The London Underground has designated areas where buskers can ply their trade, licensed busking was originally launched as a trial in 2003, with 25 pitches throughout 12 key Tube stations but this has now expanded. It turns out that some 400 buskers, relying solely on donations from customers, provide over 3,000 hours of live music weekly. And these just aren’t any old buskers, they have to go through a rigorous audition process and are also vetted for police convictions.
None of this could’ve prepared me for the sights and sounds that greeted me at Piccadilly, as I came down the escalator from street level. At first all I could hear was a whistle, echoing towards me, the tune was unregonisable but had a haunting, piercing quality that made me pay attention. As I descended further down I saw a blind man in a luminous yellow visor, stood on the special busking patch, swaying from side to side as he pursed his lips and emitted this shrill but strangely compelling sound.
He seemed lost in some kind of trance as his bulk shifted from foot to foot, like a massive pendulum, making his mouth music as floods of commuters and tourists gawped, pointed and went past. I don’t know what it was but I couldn’t help but think it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen and then I thought about the fact that he would’ve auditioned and I tried to imagine what it must have been like to stand in front of a bunch of people and whistle and sway and be judged good enough.
Maybe those people felt as moved and as I did.