“Excellent 30s Grappelli style sounds, we just had to buy your album which is playing as I type this!”
— Iain. C. Kelly
Not everyone sees a busker and thinks "What a lucky guy!" But I feel as though ever since I first busked in 1989 I've been very fortunate. I've learned to perform in a way no school of music could have taught me, with a more than honest audience. When someone really enjoys what I do they often tell me, and when someone doesn't like it they are more than happy to share that as well!
I started my musical journey in 1981 at the tender age of seven, later than some and earlier than others. I had the honour to perform before such auspicious audiences as the Queen Mother (on a handbell) and at my mother's church, on violin. I won a competition in the end of the pier show in Cromer, which my old violin teacher remembers but I have blocked out! I then studied classical violin for several years, taking exams, studying theory and playing in the Norfolk county string and youth orchestras. The highlight of this period of time was having the honour of meeting and then being conducted in a string orchestra by Sir Yehudi Menuhin.
It was this experience, aged 15 that made me realise my heart was not truly in performing classical violin and that I wanted more. I wanted the freedom to express myself and to play all sorts of different styles of music. Unfortunately I had no idea how to do anything other than read music. At the time it was the most daunting thing, and very embarrassing to go from the structure of classical music, to knowing nothing at the few jazz jams I went to. Over time though I slowly learned to improvise and began to enjoy working violin into many different genres.
Aged 18 I was busking a lot, with blues backing tracks, and playing with whatever type band would have me, on and off the street. I experimented with electric violins, even cutting holes in classical violins and filling them with cushion filler and cheap pick ups. I played again on the end of a pier, but this time the Britannia pier in Great Yarmouth in a folk rock band, with the whole dance hall juddering as people jumped around to the Irish Rover.
Like many of my colleagues busking became a lifestyle as well as a profession. And when my wife and I relocated to York in 2014 I found a vibrant scene, and joined Hyde Family Jam the same year. We still busk today and are going strong. Covid has put a bit of a dampener on spontaneity of performance, but I'm hopeful 2022 will see a lot of new adventurers beginning, and many new people to entertain along the way!