“Don’t do it for the money. Do it because you love it. Also, tomorrow’s a new day!”
Wandering through Bourke Street Mall one sunny Saturday morning we were stoked to encounter the incredible talent of pianist and music composer Gareth Wiecko.
Gareth was born in Wales and developed an early passion for classical music. He went on to study a Bachelor Of Music at Cardiff University and it was here that he crafted his masterful skills as a pianist.
After completing his degree and boarding a plane with a plan to explore the world, Gareth’s adventures inlcluded busking around Australia. Gareth says he collaborated endlessly along his journey, exploring a plethora of styles and recording his debut solo piano album titled Notes to Self in 2011 at Byron Bay, before eventually settling in Melbourne.
Gareth has completed further studies in production and composition at Melbourne’s Australian Institute of Music (AIM). To support himself while studying, he is still busking around Melbourne.
Gareth says his dream is to compose for film makers, game designers, contemporary dancers and other creators, but he’s not ready just yet to step away from the endless variety of human connections that busking affords him.
He says he could not have dreamed of having all of those connections if it were not for his music.
You grew up in Wales, who taught you to play like that?
“I originally learned in my hometown called Wrexham. I took my studies further and eventually went to University in Cardiff, South Wales. I end up learning from a variety of peers, which really helped broaden my taste.”
What do you like most about busking? What are some memorable moments?
“My favourite aspect of busking is that no two days are the same. Memorable moments would be anything from impromptu dancers and flash mobs, and even young children tapping into and loving music without even realising why.”
If you could change something you see on the streets, what would it be?
“I guess the biggest issues that I see on a regular basis is either homelessness or the lack of options for mental health services. Working Bourke Street, you see your fair share of individuals that could do with some support.”
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given?
“Don’t do it for the money. Do it because you love it. Also, tomorrow’s a new day!”
What’s next for Gareth Wiecko?
“I’m working on releasing my second album titled ‘Anima’ at the moment. I’m also on the lookout for a new videogame to score!”
“Music is not a job, it’s a passion. But you have to work at it. It’s 10% talent and 90% practice.”
Doc J. Feelgood
Doc J. Feelgood grew up in Tokoroa in the Waikato region of the North Island of New Zealand. His people were originally from the Miti Miti Ngatuna area in Northland, a remote and beautiful region near the Hokianga Harbour.
Doc has been entertaining tourists on the Gold Coast for decades with his smooth blues/country/jazz/rock easy listening style.
We only spent a few mintues with Doc on a busy night on the Gold Coast, but we had to share his talent here on Busker What’s Your Story?
Our video shows Doc J. playing and singing a version of Tennesee Whiskey that gives us a glimpse of a sweet Māori soul.
Doc told us he gigs in bars and surf life saving clubs all over the coast, but busking is by far his biggest earner! We’re not surprised, we couldn’t walk by without tossing a note in his case.
If you’re holidaying in Surfers Paradise, take a stroll down Cavill Avenue around 7 or 8pm and you might be lucky enough to catch a set from Doc J. – we promise you’ll leave feeling good!
“At 81, I must be the oldest busker in the paddock! Maybe I can inspire other oldies to get up there and just do it. Why do I busk? The extra money keeps my wife in the manner she is becoming used to. Hopefully we will be able to go on a cruise soon, as this will be her last hurrah. She’s not travelling too well any more.”
What drew you to music?
“I started to learn the Violin at age 7 . Don’t know why, but I had a very good old lady to teach me. One day when I was about 15 she said: you are a very natural violinist and gifted musician, but I suggest you get a day job to earn a living.”
“Her next words have never left me: your gift of music is not yours, but for other people to enjoy.”
“So I went to the shipyard and became a Shipwright. Left England at the age of 32 and arrived in Sydney (this was 1968). This was the best thing I ever did. We have had a wonderful life here.”
What can you tell us about your instrument?
