I have lived in the UK for nearly three years. I spent a great deal of time this summer abroad. When I returned to the UK from five weeks in America, I was not prepared for the culture shock, and I did not enjoy my first week back–even after three years here, I was feeling “comfortable” in the US and “uncomfortable” in the UK. But one of my “facebook friends” asked about the things I enjoyed here in the UK, the things that I missed after being away. I may not have been prepared to answer that question at the time, but I feel as though I can now detail the things that I truly love about living in the UK. My hope is to detail these in a series of posts starting now.
Buskers. Musicians. Mostly professional musicians, probably. In Minneapolis, where I hang my heart, the local street musician scene normally amounted to a guy with a saxophone playing bad “smooth jazz” standards on the street. In the UK, at least in the places where I’ve been, the street musicians are amazing. Recording contracts even come out of UK busking. Recording contracts for opera singers. In my local neighborhood, I have seen groups of buskers doing 8-part harmony. With dance moves. And CDs for sale. I have seen people singing opera, celtic fiddling, playing guitar, I have been awoken on more than one occasion by an accordion playing outside my window. I have seen fully supported 6-piece rock bands (with generators and full electrics), and tribes of people dressed as indigenous Americans making music .
There’s a dark side of this of course, not all of the buskers are doing it for fun. There are a lot of homeless people in my neighborhood. There is a toothless guy with a guitar who sings the same two Oasis songs on perpetual repeat. There is the apparently homeless girl with a dog who plays a plastic flute and is really not making music at the level of most of the others. But fortunately in my neighborhood these are the exceptions and not the rules.
The best thing about the busking phenomenon is the element of surprise. I have been walking around town near Christmas-time and happened upon a full brass band playing standard carols. Lately I’ve been encountering an accordion player with a trumpeter playing Mexican-sounding mariachi band standards and it has made me smile. So my first “good thing about England” is the culture that allows for, and even encourages, massively talented people to play music on the sidewalks. I’m pretty sure the locals, unlike the Americans, would notice if Joshua Bell was playing on the street.