My Secret Life as a Busker

Busking Rock Star GigBEFORE ED SHEERAN STOLE my thunder, I was, at least for a month of weekends, the hottest undiscovered talent in the U.K.

My own short lived career was one fraught with difficulty.

Demanding fans pleading for encores into the wee early hours of the night; drunken louts stealing the hard-earned tips I’d bled fingertips to receive; an audience that wanted to hear the tired classics instead of new, original material.

Aged twenty-four, and five years into my apprenticeship wielding the axe (behind closed doors I called her Samantha), we boozed hard in those days. Post-University and earning a pittance in admin and bottom-rung sales jobs, my housemates and I pooled our finances together every Friday evening at 6.30pm.

Beer was an old man’s drink. We were young, vibrant and empowered by our rock star heroes who necked whiskey and rum, we were determined to short-cut to the buzz-zone, a place where we could be anyone we wanted.

I would usually bust out the guitar half way through these binge sessions at home, playing to friends. Despite my best efforts, crippling shyness wasn’t overcome with the booze, so singing duties were delegated to my housemate Mark, the only one brave/drunk enough to open his pipes in public.

Public performances however, started unexpectedly. A rare night when we both had pulled birds, we left the Student’s Union of Queens University in fine fettle.

The night being still young (2am), and already weighed down with our late night Esperanto‘s kebab, we decided to rip home and grab the guitar to serenade those who, perhaps didn’t do as well as us that night; others who were making the long, lonely journey back home in the bitter cold of a February morning.

As we parked ourselves on the Botanic Road, me trying to breathe life into my rubber fingers, and Mark swigging on a cocktail of whatever alcohol remained in the house, we began to sober up, questioning the logic of our plan.

Anticipating a limo with Louis Walsh and Simon Cowell to drive past, we decided to practice patience and take it seriously. As seriously as you can possibly be when you’re so drunk you’re seeing 24 strings on a guitar.

We remain convinced that this was going to be on a par with the Beatles last concert on the rooftop of Apple in ’69. There was a sense of gravitas about what was about to unfold, as we glanced nervously in both directions for the first sign of people traffic.

This was about the art of Rock and Roll. And the girls, it had to be said. Access to an all-girl house party, which still had some booze was the dream ticket. We were determined to keep the party going.

Over the course of that first night, a few drunken stragglers followed the wailing and broken strumming. They hung around, our very own ring of security personnel that raised the noise level and pretty soon, our troupe began piquing the interest of others who crossed the road to see whose cats were being strangled.

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Mingling with the stars – me and Chanelle Hayes (Big Brother) in Hollywood

After an hour, we had played a range of diverse hits including Oasis, Blur, Snow Patrol, Oasis, Travis and Oasis. Somewhere in my drink-addled mind, I had managed to successfully remember the chords to songs like ‘Wonderwall’, ‘Run’, ‘Why Does It Always Rain on Me’ and ‘Vincent’ – which I insisted on playing because it was the most complex song in my rock repertoire, despite the fans crying out for more up-tempo modern classics.

Night closed around us and sobering up, suddenly realising we were surrounded by half-cut, drunken men we decided to call off our mission.

In the weekends that followed, we persisted with our drunken busks. On the last night, and having enthralled a pack of drunken party goers for an hour, I spotted a beautiful little creature across the street.

She smiled at me as she passed, and mid-song, I handed the guitar to one of our security staff who had already emptied his stomach into our guitar case.

I’ll be back in a second. Warm them up for me,” I mumbled to him and cut through our groupies, making a beeline for the girl.

She was Romanian. Just finished her cleaning duties in the nearby hospital.

The drunken me cerca 2006 was having more success with women than the sober me. I was also just reading a lot of material back then about how to attract women – namely through the pick-up artist movement which advised specific ways to speak and communicate with the opposite sex.

In any case, my best lines misfired. I was staggered when she refused to kiss me. A veritable Rock God with an adoring group of fans chanting ‘One More Tune’ to me from across the street.

A little crestfallen, I returned to my band of merry men determined to show her what she had missed with the best rendition of Eagle Eye Cherry‘s ‘Save Tonight‘ she had ever heard, and for the first time, and an exclusive for Belfast on that special night, I was going to provide vocals.

Right. Give me the guitar. Let’s take it up a notch. Mark?

I turned to see my friend puking up against a shop front window. The crowd around our guitar case were beginning to lose interest, splitting up and moving on. I looked around for some sign of inspiration, the dying embers of our street huddle and impromptu rock gig threatening to end early.

I glanced to the girl across the street. She shook her head and walked away, and as I watched her leave a young guy crossed the street and approached me.

That your guitar mate?” he said and pointed in the direction he had just come. “Some lad has just run off with it.

ROCK AND ROLL.

 – Further Reading – Milennium Eve, Endless Love, The Night I Faced An Ecuadorian Firing Squad

pathfinders chapter 1

image attribution Emilio Kuffer via flickr CC

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