Donnerstag, 9. Mai 2019

Interview with David Fisher who was a featured artist at FCB # 102 on 03.05.19

We were fortunate to have David Fisher appear at Bonn Folk Club in May.

You can read an interesting interview with him here, conducted by John Hurd of 3Songs Bonn.

Just click on the following link:

David Fisher On Busking In Bonn

David, a talented young English musician, and singer treated us in the folk club to a fine variety of both self-penned and traditional English, Scottish and Irish folk songs and tunes last Friday evening.

David has performed street music in over 400 European cities and last weekend also in Bonn, or rather Bad Godesberg, as Bonn was "full", as the three street busking permits available for the whole of Bonn centre had already been taken.

So possibly, if I had not put up the €25 for a street music permit on his behalf in the city hall in Bonn on a Friday morning, a fine musician might either not have played on the streets of Bad Godesberg at all, or he might have felt obliged to perform illegally, without a permit. Neither of which would have been either good or suitable options. Luckily David was already in Bonn on the Thursday afternoon as Boris at Café Lieblich had kindly invited David to play there on the Thursday evening (without even charging him €25 for the privilege!) and so it was possible for him to visit Bonn's city offices on the Friday morning. If David had, however, only arrived in Bonn on the Friday afternoon in order to play at Folk Club Bonn on the Friday evening, then the office for obtaining street music permits would already have been closed upon his arrival, and it would not have been possible for him to play legally.

So thank you, David, for your perseverance in the face of the adversity which exists in the city of Bonn towards spontaneous street performers wishing to enliven the over-tranquil and often somewhat dismal city streets.

One observation that I did make, is that young children, and especially toddlers, are extremely receptive when confronted with adults busking and performing street music.  They focus on the performer with a locked-on vision already from a distance of over 50 yards away and stay focused. If their parents are in too much of a hurry and do not allow their fascinated offspring the time to merely listen attentively for a few minutes, or even to break into an impromptu dance, then they often appear to be not happy bunnies. Then, if they are led away without being able to pause, they still remain focussed on the performer for the next 50 yards, looking back over their shoulders in mournful disappointment at the missed opportunity. 

Maybe we adults lose something when we mature, which children still have. Perhaps they recognise street musicians as being something out of the ordinary, and therefore worthy of attention. They recognise them as adults, but they are actually doing something in public, which is normally not done by adults, but is the preserve only of children like themselves. These unusual, eccentric and ever rarer (especially on the streets of Bonn) types of adults are "playing" and we all know, and can hopefully all remember, that children love to "play". Foot-tapping dancing toddlers have both the time and the inclination to dig street musicians more so than their often over-stressed parents. So education need not always be a one-way street from parents to children. Sometimes we can still learn important lessons from children.

Another observation I made on this day concerned beggars. As the English speaking night watchman of Bonn in 1698 for StattReisen city tours, I am more than well aware of the traditional important rôle in city life performed by beggars in bygone times. Only the very poorest people were allowed to beg, and those who were not dirt poor were severely punished if found to be begging while not being sufficiently needy enough. With no social safety net in the middle ages, people would often find themselves destitute through no particular fault of their own, merely by living during very troubled times. People suffering from leprosy were allowed to enter the city in order to beg. The black Franciscan order of mendicant monks was also allowed to beg for alms too within the city walls. Furthermore, rich townsfolk who had committed sins were allowed to out-source their prescribed churchly penances to needy beggars who would say Hail Marys or count whole rosaries on the sinners' behalf, for an appropriate monetary fee.

Unfortunately, it is a sad truth that there are still beggars on the streets of Bonn in the twenty-first century, and this despite the much more intricate and extensive social safety nets which exist today compared to the middle ages. With rain clouds ominously forming on this May Saturday morning,  I directed David Fisher to a pedestrian subway in Bad Godesberg, on the way to the pedestrian zone. The subway was already occupied by a female beggar. David being an astute busker honed in all aspects of this profession's street craft, continued to walk on to find a more suitable spot to play. His reasoning was thus "if a passerby sees a beggar, and gives something, then if they see a musician, they also feel obliged to give something. Similarly, a passerby coming from the opposite direction may feel willing to give the musician something, but then upon being immediately confronted by the beggar, feels obliged to also give to the beggar as well. Amid this confusion and having both parties in view, they normally decide the rational conclusion, if not willing to give to both parties, is to give to neither."

Great wisdom on young shoulders. 

