No matter where you look in Cornwall buskers can be seen lining the high streets, particularly when the weather is good. But what makes it seemingly more popular here in contrast to anywhere else in the country? Why have Cornwall Council decided to print advice specifically for buskers in Truro, with guidelines on what to play and for how long?
The booklet advices buskers to only play in the same place for up to an hour at a time, or half an hour when playing a noisier instrument as the can have a detrimental effect of residents within the area. The booklet outlines that performers need to have a variety of songs and also to conduct regular soundchecks to make sure they aren’t too loud.
Busking or street performance is defined as the practice of performing in public places, for gratuities. In many countries the rewards are generally in the form of money but other gratuities such as food, drink or gifts may be given. Up until the 20th century buskers were commonly called minstrels. Plus, the verb ‘to busk’, from the word ‘busker’, comes from the Spanish root word ‘buscar’, meaning ‘to seek’.
I travelled to Truro to investigate what buskers knew about the situation already, and whether or not they had done anything because of it. There were plenty of buskers out performing in the good weather and I spoke to Matt Partridge. Matt, who is 20 years old, has been busking seriously for about a year, and is well aware of the guidelines that had been put in place.
“I don’t think it would have been an issue, but what sparked it off was people using big amplifiers outside shops and businesses, which causes friction,” he said. “There’s two sides to the coin and people need to make a living either way. Buskers want to make a living on the streets and shop owners want to be able to hear people and hear themselves think.”
“I think busking should be allowed as long as it’s not too loud. It should be down to the busker as to how long they go on for, but they should be reasonable. I have quite a big repertoire and I change my set quite a lot that hopefully it doesn’t get on people’s nerves too much,” he said, laughing airily.
Matt had managed to get one of the best spots in the high street when I spoke to him, on the corner of three roads where a steady flow of people pass by, plenty of whom were dropping coins into his open guitar case. “I’m doing alright, but it’s quite quiet for a Saturday. Hopefully it’ll pick up later on,” he said.
I headed back to Falmouth to see if word about the guidelines had spread to the high street there. Falmouth was voted fourth best place to live in the country by The Sunday Times not too many weeks ago, with one of the main reasons cited as a ‘further development in culture amongst the town’. As stated in the paper, ‘places were selected for offering the best quality of life to the widest number of people, and combining desirable features such as a positive community spirit, good local shops and services and attractive outdoor spaces’.
The majority of days there are plenty of people performing along the street to customers, but there was only one and his name was Nathaniel Truscott, a 20 year old student studying Music at Falmouth University, and performing for two years, on and off.
Nathaniel was unaware of the guidelines that had been produced specifically for Truro buskers. “If it meant I had to keep moving every thirty minutes, then I probably would get annoyed. It’s difficult finding a spot that isn’t occupied, but if you kept having to move on you’d be moving into spots that someone had already occupied. It’d be a bit of a pain in the arse if I’m honest with you,” he said.
“It’s fine for me because I usually spend my spare time learning covers and stuff like that,” he said, when asked about his repertoire of songs. “I’ve got about four hours worth.”
Busking generally earns enough money to incentivise repeat visits for buskers, particularly in the high season. “It’s one of those things where it’ll be really bad for the whole day and then the last hour will be brilliant,” Nathaniel said. “For example, last Friday I did three hours. For two hours there was absolutely nothing, but the last hour I made about £10, which to be honest with you, is good for me.”
“It’s not something you can do for a night and plan out how much you’re going to make,” he said. “You can’t let yourself get stressed out about it because that’s the way it is. I [busk] because I enjoy playing to people. I just like performing anyway, so any opportunity is great for me.”
Certainly busking is here to stay. The fact that it was guidelines and advice that was published and not a change in the law or rules that were enforced by the police, speaks volumes. It’s no doubt that buskers add a massive amount of character to our high streets, certainly adding to the reason why Falmouth rose so high in The Sunday Times’ feature and enriching the culture that Cornwall is already thick full of.