to return to the yard until later in the week and for me to put all the cash money into a sock at the end of the day and bring it home . When the day was done I locked up the car yard and took the bus back to my room where I was staying on the edge of town . The next day was quiet at the car yard and I started to map out the journey ahead . I put my thoughts on paper and poured tea in a cup but never saw the manager return . He was watching me from outside his office door scribbling down things . He was curious about what I was doing and asked if he could see what I wrote . So I showed him the notepad and to my surprise I was given some great encouragement by the manager of the car yard who said ,
“So you’re a busker. You know what , I used to do that myself . You’re going to Wales I’ll give you a few pubs there you can go to play and you’ll do well over in Ireland . Stay here as long as you need . More power to you .“
I hadn’t expected that kind of response and was encouraged by what he said .
The manager of the yard replied ,
“All artists have to share their talent . “
“So are you happy with what I’ve done at the yard ?”
I asked .
“As a matter of fact . I think you could be a good salesman but you’d be wasting your time selling cars. Get out there with your guitar and share your music man .“
That evening when I finished work I called in to a little church and said a few prayers in gratitude of the kindness I was shown and for guidance for the road ahead .
The following day at the car yard my employer handed me some contact phone numbers of people he knew who were involved with music festivals in Wales and Ireland . I stayed for a few months in the car yard until the winter has passed and bought a second hand Avenger that had been traded in to the car yard . I asked the boss if he wanted to come along with me to do some busking and he laughed . There was a fondness in the farewell . Now with a set of wheels I left Edinburgh and the colours of spring had returned . On the road as a busker I had already mapped out the journey to Wales with a string of youth hostels I had marked as pit stops on the way . With some extra funds that I had earned in the car yard my return to busking was a lot easier to do . Life was good and I had found people out there who enjoyed what I was doing .
End Of Chapter 3
Link to chapter 4