Sunday 4 August 2013

A Busker's life for me? Um.....probably not.

Before we get started, a very good friend, who happens to be a bona fide editor sat me down a couple of days ago to tell me to calm down with the exclamation marks. It had crossed my mind that I do use them A LOT but sometimes I can't help myself. Well, I have been limited to one exclamation mark per blog. Therefore we can now play a game, a "Where's Wally" type affair where you have to find the one exclamation mark within today's diary entry. Good luck (really want to use one now).

Opera singing buskers are notoriously hit and miss I find, but in the middle of Covent Garden market (downstairs, by The Crusting Pipe restaurant) there is a "stage" for such singers which is always popular with tourists. For those who have never been here The Crusting Pipe is situated in a well like setting with a gallery type affair above meaning you can stand around the top watching people eat their sausage and mash and watch/listen to the buskers. It is my understanding that the buskers have to audition for a spot in this infamous locale and rightly so as many tourists will, complete their visit to our fair isle, leave the country and these, hardworking buskers will be the only examples they hear of the opera singing talent this country has to offer (although they will probably have seen Katherine Jenkins on the TV so our reputation is in the gutter to start with. Ah Katherine Jenkins, now there is a diary entry waiting to happen but I feel I need to work up to that one). 

I remember fairly well the first time I encountered opera singers busking in Covent Garden. It must have been about 1995 and I was with a friend, sat on a bench in the other busking area just over from The Crusting Pipe. Here you are on the same level as the singers, not looking down on them (by looking down on I mean actually looking down not feeling superior to). We were minding our own business when two woman launched into "The Flower Duet" from Lakme. To an aspiring singer such as myself, new to the village of London, I found the whole experience thrilling (I am from Yorkshire so you will understand we didn't have opera singers in the street up there. It was very exotic) and I clapped wildly at the end. At this point my friend grabbed my hands and said "don't clap, they will want money". Up until this point I had assumed they were either just singing because they wanted to or that Covent Garden employed them to pop up and sing at the unsuspecting public. This was my first experience of this kind of busking and one I will never forget. Now, either busking in Covent Garden is very lucrative or singers just love to do it (or perhaps a mixture of both) as I saw the very same soprano from all those years ago busking by The Crusting Pipe when I walked through about 3 weeks ago. She looked a little older but still seemed to have the same enthusiasm she had all those years ago. If you are wondering, despite my friends protestations, I did offer up a few shekels in appreciation to the duo back in 1995.

Whilst wandering the hallowed ground of Covent Garden market the other day (following an interview for a proper job nearby) the unmistakable sound of an opera singing busker drifted through the air. I followed my ear to the area above The Crusting Pipe and found a red headed mezzo-soprano had just started her set so thought I would hang around for a couple of arias and see if she might make a suitable subject for one of my diary entries. Today's flame haired lovely goes by the name of Evie Anderson and boy does she know how to work a Covent Garden audience. Some of you may know her, be assured I have only nice things to say. It will never be my intention to be horrible about anyone singing in public. Who am I to belittle someone for doing something they love and simply getting out there and doing it (feel free to remind me of this when I get around to my Katherine Jenkins entry. I fear she may be the exception to the rule). I may have criticisms/suggestions but they are only my opinion. I admire all performers who, well, perform. 

So the tune that had enticed me over was that famous mezzo soprano piece, um, "Libiamo" from La Traviata (not a mezzo piece for those of you who are unfamiliar). Midway through she picked up a sign from the floor (placed next to her "donations" basket and CDs for sale) which simply said "Please Pay Me!" (That exclamation mark does not count, it was on her sign! Oh damn.) Nice touch I thought. She did not beat about the bush as regards the "I am not doing this for free so if you are going to stand and watch for a considerable length of time have the decency to pop a few coins in the basket of the man collecting for me" side of things. The man collecting was called Richard by the way, I did not get his last name. He helped out on the singing front as well offering his vocal services in the "Libiamo" and in a rendition of "All I ask of you" from The Phantom of the Opera. At the end of both, Evie ripped open Richard's shirt to reveal a t-shirt with "CDs £10" emblazoned upon it. Another nice touch. If you are going to try and get people to part with their money they might as well be laughing whilst doing it. The thing I liked the most about Evie's set was her programme choices. Although the obligatory "O mio babbino caro" and "Ave Maria" were in evidence there were a few lesser known gems brought out for the occasion. I won't go through the entire programme or else we will be here all day. 

Evie has a really smooth and creamy sound. When she started I thought she was struggling to get to the top however I realised as she worked through her programme that she wasn't as warmed up as she maybe would have liked at the beginning but she soon got into the swing of things and the top became easier. The middle is warm and her diction was excellent. The most successful offering was "Smanie implacabili" from Cosi fan tutte. It was also the piece that the majority of her audience would not have known. It was feisty and alive throughout. She cannily followed it with the Susan Boyle classic "I dreamed a dream" from Les Miserable. Again, a very successful rendition. If I were her, however, I would get a new backing track for it. The one Evie used was just too fast (as were a few other tracks actually). If she had a slower backing track for this piece I think she could have doubled the amount of "donations" she received as the man in the street generally loves "Lez Miz" and would happily part with his hard earned cash if he knows well the song being sung. So I say, make it last a little bit longer with a slower track and you're laughing. There was nice work in the "Habanera" from Carmen too and thankfully she didn't wander round the tables flirting with random men. The other highlight was earlier in the programme when Evie became engulfed by a group of foreign students. Wherever she moved they seemed to follow her. She likened it to being worse than the M25. Very funny and beautifully handled.

I googled Evie when I got home but could find precious little about her. I hope she is busy and I wish her well. I would be very interested to hear her sing in a proper concert hall as the acoustic is not always helpful down by The Crusting Pipe. Would I ever want to do this sort of "gig" myself? Do you know I would give it a go. There are worse ways of making a living and judging by the spoils she received in her baskets she would definitely be eating that night.

So where is the Glastonbury report I here you asking? I have made a few notes and have a few things to say but it is really difficult to comment on these kind of performances. If the muse takes over and I am suddenly inspired I will put it out within the week. If the muse has better things to do and decides to stay away we may have to move onto something else and you will never know what I thought (I did think the Arctic Monkeys were splendid - a little teaser for you there).

1 comment:

  1. I want to hear your Glastonbury opinion but you'll have to share the link on Facebook. Sack the Editor please I need. more exclamation marks xx