Confessions of a Cornish Busker: Going Solo…

I played for Folked Up for the rest of the summer. As I did so it became inescapably clear that I wasn’t entirely wanted in the band. Though The Tall One was always reassuring me that he would fight to keep me, the others, and Kernow Boy especially, saw me as just “boosting the sound that one time in Fowey” and so no longer useful to them. I wondered partly whether it was because I was a girl: the Folked Up ‘image’ was pretty rough and ready (or something similar) and I felt like Kernow Boy thought I was going to dilute it. Though I still played for them gladly whenever I was asked and went to all the gigs they played armed with my flute just in case, I began to feel a bit disheartened by it and in a fit of independence, started busking all on my own.

The first time I went busking on my own I was terrified. For all Folked Up had got me started with everything they’d told me nothing of the ettiquette that’s all important when busking (more on this to come – a lot more, actually) so I was bloody lucky that there was no one playing in the Tunnel when I went down there or I’d have been completely lost. Shaking from head to toe, I stood with my flute case in front of me, and played shakily through the few tunes I knew a couple of times. To my utter surprise, I made £11. To my 18 year old, living with my mum and having just EMA to call my own self, this was a total windfall! I went home delighted and told my mum, who was equally delighted.

My family have a very strict work ethic. I have never seen my grandparents or mum ever spend anything that wasn’t necessary – my grampa wouldn’t even bet 10p when my sister did a magic trick for him. So I was terrified about how they’d react to me busking, assuming it would be along the lines of “Leave this place and never return, devil-child!” But I was wrong. As far as they were concerned I was working hard for money, and it didn’t pay too badly, so it was an acceptable job, as long as I didn’t make it my sole goal in life. I got a lot of stick at first for busking but my mum and my grandparents were always willing to leap to my defence. I think also that my mum was happy to get me out of the house: I remember her justifying me playing for a raucous folk band to her then-boyfriend with the line “Well at least she’s got *some* friends.”

I think that is certainly one of the advantages in busking. There are a lot of buskers. Some of them come and go fairly quickly but there is a decent core that stick around or resurface, particularly among the folkies. As a result of continually seeing each other, haggling over pitches, having the same gripes and bitches, giving each other advice and so on, friendships – or at least bands and alliances – form fairly quickly and are quite fluid. Though busking is something that many people do solo, there is a feeling of solidarity that permeates the whole affair. And this can be both a blessing and a curse.


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