Tab Tries: Being a Street Entertainer

LUCY BUTTERFIELD is cynical about buskers, but The Tab encouraged her to grab a guitar and her best singing voice and become one of them by wooing the passers by of Cambridge with a ditty or two.

busker Cambridge Cambridge University folk guitar Italian lucy butterfield Music Singing Student tab tries The Kinks

I’m pretty much the epitome of Northern stinge. I’m the person who couldn’t even find it in her heart to chuck 10p at the then unknown George Sampson when he danced on the streets of Manchester. I’m always happy to listen to buskers, and on occasion I’ve even been known to watch them. But, I never, ever give them money.

And so, when The Tab challenged me try out busking for a day, my heart sunk. Yes, I bought a guitar in a mid-fresher-life-crisis last term, and so technically I was qualified for the job. But, I was certainly not mentally prepared for the task ahead of me. And my reluctance to ever part with my loose change probably meant that I was owed a nice, big serving of karma.

Upon waking up and seeing the word ‘BUSK’ scrawled across my diary, I realised that in order to fully immerse myself into the world of busking, it was going to be necessary for me to sing. Alone. Without the influence of several Jägerbombs. As I stumbled through some shambolic chord changes and thoroughly suspect vocals (otherwise known as ‘practise’) in the safety of my room that morning, I realised that this was not so much Mission Impossible as Mission Distinctly-Possible-But-Almost-Certainly-Cripplingly-Embarrassing. It’s safe to say I wasn’t feeling confident.

And so, with much trepidation, I put on the most folky outfit I could find and headed to Cambridge, with a few helpful companions in tow. I thought I should start off by busking somewhere quiet – to ease into it. My helpful companions disagreed. We found an area of pavement on King’s Parade. Not exactly quiet, but relatively spacious nonetheless.

I settled myself on the floor and begin a shaky rendition of Kiss Me, the busking classic by Sixpence None the Richer. I don’t know what I expected, but very little happened. Strangers didn’t flock towards me and mock. Nobody cried. And nobody died. My friends sat on a bench opposite me and clapped enthusiastically. Some polite (and quite hot) Italian tourists asked me to sing louder. So far, so good.

I started to enjoy myself. It was starting to feel like an outdoor concert. I smiled and moved on to Lola by the Kinks – because who doesn’t love a song about a transvestite? Again, this elicited a minimal reaction from anyone but my friends who, but this stage, included the Italians. They asked to have their picture taken with me. I seem to have become a tourist attraction, but I liked it.

After half an hour or so, my groupies drifted off in pursuit of various weekend activities. In the words of the inimitable Jason Derulo, I was riding solo (solo, solo, etc). Daunting as this might have seemed, it felt like the pressure was off. I continued to battle through my repertoire of generally uncool but easy and playable songs, whilst the public continued to walk past as though I were invisible.

Occasionally, curious children wandered up to me, before being pulled briskly away by their mothers with a: “don’t touch her – you don’t know where she’s been” kind of a look. But I didn’t mind – I was having fun, and at least the children were enjoying my music.

When the time to pack up my stuff and go home came, I counted the money I’d earned. This wasn’t difficult. There had been three genuine donations (admittedly one of them was from my friends, who later reclaimed their pound coin), but I soon realised that the money didn’t matter. I was quite content sitting in the sunshine and singing in front of people I hadn’t seen before and would probably never see again.

In a slightly bizarre way, singing to random passers-by made the unsavoury memories of my mid-fresher-life crisis fade away. It was oddly therapeutic, genuinely quite fun, and an excellent way to spend an afternoon. I can wholeheartedly recommend street entertainment to anyone who finds themselves finishing exams and having loads of spare time because none of their friends have finished yet. Try it – you may even make some new friends!