Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Oxford Open Mic Adventure Consolidated:

A micro trailer from the film: From the Oxford segment of “Out of a Jam.”

A song from the album:

A podcast: with Matt Sage, the founder and MC of the Catweazle open mic in Oxford:

The Thumbnail Guide: Thumbnail Guide to Oxford Open Mics, Jam Sessions and other Live Music

A link to a favorite blog item from the past: DEADLY, DEADLY NIGHT AT THE HARCOURT ARMS IN OXFORD – ART SKETCHERS, STUDENTS ET AL….

A favorite video: Sam Quill’s fabulous rendition of “May You Never” by John Martyn, complete with hair swipes:

An excerpt from the Book: from the England chapter of OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Journey of Healing and Rebirth Through Music:

England, paradoxically, I feared would let me down: It may be one of the countries with the largest number of open mics per square kilometer, but I had several reservations. And for my own sense of discovery, I feared this would not be an exotic place for an open mic in the way of Kuala Lumpur and Istanbul. But most importantly, it was at the very root of the first musical adventure of importance in my own life: My down-and-out busking period in London 32 years before, from which I had many – but not only – bad memories.

When I had arrived in London in 1977 to live off my show business talents as an actor in repertory theater, I had met with indifference. I could not find any acting roles, and no one showed any interest in me anywhere in the profession. It was such a contrast to my immediate, if small, success in Canada where I landed jobs and pay at every turn as a teenager. The line they gave me in England was invariably the same: Go to theater school. I was a young kid with, for them, no experience, and I had to play the game as it was played there.

So finally, after dropping my work vow and finding a job as a bartender at the National Theatre, I auditioned for RADA. I made it through the first audition – a big result – but I did not get through the second one. This I decided to attribute to the fact that there were 25 spots each term to be filled by British actors, and only one for a foreigner. So I was encouraged. Albert Finney, the British actor who had become famous for his role as Tom Jones in the film in the 1960s, only made it into RADA after nine tries. I did not have to feel defeated after one failure on a different playing field.

Several months earlier, before finding my job as bartender and doing the audition, I had run out of money and as I had made my vow to earn a living only with my show business talents, I went into the streets and busked. I only did that after three days without eating, and living like a fugitive in my hotel in Notting Hill Gate, which was called the Rapallo Hotel, but which I called the “Repulsive Hotel,” as I rented a room there that also slept four or five older men, with shared bathrooms, and a sink in the room where I recall one man had a habit of urinating at night. When I could no longer afford to pay the rent, as I did not have a single pound, a fellow roommate would let me into the building in the evening after the management left for the day, and I would leave at around 5:30 AM before the management returned.

So in fear and desperation after three days without eating any food, I took my guitar to the Shepherd’s Bush pedestrian subway – choosing Shepherd’s Bush because I had so much “stage fright” and I knew there were a lot fewer people there than at many of the other pedestrian subways where I had seen buskers – and I closed my eyes and began playing. When, suddenly, standing there in my state of starvation, the coins began to fall into my brown corduroy suit jacket laid down at my feet, I could not believe how easy it was. Those few pence that I earned in the first hour felt like the richest sum I had ever earned in my life.

Once I had enough money in my jacket, I went to a convenience store and bought a bottle of fresh milk. I sipped the cream off the top with delectation. I ate an entire bag of the Graham cracker cookies with the thin coating of chocolate on them. I returned to the street of my hotel in Notting Hill Gate, sat in an alley, and ate a bag chips. I then bought a little more food, nourishing myself in stages to overcome the first nauseous effects of starvation.

So began a period of four months in which I earned my living playing guitar and singing in the subways of London. From Shepherd’s Bush, I moved the next day to Marble Arch and spent the rest of my busking time there, sharing pitches with the other buskers, putting my name on lists we compiled so that each busker would have an hour at each pitch in the five or so subways of the area.

There was practically no audience reaction to my singing. A busker, as I pointed out in Istanbul, is less than a performer. A busker is not perhaps less than human, but he is not a musician worth listening to – except on rare occasions, and usually when several musicians busk together. He or she may attract a moment of attention, and people will keep moving on. A film was put on the Internet of a famous concert violinist playing in the subway in Washington, D.C. and being completely ignored.

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Worldwide Open Mic Journey 2014: The Multimedia Consolidation – Oxford Edition | Brad Spurgeon's Blog

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