Don’t stop the music as we look ahead to the Summer

A busker belts out his tunes on 'the box' to a small but seasoned audience on the day of August 4, 1990. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
A busker belts out his tunes on 'the box' to a small but seasoned audience on the day of August 4, 1990. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Country Living with Francis Farragher

It’s not too often that you find a sense of solitude and lack of hustle along the streets of Galway city but late January, with all its reputation for people feeling a bit low, a bit broke and a bit forlorn, does tend to be one of the few lull periods for the capital of the West.  Through all the bleakness though, one constant on the streets is the sound of some musician or singer busking away to their heart’s content, with a spattering of change decorating their upturned cap or guitar case in front of them

Busking is part of the street life and culture of the city and its increasing business through the Spring period is always an indication of lengthening days, the return of the tourists and the odd mention here and there of Summer events like The Races and The Arts Festival.

My first memory (probably like an awful lot more people) of a busker in Galway was of a long-haired singer strumming his guitar and belting out the pop songs outside the Claddagh Palace in Lower Salthill.

It was always one of the delightful little novelties of going to the pictures on nights when often queues would form outside the doors of a lovely old cinema that previously had been known as the Estoria.

To the best of my knowledge, his name was Terry Smith from the city, but his songs and tunes added immeasurably to the pleasure of the night as we plodded along to watch the likes of Blazing Saddles, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of sometimes the scarier ones like The Exorcist or The Omen.

Busking at the time seemed to be an odd kind of business, considered to be far more eccentric and just a step away from the norm, but Terry Smith invariably got a warm response, and if my memory serves me right, when ‘the flicks’ were over, there would always be a decent covering of coins on his collection utensil.

In the intervening four decades, busking has mushroomed in popularity, so much so, that there is now talk of introducing controls or some type of licensing system by the City Council to, as it were, ‘put a bit of law and order’ on the street artists.

It is a strategy to tread wearily with. There is just such a spontaneity and gaiety about the whole business of busking that doesn’t lend itself to being controlled or licensed, although a case has to be made for keeping sound and amplification levels under some kind of reasonable limits. Our eardrums do have their tolerance levels too.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.