It’s all well and good for me to try to find you tips about how to start busking (or to become more successful) in London but surely it’s better directly from the horse’s mouth. I spoke to Carwyn Tywyn, a Welsh folk harpist who once busked in London for his tips about busking.
Where are the best places to busk in London?
I would say it depends on the type of act. I suppose outside Covent Garden Market would be the “Mecca” of busking, but personally I would probably struggle to hold an audience there, given that I play a fairly quiet instrument. Even with amplification, I doubt I would hold down a crowd. If I was forced to to move to London tomorrow to be a musician, I dare say that I would spend my time travelling out to busk in smaller towns in East Anglia or Hampshire, rather than struggle in the big city.
Is busking at tube stations seen as the best place to be from the point of view of a busker?
I think there’s quite a lot of romance attached to busking on the tube. I didn’t try it during my visit, as I was wary of being caught by the authorities. There are some great acoustics to be had in some of the tunnel walkways. But on the downside it can get intolerably hot. And I would be terrified of the rats!!!
How long did you busk in London for?
One day, but I did move around – Leicester Square, Carnaby Street and a couple of other places. I just about covered my train fare, but it was a struggle! Rather bizarrely, I was offered a 6-month tour of Sweden with a theatre company, which I turned down. I often wonder, what if…
Why did you start busking? Do you still busk now you live in Wales?
I started busking at age 15, in the town of Aberystwyth, with a small guitar. I just had an urge to get out and sing some political and folk songs that I had been learning in my bedroom for a number of months. I started getting small gigs in the town. I then busked occasionally with the harp as an undergraduate student, and then funded my PhD (in politics) by busking for 6 years across south Wales. (1997-2003). Busking is now part of my income as a semi-professional harpist in my adult life.
What are your tips for other buskers out there?
Assessing your pitch is very important. Is there a steady flow of people? Are there good acoustics? Are you likely to cause an obstruction or be a nuisance to shopkeepers? Are you playing directly outside a shop window – again a possible cause for complaint from shopkeepers? Is there too much background noise? This all comes from experience…