I consider Bath a city I know well: my PhD research focused on the Roman Baths; when MrElaineous was just known as Jon, we went on countless dates to the local cinema and Theatre Royal; our first year(ish) of marriage was spent living near Sydney Gardens. So I tend not to play the tourist when visiting, typically going from A to B without thinking much about it.
Yet as I headed through the city centre recently, I heard some fantastic music that quite literally stopped me in my tracks. I wasn’t the only one: a small crowd had gathered to hear two young men pour their energy into a violin and a guitar, and a round of applause went up when they finished the song. They introduced themselves as Ninotchka, Midsomer Norton’s foremost Eastern European folk group.
I had to smile: Midsomer Norton is MrElaineous’ hometown and Eastern European folk music is definitely not something that would be associated with it. However, they would be playing at Glastonbury the following week (i.e. this weekend) and wanted to practice, much to the delight of everyone passing by. I left after listening to four or five songs, one of their CDs in hand and musing about busking in general and in Bath in particular.
After all, when it comes to travel, the sights of a location are often well documented, whether through Instagram or social media or a blog. Even tastes get a chance to shine through photographs of meals. But sounds are so often overlooked and, for me at least, it’s the buskers who provide the soundtrack to places all across the country.
For example, catching The Trials of Cato performing at the Chester High Cross was a real high note during my first visit to the historic city of Chester. I have since become a polite Facebook stalker and seen them in concert twice, with their album Hide and Hair on almost constant repeat on my Spotify. In London, I always considered it a real bonus when I had trains to catch from Paddington on an afternoon when Aymee Weir was playing, and the numerous buskers on the Underground add vibrancy to what could otherwise be a dull commute.
Bath itself has a large concentration of buskers, attracted to the UNESCO world heritage site by its number of tourists. Some practically get to be landmarks in their own right, like the woman who can be found singing opera on various street corners. It was a Bath busker who performed at our wedding celebrations: Daniel Waples and his otherworldly hang drum have to be heard to be believed, and watching a friend’s three-year-old daughter sway to the sounds remains a very happy memory. More recently, I caught sight of a large group of French students waiting to be allowed into the Roman Baths, and a nearby busker struck up a tune from Les Misérables; at the end, he earned loud applause and I enjoyed how music made this cross-cultural connection possible.
Regardless of what’s played or sung, you have to hand it to buskers for putting themselves out there. Performing in public takes its own brand of courage, and I for one am grateful for those who step up, sing out, and add to the soundscapes of my journeys.