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Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)

31 May 10 - 02:09 PM (#2917826)
Subject: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: meself

In support of buskers. Consistent with all I've heard about the general mentality of the Ottawa powers-that-be:

The more minstrels the merrier
By Phil Jenkins, Citizen Special May 31, 2010 Be the first to post a comment
When I first moved back to Ottawa, in 1978, I made some walking money by busking on the ByWard Market. I had come from Liverpool, armed with a retailable accent and a twelve-string guitar, and I knew passable versions of half a dozen Beatles songs, so I played them on repeat for a couple of hours on a corner, counted the change in the guitar case and fed it to my growling stomach.

Most days I could see three or four fellow buskers elsewhere on the market, serenading the natives and the tourists with varying levels of talent and making a proportional income. The lucky minstrel who bagged the corner spot by the Lafayette tavern spent the day yo-yoing between pints and picking. Occasionally the chickens at the live animal stalls provided a clucking chorus and everybody, except me it seems, sang Neil Young songs. Neil Young is the patron saint of Canadian buskers.

Meanwhile, over on the Sparks Street mall, a crowd of dozens if not hundreds would gather round true entertainers of the calibre of Sneezy Waters and go into suspended animation. Most people walked away from such a show only a dollar or so lighter in the purse and feeling much better about their lives. The head scientists tell us that when listening to music the brain is firing in several places simultaneously. We really get off on music; it's like underfloor heating for the memory and subjective thinking.

Walking down Bank Street last week, I had the chance pleasure of stopping to listen to an unplugged quartet of buskers with an ABBA line-up, two of each gender, dressed in street-kid chic (all-black, spiked hair, cut-off leggings, cut-off jeans, baseball boots). They employed a banjo, guitar, hand percussion, and the lead singer had a small laptop computer resting on the palm just below eye-level showing her the lyrics. They sounded great, four-part harmony, which is what the gods listen to in their spare time, and quite rightly there was a good whack of loonies and toonies -- make that tuneies -- in their guitar case.

A nearby store owner told me that the week before at the same corner, on the small angled stage where some bank steps used to be, there was an Elvis, from the King's portly period, slightly balding but in good voice. Among his crowd was an older lady who paused to take both hands off her Zimmer and do a little jig. Get down, mama.

The tradition of the outdoor, unfettered entertainer/poet/newsbringer goes way way back, to the Greek rhapsodists and beyond; every culture has them, from the African griot to the Aborigine songliner.

The European notion of the minstrel, the accompanied, melodious poet, is a thousand years old, from the gleemen up to the present day busker. There was a minstrels' guild in Paris by 1321 and that Bank street quartet I enjoyed so much is their direct descendent, as is the one-armed gentleman guitarist outside the Bay on the ByWard, and the balladeers outside the Beaver Tails outlet on William Street. Minstrels are a vital part of city life, and the more the merrier, say I, even if they could use some new strings and a tuner.

In my minstrel days on the market, we were practising a largely unregulated craft; we were free-range troubadours but with City Hall being the regulation and revenue factory it is these days, with its habit of falling down flat on the big projects while grinding the healthy ones to a petty death, the simple act of singing in the street to your fellow citizens will cost you $200 in the tourist areas, and you have to audition before a panel of your musical inferiors.

Give it a break. For a brief while -- I played there myself in a duo called the Reincarnations -- there was organized music of a lunch-hour on the Sparks Street Mall, but some lawyers who were allergic to fun thought it was cutting into their concentration and billable hours, so they had it kyboshed. So it goes in this town, in a minor key.

If you can imagine the gentle melody of Dirty Old Town by Ewan MacColl playing in your head as you read the rest of this paragraph, here's what I'd like to see. Don't charge the buskers a cent to play on the corners; instead put a local noise pollution levy on every cellphone sold inside city limits and use the money to bring back music at Camp Fortune, outside the National Gallery, on Nepean point and on winterized bandstands throughout the city. Convert an old OC Transpo bus to a travelling show and drop off buskers at every shopping mall, particularly at the monstrosity that is the Centrum in Kanata, at noon and collect them at sunset. And to the buskers, I issue this challenge; like your calypso brothers and sisters in the Caribbean, bring back the topical protest songs and let them ring out to the choir of consuming citizens. Heck, I might even dust off my guitar case and head down to Lansdowne Perk, sorry, Park, and let them have a re-written "Big Yellow Taxi," "Hey, mister developer, put away that seven-storey condo," 20 times a day, and donate the proceedings to Heritage Ottawa to fight the good fight.

Phil Jenkins is an Ottawa writer.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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01 Jun 10 - 10:31 AM (#2918243)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: Charmion

Thanks for posting this, meself. I read it over my coffee yesterday, racking my brain to remember when I might have seen Mr Jenkins in his busking days but then realizing that I was doing NATO time in Germany back then.

