“Be aware that what you’re doing isn’t exactly easy, but that most of what stands in your way is your own brain. It’s really important to be empathetic to your surroundings. You will need to work with people – shop-owners, police, council workers. But remember, you are working with them, not for them. Forget the idea that you need to ask permission to do what you are doing. It’s valid, and it’s a very old tradition. Not everybody will appreciate it. Don’t take that personally. The overwhelming majority of your experiences will be positive.” – Benny Mayhem
We stumbled across Benny online through some forums and Facebook groups, after commenting on the same post we started messaging and BOOM turns out he is a Super Busking Nomad full of great advice and good stories.
He has been traveling Busking and Gigging all over the world and is currently on his way back home to Aus.
We’re always looking to meet new well traveled Buskers to pick their brains for all the best tips, tricks and hacks.
What is your name, where are you from and what do you do?
I’m Benny Mayhem, singer-songwriter and musician from Western Australia. I call myself “Australia’s folk-punk troubadour”, which started out as a statement of intent; but it has become my life, my career and my all-consuming passion. I play my guitar, I sing my songs, and I take ’em to people at the grassroots – both on the street and on the stage.
How long have you been busking?
I started busking in August 2013 at Rebellion Punk Music Festival, Blackpool, UK. At the time I was a London-based working holidaymaker. I’d spent a good couple of months vaguely looking for pub jobs – the typical backpacker deal – but everyone wanted a resume and I just didn’t care enough about any of the jobs to spend my time writing one of those.
So I ran out of money. I had some festival shows booked in London for later in the month, so I spent my last on a guitar, then hopped on the train to Blackpool with a vague idea of using it to make enough coin to at least enjoy myself at the festival. First day, I made enough to feed and water myself, and to go mental to the headline bands. The second day, I doubled my money. Third day, I tripled it. And I have never looked back.
Where are the best places you have busked?
Switzerland. Incredible people. It’s like a magical fantasy land there. France, because they love their art and they look you in the eye. And the UK – especially England – because the tradition of the high street is so strong; the strength of community, Common Law rights, social democracy and the spirit of “digging in”. There has, as Paul Keating once said, got to be a little sport in this for all of us.
What is your best busking experience?
Honestly the most rewarding thing has been bringing it all back home to the land I love and where I’m from, Australia. I was highly active in the music scene here in Perth for over a decade, but going away to Europe changed my whole perspective of what being a musician means. Learning to busk was integral to this shift in consciousness.
When I first got home, in late 2014, I was able to take my skills down to Albany, WA, which is my home town. That was really important for me personally. And then the stuff that was captured in my video clip (Mindless Greg The Media Consumer, 2015). We shot that stuff around Perth, literally busking style. We went out with a list of potential locations and times with a vague idea of seeing what would happen. Well, we captured firstly the challenges of busking – the transit guard at Murdoch Train Station, bless him, took 52 seconds to arrive – but also the incredible ability music has to bring together people from all walks of life. My director and I happened across the GMO protesters in Cottesloe, and we joined together to make music. I joined in their protest song, and they sang along to my single. And we filmed it all. That was perfect. It sums up everything great about busking: spontaneity, community, and human connection.
What gear do you use when busking?
I bought a Roland Street Cube last year and have never looked back. It’s more gear to lug, and mic stands are especially annoying to carry around, but these are minor inconveniences compared to the benefits: both mine and the audience’s enjoyment of the music, the dynamics of the performance, and ultimately the bottom line.
I still play un-amplified where appropriate, with just my voice and my guitar. It’s important that buskers are mindful of their surrounds at all times. We’re here to compliment and enhance, not to dominate. You need to know how to use an amp, too. It’s not necessarily about volume. But if you keep these things in mind, it can be a great way to play.
An overall explanation of where you have been with Busking, how you travel and where you would normally stay.
I’ve been up and down the island of Britain several times, done at least three stints on the European continent, and busked in Western Australia and Victoria. I don’t wish to go too far into the logistics of it all. Everyone I know does the best they can with their own situation. There is no right or wrong way to live your life.
Where has busking taken me though? Literally to the Lords’ Bar at the Palace of Westminster.
Back story: as a resident of the UK I quickly encountered some of the challenges that buskers face, but I also learned from my English friends how to stand my ground – to research legislation and to practice lawful non-compliance. Busking is an extremely important litmus test for any democracy. If you don’t have have the right to use public space for the informal, spontaneous (but considerate), free performance of music, that extrapolates out quite quickly to your rights across the board. I mean, think about it: you’re playing music in the street and bringing joy to peoples’ lives – young, old, regardless of race or creed. Why is this such an issue for some people? Why should busking be regulated? What is so threatening about a person with a guitar?
