A very informative, well written story on busking in The Irish Times today ... which gives me an opportunity to get some pix up from our trip to Europe ... especially Bremen, a lovely Hanseatic city we visited in northern Germany. Busking is thought of as a typically Irish thing, but it's international. And it was in evidence in Bremen.
In fact, musicians are part of what makes Bremen special.
Statue at left isn't a busker - it's the Town Musicians of Bremen (Stadtmusikanten) on the Market Square downtown. It's shiny in places because people like to rub the statue for good luck. (Sort of like Abraham Lincoln's nose!) It comes from a folktale collected by the Brothers Grimm. Says the summary in Wikipedia, "In the story a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster, all past their prime years in life and usefulness on their respective farms, were soon to be discarded or mistreated by their masters. One by one they leave their homes and set out together. They decide to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners and become musicians there." In a word or two, they live by their wits. And the story is delightful. I won't spoil it for you - the rest of their story is in Wikipedia. The city has sort of adopted the animals as mascots, and the statue by Bremen sculptor Gerhard Marcks shows the animals.
Bremen and its port city of Bremerhaven have long enjoyed their common status as a "free city" - i.e. a chartered city pretty much ruled by its burghers, or middle class, rather than the feudal nobility - and even today its formal name is the Freie Hansestadt Bremen (the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen). And the Grimm Brothers folk tale symbolizes that spirit of freedom ... and living by your wits.
At right are some real musicians of Bremen, busking on the other side of the Market Square from the statue.
Here's how Una Mullally begins her story in the Irish Times:
Some are good, some are bad, some are insufferable: you know it’s summertime when the buskers take over the streets. But what separates the talented from the talentless and how does a busker earn €7,000 in one day? ...And this vignette that reminds me of the buskers I heard on Grafton Street last year in Dublin:
A bare-chested dreadlocked man attempting to limbo underneath a blazing stick, an elderly harpist, two men in full native American garb playing panpipes to a backing CD, teenage boys mangling Damien Rice songs on a duo of barely tuned guitars, an artist rolling out a canvas of a remarkably detailed stained glass painting, a bored looking man constructing the likeness of a dog out of sand, a deft spray-painter making surrealist space-scapes with moons and pyramids, a lone opera singer, a trad group, a tightly honed raucous band, a drumming circle, a tuneless accordion-player, a classical trio. Summertime is when the buskers take over our streets, becoming moveable street furniture that annoy, amuse, distract and pleasure in equal measure.
So what makes a good busker, and what makes a rubbish one? Roger Quail is the label manager of Model Citizen and Rubyworks, founded by Niall Muckian who was promoting the primarily singer-songwriter night The Ruby Sessions in the early 2000s. The weekly gigs in Doyle’s pub in Dublin saw several former buskers such as Glen Hansard and Paddy Casey take the stage.
“A good busker is someone who can hold an audience and make them forget where they are, even if it’s only for five minutes,” Quail says. Rubyworks know all about good buskers.
SUCH IS IRELAND’S bustling busker scene that some people even temporarily move here to get a slice of the action. Kamila and Magda from Katowice in Poland will stay here for three weeks, playing their viola duets every morning on Henry Street in Dublin and every evening on Grafton Street, before returning to their studies in a music academy back home. “We started at 8am and we’ll play until 10pm,” Magda explains, midweek on Grafton Street.And no transition at all for this one. On the motorways in Sweden, they have fast food resaurants called "Rasta."
They were here two years ago, “and it was better, definitely” in terms of earnings. These days, they can make anything from €40 to €100 each. They play a mixture of classical music and the occasional pop curveball, concentrating mainly on Bach and Mozart. While they like being their own bosses and choosing when to play, there are downfalls – “the weather” exclaims Kamilla.
So I decided it was the best chance I'll ever have to be a Rasta man.
Here's the picture.