“My violin at home is a 250-year-old German Mitnvald but it doesn’t like being miked up, so I’ve recently bought a Yamaha electric one with a battery amp. The sound is great.”
How long have you been busking and why do you busk?
“I only started busking a couple of years ago. Why do I busk? The extra money keeps my wife in the manner she is becoming used to. Hopefully we will be able to go on a cruise soon, as this will be her last hurrah. She’s not travelling too well any more.”
What’s your favourite piece of music?
“My most liked piece of music is: This is a lovely way to spend an evening, by Ella Fitzgerald.”
What advice would you offer aspiring buskers?
“When they think the audience is not listening, most players will turn up the volume. WRONG, WRONG WRONG. You just need to play better! Even turn down the volume.”
“I learned this a long time ago. I was at a market where an old Aboriginal master storyteller was holding his audience in raptures. It was a simple story, but the way he told it was fascinating. Raising his voice, speeding up, slowing down – his pauses had people hanging on to every word.”
“Playing a piece of music is the same as telling a story. No matter how good the melody is, if you just play the notes, it’s just a piece of music. But if you tell the story, it will come to life, then people will start to listen. Once you have them, the rest is easy, and the donations will flow into your hat.”
“My sister made me this book full of quotes and little bits of wisdom one year for a gift, it has this gem in it. It’s an Irish Proverb – ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live’.
I don’t think there can ever be enough songs about hope.”
Rhys Duursma – Mayfair Lane
Married musical duo Rhys and Esther Duursma from North East Victoria combined their different musical backgrounds to form a new indie/folk sound together as Mayfair Lane. This led to a growing fan base and well received debut album titled ‘Go Again’ which launched in February 2019.
Since their album debut, the couple have embarked on a twelve month experiment as full time musicians and van lifers, travelling up and down the east side of Australia as well as overseas in their little van ‘Morrison’ sharing their songs and stories.
Mayfair Lane supported Celtic duo The Sweet Sorrows on a three week tour around the UK and then joined folk-family band The Hollands! on a four week tour across the US. This incredible opportunity put them in front of international audiences who loved the pair’s sweet harmonies, conversing guitars and authenticity.
Busker What’s Your Story? caught up with the couple recently at home in country Victoria, where you’ll find them playing around the local music scene over December/January.
We discovered that sweet authenticity forms more than just a base for their music.
What’s something really memorable that’s occured while you’ve been busking?
“Once we played an impromptu set in a park on our way through Byron Bay. Our friend was showing us some local music this particular night and we ran into friends of his who were set up on the grass playing to a spontaneous crowd (which seems to happen regularly in Byron).
We started playing some original songs. Now I don’t know if he didn’t like our music, or if he was just having a bad night, but a couple of songs in a guy staggered over between us and the crowd and started yelling abuse at everyone.
We weren’t really sure what to do. It was safe to say he had taken something and was off the planet, he was acting violent any time people came near… all the while we just kept playing.
Eventually he staggers back toward us a little, still ranting, and Esther sees that he has a little tin whistle in his pocket. So she leans forward and calls out: ‘What’s your name?’ His name is Josh and at Esther’s invitation he starts playing a tin whistle solo in the instrumental. Taking all of his frustration and anger out on this tiny whistle in the completely wrong key…
And every time he started to get worked up again, we just called for another tin whistle solo. Till eventually he was spent and staggered off down the street. And that was our spontaneous (and memorable) Byron Bay performance.”
If you could choose a lyric from any song that is special to you, what would that lyric be?
“The lyric that comes to mind at the moment, (it would be different if you asked me in a week), would be from U2’s – Song For Someone. It has this great opening line ‘you’ve got a face not spoiled by beauty’ .
I love that it jars against the typical pop song. It stands counter to our culture of external beauty being everything. There’s a depth to it.
The rest of the song is about hope. It’s about looking for light in darkness. Reaching toward something we haven’t grasped yet, even when it seems impossible. ‘If there is a light, you can’t always see, and there is a world, we can’t always be. If there is a dark, now we shouldn’t doubt, and there is a light, don’t let it go out’.
