London performers take to the streets for the 2012 Big Busk
The Mayor of London Big Busk initiative is now in its third year, coinciding neatly with Olympic fever this time around. Over 1000 young musicians aged between 16 and 25 have been given a platform to sing, dance, hula-hoop and do whatever they darn well please to a massive audience since 2009, and The Upcoming went along in a bid to better understand this commendable scheme.
You may have seen licensed performers over the past few weeks in such hotspots as St Paul’s Cathedral, the O2 Arena and even the Olympic Park, flanked by blue flags bearing the imaginative slogan “GIGS”. They are all volunteer entertainers and troubadours, ranging from balladeers to beat-boxers, competing in a city-wide busk-off which will see the winner playing the Gigs Grand Final in September – rumours of a climactic set in Trafalgar Square are rife. The victors will be voted for online by the public, and ratified by a panel of judges in the upcoming weeks.
The whole operation, while undoubtedly a scheduling nightmare for the organisers, appears strikingly simple out in the field – sound engineers turn up at the pre-arranged spot with a portable “stage on wheels”, which unpacks into a mini-amp and full back-line along with the ubiquitous flags, and a parade of remarkably talented young musicians each get a half hour in which to strut their stuff. It could almost be considered “guerilla-like” if the whole thing wasn’t so fiercely regimented by official terms and conditions (for example: accepting money from the public is forbidden, and Big Busk uniform must be worn at all times).
With all financial incentives effectively removed, musicians are really only in it for the love of music, and for many it provides a much-appreciated outlet to promote their own songs and unique talents. One act – a twenty-piece choir straight out of Glee that we had to somehow try and follow in Potters Field Park – flew all the way from Massachusetts to perform a spot-on a cappella version of Bohemian Rhapsody. Another performer used nothing but his own voice-box to greet startled new arrivals at King’s Cross station with a heavy dubstep remix of Seven Nation Army. Quality is consistent, thanks to stringent auditions, which took place earlier in the summer at the British Music Experience Museum.
Although beset by minor scheduling and management problems inevitably associated with projects of this scale, the Big Busk has proved to be a real shot in the arm for the city’s live music scene. Credit is due to the hundreds of organisers, technicians and performers who have gone out of their way to bring free music to the streets of London; here’s hoping that it can have as profound an effect further down the line as the Lottery-funded British sporting successes of late!
For more information on the Big Busk click here.