When I first moved to the big smoke it was amid the ashes of the 1980s – a place where the ghosts of the 60s were still evident on Carnaby Street and the spirits of fag smoke lingered on the buses. For the millions of us that used the underground five times a week, the soundtrack to our lives were the tube station buskers – grizzled blokes with beards playing guitars, flutes and violins – often badly. These underground maestros had missed out on Opportunity Knocks and were still decades away from the X Factor and so they eked out a living from playing covers of golden oldies to tired and broke commuters.
Fast forward to 2003 and we’re in a world where the landscape underground has undergone an overhaul. TFL is now, believe it or not, auditioning buskers. Yep; no longer can our bearded friends simply set up shop by the entrance to the Jubilee Line at Bond Street Station – they now have to undergo what might be called “Buskers Have Got Talent” to try to earn their spot in the subterranean spotlight. For many – myself included – this kind of goes against everything that busking stood for; namely amateur musicians playing dodgy versions of A Whiter Shade Of Pale on sooty station floors in the hope of going home with a few quid for their efforts.
When you consider some of the stars that started off as buskers hoping to be spotted by an A&R scout – including Passenger, Rod Stewart and Tracy Chapman, you can’t help but wonder how many of these would have made the grade in this new sanitised world of music. While some may call it progress, I can’t help thinking that a little of the magic has been subject to signal failure as we have no choice but to mind the gap between polished performances and rough but real musical passion.