Saturday, February 27News For London

From the streets to online: How London’s buskers survive the pandemic

The streets of London may be quieter without its usual hustle and bustle but for its buskers, the show must go on so they could continue to weather the coronavirus pandemic.

Video produced by Mengqi Zhang

For one busker, Lucy May Walker streams her performances online as one of the many ways to pay rent. 

“I started live streaming on Facebook and put up a Paypal link. And it felt like I was almost busking but online,” said Lucy, who is also a singer-songwriter.

Screenshot of Zoom interview with busker Lucy May Walker. Photo by Mengqi Zhang.

Lucy started live streaming on her social media channels when the UK went into its first lockdown on 23 March. 

England is now into its second lockdown which started on 5 November and is slated to end on 2 December. 

Being a full-time busker, Lucy makes about 80 percent of her income on street performing which has taken a hit during the pandemic even with the online shows as it came with its own set of challenges.

She is not able to play her usual routine of two hours four days a week and her audience remains the same.

“I was doing really well so I wasn’t too worried but as time went on, I was making less tips because obviously, it was the same people tipping,” she said, adding that they may have already tipped for previous streams and couldn’t keep tipping her. 

So her manager came up with a songwriter series which she will perform with another artist to bring in new fans and introduce existing fans to new music. 

“It was really fun for me to be introduced as well as introducing other people,” said Lucy who splits the tips earned from the weekly series with the featured musician. She has thus far performed with Graeme Clark, Megan O’Neill, and Ada Pasternak for the series.  

Performing online is also not for all buskers as it depends on the busker’s fanbase and online presence as some of her peers could. 

“I’m really lucky to have an audience that’s big enough to get people watching and also they’re very, very kind,” Lucy acknowledged and mentioned that some of her peers couldn’t adapt online as well as she could.

The empty open space at Covent Garden street is a popular stage for performers. Photo by: Mengqi Zhang

Meanwhile, the streets of London remain empty of the performers who liven them as lockdown restrictions require people to stay home to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Still, there were people milling about the streets or spending their lunch break in the open air like Florence friends Margherita and Livia.

Livia (left) and Margherita relaxing after lunch in Covent Garden. Photo by: Mengqi Zhang

“The experience is fun and I normally stop for a few minutes to hear them,” said Margherita at Covent Garden, a popular haunt for street performers. 

Livia agreed as her office is nearby although she now works from home. 

For Londoner Rudi, Covent Garden is his favourite spot, and lamented that it “seems a lot emptier” without the various performances that liven the street.

Rudi hanging out in his favourite spot. Photo by: Mengqi Zhang

“As you walk through here you would expect to be drawn in to the performances,” he described.

“It’s a shame not to see them. It was often good fun, it was part of what made it so special about this place.”

As December looms, Lucy is eager to get back to playing on the streets again as it’s a good month for buskers despite her usual pitches being closed.

Pitches are designated areas for buskers to perform all over London city. The Busker’s Code states that all pitches have different rules on functioning and may require licenses to perform there. 

Though she noted that some of the underground pitches are open and she could resume playing, she has to wear a mask to play.

“I don’t think it would work for me but maybe if I were really desperate, you might just see me there,” she said. 

“It’s a struggle but we’re doing what we can to adapt.”