The Voice of Sydney: In Defense of Busking

Buskers – they are the people you walk past in the Central Station tunnel, the people you see standing on street corners or pounding away on their guitars in Pitt Street Mall. You hear them, their music echoing through you as you speed past and try your best to avoid eye contact. But despite all your best efforts, you can’t help but listen to them, and be comforted by their presence.

This weekend, I made the trip into Pitt Street Mall to catch Australian indie duo Winterbourne play a set to celebrate the release of their newest (and long awaited) EP Pendulum. As an avid fan of their work, I had no qualms about standing in the chilly weather in my warmest coat to see them capture the attention of hundreds of people passing through the Mall. It was a beautiful sight, seeing these guys, long time favourites at the Mall, play brilliantly and capture the hearts of many old and new fans. If the line of teenage girls, indie music lovers and the odd fangirling Mum, waiting to meet them afterwards was anything to go by, they truly were the stars of the day.

But what really got me about their set was their complete respect for the busking culture at Pitt Street Mall. Sure, Winterbourne owe a lot of their success to years of busking. A friend of mine has been to see them busk numerous times since she first stumbled across them in 2012. But to see them continue their dedication to busking and show the same humility and respect for their fellow buskers even after their successes beyond the busking scene, was incredible. They knew the names of all the familiar faces at the mall. They encouraged everyone who had come to see them to stay and see the young kid performing after them, who had, in a brotherly act, lent them his power boards for the last hour. And then they stayed back and stood in support of him and his crew for the next hour, having a chat with the performer to go on after that – the well known paint bucket drummer. The camaraderie between all these performers, all familiar with each other’s work, even if they hadn’t seen each other on the Mall for some months, was tremendous, and incredibly heartwarming.

Busking is a huge part of the culture of Sydney, and the regulars make everyday commutes and lunch breaks special. I remember the day one of my favourite buskers, a guitarist that stood at the Martin Place fountain nearly everyday, stopped playing there. I didn’t realise until then just how comforting it was to hear his music echoing through Martin Place as I walked through from a study day at the State Library. I felt as though Martin Place had lost its soul that day, and the silence that stood in his place felt strange and uncomfortable. Most of all, I felt bad that I had never taken the time to throw some money in his guitar case as a thank you for his contribution to the voice of Sydney.

Sydney has some pretty awesome buskers going around, and if you are lucky enough, on the right weekend, a few hours around the city, or even standing on Pitt Street Mall, can turn into the best local music festival you could find. This weekend proved to be one of those festivals.

So next time you walk past the busker who makes your little part of Sydney sing, take a moment to stop and listen to them, throw some money in their case and thank them for their music. Because one day, they might stop standing on that street corner, and you will lose the familiar voices that you didn’t even realise you would miss.

 

This article is for Robbie, the blues guitarist and singer who stands in the Central Station Tunnel. Thanks for your music every morning on the way to university. Also, to Winterbourne, who made a cold drizzly Saturday brighter with their music.

Winterbourne’s new EP Pendulum is available to purchase here.

© Hayley New 2016

 

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