Beggars do not provide quite the same services as of old, whereas minstrels and troubadours have traditionally always had to literally "sing for their suppers", as they often still do today as they perform (especially for the toddlers) music which enriches the lives of their fellow human beings. I defy anyone with a musical soul to be walking through a city centre and to not be somehow uplifted and breaking into a smile, upon hearing some totally unexpected music drifting towards their ears, especially if that music is live and being performed by another human being in that very instant of time. "Taxing" the very people, who for whatever reasons they may personally have, for providing this musical enjoyment for the benefit of others, seems to me to a somewhat misguided approach. Surely these people should be encouraged rather than discouraged, and levying a charge on them does not actually hit the richest 10% of the population, often quite the opposite. €25 may not seem all that significant to someone in full-time employment, but to a student, it represents a significant part of their budget. What sort of message does it send to Bonn's students, especially if they happen to be music students? Should students be forced to work for nearly three hours at the minimum wage in order to be able to purchase a street music permit, not knowing if they will earn even a significant part of their initial investment back? I fear that on this course the city is possibly pushing young people into "criminality" at a tender young age, simply because the price of them being law-abiding citizens is beyond their meagre financial means. Surely as a society, we should be actively encouraging young people to be law abiding, even in cases such as this, where the particular bylaw may be misguided? The charge does not apply to young people under 18 of course, but many students taking their Abitur exams will be over 18, as will the vast majority of those students enrolled in Bonn University.

In addition, modern "beggars" neither have to apply for, nor pay in advance, the princely sum of  €25, (ca. nearly DM50 for some of our older readers) for the privilege of obtaining a permit to be allowed to play publicly on the streets of Bonn, nor do they do have the requirement forced upon them to have to change places every thirty minutes, as street musicians, quite rightly, have to. So should beggars have to apply for permits too?  I rather think not, their plight is dour enough as it is.

This may sound a bit like the rant of an over liberal socialist, but one would be blind to not recognise the efficiency of market forces. Postwar Germany or Korea provide classic examples of more free market economies having significant economic advantages over excessively regulated centrally planned economies. As Shakespeare once said, " All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players."The street, die Straße, in any city provides the hardest "stage" in the world. It does not warmly embrace you when you dare to tread its cold concrete boards, and it can have a kickback like a moody Triumph Bonneville motorcycle.

The "market" for street music is actually quite capable of adequately regulating and policing itself, without the need for excessive public interference. Those who perform freely, but badly, will simply not be rewarded, and so will eventually become bored and cease. "What about the infamous one-legged, one-fingered, eastern European accordion player who only incessantly plays just one note, but never ceases, and who has no other trade or opportunity?" I hear you cry in unison, "Surely we need to be protected from his sort who are audibly polluting our inner cities?"

The answer is quite simply "You don't!"

It seems that everyone has heard of this abominable man, but no one knows his name. In the worst possible scenario the "free market forces" again rule the game. This unfortunate individual is long since dead, and nobody either knows his name or where he is actually buried, but he certainly "didn't wake up" this particular morning. The cold chilling truth is that any such tenacious and stubborn street musician will not be rewarded at all and will finally die of starvation after some seven weeks. Q.E.D. street music "problem" solved.

I am thankful to John Hurd for interviewing David Fisher on the theme of busking and to Daniel Bongart for relentlessly campaigning to improve the situation in Bonn. Bonn is indeed a beautiful city and it would be even more beautiful if one were to hear more often dulcet musical tones drifting sweetly over the pedestrianised city centre area. Beethoven would be both enchanted and delighted.

There is more about David Fisher's "Busking Beyond Borders" book and CD project which can be found here. It is an interesting read and listen covering his three years busking project throughout Europe.

Whilst street music is really, or should not be a problem as such, begging is an old tradition which warrants solutions on a much larger scale than the city of Bonn.

Here is an old song about beggars from the 17th century:

A Begging I Will Go

Of all the trades in this country, the begging is the best,
For when a beggar’s tired, he can lay him down to rest.

And a begging he can go, and a begging he doth go

He rests when he is tired, and he heeds no master’s bell
A man would be daft to be a prince when beggars live so well


There’s oats in his left pocket, and in his right, there’s rye,
And there’s a bottle lying by his side, for when his throat gets dry


His breeches they are nought but holes, but his heart it knows no cares
As long as he’s a bellyful, his backside can go bare


He sleeps between the hollow trees and there he pays no rent
Providence provides for him and he, he’s most content.


There’s patches on his coat, and on his right eye too
But when it comes to spying pretty girls, he can see as well as me or you


Here is a short history of this song from Wikipedia:
Joseph Woodfall Ebsworth attributes the song to Richard Brome, from his 1642 play, A Jovial Crew, or the Merry Beggars. However, the words to the song do not appear in the first printed version of the play (1652). However, the tune was well known before 1660, when it was used for the political ballad, Colonel John Okie's Lamentation. Ebsworth tells us that the first known printed copy of the words was published in Wit and Mirth in 1684.

If you wish to hear this song, then do come and take a stroll with me around the streets of the beautiful city of Bonn in the year 1698 and I shall sing it to you. Dates can be found here: The English Night Watchman of Bonn Tour

Alternatively,  Folk Club Bonn is holding an A Cappella evening FCB # 104 on Friday the 05.07.19,
come along to that and I'll sing it there for you too.

Be good and look after yourselves,


John Harrison

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