We met the guy who sings in the bin and he’s just as weird as anyone could have hoped

He got into it “for shits and giggles”

bin busking Cambridge Features interviews

Ever been charging down Kings’ parade, a ball of self-importance and essay-related misery, and heard a muffled Bob Dylan cover? Then looked up and had this mood utterly shattered as you realise that it’s coming from a bin? Me too.

That Guy Who Plays Guitar in the Bin is a veritable institution, every bit as much a bastion of Cambridge life as getting a weird crush on your supervisor; delivering what-the-fuck moments to the stressed in their time of need.

"like a rollin' stoone"

“like a rollin’ stoone”

I loitered around a bin for fifteen minutes today to get to speak to this local icon.

Whoever I was expecting to unfold from the bin, it was very surprising when it turned out to be a neatly-trimmed man in his early thirties, wearing cream chinos.

As he disentangled his guitar, he cursed at the fact that so many tourists took photos without leaving any money, “just cause I’m in the bin they think they don’t have to tip”. It is bad form, but I suppose he can’t chase them away from in there.

Probably the third biggest tourist attraction after punting and Kings' Chapel

Probably the third biggest tourist attraction after punting and Kings’ Chapel

It turns out that Charlie used to be a punt guide. Fifteen years ago, he watched the bins being emptied and noticed that no key was used to unlock the metal door – it was just a latch you could reach by sticking your hand inside. He decided to see if he could fit in the bin “for shits and giggles” – and it turned out he could. At the time, these latch-door bins were the standard council ones, so it became a hobby of his to climb into the bins of Cambridge “and just shout insults at people” – as you do. Nothing cruel; “just stuff like, if they chucked away a Marks and Spencer’s bag I’d yell ‘Sainsbury’s not good enough for you then?’”

Mistaking him for a busker, people would throw money in there. One day, after twenty minutes of bin-dwelling and yelling, he realised he’d made £6. It was worth pursuing as a money-spinner – “I mean, that’s £15 an hour.”

It was two years later before someone, “my friend Spencer, he was on the third series of big brother” suggested sticking a guitar in there too. I didn’t remember Spencer from the third series of Big Brother either, but bloody good idea, Spencer.

A quick stalk of The Singing Bin Man’s Facebook page is testament to the fact that this kind of bizarre hobby is a great way to break the ice with the great-and-good. Charlie’s bin-related antics have attracted the attention of a surprising number of celebrities, including Bob Geldof, Carol Vorderman and someone called Jim Broadbent who was apparently in Harry Potter.

The singing bin man posing with Jim Broadbent, aka Bridget Jones' dad

The singing bin man posing with Jim Broadbent, aka Bridget Jones’ dad

Were his friends surprised at his unorthodox job? Not at all, they are well aware of his exhibitionist side; “I was always known for streaking in sixth form” he says, matter-of-factly.

In fact, Charlie’s introduction to being a legend did not involve bins at all. As it turns out, “if you scroll through the Varsity archives you’ll find an interview with the naked punt guy…”- well, it never hurts to have a side-line.

Charlie's been a BNOC for years, and he doesn't even go here

Charlie’s been a BNOC for years, and he doesn’t even go here

The bin was Charlie’s main source of income for a few years, but he has recently got a second job – at Hotel du Vin, near Browns – because he and his girlfriend are expecting a baby. He will still keep up his own insane brand of busking at weekends, but is looking for an apprentice to take over the role a few days a week.

He asked me to put out a request for anyone “5”9 or less who can play guitar and sing a bit” who would like to have a go at singing in the bin.

If you aren't claustrophobic, you too could meet Sir Bob Geldof

If you aren’t claustrophobic, you too could meet Sir Bob Geldof

And finally, the question we all really needed to have answered, what does he do when he needs to go to the toilet? “I get out of the bin.”

So there you have it, Cambridge’s favourite busker is a great story teller and, in the most heart-warming way possible, more like a character from Spaced than a real person.