Cornmarket, pushing my bike through the post-festive throngs today, everybody in the doldrums, the in-between days of Christmas and the New Year. Suddenly I’m distracted by the sound of somebody singing. That’s not unusual - there are always buskers around that part of the city. In fact, it seems to have become a welcome space for public spectacle – clowns and street entertainers, buskers with Mumford-y beards, little kids with squalling electric guitars, the amazing drummer who plays the empty paint pots, musicians miming to panpipe music, etc.
But this guy was different – he had drawn a crowd. He had set up some kind of MP3 player and an amplifier outside the front doors of British Home Stores, belting out karaoke backing tracks. And he stood out in front of it in a camel coat, with a straw hat on the pavement in front of him, and just... wailed.
I watched him for about ten minutes. Old showtunes, Elvis numbers, 60s hits, he bellowed them all out, throwing his head back, waving his arms and moving around the space he had created. Every now and then a pretty girl would go past and he would gesticulate, offering the performance to her alone. The crowd around him would grow and then retreat, in that unfathomable logic of crowds, where everybody suddenly, wordlessly agrees they’ve stood for too long and they instantly disperse.
But periodically his audience would swell to thirty or forty people, and they would stand in a circle, smiling, just amazed at the energy he gave it. No instrument, no costume. Just his voice. When he didn’t know the words, he approximated them with home-made sounds of his own.
In other words, he was not to be stopped.
I bent over to throw a quid in the hat, and noticed that it was already two thirds full of £1 and 50p coins. Which tells us something, I think – fortune favours the brave. Who dares wins. Something along those lines. I’ve heard a lot of buskers this year – and I’ve made donations to most of them – but this one I’ll remember, because something about his bravado made me smile.