(here's a snapshot of John Bentley circa '81 -- a CONFIDENT musician, unlike I was!)
Hmmm. Busking in London. Well, I believe I started out at Piccadilly Circus, underground, in one of those long winding tiled hallways joining subway lines.
I’d start singing and strumming a Cmaj7 chord (fancy!), “When this old world starts getting me down/And people are much too much for me to take/Up on the Roof. . .” Memories of sitting on my Thompson Street, NYC, rooftop wafted through my brain, and the songs poured out of my mouth and fingers. Although I’d played to crowds of hundreds, even maybe a thousand in Nervus Rex, I was TERRIFIED playing so close up to people who didn’t give a crap and were just rushing on to the next train, the next big thing in their lives. I was an absolute mess inside, though outwardly I think I was the plucky, punky young thing, with long, dyed-black straight hair that made me look half oriental. I was skinny, quick, cutting, and cute. But confident? Nah.
On I sang at Piccadilly, picking up songs like Gary Stewart’s “Out of Hand”: “I never intended, to even know your name/Except for the woman waiting at home, they’ve all been the same/I’ve always been true, except for you, not even a one-night stand/And I never intended, for it to get so out of hand. . . “
Or how about “Please Help Me I’m Falling/in love with you/Close the door to temp-ta-shun/Don’t let me fall though/Turn away from me, Darlin’, I’m beggin’ you to/Please help me, I’m falling -- in love with you.” (Hank Locklin song)
But one of my favorite country songs was always “Paper Roses”: “I realize the way your eyes deceive me/Those tender looks that I mistook for love/So take away those flowers that you gave me/And send the ones that you remind me of. . .”
Just to mix it up, I’d temper those old country songs in my busking repertoire with funny and uptempo numbers, too, like “I Knew The Bride” and “Almost Saturday Night.” And, of course, I wrote funny country songs like “Mercy Killing”: “It was a mercy killing/Oh Lord please listen/You’ve got to understand/I warned him more than once or twice, now the fire’s hit the frying pan. . . “ Cute, for a country punk Yank, looking for pounds in all the wrong places. . .
Though nothing untoward happened to me, I just about lost it when the cops strolled near me in an ambling manner, and quaked in my boots when gangs of tough looking skinheads and other yobbos marched by. Once I got too freaked out, singing in the bowels of the city at Piccadilly Circus, I took the train to a place Glenn said was a good busking location, Hyde Park Corner. Once there, I played aboveground, but didn’t like the acoustics (no echoes to bounce off tiled walls).
I was still working at a disadvantage, scared, unconfident, not digging the lukewarm reception. I soon gave up the idea of making money by playing music in public -- at least, by busking in public. Oh well.
It was on to the next thing -- but first, a visit back to Crystal Palace and my new musician friends there, with good ol’ Bentley & co.