I don’t think there can ever be enough songs about hope.”
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given and who gave you that advice?
“My sister made me this book full of quotes and little bits of wisdom one year for a gift, it has this gem in it. It’s an Irish Proverb – It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.”
Who are your musical influences? What do you love about them?
“Esther and I mostly have very different musical influences, but there are a few that we both love. Stu Larsen (a folk singer everyone should know). Josh Garrels (has an incredible voice). Gin Wigmore (writes a killer pop melody). Glen Hansard (perfect music for every kind of day). Brooke Fraser, Eric Bibb, Middle Kids, Angus & Julia, Hothouse Flowers. The list just keeps getting longer…”
“What I like about busking is that I am able to share a meaningful emotional experience with everyone, a lot of whom couldn’t afford a ticket or can’t take time off work. What I dislike about it, is some of the assumptions people make, and the way I get treated sometimes. I’ve had people asking if I have enough coin for my drugs tonight, and I think there is a stigma about some buskers who do it for that. Some people assume that I’m just begging, others walk by and spit at my feet.
But in conclusion, I know that if I can entertain someone who has treated me like bubble gum on the sidewalk and send them off smiling (which I have) I can entertain anyone. I don’t see it so much as a negative but more as a training ground if one is able to learn from such experiences.”
Many will remember Chooka Parker as the talented 17 year old from Red Lion in Victoria who burst on to our TV screens as a contestant in the 2011 Reality TV show Australia’s Got Talent, infatuating the crowd and the judges and going all the way to the finals with his unique brand of piano improvisation.
Chooka’s background, being home-schooled in a tiny Victorian town without access to TV or the internet, left him plenty of time for creative pursuits, and his experiences as a roustabout and all-round knockabout country lad (who dreamt as a young boy of becoming a chook farmer) certainly added to his appeal.
Now 25, Chooka has continued his musical journey writing and producing EPs, travelling to Japan, Thailand and the United States and schooling himself in a variety of other instruments, including voicework and film scores.
Check out Chooka’s thoughtful answers to a few questions from Busker What’s Your Story? And don’t miss the video at the end of our post that shows him wow an unsuspecting crowd in Las Vegas with his incredible impromptu rendition of ‘Great Balls of Fire’.
What are some memorable moments you’ve experienced busking?
“I’ve had so many memorable moments busking that it’s hard to pick one. Seeing the faces of children light up and start dancing, often forcing their parents out of their seriousness and into the same state of wonder is such a beautiful thing; when everyone drops their guard for just a moment and connects.
I’ve had people crying, telling me their stories, others being really generous and some sit and listen for hours, but I think to top that list would be one particular time when a guy walked up (having seen me play on TV) and told me that he had completely given up on his music and his playing. When he found me on YouTube, he said he was inspired to pick up his instrument again. He then went to his car, pulled out a guitar and a portable speaker and played the most amazing blues music I’d ever heard.
I really related to him because somewhere along the marathon of any creative career, it gets to a point where it’s not fun or financially feasible anymore. Just like any marriage, the love can temporarily die leaving one feeling tied to a ball and chain.
Seeing him play with such joy reminded me of my own personal journey of falling in and out of music, while remaining committed to my mission.”
We’ve seen the TV interviews where you talk about your childhood on the farm. Can you tell us a little more about those days?
“Growing up on a farm doing home-schooling was the best lifestyle I could possibly have asked for. School was based on how much you got done and not on hours; so I would school at night time and have time to be creative during the day. My Mum, particularly, but all of my family, encouraged me to be brave and take risks. My Dad was a very resourceful handy man and farmer who told my brother and I we could do anything. We believed him and we did. We still do, and we still take the Mickey out of professionals.”
If you could choose a lyric from any song that is really special to you, what would that lyric be? Why does it mean so much to you?
