Liverpool is a city steeped in musical tradition, with an endless list of memorable acts hailing from Merseyside; including the likes of The Beatles, Echo and the Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Circa Waves, to name just a few. The northern powerhouse has continuously churned out accomplished Scouse entertainers and this culture of creativity and musical talent permeates the streets, meaning shoppers, workers and tourists alike can enjoy the exploits of aspiring singer-songwriters and street performers.
Buskers mould the atmosphere of Liverpool city centre and in doing so; some even become local legends, one of whom I managed to catch up with recently. Peter, also known by his stage name P.M Rocky, and referred to by some as ‘Plinky-plonky’ is a famous character that most will know the face of, having been spectator to his unique brand of air guitar and unmissable, if fairly inaudible renditions of rock classics outside of Boots on Church St. But, despite his relative fame, little is known of the enigmatic icon, until now:
PETER/ P.M ROCKY
“My biggest struggle this moment in time really, is to help my partner out. Basically something has happened and I need to do this to help her. I’ve got to be old fashioned and be the breadwinner. I’ve been on the streets about a year. It began when my partner got rushed in to hospital and she had to give her flat up. I went to get my flat back and when I went in there they’d took all my furniture out. So I had nowhere to go. They’d kicked me out without even telling me, because I had squatters there you see and there’s nothing I could do about that, but I got the blame for it. It wasn’t fair. I was born in Barrow-in-Furness and I’ve lived all over the place, mainly in Birkenhead though, me mum’s from there, she was brought up there. I get me suits from a guy called Brian. He walks around in them. I seen him and I asked him where he got them from and he said I’ll get you some. He got me two, so I’ve got this one and I’ve got an Easter one too. I love busking; I get on with the people really well. I like doing the history of pop music and when I’ve done the history of pop music, I do the musicals, because I enjoy musicals and I used to like them when I was a kid. I’ve always been an entertainer, even when I was in the Navy and I was on the boats I used to entertain my shipmates with just a brush as a guitar. I’ve done it on and off for about twenty-five to thirty years. So yeah, I’ve been a busker for a while now. I just love entertaining people.”
The old cliché of not judging a book by its cover comes to mind as I reflect on Pete’s story and relate to his desire to help a loved one. He spoke with a massive smile on his face as he reminisced about his love for entertaining people and seeing their reactions and was insistent upon the inclusion of his stage name, like a true showman. All of this enhances my appreciation of one of life’s true characters.
Afterwards, I met up with two more conventional buskers, at least in comparison to our man Pete, singer-songwriters Isaac and Mike. Both artist’s expressed their genuine desires to connect with strangers and to play for the thrill of it, whilst remaining acutely aware of the necessity to pay the bill’s and adhere to the system that we live in.
ISAAC HOLIAN/ IKE THOMAS
Isaac Holian, also known by his stage name Ike Thomas, is an animator, singer and Bob Ross super fan that has lived in Canada but eventually returned to his hometown and has since established himself as a mainstay of the music scene on Liverpool’s streets. This is what he had to say on busking:
“It’s nice interacting with people I’ve never met before. Sometimes they’ll stay and we’ll have a conversation and share a few cigarettes. When kids walk past and take interest it’s nice because you feel like you could inspire somebody. I have recently moved back to my hometown, but whilst I lived in Liverpool I had the best time and met a lot of lovely people, especially when busking. Even now when I busk I tend to meet cool people. The people I’ve met and know are the best thing about Liverpool to me. I have a few role models, one of whom is bob Ross. He just seems like a really nice man! My parents are great too, they’re very supportive and Mike and my friends are brilliant, I think I know a lot of inspiring people. I’m not sure what genre my music really falls into. I used to love folk music and I still do, but now that I’ve returned home I’ve been wanting to just do some weird stuff, Indie maybe? I’m definitely going to go for more of a psychedelic feel.”