I normally give money to buskers who play tuned instruments, and try -- they don't have to succeed -- to sing in tune. Those who don't at least try to be musical don't get my dough. I'm particularly partial to fiddle players with a good repertoire of jigs n reels -- caught a great performance of the Chicken Reel/Turkey in the Straw set by the Bytown Fruit a while ago.

I wish the banjo picker who use to play at the eastbound bus stop near the Rideau Centre would come back. Foggy Mountain Breakdown is a great antidote to Rideau Street at rush hour.

01 Jun 10 - 01:37 PM (#2918351)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: reggie miles

meself, double that thanks for that post from me. I'm going to share the link to the article with my local group of street performers here in this area. They have an informal chat site where they share all things related and this sort of press story, in support of of buskers, would a welcome read.

18 Dec 10 - 09:57 PM (#3056842)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: ollaimh

i used to busk ottawa occasionally. usualyy when up there to vist a few friends.

there is good busking but don't forgetb that the authoritues at the by ward market tried to criminally charge buskers they didn't like.

the police went along and jailed a couple i knew for twenty hours untill they decided not to lay charges.

the market nazis thought they owned the street. in fact the city of ottawa owns the streets on which their market stands and they are allowed there just like the buskers. what a spoke that put in their wheels to find they were guests of the city just like us peons. they were also sued successfully by a busker whose image they used to advertize with and not pay him.

these kind of bureaucrats think they are monarchs not managers, see the discussion about folklife threats and arrests.the parasitic class think they are the rulers and the producers of our society.

then the market tried to charge a fee for a licence and arrestec people who refused to buy the lcence--in thre case of the guy whose image they misappropriated they threatened him with arrest as well--such power freaks. this led to a law suit and the courts reminded the jerks that they can't charge a fee for streets they don't own. the city of ottawa could but not the narket--who are guests like everybody else using the space for comercial purposes.
now on the bright side when hassled i told them to politely piss off and made hundreds a day several times. it helps to be a new face in town and it was winter. i can play in the canadian winter but many can't. i had my pick of the spots and sold a dozen tapes as well as the change.

so a tip of the hat to those still busking ottawa especially in the winter

18 Dec 10 - 10:30 PM (#3056865)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: The Fooles Troupe

"you have to audition before a panel of your musical inferiors."

Yep :-)

They get you to audition in the middle of winter in a shaded area at 7 am and don;t even wonder why the whistle player doesn't sound very good, grunt and walk past... been there, done that...

19 Dec 10 - 11:27 AM (#3057220)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: Sandy Mc Lean

The city of Ottawa may have an administration with shit for brains and too much time on its hands. That certainly doesn't make them unique but if they are sending the goons in blue out to enforce this crap perhaps they need a swift kick on the arse!

19 Dec 10 - 11:54 AM (#3057236)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: meself

And I think I know just the boy to give it to them ... Sandy?

19 Dec 10 - 09:50 PM (#3057576)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: ollaimh

well its not the city of ottawa who were doing the gooning. it was the adminstrastion of the by ward market. they did con the police into helping them untill the court ruling i mentioned about how the city owns the market real estate and the by ward market adminstration have no authority to enforce rules.

after that the cops stopped doing the evil bidding of the market nazis.

by the by two different ones threatened to sue me for slander for writing on this topic on other lists years ago. i scoffed, yeah that's a good idea and i'll subpoena every busker and merchant to testify as to whether they are running the market as i described. and oddly i never heard from them again--real assholes--but they knew that most of those they administered hated the way they were running things.i was a lawyer for a few years before i went straigh--just the right guy to try to intimidate by such threats--i would have loved the opportunity to run such a trial, what a hoot!

now all this was a decade ago and i haven't looked ointo it recently--i just like to expose the anti busking fascist when i get the chance.

last time i played there they scowled at me but didn't say another word.

i really do wonder why admistrative bureaucrats get the idea that they are dictators and not public servants, but they seem to get that idea a lot?

19 Dec 10 - 10:20 PM (#3057583)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: Sandy Mc Lean

Does the Byward Market still have a reputation as the city's red light district? Does the ghost of MacKenzie King still haunt the streets at night?

20 Dec 10 - 12:15 PM (#3057879)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: meself

And by the way, did she mention my name?

21 Dec 10 - 12:07 PM (#3058615)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: Charmion

Yes, Sandy, the By Ward Market is still a popular place to find a "party." Several streets are oddly blockaded to prevent drivers from browsing the flowers of the pavement in too much comfort, and local residents are accustomed to the sight of the municipal Needle Hunters searching their front stoops and parking areas for the debris of drug use and the sexual entrepreneurship that pays for it.

If the shade of Mackenzie King still walks the streets it would be accompanied by the ghost of his dog Pat. Little men with dogs are quite common in downtown Ottawa, even late at night, so he wouldn't be particularly noticeable -- unless he still wears spats, of course.

21 Dec 10 - 02:29 PM (#3058738)
Subject: RE: Busking Editorial (Ottawa, Canada)
From: Sandy Mc Lean

If he's talking to the dog that is no doubt common, but if the dog is talking back that would confirm the sighting. :-}