“My favourite lyric is by Marilyn Manson. ‘I own myself”.
It’s strange, because none of his other lyrics ever stood out to me; in fact I find most songs to be a predictable case of stating the obvious in a poetic formula over four chords. The lyric stood out years after first hearing it, when I discovered the power of not giving myself over to an authority figure, (i.e the school system, political leaders, family members, a partner, religion, or some other system where you sell your soul to a kind of ‘boss’ figure).
I don’t like the idea of handing the responsibility of my life over to anyone else, and I have found great comfort in taking responsibility for my circumstances without handing it over to some obscure concept like ‘fate’.”
Given all your experiences what has it all taught you and what’s a piece of advice you’d offer to any young musicians?
“If you truly love what you do, know that love is an action more than a feeling, and just like raising any child, it’s not going to be fun sometimes, but very rewarding with dedication, care and commitment. Don’t wait around for opportunities, jump on them like a lion. Don’t be lazy, answer your emails, know your worth, don’t under-sell yourself. If you don’t know how to do something or how something works, ask someone who does. When you’ve got the what ya know, it’s time for the who ya know. The business side is important, because without money, we’re all dead, so keep a schedule of how much time you’re actually spending on your craft and last but not least, don’t be lazy.”
What’s next for Chooka Parker?
“I’m currently writing a symphony. I wrote the first movement in 4 days for the people who really care about me, but also because someone told me it wasn’t possible.
I’m writing music for movies at the moment and my dream is to write music scores for movies and tour with my orchestra around the world.
I am working on changing the musical era, this has been my dream since young.”
“I love the spontaneity of busking. You never know what to expect!
I remember one day a couple started slow dancing nearby to one of my songs. That was a really nice, special moment for me.”
Chloe St. Claire
This fresh young Melbourne songwriter presents a sound that combines hazy guitars, punchy hooks and soft ethereal lo-fi vocals.
Chloe St. Claire says she writes songs for those who went far away, even when they promised to stay near. She says growing up in a small, isolated town in Victoria, her dad a musician and her mum an artist, creativity and lateral thinking formed the epicentre of her childhood.
Chloe (now 18) has been busking since her early teens. In an initiative of the Arts and Culture Department of the Greater City of Geelong called Connecting Song she was chosen as one of 3 local unsigned artists to be mentored by Adalita Srsen from the rock band Magic Dirt.
“I just loved Chloe’s songs as soon as I heard them. She has a strong songwriting sensibility, impressive in someone so young. She has a beautiful, unique voice, and I really felt like her music could benefit from going through that big studio production process,” Adalita said of her mentee, in an interview for Forte magazine in April.
We’ve connected with Chloe to ask about her busking experiences and where you might catch her performing next.
What do you love about performing, and in particular about busking?
“Busking is an incredibly unique way of performing. You can strike a really strong connection between the musician and the listener. I really love that aspect of busking. I think people are more likely to express their thoughts and opinions, and it’s a great way of meeting like-minded people. I also love the spontaneity of busking, you never know what to expect!”
What moments stand out as memorable from busking?
“One moment that comes to mind is when I competed in the regional finals up in Ballarat for the National Busking Championships. The town was so abuzz with excitement because there were so many buskers and creative minds roaming around.
I remember that day. A couple started slow dancing nearby to one of my songs that I was playing, that was really nice, a special moment for me.”
If you could choose a lyric from any song that means something to you, what would it be?
“It’d have to be from Gang of Youths‘ song ‘Let me Down Easy.’ I always find this lyric to be really touching and true, and I always hope to live life with the spirit of these words: You wanted to fight for a cause; then go out and fall in love; don’t stop, don’t stop believing; in truth and grace in the grievance.’”
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given?
“My dad always tells me to ‘enjoy the moment.’ I am often guilty of becoming a bit of a worry wart, especially when I have a big gig coming up; or I know I’ll be playing to a large crowd. Dad always reminds me I should really enjoy and appreciate what I do, because sharing and getting lost within music is special. It shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Where can people catch you performing gigs or busking?
