mercredi 27 avril 2016

Under the spell of: JP Cooper

As I was streaming Mahogany Session videos on Youtube , which are acoustic concerts by all kinds of artists all around the world and filmed in all kinds of locations, I fell on a session with JP Cooper, a british singer songwriter. I didn't know him and thought, hey, this is nice.
I saw he recorded a couple of EPs, including When the Darkness Comes and Keep the Quiet Out.

So I went on to listen to some more, until I fell on this. And that's the one that won me over, totally, unconditionally. This week, I am under the spell of JP Cooper.

mardi 26 avril 2016

Busking in Antwerp

The city of Antwerp has been another one of my regular busking destinations in Belgium. I usually head over there by train and arrive at the Central Station, probably the nicest one in Belgium and considered to one of the most beautiful stations in the world.

There is a very nice zoo right next to the station, and if I don't get to distracted by the idea of going and say hello to the animals, then I can head into town in search of a nice busking spot. A fair share of the center is pedestrianized, which is nice for busking.

It starts with the huge shopping street, the Meir, which starts not too far away, in a straight line from Central Station. It is quite wide and busy, you probably need to be amplified to play there, unless you're busking as a band, or playing loud instruments maybe. The thing is from what I have understood amplification is not allowed in Antwerp, and you need a permit to busk, which you can ask for online, but the whole thing is in Flemmish with no translation, kind of tough for foreigners. So far personnaly I haven't bothered with the permit, and have played with amplification in various parts of town, including the Meir, without beeing bothered by the police. But I think I've just been lucky maybe, not to fall on the wrong cops, because I have been told that they can be strict with those regulations at times. I guess as always it depends on who, when and where.

I don't know whether this info is still valid but here's wha tI found on the web about the permit and regulations:
- you can fill out a form at the Office of Safety at Sint-Pietersvliet 7 and you then have to wait a few days to get it
- the permit is free and would be valid for a year
- as a general rule you should only play at a given spot 1 hour at a time

In De Wilde Zee
One of my favourite busking spots in Antwerp has been a quiet little square at the end of Wiegstraat in De Wilde Zee. But it is also many other buskers favourite spot so often busy. Everytime I played there I got great feedback from shop owners around, anda few of them even bought the albums to play in their shop, which is nice!

I have played in a number of other streets and places around that area, and it seems to be appreciated. Sometimes people in the vicinity, whether they are shop or restaurant owners, would be a bit weary when they see you set up nearby. But once I started playing then they seemed reassured and even enjoyed it. In this one place where I was just setting up, the lady in the shop opposite came out to ask me whether I intended to play for long, because after a while it gets tiring for her. I reassured her that I would'nt be playing for more than half and hour, 45 minutes max. So I went on with my gig, and after about 7-8 songs I asked her as she came out of her shop if it was ok and whether I should continue playing or not. She said it was lovely and that I could play all afternoon if I wanted, which felt nice! At the end as I left she gave me a pair of earrings (she owns a ethnic/fantasy jewelry shop), and now everytime I pass by her street she asks me to stay and play there! The lady in the shop next to her was really nice also and offered me cup of tea. It happens from time to time with café and restaurant owner's nearby, as a thank you for crowding up their terrace!

All in all this goes to show that you are not, as a busker, the nuisance that autorities make you out to be. More often than not, people are keener to ask you stay and come back than to get lost! This I have witnessed almost everywhere I go: if what you do is nicely done, and not to loud, people will enjoy it :-)

To end on a musical note, here's a link to a little Facebook video of me busking in Antwerp, the song is called Flower Serenade:

lundi 25 avril 2016

Busking in Brussels

I often busk in Brussels, as it is my hometown when I am not on the road. I always enjoy it a lot, people nice and keen to take the time to listen. And you get to play for the whole world, as there are many tourists all year long.

Busking at Place de la Monnaie 
But there are many rules to busking in Brussels. You need a permit, and that permit states where and when you can play with unbelievably painfull precision. As a general rule you can only play at a given spot at even hours, and the spots where you are allowed to play are specified on the permit. In the UNESCO zone, ie the walking center of the town, only the spot facing galery St Hubert seems to be worth it really, and everybody fights over it. There used to be a nice spot behind the Bourse, facing Sint Niklaas Church, but they removed it recently (the spot, not the Church). Instead they created a new spot in front of La Bourse on the new walking street that is now Boulevard Anspach, known as Le Piétionnier. I have busked there a few times but the whole atmosphere isn't the same, I miss the old spot. Then there are a few spots around the UNESCO zone but still in the center, at Mont des Arts, Place de La Monnaie, and in the shopping street that is Rue Neuve, in front of the church.

