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Thursday, July 17, 2008

What's going to happen to Tube Buskers?

Last Friday I was on my way to the
Social Media Café (Tuttle Club) and just coming up to the escalators at Leicester Square I heard the simply haunting sound of Abba's Money, Money, Money. You don't normally think of that song as "haunting" but it was being sung by the busker Hadar the winner of Capital FM & the londonpaper's search to find the King or Queen of the London Underground. Well King or Queen in busking terms.

Hadar Queen of the Underground Busking at Leicester Square 2

Hadar Queen of the Underground Busking at Leicester Square


I was amazed that she was still doing busking after winning the prize. Just found her video on YouTube of "Queen of the Underground" - see above. She's had some airplay on the radio with that song, after winning and there she was, with only a handful of coins in her guitar case. I gave her two quid and a thumbs up.

She has an absolutely fantastic voice and is equally on a par with Katie Melua, Norah Jones and any other mournful female singer songwriter who's had success of late. As I travelled up the escalator, the much slower than normal tempo of the Abba song remained with me.

As luck would have it - Lloyd Davis who started the Tuttle Club was still there when I arrived and he's a Tube busker too. I asked him why she hadn't got a record deal. He shrugged and said it was no surprise as he felt that the whole competition was more of a database exercise for the sponsors than anything else. It seems hard to get "discovered" by a record label if you're a busker, even if you win a major competition.

Unfortunately this seems like it'll be harder still as Lloyd reported yesterday that there was some uncertainly over the future of the official busking operation. London Underground are taking the management of licensed busking in-house after sponsorship dried up.

He wrote: "No new sponsor has been found to replace Capital/The London Paper - the sponsorship package of £1m+ has funded the administration of the scheme by Automatic Management who ran the audition/vetting process, employed Busking Site Managers (BSMs) to visit the various pitches regularly and ensure all is well, and managed the telephone and internet booking process.

The contract with Automatic seems to have been terminated with very short notice - while we all like to have a moan about how things have been run, they’re a good bunch of people and I hate to see the BSMs especially out of a job.

Tube Buskers Sing for MoneyThe internet booking system is to be discontinued and all bookings will now happen over the phone and rosters will effectively be fixed by 2pm the previous day as that's when they'll be faxed (yes faxed) to Station Supervisors.
"

This seems pretty antiquated and Lloyd thinks it will be a "recipe for double-booking disputes on the one hand and pitches needlessly going empty on the other".

But what if they never find a sponsor, does that mean that we'll lose official buskers altogether? Since they became official it had really cut down the number of unofficial buskers on carriages, who are generally pretty annoying as there's no escape from them.

I'm still amazed that a record company or another radio station hasn't jumped on a sponsorship package for the buskers. Some labels were toying with paying buskers to play specific songs a few years ago and although that wouldn't have to happen, surely they must get some benefit from the millions of people who pass by a busker each day.


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