I was only armed with a ukulele, but I could play a bunch of catchy songs on that Hawaiian baby — three chord affairs of fun. Once and for all I was determined to overcome my innate shyness and give it a strum and holler.
Down the road from me I could hear a hardened regular playing jigs and reels on an English concertina. I’d dropped a few rappen his way earlier on as a show of support, secretly hoping the deed would serve as a good omen for my own forthcoming gig. I put my open ukulele case on the cobbled pavement and tuned up. I felt naked, exposed. People stopped, stared and waited. Possibly the diminutive instrument intrigued them. All set, I launched into Going Up The Country by Canned Heat. By the end of the song I already had a few coins blinking happily in my case. Encouraged, I immediately followed it up with In The Summertime by Mungo Jerry – bold and loud.
But my street debut was short-lived. The concertina guy from down the road pushed his way through the growing crowd, stood right in front of me, hocked a loogie on my sneakers, and said, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I watched the magnificent greenie slide like a mamba onto the pavement. “I played here first. You’re in my zone. Now, fuck off.” He had a Scottish accent, and his ruddy face flushed with rage.
“Sorry, man. I’ll just move a bit farther up the road. It’s fine by me.”
“No, you get the hell out of here. You’re taking away my customers. And you’ve got a bloody, loud voice, you know that!”
“Come on, cool it.” I snapped back. “An hour ago I dropped a few coins into your bag.”
“Stick it, I don't need your bloody money.” His thick-fingered hand dug deep into his weathered, leather bag, and he chucked a fist of coins in my face. He spat again and strutted off. Rattled as I was, I quickly picked up the wayward coins, packed away my ukulele, and hurried to the nearest Café for a cappuccino, glad to escape the jostling crowd that had enjoyed the fracas more than my music. If nothing else he'd taught me something about street etiquette amongst minstrels.
When I counted the money I saw that one of the coins my livid rival had flung my way was a five frank piece -more than all the money I’d earned during my entire two song set! “One more cappuccino,please!”
Eric G. Müller is a musician, teacher and writer. He has published two novelsas well as a collection of poetry, and numerous short stories. His website can be found at: www.ericgmuller.com