Cambridge Characters: The Bin-man Busker

Usually only visible from the elbow outwards, the Bin-Man Busker has always been an enigma. KATIE MAIR steps inside the bin to enlighten us…

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‘Hmm. Who exactly are you, then? You sure you’re not some kind of Corpus mole?’

Mildly affronted, I tweak my scarf so as to position its massive Murray Edwards crest directly across my bosom.

Charlie is in Cambridge Wine Merchants on Kings Parade, an establishment he became au fait with during his punt-tout days. Reassured, he grabs his guitar, finishes his Stella, and we head to the infamous rubbish receptacle.

‘Maybe it was all the acid I took at 16. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but one day back in 2000 I saw a guy from the Council open one up, and I thought I’d try to fit inside…’

Getting trashed

The squeeze is tight, but Charlie is lithe and compact, climbing in expertly, and deftly slotting the neck of his instrument through the bin’s opening.

Charlie is pretty sure he’s the only person to combine busking with bin, and the unique formula certainly has its benefits: ‘Oh God yeah, I’ve pulled off the back of it before!’

Achieving small-town fame as the Naked Punter in 2006, it would seem that Charlie trades on his cheekiness.

The enterprising busker started off squatting in the bin, catching passing shoppers unawares with imaginative comments on their shopping habits – ‘‘Ooh, M&S! Sainsbury’s not good enough for ya?’ That kind of thing. It confuses people, made them laugh.’

After moving to Wakefield to shack up with a lady-friend and quickly realising that, ‘Wakefield was boring, and it wasn’t going to last’, Charlie taught himself to play the guitar to pass the time.

When the love affair ended, he moved back to Cambridge with 6 songs under his belt, and the lure of the bin stronger than ever. Within 20 minutes of climbing in, he had made £5.40, and realised that he could literally make one man’s trash another man’s treasure.

The work is seasonal, so when he’s not busking Charlie fills his time in other ways. ‘What do I do? I deliver furniture. Watch porn. You know, the usual…’

Not everyone sees the funny side to Charlie’s unusual approach to busking- hence his opening Corpus quip. In the past, Charlie has had bleach poured into his bin, and students pledge to ‘smash [his] face in’.

He doesn’t seem particularly perturbed, though: ‘they were pretty stupid, and admitted they were from Corpus straight away. I just reported them to the Porters.’

Watch where you throw your rubbish next time

Despite the hassle, there are many perks to the work, not least that Charlie can dictate his own hours- ‘massive’ breaks and days off included.

He didn’t want to say how much money he can make, emphasising other benefits over the monetary rewards: ‘it is cheesy, but it does make you feel good making people smile. I’ve had people nearly in tears, people coming over to give me twenty pound notes, guys asking me to play particular songs to their girlfriends. I’ve even played at wedding receptions.’

Charlie warns me that he also gets a unique perspective on the world from his waist-height performance space. ‘You might want to warn girls that if they squat down to take a photo in askirt, it can be quite revealing from this angle…’ He pauses, and reconsiders his advice. ‘On second thoughts, don’t tell them that- I get a great view!’

Charlie is available for parties, receptions and May Balls- watch out for him at St Catz June Event this year.