“I’m just checking my makeup” says the enigmatic Busking Lady as I prepare to take some photographs, “I’ve been bouncing around for hours!” she laughs.
She trained as a ballet dancer from the age of 5. ” I did that for years, different ballet methods. Out of that I started learning other dance styles, I taught myself the Charleston.I started performing at 14 with ballet. The first time I performed on stage I got the feeling that this was something I wanted to do. I continued to perform in a ballet context for some years after that. I became part of a small touring company. And then I started working independently and started developing my own characters like Mary Poppins in schools and libraries. And women’s history characters as well, particularly in museums.”
It was her love for Charlie Chaplin that inspired her to become a busker. ” I saw another impersonator in Covent Garden on YouTube. Out of that, and my admiration for Chaplin himself, I thought “maybe I could do that.” She says that she started out as Charlie Chaplin a couple of years ago. “Out of that silent character, I began developing confidence as a busker and I started to emerge as myself. I came out wearing the green hat, at first I didn’t have an amplifier or anything, so I was singing acoustically. Over time that built into a show. I got a character and an act together, with a crazy 1920s lady!”
Chester felt like the “ideal place” to busk, she says. “There’s a lot of pedestrianised areas and a great busking community already established here. There are great connections here. Chester is a great city with a good atmosphere for buskers, with lots of tourists”
” I see all the busking community as my friends.” She says that Mr Peewee the drumming puppet is a particular friend, but she also meets and talks to other regular performers and has struck up friendships. “People stand up for each other and give each other tips.” she says of the close knit community.
“Its very diverse and I like the juxtaposition of modern with the past. You have the fact that people perform in the street, its a quite theatrical city, it has that artistic atmosphere. Its one of my favourite places. ” She travels to Chester to busk and also performs in other towns and cities across the borough, last year she also travelled to Edinburgh to perform.
I asked how her life as a busker compared with her former career in ballet. “In some ways its more difficult because I’ve gotta discipline myself to get out there . As a self employed busker you have to discipline yourself to go out, whatever the weather. In other respects I prefer it , because its a lot more spontaneous. I continue to do ballet, but in terms of my work, I find busking to be a nice thing to do . I am quite a spontaneous person and I enjoy improvising a lot.” Of her eccentric image she says that “people always have described me as being like someone out of a different era, with the way I talk and the way I am. The films I watch are very much of a different time. I don’t have TV I just watch DVDs. I have a great interest and respect for the past . I have developed characters from reading old letters and diaries. I devise my own scripts ouf of those. I think that women’s history isn’t something that is explored very much in this field.”
Does she feel like she is a time warp?
“I want to make the most of the beauty of the past, while also taking advantage of modern facilities, so you get the best of both worlds. I like the courtesies and customs you had going on in the past. Having said that the 1920s were quite a liberating time for women. Its the era that I’ve been drawn to. It came about by chance. I was always interested in the Victorian era and the 1950s… as time went by I found the 20s were a good time to represent. The costumes were easy to do, I find modern things and I twist them around to make them look old. The costumes are a mix of things. I go around charity shops and pick things up. Nothing I have is something from an expensive costume shop. You can create the effect and the look for a good price. The hat was my grandmothers. she was wearing this in the 1960s..It’s the most precious thing I own.” She hopes that one day it will be in the Grosvenor Museum with the inscription: ‘Busking Lady wore this’.
“I like aspects of the modern era. We live in an era of impermanence and erasure. Everybody’s lives are documented online. If one day we have a big online crash, everyone’s lives will disappear. Going back in time, people preserved things and I think they had a greater value of living in the moment, rather than walking along staring at their phones. I will be performing and people will be sat there texting someone, and I actually make a joke of it.”
Last year the council announced a consultation on busking, bird feeding and homelessness. A huge campaign was mounted against the proposals which could have led to busking regulation and licensing .
“I was really concerned when I heard what they were thinking of doing. I could see how it was going to limit people’s motivation to perform. It was really interesting to be part of the meetings and to hear a lot of different opinions. I think that the busking community were able to stand together and say “we can work at this..” We respect each other, we share out the spaces, we sort things out between ourselves as performers, rather than trying to bend regulations. We are trying to give a vibrant atmosphere to Chester.” The proposals were dropped after a largely negative response. “I know that the buskers were pleased with the outcome.” She also made a stand against the proposals about homelessness and begging, and took part in a solidarity protest in November “living rough” for a day to raise money for the Chester Soul Kitchen. See https://thechesterblog.com/2015/11/25/solidarity-protest/
Performing on the streets gives buskers a unique view of the city. “You see life going by and meet a lot of different people . Its good to interact on a lot of different levels. Some people like you, some people don’t , and you have to take all that with a pinch of salt. You can make it quite funny when people don’t like you.” She says that she saw a comment on social media about her which said: “The cheese has really slid off her cracker.” She deflects criticism and makes a joke of it, saying she finds it “a lot of fun”.
“I am independent and I like to do things my own way. Choosing that kind of lifestyle suits someone who has is more along those lines, a bit rebellious, outside of the box, I don’t like to be boxed in. ” But is it a lonely life ? “I wouldn’t use the word lonely. You are surrounded by people , with a lot of contacts among the busking/performing community, so you have a lot of support there. Although you might perform alone, you have other people who are doing the same thing. When you’re in the midst of performing , you are so lost in that moment, engaging with people.”
Of the future she says that “quite a few people ask me this, but I say “whatever it brings” I’m doing this day by day, and nothing is predictable, you have to go with the flow. I keep working and developing new skills. I don’t tend to look ahead too much. Probably in 50 years time I’ll still be here with the green hat- an eccentric bag lady! I get called the “bag lady” sometimes, which I quite like actually, its part of my general image !”
Many thanks @buskinglady for her time.
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