Retro: Ancient ballads of the street troubadours

Sheffield busker, Dave Cross - 1984
Sheffield busker, Dave Cross - 1984
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Former Sheffield student Eddie Izzard, fellow comedian Robin Williams, Ex-Bond Pierce Brosnan, singers Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, bluesman BB King, even US inventor Benjamin Franklin...

All are famous performers who are said to have done a little busking in their time.

Buskers in Sheffield - 1983

Buskers in Sheffield - 1983

And Busking is the latest job to feature in our Retro A to Z of work.

Of course, for most people it’s not a full-time job but a way to earn a little extra cash and practise skills to an audience, although some do make a living at it.

Busking, performing for money in public places, has been taking place since ancient times.

The term ‘busking’ first appeared in the English language around 1860 in Great Britain.

Sheffield Buskers, The Slingshots - 1984

Sheffield Buskers, The Slingshots - 1984

The origin of the word may be from the Italian buscare, to procure or gain, or from the Spanish word buscar, which means to seek or wander.

In medieval times, wandering minstrels and bards who travelled from place to place were news reporters and carriers of messages as well as performers.

Some sang for their supper, drinks or a bed for the night at inns.

In the 1800s, street performers also sold medicine, usually with wildly outrageous claims as to their ability to cure all sorts of ailments.

Sam Paechter (left) and his celebrated Sheffield Peace Protest Street Band play outside the Sheffield Magistrates Court before going in to face an obstruction charge - 2nd March 1984

Sam Paechter (left) and his celebrated Sheffield Peace Protest Street Band play outside the Sheffield Magistrates Court before going in to face an obstruction charge - 2nd March 1984

The one-man bands who played an array of instruments attached to various parts of the body apparently date back to the 19th century.

They were at one time a familiar sight entertaining cinema or theatre queues.

Occasionally, performers get plucked from the street for other work and for some it’s a way of life they return to.

In 2002, Martin Dawes reported on saxophonist Larry Van Kriedt, who was in the original line-up of rock band AC/DC in Australia, and ended up busking on The Moor in Sheffield when he lived in Crookesmoor.

Busker in Castle Square, Sheffield - 7th August 1984

Busker in Castle Square, Sheffield - 7th August 1984

He was spotted by the owner of a Chinese restaurant, the Golden Dragon, and ended up entertaining diners on a regular basis.

And back in 1989 Benji Ming was plucked from obscurity as a street busker with a bizarre escapology act involving a bicycle called Walter to play sidekick to Bobby Knutt in the Crucible Christmas pantomime.

The Broomhill resident later became a compere on the city alternative comedy scene and also appeared in a one-man show, billed as the smallest play in the world and performed inside a car at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Sheffield Buskers - Parsons Nose - 10th December 1981

Sheffield Buskers - Parsons Nose - 10th December 1981

Picture shows the long arm of the law stepping in to stop Adrian Jones busking with his clarinet in Fargate - 25th March 1981

Picture shows the long arm of the law stepping in to stop Adrian Jones busking with his clarinet in Fargate - 25th March 1981