I wrote a Blog a while ago about The Candy Boat and a number of other entrepreneurial enterprises carried out from other boats….including a Beer Boat. I missed one, The Music Boat. Not quite a reality yet as I write, but watch this space. One day next Spring, The Music Boat shall launch and deliver good music to the masses…. well, those who frequent the canal towpaths of Britain anyway.
That’s the plan. Just have to get off my butt to organise it. I mean, everything is in place, mostly. A few details to iron out and an artisan licence to acquire, but that should be easy. The other details? Choosing just the right music. I have a vast repertoire from years of collecting tunes….since the 60s. Being the age I am, as I write this, there are 0nly 4 years between myself and David Bowie and 2 shy of Glenn Frey….so I’d better get a move on. All the musical gear is in place, even a battery operated guitar amplifier, so the only excuse, really, is procrastination.
I am a Busker at heart. Every time I pass one in the Underground or Subway, on the streets or along the River Thames, I want to be one of them. The origins of the word Busker or to busk are obscure. Some say it comes from an obsolete French word (busquer or Basquer), others say it morphed from being a nautical term meaning to cruise to a later meaning of to seek and later to cruise the seas as a pirate to catch prey. But by the 1850s in Britain, the term was used to describe those musicians who cruised the taverns to sing and play their songs for cash….or a drink or two. Whatever the origins, today’s Buskers have to be licensed in order to perform. One cheeky chappy went so far as to say that busking was probably the world’s second oldest profession.
My voice is still pretty sound and my fingers still move reasonably well….no arthritis to speak of….so I think I could handle the rigors of busking to a fickle public on the streets or along the canals. Mostly the classics from The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel to a few artists from the 90s and even some from the 21st century. But no Rap or what they call R&B these days. No punk and no Ultra Vox either. Strictly a tunes musician. Lots of Blues and even one Metallica song. Eclectic without being too diverse. I like a song you can hum on the way home.
My best friend joins in. She has a fine voice and we harmonise well together. Some guy heard us at a 60th birthday gig we did for a friend and said we sounded lovely but needed some bottom end. He’s a bass player. Say no more. I have a bass and my best friend plays some guitar, so look out Tal Wilkenfeld and Carol Kaye. We may go deeper yet. My best friend says ‘Let’s have a go’. Bottoms up.
One thing I admire about Buskers. They can sing and play for hours without a word sheet in front of them. Most of the really good ones can anyway. They have memorised a whole catalogue of tunes and can even take some of the most obscure requests easily. Flawless renditions with not a word or guitar chord in front of them. The lucky Buskers are the folk who play their saxaphones, other wind instruments and violins, not concerned with lyrics of any kind. Just have to have a handle on their instruments. Some are excellent. There are other kinds of Buskers fom fire eaters to jugglers, but my interest is with the musicians.
You may or may not know this, but some pretty famous musicians started out as Buksers. The likes of Ed Sheeran, Tracy Chapman, Sheyl Crow, Rod Stewart and Janis Joplin plied their musical wares on the streets of the cities in which they lived. Actor Steve Martin busked with his banjo. And the great BB King began by busking. We do a couple of songs by Michael David Rosenberg. You may know him as Passenger. ‘Let Her Go’ and ‘Holes’ are two favourites. A great Canadian singer/songwriter and guitarist, Bruce Cockburn, busked in his early days in London and in Paris.
I lived in Paris for a year back in the early 1980s. I used to take visiting dignitaries (not politicians) on my famous half hour tour of the main exhibits at the Louvre. An unpaid gig but lots of fun. Venus de Milo? Right this way….Stele of Hammurabi? Follow me. The sword of Charlemagne? Just over there. The Mona Lisa? Well, that’s an easy one. One day on the way to the Louvre, a Busker sat outside with a Classical guitar (those of nylon strings….once made of cat guts, but changed for obvious reasons) playing one of my favourite tunes ‘Romance for Guitar’, an anonymous instrumental work that most guitarists learn because it is quite easy as Classical pieces go. The chap in question played it beautifully. When we came out he was still playing it. Must have gone through his repertoire and was beginning again I thought. Next visit, there he was, playing the same piece….when we went in and when we were leaving. I spoke to him between same tunes and he said it was the only piece he knew. It took him a long time to learn and he was afraid to stop in case he forgot some bit. Amazing.
My only weakness, other than procrastination, is my memory. I have sung some the same songs for years but have failed to memorise the lyrics of any of them. I have to have the music in front of me when I perform. A professional musician once told me that I would never go far if I had to have the music out when I perform. But there I was, music stand in place and lyrics clothes-pegged so the wind didn’t carry away the sheets. I have recently graduated to a folder that holds the sheet music. It takes me a long time to change methods. But one must progress.
The Music Boat launches in the late Spring of 2016. Watch for us. If your view of our faces is obscured by music stands, don’t fret. Just get into the groove and sing along. And for the moment, bring along your bass guitar and amp (must be battery powered). Until my best friend catches on to the infernal thing, we’ll need your bottom end.