Singing in the Streets: Soho’s Busker
Equipped with a well-worn ukulele and a cheeky demeanour, strolling up and down the alleys of Soho, weaving in and out of storied central London pubs, is a figure who has become a fixture. Liam C is a young musician from Essex whose strategy to raise his profile is refreshingly focused on real life.
Once an outsider, Liam has become an intrinsic part of the inner London experience. And with his flare for performance, there’s no question that he belongs here. ‘The first time I came to London I spent all my money almost instantly,’ he says, ‘Me and my girlfriend at the time had about six quid left, so we bought two meal deals, came up with an idea for me to busk and her to collect money with an empty plastic pot from the food we’d had. Yeah, it was mental… but I made more money than I knew what to do with.’
This off-the-cuff ploy has become Liam’s trademark. Always out, always ready, constantly prepared to burst into song. The minute a drunken hoard question him about his instrument, or a curious punter asks for a tune, he’s up and playing, quick to draw in attention. ‘I’ve got no music out anywhere yet,’ he explains, ‘So I’ve always got my ukulele by my side. That way if people ask what I do I can play for them there and then.’
Liam continues, laughing: ‘Ironically, I played ukulele at school and hated it, but that’s what makes music great; making it your own. It was the performing that I fell for, and that drove me to play more and more.’
always out, alwasy ready, constantly prepared to burst into song…
Busking, when done right, is an art form of its own. Musicianship and personality blend to make the best stand out. It’s a tough gig, since the busker must dispel our natural awkwardness in interacting with a stranger, and make us pause in the middle of our busiest cityscapes.
But Liam is never put off. He relentlessly honed his talent on the streets, walking the same path as some of the best musicians of our time, including Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart and Paul Simon, all of whom busked London too, turning passers-by into a practice audience.
Unsurprisingly, Liam has won over the hearts of locals and built up a respectable following. ‘People are really supporting me,’ he shares. ‘Going from the basics to finding myself in studios with seriously experienced players is mad. I’m learning so much from that.’ He’s recording his first few songs now, inspired by the likes of Ed Sheeran, Jamie T, Lucy Spraggan, and Sam Fender. So far, his self-taught approach has landed him in all the right places.
Yet this mentorship has been hard won. Liam has been busking the streets of London since he was sixteen, and he’s now twenty. ‘I think my journey has been quite strange. Most of the time people will write, get songs together and start gigging. They’re in the industry, or trying to be, from the beginning… I don’t have a clue about any of that industry stuff. I’ve just enjoyed going out, performing, and people were kind enough to listen.’
i’ve just enjoyed going out, performing, and people were kind enough to listen…
The spontaneity and the fun of this lifestyle is balanced out by Liam’s need to make a living too. ‘I’ll be off into town after this, to busk for hours until I’ve earned enough money for today,’ he admits. ‘I haven’t got all this figured out. I’m still living in hostels and on people’s sofas… what I earn depends on how much I play and that’s not sustainable in the long run.’ This finite element of his gamble gives his game a risky edge.
Busking has lost a lot of its performers over the years due to noise regulations tightening and applications for licenses plummeting across the city. So, if you catch a vivid vocalist or stunning soloist working their magic for a hurrying crowd, think about stopping and listening for a moment. Live music in the streets is a wonderful privilege, and you never know, that performer you just caught might become the next big thing. Over here at LONDNR, we’re betting on Liam C.