Tag Archives: London Underground

Instrument of Torture

Today’s story is not for the faint hearted or those of a nervous disposition. If that includes you, then before you turn away I want you to know this. Despite the gut wrenching disappointment about which I’m going to write, yesterday also contained a tidal wave of support and encouragement. In the last 24 hours I’ve been described several times as brave, cool and fascinating. Taking risks is uncomfortable, it’s meant to be that way and is therefore not for everyone. And that’s OK. The next best thing to taking that risk is to encourage those around you who are brave, cool, fascinating, scared and stupid enough to try. And that’s vital.

There’s a line in Xtc’s Sergeant Rock that says, ‘Sometimes relationships don’t go as planned’. I agree – sometimes love is complicated, particularly when there are three involved. In this case the three are me, my guitar, and my stage fright. Yesterday, I lost.

I took myself off to my London Underground busking audition feeling both excited and nervous. I know the songs I’d selected like the back of my hand, my practice sessions have gone well, the sun is shining and all is right with the world. I arrived at Charing Cross underground station in plenty of time and via a series of friendly, smiling LU staff I arrived on a disused platform far below the ground. It was a little chilly, and the reception from people was warm and encouraging. I filled out all the paperwork, had my interview then was invited to practice and warm up on the platform. I was enjoying the experience.

‘Next please!’ came a voice from around the corner and I walked through to give my audition. The panel of three people asked me a few questions – we shared some smiles and then they asked me to perform. The panel chose the song London Calling, which I have heard, played and sung only about a gazillion times. I looked down the platform and in my mind’s eye I saw a ghostly train exit stage left and disappear down the tunnel. I turned to face the panel and….nothing. It was as if I’d left the song on the train like a piece of lost luggage, it had vanished. I stood there in awkward silence racking my brain for the opening line and the harder I thought, the faster the ghost train rolled, putting more and more distance between me and the song. It wasn’t coming back and I reluctantly told the panel I’d completely forgotten the song. Cue awkward laughter.

We moved on and I delivered Folsom Prison Blues to a good standard, my shattered nerves not withstanding. And a few short minutes later, it was over and I emerged blinking into the sunlight again. I will learn my fate in a few weeks time. Will this adventure go any further? I doubt it. If I were on that panel I wouldn’t give me a licence based on that performance.

Later in the afternoon, I took solace from reading an excellent post by Steve Boese titled, “I Want To Hate These ‘Lessons Learned’, But I Can’t”. In the post is a reference to risk, “…staying at risk throughout your career, or at least engaging with as much risk, fear, or even unknown as you can manage. Safe is safe, and while it (sometimes) means ‘secure’ it often turns into ‘boring’.” Despite my disappointment, I agree with this sentiment, or to put it another way:

‘You won’t succeed unless you try’. Strummer/Jones – Clash City Rockers

Auditioning

People get in touch with London Underground for a whole bunch of reasons. To book tickets, check for lost property, get travel information, and no doubt a few people complain about the service too. Not me. Back at the start of 2011 I contacted London Underground to ask if I could busk on the tube. Why? Honestly – at that time it just felt like a fun thing to do. London Underground wrote back, thanked me for my interest and said they were not conducting auditions at the moment. They may run more auditions again in 2013 and if so, they would contact me again at that time. I carried on with life – and forgot about busking on the tube.

Earlier this year I got an email from London Underground asking me to apply for a busking audition. First things first, hats off to London Underground for recording my interest (over two years ago) and for getting back to me. I applied and got through the paper sift, and today is the day of my live audition. At every step of the way I’ve been kept informed, my expectations clearly managed. I am a candidate, and so far I am having a good candidate experience. All buyers and recruiters please note: if London Underground can do it – you can do it too.

I’m pleased London Underground got back in touch. As I continue to explore the pathways of creativity I know more and more that music touches many people in many different ways. I’m sure that each and every one of you can call to mind a library of music and songs to describe various points on your life journey. And I read more and more about actively encouraging workplace choirs, getting people together to sing can be a fun, powerful experience.

How am I approaching the audition? Loads of people apply for these licences, so interest in the scheme is big, and being a slightly nervous type, I’m nervous. And I’m also excited. People tell me they like to see me smile, and that is the thing uppermost in my mind right now. The photo on today’s post was taken by Callum Saunders and it proves to me I can play and smile at the same time. The next time someone comes up to you at work with a crazy idea, hold fire on your judgment a while. Let the idea unfold, give it some time and space, and maybe even smile and help your colleague to make it happen. I’ll let you know how I get on. Meantime, keep smiling folks – and have a great day.