Now he brings us The Devil Went Down to Georgia “with an Aussie twist”. It becomes clear that what he means by this is that a didgeridoo will be left out in the arrangement. In a matter of minutes, his audience grew from a handful to around 50.
A group of workers renovating the large brownstone across the street will appear at a first floor window, turning it into an opening executive suite.
On his third song, the audience approaches that of a Scottish second division football match. A player slightly intoxicated from an afternoon swalette decides to give us an impromptu hit.
He’s on the road soon and Rhys is playing a blues/country roots/folk/reggae version of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. “This is going to be interesting,” says the guy standing next to me, wearing a bandana and a biker jacket with all the insignia of heavy metal aristocracy sewn on. He needn’t have worried though. It turns out that rock’s most recognizable riff loses nothing when played on a didgeridoo.
The craftsmen show their appreciation by using a single pneumatic drill to produce a bass line in unison with the didgeridoo: boom-boom-boom…boom-boom-TREE-boom.
“Could you all please take a few steps closer to me,” Rhys asks us. “Just so we don’t pose an obstacle for pedestrians and wheelchair users.”
He has been traveling the world as a street musician for 18 years and knows the etiquette of the street musicians’ brotherhood. This is his ninth time in Glasgow en route to next week’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
CONTINUE READING: Glasgow launches consultation to gather opinions on city center road traffic
“I love coming to Glasgow,” he says. “Unlike many other cities, it’s very laid back and laid back here and there’s no compliance. You don’t need a permit and nobody tells you where you can and can’t go.”
As I make my way up Buchanan Street and then left onto Sauchiehall Street, I encounter a dozen buskers performing an open-air symphony during daylight hours for the citizens of this worn-down old town. All musical traditions can be found here: from rock ‘n’ roll and bluegrass folk to a lonely Hungarian violinist playing a sweet melody filled with pain and longing.
They all agreed in their appreciation of Glasgow as a focal point for their art. No one appeared to be aware of the consultation launched this week to determine its impact on the city.
Angus Millar, City Center Restoration Organizer at Glasgow City Council, explained the purpose of this exercise: “For many people, busking and street performances are a positive aspect of visiting the city centre, with the vast majority of these performers performing within guidelines our code of conduct.
“We want as many people as possible to have their say about buskers and street performers through this consultation, as it allows us to support what people enjoy and address any issues identified.”
The consultation follows complaints about noise from city center businesses and some local residents. Nevertheless, none of yesterday’s performances in the city came close to a disturbing noise level. On Sauchiehall Street, some of these buskers set the mood and mood on a boulevard that has been looking derelict of late.
Since the end of the lockdown, many companies have complained about the drop in customer traffic caused by the cost of living crisis and a restricted transport network. Surely they would appreciate any help to make downtown a more vibrant and attractive place in difficult times?
In front of the Apple Store, Vinnie Moon performs a more than acceptable version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. With sunglasses and long silver hair, he exudes the Woodstock flair of a refugee.
A black silk mantilla with a skull motif is wrapped around his microphone. We don’t bother him for comment because he’s in the zone, but he gives us a “rock on” salute as he gets involved with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. That pleases me more than I should.
And then we meet the headliner of the day, a breakneck, jaw-dropping rockabilly trio called The Best Bad Influence. You could build your afternoon around these guys: Michael McGill on drums, Alexander Munro on guitar and vocals, and his father, Alasdair Munro, plucking a pink double bass and expertly holding a cigarette.
As they are swept into their set, a crowd gathers and a woman in a black scarf and black and white polka dot dress hoots and flutters to their tunes. She dances like she means business and if she had a hat we would have thrown some silver in it too.
“We’ve been doing this for four years,” says Alexander. “It’s great fun but it’s getting more and more challenging as we see more buskers and obviously people are struggling at the moment.” They drove from Ayrshire. “But due to the new LEZ restrictions, we had to park the transporter over the bridge,” he says.
A young singer comes by and asks where she can pitch her pitch. The guys are helpful but don’t want to drown them out. And so photographer Gordon and I show her the way to Sauchiehall Street. It’s quieter up there and we think it could use another singer.
In front of the Buchanan Galleries at the end of Sauchiehall Street we meet the singer/guitarist Maya from Brazil. She fell in love with Glasgow.
“This is only my second visit, but I love this city,” she says. “People are so nice and friendly and very open to different forms of music. In all my travels I have not found a better place to shop than Glasgow.”
An elderly lady in a green top stops to greet them. A member of St Andrew’s West Church of Scotland on Bath Street, she tells Maya that her pastor is from Brazil and that she felt she just had to come over and say hello. “See what I mean,” says Maya. “Scotland is a wonderful place for musicians. It has music in its bones and I feel at home here.
Outside another haunted building on Sauchiehall Street, the Bhs shop, Ayrshire’s Gavin Clinton performs the Fields of Athenry. He’s a good guitarist with a good voice and he plays this song calmly, almost thoughtfully: the way it should be sung.
“I did this regularly for 12 years and then took a long break. It’s my first time in almost a decade,” he says. “It helps me generate revenue, but the main motivation for me is just the joy it brings to just play in public. And the people of Glasgow seem to appreciate you making the effort.”
Eleanor Kane, a Glasgow-born actress and singer-songwriter now based in London, has fond memories of her years busking on Buchanan Street. She is currently rehearsing for a major new production, but returns to her hometown whenever she can. “Sometimes I would get off the train at Glasgow Central station to be greeted by a group of buskers and they would let me join in with a song.
“I started on the steps of Buchanan Street when I was about 12, under the statue of Donald Dewar, and I remember when I was 14 I entered a singing competition in town. After that we all went to Wagamama, but I didn’t have enough money. So I got out my guitar, went to Buchanan Street and made enough money to pay for my lunch.
“There is an informal etiquette that binds the busking community together. Everyone treats each other with great respect. If you get up early you can secure a good location and no one will bother you.
“In many other cities like London, Manchester and Belfast it is much more regulated than Glasgow. People may not have much money but are always generous, while in other cities too many see it as a free performance.”
On Sauchiehall Street, outside the shell of the former Marks & Spencer, there’s a God love him moment. A wrinkled and wrinkled man with hollow cheekbones wearing a gray track top expertly plays “Always on my Mind” on his harmonica. He does so with due reverence, as if to lift the spirits on this street.