So I began working with Keep Streets Live, a not-for profit advocacy group in the UK who take the somewhat ‘Ghandian’ approach – for want of a better word – of bringing buskers, councils, BIDs (who are business interest groups, basically) together; to open dialogues and seek compromise between the various community interests. More often than not, the rules introduced to manage buskers – especially permit schemes – are simply lazy legislation (if they’re actually legislated at all) written by people who don’t really understand the nuances of the profession. But when the various parties sit down and talk to each other, suddenly we realise we have a lot more common ground than we might think. And ultimately, for buskers, it’s imperative that we avoid permit schemes and licensing (see below), and seek solutions through voluntary codes of conduct instead.
Anyway, one afternoon my colleagues and I sat down in the Lords’ Bar with Lord Clement-Jones, Liberal Democrat peer of the House of Lords. He bought a bottle of Rothschild’s red, and listened to our concerns about some particular pieces of legislation that were (and sadly still are) being used to silence buskers in the UK. He was a really good bloke, actually, and he took our concerns to the Lords to try to make some legislative changes on our behalf. His efforts were unsuccessful, but it was a great honour to be part of the democratic process in a country in which I was a guest; and it certainly challenged preconceptions I’d had about the role of the aristocracy in government.
What do your friends and family think of you Busking?
Very supportive. If anything they probably wonder why I didn’t start doing it 15 years ago!
What have you learnt and adopted into your life musically and on a whole?
1) Most people are essentially decent.
2) My art has value. I have a right to earn a living and to do so by doing what I do best; and there is no shame in that. If you’re serious about music, stop pissing about and make it your career.
3) Elitism is bullshit. I always knew this anyway, but taking music to people has made me realise just how insufferably bourgeois the music industry can be, especially in Australia where it seems to be expected that if middle-class uni’ students faff about in bands for long enough, the rest of the population will somehow start giving a shit about it. That’s how we’ve ended up with this ridiculous system of Triple J where, literally, one man decides the fate of whatever band some radio plugger has brought to him this month. And these bands don’t develop careers, they end up doing two albums and then getting a gig on some arts council or other suitable day job employment. Remember Children Collide? Good band actually, but where are the Midnight Oils and the Cold Chisels who toured hard in Australia and took their music directly to ordinary working people up and down the east coast and across the country.
Original music has become elitist, and in response to that you have short-sighted local bookers who only want artists to play cover songs that people know. But why do ordinary people know those songs? Because those bands invested in ordinary people. So we’ve got to get out of this two-prong conservative rut, and busking offers the potential for us to do so. Australians urgently need art, too, as part of their daily lives. Domestic violence and suicides in this country have reached endemic levels. People need hope; they need purpose; they need validation from within. We have a job to do, seriously, to help make people happier. So let’s go down the shops and play ’em a song.
What is your advice for anyone looking to busk?
Be aware that what you’re doing isn’t exactly easy, but that most of what stands in your way is your own brain. It’s really important to be empathetic to your surroundings. You will need to work with people – shop-owners, police, council workers. But remember, you are working with them, not for them. Forget the idea that you need to ask permission to do what you are doing. It’s valid, and it’s a very old tradition. Not everybody will appreciate it. Don’t take that personally. The overwhelming majority of your experiences will be positive.
If you’re operating in Commonwealth countries, please forget the idea of acquiring a permit. Common Law is your friend. Busking is a voluntary, spontaneous performance during which members of the public are free to donate. I speak only for musicians – as circle acts (clowning etc) have different needs – but you should never ask for donations unless you are maybe on a stage at a busking festival, (or terracing in Europe).
That said, be aware you may need to stand down and compromise. Know your limits. But for goodness’ sake, don’t be a pushover. Remember, the street is first-come-first-served. This is one of the fundamental failings of permit systems – they allow buskers to wedge out newcomers from timeframes and locations that are known (or suspected) to be fruitful. Don’t let that happen to you, and don’t do it to others.
Those busking in the UK should download the Buskers Unregulated guide, available here: https://goo.gl/KVzSyr
Where can we find you online?
Official Website: bennymayhem.com.au
Music video: youtube.com/watch?v=h3koJJ9-L5Q
Thanks Benny, be sure to give this guy a follow and if you have any crazy experiences, good advice or just want to drop us a line, you can say g’day at [email protected]