by Graham Cain with Neil Hicks
Reviewed by Alex Pithie, Guitarist/Singer Songwriter
Maybe the streets are paved with gold. I stopped over in Hong Kong once, staying in the infamous Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road, and one afternoon, I was noodling on my guitar on the landing outside my stamp-sized room when my Canadian neighbour re-appeared with his guitar and a big grin on his face. He asked me if I wanted to jam together, now he was ‘back from work’.
“Work?” says I. “You can’t work here – no visa, no work permit.”
“Yeah I know,” he grins. “I was at the Star Ferry underpass busking for three hours…until the cops moved me on.”
Intrigued, I asked – almost sarcastically – if he made any money singing for his supper.
“Oh…about US$90,” he grinned again.
I was stunned, but he was only just a little pleased with the day’s tax-free take. Normally he’s an engineer and works half the year on Canada’s Kodiac Island in the seasonal fish processing plants there, and then busks the rest of the year once the salmon or mackerel or herring season ends. I forget which.
“I can make US$100 an hour in Tokyo on a good day,” he smiled, “so today’s haul was very average.”
Our rooms in Hong Kong were costing us each about US$12 a night, so by my reckoning at just US$30 an hour this day, he was doing very nicely thank you, and still half the world to go!
I have busked but never could get comfortable ‘begging’ or enthusiastic enough to think that the cash coming in could last – even after the better days.
It’s a tough call some times and every country, continent brings a new set of challenges – even dangers, and like all professional travellers, you have to be on your toes all the time, as well as being a good musician.
Who do you turn to in Travnik Herzanagovia when the shit hits the fan? Or how risky is India? How tight are the Germans? Is it too hot in Dubai? Do they even let you in with a guitar in Afghanistan?
Well now we’ve got Troubador Travels and ‘Journeyman Busker’ Graham Cain really has all the answers – and much, much more. This is an idiots’ guide for buskers – people who are not idiots – just verging on the insane!
And although he adds a section for it, this is not a book about how to busk, which songs to master, the pop charts to follow, the songs to make your own. This is a book for ‘professional’ buskers – people who attempt to make a living on the streets of the world doing what they love most – singing, playing music.
Graham has spent a lifetime on the road and decided one day it was time he put all the stuff he had learned, experienced and invented on the road into a guide book with a difference – a blow-by-blow-handbook that is absolutely indispensable and will make life as a busker that much easier, safer and dare I say, more profitable for any troubadour working the streets of the world.
It is one of those books that provides a fascinating insight into an otherwise unknown, virtually invisible career choice, and in the process sets up any busker or travelling musician with a fantastically detailed handbook on every imaginable aspect of entertaining and travelling the world as a muso.
He covers street busking, train busking, how to handle bars and restaurants, summer and winter season busking, liabilities and legalities, playing near monuments, performing indoors, finding gigs, dealing with police, dealing with street hustlers and other performers, playing for food, getting your instrument on the plane with you, what to expect in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australasia, getting permits to play, playing for food and accommodation, things to do and not do…the list really does go on.
And what a fascinating and invaluable handbook this is – so much so that I am even considering going back on the road!
The author in fact treats the entire profession as just that. A serious profession with guidelines, its own etiquette and rules and regulations which if you follow, you will certainly make the best musically of any destination you choose anywhere in the world, and avoid a range of ‘challenges’ that you might otherwise have no idea exist. Or which could derail you.
This is a must-have book for any troubadour, busker or working musician and for that matter, for anyone travelling the world ‘under the radar’.
The clever thing about the book is that it is also a fantastic travel guide in its own right, or at the very least an invaluable guide to the stuff that you might not ever notice nor normally care about as a traveller to exotic places – with insightful, invaluable tips and advice on how to cope with the unknown on the road.
You don’t have to be a busker to enjoy this book, but if you are a busker be ready for a life-changing experience when you own this book!