Saturday, April 17, 2010


Not so long ago, I thought I likely wouldn't be busking again, since last year's project was very much an enjoyable one-off, and I was thinking that it wouldn't be the same if I went back over old ground.

Then I got an email from Rebecca Huval, a journalism grad student at Columbia, who's doing a radio piece on busking for a class assignment and wanted to talk to me about my experiences.

We met for a chat and despite being a bit reticent initially, I agreed to go out on the subway with her yesterday, with the idea of giving her some ambient sound for her piece and maybe bumping into some of the performers I'd met before.

So I played for a while at the 72nd Street station - since I remembered that the acoustics there were pretty good, there's a decent amount of time between trains, and the crowd is usually good-natured. I played a couple of songs I hadn't for a while (like this one - now I can't get it out of my head..)

Then we headed downtown, first to 42nd, then 34th, and then to 14th Streets. There was no-one playing at the first two, but at the mezzanine at Union Square, we met Victor and David, two young guitar players who told us it was their first time playing underground.

They were warming up for a show Saturday night at the UC Lounge in Ludlow Street, and definitely had a nice, mellow groove going.

As I told Rebecca after we watched them for a while, bumping into guys like this was exactly what I enjoyed the most about busking last year - you meet folks who are into the music and are doing it for the love of playing. It's what makes the city's subway musicians a real treasure.

So who knows, maybe I might end up playing underground again here and there this summer.

(By the way, I made $8 at 72nd Street before Rebecca showed up. I ended up giving most of it away to other buskers and beggars on the train home)


Today is Record Store Day, so if you can, support your local vinyl retailer. I'll be dropping by my local here in Brooklyn, which inside is like a treasure trove of musical history, and remembering the record stores I went to as a kid, including Good Vibrations in Belfast, which did so much to encourage the city's music scene in the late 70s and early 80s.

My favorite record store in New York is Bleecker Street Records in the Village, partly because I can usually combine going there with a visit to Matt Umanov Guitars on the same street.

Friday, April 16, 2010

'Blue is the color of grass..'

Suddenly, over the last week or so, there seem to have been a lot more people playing out in the subways and on the trains. It's like the 'spring season' has kicked off. I'll start taking my Flip camera out with me again and catching some performers.

Yesterday I was coming through 34th Street and MUNY regulars The Ebony Hillbillies were playing. I've seen them around for quite a long time, but have never had a camera with me. They're always full of energy and it's almost impossible not stop and toe-tap with them for a few minutes. You can see from their site that they have a pretty full gigging schedule, and you can read more about them here.

Check them out if they come to your town.

I don't think I'll be back underground busking myself this summer. Hopefully though, there'll be a couple of interesting musical developments, and I wouldn't rule out the odd weekend appearance since I had such a good time last year.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

'So nice to play pretend..'

Ok, I haven't learned any new songs for a while. Here's a couple I've been humming recently, so they're lined up to work on today - lets see how they go:

Monday, April 5, 2010

Hopening Day

I've been a Cubs fan since 1982. I've been out to spring training in Arizona and even when I was living in London I'd make one trip to Chicago every year for a home stand.

Their first game of the season has always been a complete emotional stew of optimism and realism; but always seasoned with the joy that baseball itself gives me and the reassurance that, win or lose - and yes, insert 'it's usually lose' joke here - I'd never feel quite myself rooting for another team the way I do for the Cubbies.

My wife's family are Red Sox nation through and through, and up until 2004 we had something in common.

Living in New York, I go see the Mets - and their single A Brooklyn Cyclones - a lot and want them to do well - except in the obvious games - because there seems to be a sort of self-deprecating, fatalist connection between Mets and Cubs fans the way there just isn't with Yankee fans.

Here's an example: I was at Shea for a July 4th doubleheader about ten years ago, and in between innings Mr Met and his cohorts were going round with the microphone asking little kids questions about American history, and showing their answers up on the big screen.

They asked one little kid "why are there 50 stars on the stars and stripes?" and before he could answer, the drunk guy behind him leans in and says "It's the number of games the Mets are gonna win this year.."

During the seventh-inning stretch at Cub games, I'm afraid I've never gotten out of the habit - much to my son's annoyance - of singing "..If they don't win it's the same."

Anyway, whoever you cheer for, happy opening day. As the late great Jeff MacNelly put it, it's the one day when everyone's in first place.

Shoe (wearing Cubs cap): A good Cubs fan accepts defeat and disappointment in the belief that tomorrow will be a better day. Do you know what that’s called, Skyler?

Skyler: Self-delusion?

Shoe: Optimism is the word I was looking for.

Jeff and I, and millions of other diehards everywhere, would love a good season this year, please.

Let's Go Cubs!

*Update... So...that went well, didn't it?

The most opening day runs given up since 1900? Wha..?

Yes, the blown call on McLouth's "catch" was a joke. But even so, we played so poorly all round it probably wouldn't have made much difference to the outcome - although the players were clearly deflated by it immediately afterwards.

Bright spot? James Russell's pitching debut in relief, handing Jason Heyward his first big league strikeout. And the fact that, opening day or not, it's only one game. Only 1/162nd of the season. And I guess you can't have a Tuffy Rhodes moment every year.

(And incidentally, despite Tuffy's three HRs off Doc Gooden on opening day, 1994 - I remember I was watching on TV in a bar at Dulles Airport - the Cubs went on to lose the game.)