To get the permit you need to head to the town's "Service de la Culture" on Rue Sainte Catherine, but beware of the opening hours which are very limited, to say the least: opened on Tuedays from 2 to 4pm!! Almost as if they didn't want you to busk...

To get the permit you need to comply with either one of these two conditions: you have an Artisitc Degree, or you have to pass an "audition". Don't worry about the so-called audition though, they basicallyu just check whether you are capable of playing or singing and that you won't be too much of a nuisance and scare people away...

Once you get the precious permit it is valid for 1 Month, after which you need to head back to "Service de la Culture" and ask them to renew it. This can be done 3 times over the course of a year, 4 times if you live in Brussels. And don't expect to get your new permit on the same day, you have to come back the week after to pick it up. Oh and bring a photo and a copy of your identity card.

The one good thing about busking laws in Brussels is that you are allowed to play with amplification, which is rare enough to be mentionned.

Now, can you risk it without the permit? Yes and no. In the UNESCO zone it's a bit tricky, and it's anyone's guess whether they'll bother you or not. It really depends on which cops are on duty that day: some won't mind and won't bother you, some are extra zealous and will stop your performance and give you a warning. They won't fine you if it's your first warning though... it's once you've been warned that it gets tricky. In rue Neuve it depends on cop patrols also, they have already bothered me there. Elsewhere as far as I can tell, if nobody complains and calls the cops on you, you should be fine!

You can always e-mail me if you have any questions about busking in Brussels, and here is the link to the city's page for the busking rules and permit:;

To end on a lighter note, here's a little video of me busking at Place de la Monnaie last November:

dimanche 24 avril 2016

Busking in Burlington & Boston - US Coast Cycling Tour summer 2015

During the summer of 2015 a friend and I went on a cycling trip between Montreal and New York, and of course we took our guitars and busking equipment with us ;-)

So we stayed in Montreal for a few days after flying in from Brussels. Having spent a year there back in 2010 as an exchange student I knew about busking in the city, and so we had planned to play a bit before leaving for our journey. The weather was nice so rather than busking the subway we decided to try our luck outside, and so we went to busk a couple of times on Rue Prince Arthur, a nice and cosy walking street on Le Plateau Mont Royal!

We would have loved to busk more, but getting prepared for trip, buying all the equipment we needed including the bikes and trailer, took much more time than we had foreseen! But after four days of running around town like crazy, our trusty steeds were finally ready to hit the road!

We headed south for Vermont and the Lake Champlain, on a beautifull "Route Verte" that took us accross the charming town of Chambly and it's lake. From there we followed  the Richelieu River down to the US Border.

An injury forced us to stay put for a week in a little american town called Rouses Point, right at the border with Quebec.
Rouses Point

Busking the Farmer's Market in Plattsburgh
This forced stay in this unlikely town pushed us to get creative, and gave us time to explore busking opportunities in the vicinity. We quicly found out that there was little to do in Rouses Point, and little point in busking there. So we went down to Plattsburg, a relatively bigger town south of Rouses Point on Lake Champlain, and luckily enough happened to be there on the day a little farmer's market was taking place. After asking around if it was ok to set up there, I got to busk a bit with Folk Vagabond, in nice and relaxed atmosphere. We felt very much welcomed, and actually were asked whether we could come back and play every week when the market took place, which was very nice of them. But although by that point the injury situation didn't look so good, and our chances of ever leaving Rouses Point by the means of bicycles seemed bleak, we still had hope of getting out of there someday!

We then headed to Burlington for a couple of days, one of the two places with Boston during the trip where we had the time and opportunity to get some busking action! Burlington seemed very promising: the heart of the town was a busy walking street called Church Street, perfect setting for us. Too perfect to be true. After finding a very nice spot in the shade of a tree, we'd been playing for about a quarter of an hour withvery promising success when we were stopped by the dreaded police patrol. "You need a permit to play. And I don't think you're allowed to use an amp". Oh bollocks. (yes I always picture Hugh Grant standing next to me in these kind of situations). We are told that you can ask for a permit, and after having being sent back and forth up and down the street between different administrations for about an hour, we finally knocked on the right door, at Church Street n°2. There we are nicely told that we have to come back at noon to pass an audition. We comply and do so next day. At the end of our audition song, the two shrews officiating as judges and who told us to come and  audition the day before looked at each other before finally telling us that they no longer can deliver permits for people just passing through for a short period of time...

