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