Lewis Floyd Henry, Brick Lane

Lewis Floyd Henry, Brick Lane, London, August 19, 2018

Brick Lane on a Sunday is busy and full of distractions – overpriced hipster shops competing with old school market stalls. The smell of dozens of different types of food and the sound of several street musicians scattered along the way are all competing for your attention.

One of them is Lewis Floyd Henry. He treats his fluid, ever-moving audience to a repertoire of songs primarily in the classic rock vein with his headset microphone, electric guitar, and small drum kit.

He plays the songs hard and fuzzy and bluesy. Like so many other street musicians, Henry is a musician who has learned the skill of being a one-man band, keeping the beat on a small toy drum while playing guitar and singing. He doesn’t speak much in between songs, mainly a ‘Thank you’, but then again, a musician should be able to let the music speak for itself. While not always wholly keeping in time, his drumming provides a funky backbeat to his masterful guitar playing.

It’s hard – and maybe a little clichéd – not to think of Jimi Hendrix when watching Henry play. It all seems so easy goin’ and freestylin’. His playing is funky and dirty, yet his solos are crisp and clean, whether played sitting down, standing up, picking the strings with his teeth, or playing the guitar behind his back.

The repertoire consists of rock classics from the sixties and seventies and a heavy dose of the blues. Songs like Get It On by T.Rex and Jean Genie by David Bowie are slowed down and given a slightly darker treatment than the original versions.

As is always the case for a street musician, a large part of the crowd will inevitably pay attention for the about thirty seconds it takes them to walk by, so playing in the street is a real exercise in just letting go and just concentrating on the playing. Everyone’s got somewhere to go (shopping or lunching), and a street musician, however great they may be, will often be a brief distraction on the way to somewhere else. But many people also stop for several songs, and take pictures or film and most drop a few coins as well – after all, this guy is good.

According to Tower Hamlet’s Council website, Busking is permitted on Brick Lane between 8 am and 9 pm and must be limited to 30 minutes in one location. This means that musicians playing on Brick Lane must time their slots carefully and be ready to move to another spot where they can resume playing. This might also explain why, at one point during his slot, Henry asks one of the men watching him playing what time it is. I guess it’s not quite time for him to move to the next spot yet, because Henry doesn’t miss a beat; he just keeps on playing.

Lewis Floyd Henry setlist
Not available

Cam Cole, Streets of Camden Town

Cam Cole, streets of Camden Town, May 19, 2018

Camden Town is one of the landmarks of British music history. Camden High Street and the surrounding streets have been the ‘scene of the crime’ for many shenanigans over the years. Whether it’s one of Blur’s first gigs at Dublin Castle, The Clash playing The Roundhouse, Brit Popstars getting wasted at The Good Mixer, this little corner of London has attracted all kinds of musicians and performers for decades. So it’s no surprise that many buskers have tried their luck here. They are pretty much guaranteed a crowd, and since, because of the market and shops, people primarily come here to spend money, it seems like an excellent place to try and make a few pennies.

This Saturday, on the day of the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, around midday, street musician Cam Cole has set up shop, just around the corner from the tube station, a stretch of pavement where anyone who’s coming to Camden Town will most likely walk past.

And Cam Cole has a sizeable crowd. Maybe not as big as the crowd watching the Royal wedding on TV screens around the country. But this is not a televised Royal wedding; this is a street gig. Some of the crowd sit down on the pavement, others stand, and most are just passing by on their way to somewhere else but stopping for a minute or two to check out the music.

And those who stop are treated to the sounds of a great musician and singer. Playing the drums with his feet and strumming and picking his battered guitar real hard, he sings with a howling voice that would fit right in, in a whisky-soaked, cigarette-smoke bar after midnight. But even in the middle of a sunny day, the bluesy music works great. Cole sells CD’s of his music (a bargain at £5), and many of his listeners (myself included) treat themselves to one.

It feels good when you come across a great street musician. Often, going to concerts can be expensive – and here is a great player who reminds you that music is by the people, for the people. It’s including, not excluding. It’s a form of expression that can suck you in and make you feel like you’re not merely a spectator but a participator. Music doesn’t need a venue or a stage – music belongs to the streets, gutters and pavements alike.

So here I stand on a pavement, on the streets of Camden Town, listening to a street musician, who could quite frankly have been an incarnation of Jack White. He certainly has the talent; his guitar playing is impeccable, his singing is right on point, and taking care of the drumming with his feet, he serves as an ultimate example of a one-man band.

After he finishes his set, I make my way down Camden High Street. As I pass by the pub, The Elephant’s Head, I see people sitting inside watching the Royal wedding on TV. I have no idea why people choose to watch a wedding ceremony of two people they don’t even know. Between a Royal wedding on TV and a sublime musical performance on a busy street, the street gets my vote every time.

Cam Cole setlist
Not available