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COLUMN: Musical acts in London bring light even when the sky is gray



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A group of seven musicians stands outside the King’s Cross tube station playing instruments. The group is one of many that can be seen on the streets of London. Hannah Reed Buy Photos

Skies in London are usually cloudy with specks of blue. People rush around the streets, arms locked and hands intertwined.

They’re talking to each other. Their headphones are in. They’re on the phone or they’re walking alone in silence watching their surroundings. 

The city is filled with hustle and bustle, but one thing makes everyone slow their footsteps or stop altogether. Music.

The music scene on the streets of London is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in Bloomington or Chicago.

Back in Indiana, I would see a musician playing guitar and singing at most. Sometimes in Chicago, I would see a dance crew accompanied by a loud speaker to get the crowd interested. 

In London, I never know what I’m going to find when I walk the streets to class or take the tube to my internship.

Around noon, I decided to take the tube to find a coffee shop to get some work done, and on my way to the Piccadilly Underground line, I encountered two musical acts.

A team of seven stood outside the King’s Cross tube station, performance in full swing.

Naturally, instead of pushing past and going to the tube, I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd and watched in awe. The group was composed of people playing trumpets, drums, saxophones, tubas and flutes.

After seeing this group, I was on a bit of a high. I thought it was weird to come across the scene right as I was heading out to write a story about music in London. But that wasn't all.

I stood on the escalator going down to make my way into the tube station. I was feeling sweaty – it was hotter out than I had expected – and a little excited because I had plans to wander the streets.

I had one headphone in and I was scrolling through a playlist I had downloaded on my phone when I heard something I had never heard in real life before, and certainly never thought I would hear out on the streets. 

A harp. Someone was playing a harp in the tube station.

The musician had connected it to speakers so it was extra loud and extra relaxing.

He wasn’t singing. He wasn't dancing. There was no guitar. It was just a man and his harp.

If I had any change with me at that moment, he would have gotten all of it. 

During my first few days in the city, I saw a guy playing an electric piano on a street corner, hooked up to a speaker next to a sign that read, “Saving up to buy a real piano.” 

They play for money, but I can tell they play because they love it, too. You don't sit on a street corner in the cold hoping for a few pounds because you kind of like something. You have to be truly fond of what you're doing. The musicians all have these small smiles and they're never at the corners or in the tube station every day – I've only seen one act twice. There's a type of sound you can hear in the music here that just radiates a genuine love for what they're doing.  

My first time taking the tube alone, I saw a man singing into a microphone next to a sign, “Rockin’ Steve Dixon singing for you since 1972,” and I quickly jotted it down in my phone notes so I could look him up later.

I was making my way to an orientation session, so I wasn’t able to stop to enjoy his music, but I do remember peeling off to the side and walking a little bit slower so I could listen.

During my first week of classes, I was walking home with a friend and made him stop to cross the street because I saw someone relaxing on a ledge, playing the accordion. 

London is diverse, incredible and fun, and the music scene here is all of those things times 10.

I’ve been here for two weeks and have already seen more diverse musical acts out on the streets than I have in my entire life.

I cannot wait to see what the city streets have in store for me during the next three months.

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