Last week saw the round up of 2012’s Gigs Big Busk – an initiative set up to help home-grown talent take the next big step – in a busking tour around Paris. We sent Danielle Goldstein along to see how the Londoners fared across the pond.
Jamie Thorn & The Mystery Pacific are gearing up to play the first of four busks and bassist Simon Davidian’s train ticket has gone fluttering onto the tracks. He looks up, stunned, begins clambering onto the railings to get it and a Eurostar representative screams ‘what are you doing?’ So we’re off to a good start.
This folky six-piece, aged 19-21, who first met in music class at Strode’s College in Egham, won the opportunity to perform in Paris after taking part in Gigs Big Busk last year. The competition evolved from Boris Johnson’s initiative Rhythm of London Busking Underground, which began in 2009 to get home-grown talents known to a wider audience. It’s open to ages 11-25, who stand the chance of winning a license to play in the Underground, studio time, equipment, training and a trip to the French capital.
With a replacement ticket sorted, we’re off and it’s time for the band to limber up for a gig in the buffet car. Bewildered passengers with coffee cups reach awkwardly around guitarist Shaun Newport, who’s blocking the milk and sugar. Meanwhile, frontman Jamie Thorn is trying to keep his footing whilst singing and strumming on the swaying carriage. It’s an amusing sight and the small audience that’s gathered are clearly enjoying it, especially when the band covers Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’.
‘Obviously it’s fun to listen to new music,’ Shaun tells us afterwards, ‘but when you hear something you know, it gets you in the mood.’ This is why the outfit scatter all their sets with a few covers. Later on outside the Pompidou Centre – after a friendly warning from the police not to amplify the instruments – Jamie and co air their rendition of ‘Wake Up’ by Arcade Fire. Pianist Christina Whitelock brings the track alive with her accordion (it’s easier to transport than a piano), transforming it into an affecting sea shanty.
Completed by banjo-picker Steve Hodgkiss and drummer Sam Heaver, the group plough a similar furrow to Mumford & Sons, but with less urgency and more melancholy. It’s a hit with the French public, who collectively have given them around €30. Result!
Finally, we end on a high point, literally, as we overlook Paris from the base of Sacré-Coeur. It may be raining, but the view is breath-taking, the band are vibed up enough to play their longest set of the day and a good throng of (paying) punters are loving it. Whether this southwest London sextet will be the coveted ‘next big thing’, we couldn’t say, but Gig’s Big Busk has given them a real helping hand in snatching that title. So keep an eye out for them when you’re out and about on London’s streets. Danielle Goldstein
Jamie Thorn & The Mystery Pacific busk at Trafalgar Square on Sat May 20 at midday. If you want to apply for this year’s Big Busk, register at gigsbigbusk.com by May 31.