28/IX/11 — Busking Audition
I’m sitting on the platform of Longbridge station, having just missed the 13:22, meaning that I’ll have to get the 13:32. The weather is suddenly uncompromisingly hot, prompting me to change my jeans for light trousers, into which I transferred the contents of my pockets, only to find that they were so ridiculously creased as to make them unacceptable busking wear; I changed them for my blazen-white chinos, but forgot to empty the pockets. Having to locate my phone at the 12:55th hour was the cause of my delay.
I’m now on the train with my bag, containing coffee, strings, string removal tool, cumerbund, strap and guitar; minus 50p which I gave to a guy outside the station. This man had a cool look about him, smelled of booze and tobacco and wanted 50p for his bus fare, speaking with a half-reformed Australian accent. We chatted very briefly about guitars and music and he promised to reimburse tomorrow, when he gets paid, — ‘See you round’ — he called as I left.
As the train approaches New Street station, I’m considering whether City Centre Management will be present, and if so what will they think of my Floyd–Muse–Floyd guitar reduction sandwich. Note to self: Ask M– about publishing my own newspaper. I am fully armed with telephone numbers in case no one is there (which is unfortunately likely). Note to self #2: tune bottom string very slightly flat so as to account for the twang-factor.
Onward from Selley Oak, the scenery is a mix of 19th century red-brick, overgrowth and some vaguely good new builds, and my favourite feature, the canal.
University — On come a high percentage of spoiled students; in comes many overlapping perfumes and elevated senses of self carried on a Birmingham accent. One student — I think — sits by herself, the soul laments. After University is Five Ways; onwards form Five ways to my musical tribunal. This train — if London Midland are doing their job — will get me to New Street giving me seven minutes to get from platform 11B to the station hall, out into the car park towards the Bull Ring, though the gap and to my rendezvous by the tree outside the Pavillions. I’ll have to judge the speed carefully, between getting there with plenty of time but drenched with perspiration [nice, I know] and being late. Alright City Centre Management, bring it on.
I arrived, donned my cumerbund and guitar and chilled for five minutes, and as I expected, my date wasn’t on time. I tuned the guitar to as near perfection as is possible with human ears, and loafed around drinking coffee.
After 10 minutes a geeky-looking man appeared, asking whether I was here for an audition. I said that I was, and that my date was late. He said that this was usually the case and that, if provoked, he would judge my quality himself. He instructed me to play until Mr City Centre Management arrived; when I told him that I could only play three songs because of the state of my finger (I chopped a hansome chunk off my left index finger — one of the most important fingers for guitar playing), he told me to repeat them — great.
So I played my three songs, one of them quite badly, and then played them again, stopping after that because playing three songs thrice would have been excessive. So I dossed, enjoyed the sun, and watched my former brethren the street fundraisers doing their doings.
I tuned the guitar again, then broke my own rule, playing Brain Damage/Eclipse another time. As I hit the G chord in the chorus, my B string snapped, and as I was crouching down to replace it, a short and smartly-dressed Asian man appeared — my date.
‘Are you here for an audition?’, he said.
I looked up saying yes, that I was pleased to meet him and that it was fine that he was late; experiencing that awkward feeling which one gets when one’s being spoken to, but at the same time as having to attend to an important job. So I attempted to divide my attention equally between fitting the string to my guitar, and him as he described the criteria which he would use to judge whether it is a good idea to allow me on the street.
He then departed, saying that he would hang around and observe people’s responses. So I got my axe in tune, which took about five minutes (courtesy of my new B string) and commenced Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, it’s a lovely song.
When I have busked like a renegade in the past, it’s usually been the one which people enjoy the most; though this time, the proletariat seemed unmoved.
I finished, and commenced Uprising by Muse — my bastardised busking version. I had been worrying about this song, thinking that people would find it too raucous.
‘Rise up and take the power back,
It’s time that, the fat cats had a heat-attack.’
The opposite was the case, as people clearly enjoyed it, and paid generously.
When I finished, my date stepped up and said that he liked what I was doing, but was disturbed by the way in which I made my voice heard, saying that it was not like the natural way in which people who use amplification produce their voices. Sir — it’s called singing. What the others do is amplified speaking in tune.
So I played him Brain Damage/Eclipse, but he was still unimpressed. He told me that my guitar playing was superb (I would have thought that scruffy would have been more accurate) for which, Sir, I am grateful. He added that he would probably give me a busking licence if I just plaid guitar or used a microphone.
This was irritating, but there are plenty of cities left in which I can make a new attempt.
‘Music has always been a matter of Energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel. I have always needed Fuel. I am a serious consumer. On some nights I still believe that a car with the gas needle on empty can run about fifty more miles if you have the right music very loud on the radio.’ – Hunter S. Thompson