Cambridge Buskers Festival blows the roof off


Musicians took to the streets and pubs of Cambridge – making young children curious, the beer-drinking lads sing, middle-aged women dance, and some old men cry. Some of the best performances were that powerful.

I’ve just completed a weekend of filming for the Cambridge Buskers Festival 2014 – ****Thank you**** to Lulu and Heather for giving me my first paid commission (mentioned in my previous blogpost) and also to all the musicians, their friends and families – and also to the landlords and proprietors in Cambridge that gave me permission to film in their premises. (Six Bells, Earl of Beaconsfield and D’Arrys get honourable mentions – as does Simon Fraser of Hot Numbers Coffee who is always happy for me to film there. Oh, and he’s opening a new coffee house opposite the Fitzwilliam Museum!)

Tom Korni wins the ‘Best Busker’ award

As well as impressing the judges, he blew the roof off of the Earl of Beaconsfield with a superb finale – ably prepared by the trio from Vienna, Cobario. The latter’s final track here gives you a feel of the atmosphere.

By the time Tom’s session came round, my upgraded camcorder (which I’ve nicknamed ‘the beast’ because although impressive, it’s taking time to tame!) had run out of battery power and had packed up my filming kit. I filmed his performance at the Six Bells earlier in the afternoon – one that had little children dancing and old men with moist eyes when he sang a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to heaven’. Such were the quality of his final two tracks – ‘I will wait’ by Mumford and Sons, and his own final track ‘Teenage Lover’ that I recorded the audio. Have a listen.

In terms of sheer energy, those were the two acts that really stood out amongst what was a very talented field. Despite running around filming and listening over the three days, I only got to see about a quarter of the acts taking part – such is the nature of street music festivals. Yet everyone who took part played an important part. It’s like building a bridge with lots of big shaped blocks of rock – you need them all otherwise the bridge collapses.

It wasn’t all energy and passion at 100% though. The artists on the whole were very good at judging mood of the audience as well as the ambience of the venue they were in – as Dave Holmes demonstrates in the courtyard of D’Arrys on King Street.

It was a lazy Saturday lunchtime, and he got the tone just right. Funnily enough, not long after Dave’s performance, Classycool turned up and showed everyone how to make classical music fun and accessible.

Young women conspicuous by their musical presence

Rachel Clark had her work cut out in this expose spot by Drummer Street bus station – just as my kit did with the wind and the background audience. As you can see, Rachel was unfazed by it all.

Like Tom and my other favourite young musical act, Grace Sarah, Rachel has also just finished her GCSEs. Which also reminds me, another brilliant young musician of a similar age is Ellie Dixon, who just uploaded a better quality recording of ‘Going Places’ that she performed at The Junction, supporting Grace Sarah and friends. What’s great about all of them is they are experimenting and pushing the boundaries with music and social media. Have a look/listen to Ellie’s cover of ‘I need a dollar’.

How many of us would have had the imagination to have created percussion that way?

Some really positive lessons learnt for lots of people

Loss of council funding need not be a barrier

Although a blow, the buskers festival this year seemed to have a more noticeable presence than last year. That or I happened to be in a more receptive frame of mind being on the lookout for interesting people to film. Well done to Heather, Lulu and the team for putting together a splendid festival. Personally I think the local mainstream media should be doing a feature on all of you for organising this.

Cambridge businesses: There’s a sponsorship opportunity here. A BIG one.

Given the positive vibes that come from things like this, local businesses should be jumping at the chance to sponsor this in future years. Cafes, bars and restaurants that have ideal spots for buskers could be making them available – even if it means the loss of a table or two. If you’re not full anyway, it’s not as if you’re losing custom – as was the case with one or two of them on Saturday. Giraffe for example should have welcomed Rachel to one of their unfilled outdoor table spaces. It would have given a better acoustic for her, been closer to the benches outside and would have made it easier to record the audio.

Pubs, bars and restaurants

The standard of artists booked for the festival was very high. It’ll get higher. Open your premises to them for next years festival.

Buskers: If you are singing, you need a microphone and an amplifier for your voice

I learnt this for myself earlier on Parker’s Piece with the Dowsing Sound Collective – see my blogpost here. I couldn’t hear myself sing because there was nothing for my voice to bounce off. The same is likely to be the case with you if you are singing in an open space. Furthermore, when it comes to recording, people recording you on smartphones will not be able to hear your voice. Having an amplifier for voice and for your instrument means that the volume for both can be equalised. This significantly improves the quality of audio that your audience listening and recording on smartphones get. If it comes through well on the latter, you’re onto a winner.

Buskers: Make sure you’ve got a laminated poster stating who you are and how people can get in touch online – ideally Facebook, Twitter and a website

It makes it easier for people who liked your music to stay in touch with you – and even book you or buy some of your music. The number of parents of performers who said they had been booked for weddings, family events and other future performances as a result of being heard at the festival was astonishing. Make it easy for new fans to get and stay in touch.

Organisers: Let’s have an evaluation meeting on what worked this year and what we can improve on for next year

Because ***lots*** of things worked for everyone this year. There will always be things that we could do better than we had wished. It’d be worth asking the buskers and the venues that hosted some of them what would make things easier for them. The question that’s worth thinking about for next year is on making digital and social media work for the public and the buskers. There’s huge potential in it for everyone. On the Saturday alone I had uploaded film footage of four of the artists. Tom Korni today makes that five, and it’ll be expanding further over the next week as I edit and upload more footage.

Me as a cameraperson

That was cracking good fun, wasn’t it? I got to meet lots of new people and make some new friends too. I got to meet several people for the first time who I had previously only corresponded with on social media, and also raised my own profile – ironically being behind the camera rather than in front of it!

This was also a big challenge for me. Whenever someone pays you (no matter how small the amount) to do something, it changes the relationship – for better or worse. In this case for both parties, the better. Had I not bumped into the organisers outside The Guildhall on Friday, I’d have probably filmed less than half the number of people I did today and would have missed out on some cracking performances & new friendships. Though the organisers might have picked up one or two tracks I filmed, they wouldn’t have had the stream of social and digital media coming in from me running around town to the extent that I did with the commission.

It was also the impetus to upgrade some of my kit – but not to the really expensive extent the man from the electrical’s warehouse was urging me to get to. Also, several of the musicians and their families said the quality that was coming from my cameraphone was excellent. This makes it a really useful emergency backup when the battery on the main camera runs out. This weekend has been a splendid learning exercise amongst other things.

And you know what?

I came away from the buskers party with a big smile on my face. Now, given that I’m an intense person at the best of times, getting a smile out of me – a genuine one, takes something special. On one side, there was me having lots of fun filming many very talented musicians, and on the other there were people thanking me and genuinely appreciating what I’m doing – filming and sharing. But what really made me smile was watching longtime regulars at some of Cambridge pubs all responding with a heartwarming embrace to the musicians. This wasn’t the ‘polite applause’ you get when a group has finished their performance. This was standing ovations stuff.

On my walk back home, I noticed how the trees were blocking out the streetlights. And for the first time in ages, I could see the stars in the sky.

Reach for the stars – because you might just reach the tops of the trees. And the view from there is just as good. And with that I’ll leave you with Tom Korni’s version of Stairway to Heaven.



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