“Currently I’ll be playing along the Victorian surfcoast and doing a bunch of gigs in both Geelong and Ballarat for the summer.”
“At a gig a couple of months ago, a man came up to me and told me he had recently lost his wife of 45 years. He said I had played some of her favourite songs and that he felt closer to her. To connect with people and make them feel something is really special. I will always remember that day.”
Terrigal’s Ella Powell has a vocal maturity far beyond her years. At 15, this young lady has already accompanied the brightest stars in the biz, including Adam Harvey at the 2019 Toyota Country Music Festival Tamworth.
Ella, then only 14, took out third prize and the people’s choice award at the event’s coveted country music busking championships. View her winning cover of Lady Gaga’s Shallow above.
After hearing her sing, we had to find out a little more about this amazing new Australian talent.
What, or who, inspired you to become a musician?
“It’s quite strange actually because none of my family are musical. From a young age I used to constantly sing around the house, and write my own songs. At five I was fascinated by artists I watched on the TV and really wanted to sing like them. At about six I started to learn guitar, but it wasn’t right for me at that time, and I struggled. I started singing lessons at around eight and then just before my 10th birthday a friend of my dad’s who is a music teacher gave me a couple of guitar lessons. I’ve never put it down since!”
If you could choose a lyric from any song, what would it be and why?
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
“Imagine by John Lennon was one of the very first songs I learnt. This lyric has an impact every time I sing it. I’ve had such big dreams and aspirations from a young age. My goal is to have an impact on people through my music; I believe that’s why this lyric resonates with me so much.”
Are you still busking? What do you like best about it?
“I’m gigging the majority of the time now, but I still busk at events. I really enjoy busking at the Rocks Markets in Sydney and at the Avoca Beach Markets. I love the vibe of busking; I can’t describe how amazing it is to be surrounded by a crowd of people who are appreciative of what you do.”
“I’m a musician because it’s my passion, but I also play to connect with people and to make them smile. When that happens, I feel like I am giving something back and I hope I’m making a difference.”
What’s a really memorable moment you’ve encountered gigging or busking?
“At a gig a couple of months ago, a man came up to me and told me he had recently lost his wife of 45 years. He said I had played some of her favourite songs and that he felt closer to her. Those words really stuck with me; I realised why I became a musician. To connect with people and make them feel something is really special. I will always remember that day.”
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given?
“One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given was from my guitar teacher a couple of years ago. He told me to stay true to myself; and always have something to say when I write a song. That advice really stuck with me. It’s definately taught me to be more honest in my songs and to find ways to do that while staying true to myself.”
Where can people see you sing?
“I gig at numerous functions, events, restaurants and at weddings on the Central Coast. You can also book me for private events.
You’ll also catch me playing at festivals around NSW.
I always update my social media pages about where I’ll be playing next. So jump on and say hello!”
“I’m a lot older than people think. 73 I am. I’m not young!
When you get old, some people play golf. I play the guitar, that’s the difference.”
Ian ‘Johno’ Johnson
When you talk of buskers, they don’t come more iconic than
Cairns’ blues man ‘Johno’ Johnson.
Johno (that’s not my real name) Johnson is a founding member of Johno’s Blues Band. The band played venues all over the world and opened the famous Johno’s Blues Bar in Cairns.
The bar was originally in Sheridan Street before it moved
for 8 years above McDonalds on the ‘nard.
The venue hosted the prime of local talent, along with a plethora of national and international acts. Many American blues bands of the day came to play at Johno’s.
Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel opened Johno’s Blues Bar in 1989 and his brother Phil was the guest of honour in December 2007 at its final swansong. Tony Hillier of EntertainmentCairns.com quotes Phil Emmanuel as saying: “It’s a very sad loss – Johno’s was the frontier of live music in the Far North and a very important component of the interstate and international music scene.”