Busking in Burlington
Undeterred and determined to busk, we decided to go on a search for a busking spot outside of Church Street, and we did find a beautiful spot in the end, on the promenade by Lake Champlain. Actually on the most beautiful busking settings I've ever played, especially at sunset!

Burlington Promenade, Beautiful Busking Setting!

Eventually we left Rouses Point and cycled back down to Burlington. Being 10 days behind on schedule and wanting to make sure we would see New York, we decided to drive down to Boston from there, having figured out how to fit all of our stuff in the rented SUV!

In Boston we got round to do a bit of busking too for a couple of days, downtown in the walking area around Summer Street, Winter Street and Washington Street. Busking there was ok, nothing extraordinary, but at least the cops didn't seem to mind or bother us. Well, on the second day I was doing a Folk Vagabond set in Winter Street when a cop stopeed me to tell me it wasn't allowed here. I told him I was kind of surprised, given that dozens of other policemen and police cars had passed us by in the last couple of days and none had anything! Funny thing is he seemed kind of surprised and taken  abck by that. That's when he told me that basically this was his precinct or something like that, and that he had been away and just came back that afternoon.I said ok. Just as he was walking away he turned around and said I could go on, what I was doing was nice and that so far, there hadn't been any complaints or anything, but that if he did receive any he would have to give me a ticket... Not quite sure what to do with that I did a couple more songs and then wrapped it up for the day, I was almost done anyways and it was getting late. So all in all downtown Boston seemed pretty relaxed for busking.

We did also try to busk a bit in Cambridge, but we couldn't quite find the right spot that day, between the street noise, the burning sun and heavy wind. I did play a bit of Folk Vagabond in a little parc though and had a very nice time there. I actually got a priceless  souvenir out of it: someone gave a sticker with the following words handwritten on it: "Keep it up, you are amazing". This motto I know keep on my guitar Tanguie, and I try to remember it during hard times, when I'm maybe  feeling a bit blue about what I am doing.

We didn't have much time to try other spots in Boston, from what we gathered a popular busking spot is Quincy Market, but there is an audition system with permits going on there as well, only held once a year during April if I remember correctly. So we didn't bother.

After Boston we cycled all the way down to New York and busked a couple of time along the way, however we didn't get round to busking in the Big Apple as we arrived there shortly before having to head back home, and we decided to spend the couple of days we had visiting and enjoying the city. But there will definetly be a next time! Meanwhile, I'll try and post a video from the cycling trip soon!

mercredi 18 novembre 2015

Busking in Göteborg

The swedish town of Göteborg was the final busking destination of my "One Girl Band" busking and cycling trip during the summer of 2013.

I spent 3 days there, catching up with an old friend back from my days as an exchange student in Montreal, and just wandered around this wonderfull city, my inner busker always on the look out for the perfect spot! The weather during my stay wasn't always the best, but amidst the dull grey skies, the city offered me one of my favourite pics from the entire trip:

The second day I set my heart on the Haga neighborhood, with it's cosy walking streets and handicraft shops. So I decided to set up shop in Haga Nygata:

My busking times in Göteborg are amongst my favourite memories from the trip. In the last couple of days I had been writing a new song, entitled Child of the Universe. I got the inspiration for this one a few days before, back in Norway just before entering Sweden. I had left Fredrikstad and was trying to find a way around to Norway. Coming up to the crossroads I pause to take a look at my maps. This  friendlyguy comes up to me asking me whether I am lost and would need any help. After letting him know that I am ok we start chatting, me telling him about my cycling adventures, and him telling me the story of how he ended up staying in Norway after coming up here as an exchange student from Togo. When I asked whether he missed his homeland he said: "I am a child of the universe,everywhere I am at home". And later as we parted and I was pondering upon which route to take, either the most direct and slightly boring one, or the more scenic/hilly/windy one along the coast, he kept on repeating: "you got to take it easy. I guess he meant I should take my time on the scenic one, which I ended up on.
These two phrases: "I am a Child of the Universe" and "Take it easy", and the philosophy behind them, stuck in my head for the remaining days of the trip to Göteborg, and so on my first day there I put them into a song called "Child of the Universe".

Anyways that day busking in Haga was my first time performing this song to anyone. And I had been playing for a little while by the time I got to this one. But as it came to an end, one of the shop owners nearby just jumped out of here store like a jack-in-the-box and came up to me to tell me she had been listening to me from the beginning and really enjoyed it, but that for this song in particular, she felt she needed to come out and tell me how wonderfull it was, and how good it made her feel. That meant the world to me, it doesn't get much better than that when you play a new song for the first time and don't really know what to expect, or how people are going to react to it. It felt pretty good!

