The first time I came to Perth, WA, was exactly 25 years ago, as a busker. Christmas 1991. We had a brilliant 10 days, and – incredibly – each made enough to cover our return airfares.
At the time, I was living and working in Singapore, where busking was prohibited. Something about it being against the law to have two or more people gather together in a public place; a law that had been brought in to help quell communism in the sixties. Singapore did quite a good job of quelling communism, but that’s a different story. The strange remnant of this law (since lifted) meant that 2 fellow band members who had travelled down to Perth the year before (‘where there’s a terrific street entertainment scene‘) said we should visit this Christmas and do some busking.
Yes, I had fellow band members. I had moved to Singapore the year earlier, and somehow inveigled my way into a fairly well known (in expat circles anyway) 6-piece rock n roll tribute band (the ‘Ruff n Ready Roadshow’) which was made up of teachers, mainly from the same school I was working at. Anyway, 4 of us agreed to do it, and so we cobbled together a skiffle set of rock n roll classics, interspersed with some silly jokes and improvisations.
Our first port of call was Council House to get the required $2 busking license. It showed some red dots on a CBD map of the city, which denoted where we could busk and off we trotted. We saw one small stage set up in one of the malls, and set to work. Everyone pretty much ignored us, and by the end of day 2, we had not much to show for it.
Oh well, we thought, at least we’ve given it a go. And we are hardly street performers anyway. We’d do 20 or so dinner dances in Singapore, but this live performing to Christmas shoppers malarky was a different ball game. One upshot of actually performing on the street was meeting other performers, many of whom do it for a living, and do very nicely thank you. They can sense when it’s a good time to do a show, know exactly how to build up a crowd and milk it for all it’s worth. People I met that week, I would meet a year later in Covent Garden in London, or in Edinburgh at festival time.
The person I was staying with said that by performing on a stage, Perth people might think we were paid by the council, so the next day we went and found a spot outside Myers’ main entrance in the central shopping mall. There was a steady throng of people there, who were happy to stop and listen. Suddenly the money started pouring in. People would sing along, laugh at our silliness (we looked a picture in our multi coloured teddy boy outfits and greased up hair – the photo above shows us in Fremantle that same week), and would generally get the idea that it was time to pay up when we ended each set with the Motown/Beatles standard ‘Money, (that’s what I want)’ .
On one occasion, the Salvation Army lady was standing near our audience getting donations for her tin, so we decided to donate a whole set’s worth to her. You should have seen her face.
Never change a winning formula, we thought, so we played there for most of the week pre Christmas, and a few days after. In between, we did a day in Fremantle (not so good tippers that lot), and also got booked to play on stage in Forrest Chase for the Carols by Candlelight and were entered into a busking competition (we came second!).
All the while I was struck by Perth’s beauty: the clean streets, stunning blue skies, bright sunshine, great coffee and beautiful beaches. The friendliness of the people and their genuine warmth (we were asked to play at so many parties & corporate gigs, but it was always the week after we’d left). ‘I’m going to live here one day‘, I thought. And so it would prove, about 5 years later. For 2017 denotes the 20th year that Lisa and I moved to Perth. We’re set here for life, and every year about this time, when I find myself walking through the mall or Forrest Place, I always remember the time, a quarter of a century ago, I first landed here, and strummed a tea chest base for 10 days and sampled my first (of many thousand) flat whites.
Merry Christmas Perth, and a Happy New Year. You’re beautiful.