If you’re lucky enough to visit Cairns, you’ll find Johno busking on the Esplanade. Be sure to toss a coin in his case. We’re glad he’s back entertaining the tourists after an accident earlier this year saw the 73 year old knocked off his pushy by a car door.
Busker What’s Your Story? You can listen to Johno tell more of his story in his own unique style above. The video is courtesy of videographer Adam Simpson and writer William Macdonald who caught up with the cheeky old music man in August.
“We met on a dating App. We arranged to meet for coffee, but after a few minutes it turned out we had absolutely nothing in common relationship wise, but we discovered we both loved music. So, we ditched the coffee and went to a park for a 2 hour jam session instead.”
Bryce Tinley and Sarah Farrington formed the Albury music duo ‘Recovered’ only around 3 months ago. As well as busking in Albury and about the district they have performed at local venues including the Retro Lane Café, St Ives Hotel and a community youth event called Street Jam.
We caught them busking at the Rotary Community Markets in Kiewa Street, Albury.
What are some memorable moments that you’ve encountered while busking?
Sarah – ” One day we were busking in Dean Street and a lady heard us from the window of her car, she had to drive around the block a couple of times to find a park so she could come and listen to us play. That was nice.”
Bryce – “The crazy people! So many crazies come and talk to you on the streets. This one guy had just got off a murder charge in court and he came up to me and gave me his lucky charm. It was a rusty old celtic cross. Then, after explaining what all the tattoos on his knuckles were about he left; I think he had to go back into court.”
“There was another guy who thought it was awesome when someone dropped $10 in our case. Then he asked me if he could have it and got a bit aggressive when I turned him down.”
If you could choose a lyric that’s special to you, what would it be?
Sarah – “Come down my life force – it’s a lyric from our original song. To me it means waiting to find your place, and meaning, in life.”
Bryce – “Blue like the colour of your eyes. Blues, let them pass you by – it’s also from Life Force. It seems I always have images of blue eyes occurring in my life. It’s also what I notice when people are photographed at traumatic events and that sort of thing.”
Where did you learn to play the guitar?
Bryce – “I’m self taught. All you need is YouTube these days to teach yourself to play. I was lucky too because I had some great guitar playing mates who taught me stuff when we jammed. I write a lot of instrumental guitar pieces and Sarah and I have just started songwriting together.”
What’s next for ‘Recovered’?
“We’re excited to be playing at By the Banks music festival at Willowbank in Albury on 30 November and then at The Malt Shed in Wangaratta on 7 December.”
“I got into music when I was about 13. I was inspired by the 2003 film School of Rock.”
When he’s not performing gigs with his dedicted band or duo known as both Intensity and Intensity Duo, Riff Ferguson can occasionally be found busking at venues around regional Victoria, regional south/central/south coastal NSW and the south coast of Queensland.
We caught up with Riff busking at the Albury Wodonga Farmer’s Market.
Tell us about a lyric from any song that really resonates with you?
“That would have to be: ‘I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain,’ by Prince. The song Purple Rain really resonates with me; its meaning is pretty profound. Prince explains it as: ‘When there’s blood in the sky, red and blue equals purple.’ It’s about the end of the world; and being there with the one you love and letting your faith/God guide you through the purple rain.”
Who are your musical influences and what music styles do Intensity play?
“I have lots. They include Angus Young of AC/DC, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, Alex Lifeson of Rush and John McLaughlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra.
Intensity Duo is made up of myself on guitar and vocals and Michelle Britt on vocals, percussion and acoustic guitar. We’re known for playing a wide range of genres in both acoustic and electric styles ranging from rock, pop, funk, country, blues, alternative and many more. It really depends on which audience we play for and the occasion.”
What’s something memorable that’s occured while you’ve been busking or performing?
“I remember one particular gig in Wodonga. This man was baltering all over the dance floor and he pretty much piffed himself in our PA Equipment! I had loops going on my loop station and then the power went off. That was memorable.”