MIKE MCDERMOTT/ MIKE BLUE
Some may know him simply as Mike Blue, but Mike McDermott is an English degree student that writes his own songs, fiction and also has his own band, Mal Hijo. This is all in addition to his most fruitful endeavour, uncanny covers of Bob Dylan tunes, for which you may recognise him. However, he continues to form and shape his own artistic identity through constant song writing and performances of his own work. Mike was extremely open in telling me about the ups and downs of being a busker in Liverpool and beyond:
“For me it’s getting the balance between writing your own music and doing your own songs and also having to cover better known stuff, because if you do that on the street nobody really knows it and wants to hear it. I’ve been out on the street and played a full hour of my own material and no one bites. Nobody listens, they just walk off. You play a Bob Dylan tune and everyone’s throwing money at you. It’s like which do you follow, because you’ve got to have the money to survive but then you lose your credibility a bit, because people then just know you as that guy who plays Dylan songs. If you do something creative you want a bit of integrity. I’ve got mates that have come out of Uni and are applying for cold calling jobs. It’s like, you’ve just got a degree what are you doing? Where’s the logic. It’s the idea of following the money, whereas being a busker you’re always doing something creative, something you like. All you have to put up with is being threatened to be shot, or beaten with a walking stick by an old man. It’s a small price to pay when you think about it. I went to LA recently and I hated it, everyone was so superficial, they’re so happy to big themselves up and criticise others. I got in a taxi and the guy was telling me how he was an actor, but that he ‘had a manager rather than an agent’ which put him ‘a mile above everyone else’. I was like ahh that’s great man. He was saying about him and his mate writing a screenplay so I said cool, I do a bit of writing as well and he replied ‘oh, you have to be extremely determined to be a good writer.’ As soon as he got a whiff he was just trying to put it down. All I could think about was whilst I was there was just going the pub, watching Peep Show, the Scouse accent and Greggs, I really missed it here, and I was only gone for a week.”
TOM ASHURST/ HAWKLORDS
I also spoke to Tom, a busker originally from Wigan who loves the atmosphere in Liverpool and adds to it himself with his moody, psychedelic tunes. Tom took some time out of his day to speak to me and this is what he had to say:
“I play a lot of different styles but all kind of implementing psychedelia. I play flamenco guitar, rock guitar, classic, all of it shaped or moulded to be psychedelic and trippy and atmospheric, ambient. I take a lot of inspiration from Hendrix and I like Hawking and Gong, European and English psychedelia bands from the late 60s and 70s. I was raised on that stuff so I love that. I was also trained classically in college so I like all that side of things as well, but now rather than a grand piano I’ll do it all on electric piano with a load of effects going in to a synthesiser, all kinds of mad things, loop pedals so I can create massive walls of psychedelic noise in a studio at home. I’m also in a band, The Hawklords. We’ve got our 7th album coming out October 26th and we’ve had all of our albums go straight to shelves in HMV and other music stores. If I can make money doing something that I love, I’m really good at it so that helps bring money in. I know that it’s a comfortable way of living really. I turn up in the morning, go home afternoon or evening depending on how good the day is and that’s it, three or four days a week. Liverpool has a very good sport and music cultural scene. It’s a very cultured city. If you turn up on match day and you sing Liverpool chants that’s really good money because the fans have often had a drink and will throw you some cash. Also, they’re really good music fans and there’s a lot of other talented people here. Everywhere’s got buildings and streets and roads and a Primark, but it’s the people here that make it.”
I had previously perceived busking as the first step on an aspirational journey, looking up towards musical stardom, fame and fortune. But it was brilliant to speak to four buskers that really do appear to do it for the love of it, for the thrill, for the expression it affords. Whilst all of these performers clearly posses talent, they remain extremely humble and committed to what is a stable and profitable lifestyle as apposed to a potential mega cash cow that will pay out given the ‘necessary’ work ethic turned obligation. Like any authentic artist, it is about the journey here rather than the destination. The overarching message that links all of their stories together is a love for the city of Liverpool and the unique feature that sets it apart from all other homogenous, modern urban cityscapes- that is it’s people, the humans of Liverpool.
If you enjoy stories like these, go and follow @Humnsofliverpool for more candid tales and uplifting accounts of the city that we all love.
Written by Adam Thompson