The second day busking in Haga I also remember quite fondly, because that's the day I met Chao Chen, another wonderfull encounter and stranger who happened to make my day. Chao took amazing pictures that day, one of which I later used as the cover for my One Girl Band album.

I don't know what the rules are for busking in Göteborg, but I wasn't bothered by police while I played overthere, but then again I didn't use amplification so I don't know... All I can say is Haga is a nice and friendly neighborhood to be busking in!

mercredi 21 août 2013

Busking in Munster

I stopped for a couple of days in this smaller but very nice city. When I told people I was heading for Munster they told me "Ho you are going to love Munster it's great for cycling, it's like the number 1 german city for that, maybe the only one that compares with cities in the Netherlands." And truly enough there were bicycles everywhere! As usual I headed for the Altstadt, the Old town center, on the look out for a nice walking street where to busk. Here I found two streets: the first was the main shopping street with all the usual shopping stores, pretty busy and noisy. The second one was a smaller and quieter shopping street also, with less passage. This allowed me to conduct a little experiment in Munster: first I busked the main busy shopping street, and it went great, it was a good busking session in terms of income. But it was also streneous for the voice and not that enjoyable because of the noise level. Then later on in the evening (sometime around 6pm I think) I did a quieter session in the smaller and less busy street. Actually at first there was so few people that I wondered whether it was worth it. But as it turned out it went great, and it was much more enjoyable for me too! People would interact more, stop to listen in, and although fewer people gave money in the end it came out the same as my afternoon busking session on the main street because people gave more each time (actually got a couple of 5 euro bills, which goes to show how much they appreciated it). I even allowed myself, for the first time, to do really quiet songs without the whole cajon and tambourin set up for a change, and to my surprise also people listened in and gave a little something for these songs, so that was great! It was also nice to play something else than the major hits I usually play when I am going for making money, because although I enjoy these songs it's nice to play something different every now and then! This is also how I met Ludwig and Julie, who kindly filmed and took pictures :) So all in all Munster was great for busking, and the whole experience got me thinking about my busking strategy: I think from now on I will try and go for more intimate setting in quieter walking streets if possible, rather than the main busy street which, although it brings in money too, doesn't make for such an enjoyable busking experience. Plus I like the fact that people interact more and feel more ate ease to stop and listen in in a quieter setting.

vendredi 9 août 2013

Busking in dusseldorf

On the road to munster I decided to stop in dusseldorf to try out a littlr bit of busking inthe altstadt. It fell a Monday so I wasn't expectng much,but still it was the holidays and there are always people in thr streets. In the early afternoon I found a nice busking spot at the intersection of the two main shopping street. And things started out prrtty well: the location was good because people could see me well, and I ve found that to be pretty important with the one girl band thing because it is also a goodvisual act. There were benches too close buy and people started sitting down around to li st en in. I got a request to do Mrs Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel, and so I improvised something and the chap who had requested it seemed very pleased. Then as I was talking to some people two women from the city council street surveillance service or whatever came and say hi. They explained the rules for busking in the city, which I already new, as I had now learned that the half hour busking rule applied to many pla ce s in in Koln you can busk bf from every half hour till half past, thrn you have to stop and look for another busking spot 200m away at least, and you can start busking again nth at the start of the next hour. As it turned out they had bf fallen on me at a timr when I was allowd to busk so all was good, I was respecting the rule and all. But they were sort of aggressive about it, repeating like the three times that If they caught me la ter on at that same spot or playin the other half hour or smtg they would confiscate the guitar. It was kind of harsh and it didn't feel very welcomingy! Even the people who were sitting and listening in were ki nd of shocked and took my defense,saying like "yeah ok it s cool she got it you know, she won't play when she sh ouldn't and all" :-) so that was kind of nice! Anyways the problem was th at this spot turned out to be the only good one for me that day, as the others didn t work as well, but I definrtely couldn t take therisk of going back to it after that, although the rule isn't quite clear on whether you can come back to it later on in the day... The thing is I realised lat er that day that local buskers didn't respect these rules at all, so I don't know either it was just bad luck or th ey we re ju st bluffing because hey knew I wasn't from that town! So in the end busking wise dusseldorf was average for me, but the ci ty itself was nice enough and definrtely worth thr stop for a day ;-)