Billy Bragg‘s Big Busk is an annual event at the Southbank & open to all musicians. At 2pm there was a rehearsal in the Festival Village (a cavernous room under the Queen Elizabeth Hall), where a motley crew of guitarists, uke players, percussionists & others had gathered to join in the fun.
Guitarist Ben Mandleson ensured everyone was tuned up, then Billy joked that busking tunes should only contain two chords – three was showing off! His crew behind had a selection of large cards with the guitar chords drawn on, which were held up as he played – confusion often reigned in the numbers with quick chord changes when the wrong cards were held up.
Daydream Believer, Big Busk 2012
After a relaxed run through, which included the charming discovery that 11 year old trumpeter Jake, there with his flautist young sister, could play the solo by ear from Chariots Of Fire, we dispersed & were told to mingle with the crowds on the Riverside level outside the Royal Festival Hall. The pre-gig noodling of strangers playing tunes, such as Duelling Banjos, while we waited amused the tourists, many of whom were unaware of what was about to happen.
Just after 4pm the actual Busk began – Billy & crew were high up on stage & the rest of us buskers dotted around on the steps below. It became a huge, enjoyable sing-along in the sunshine. Songs included the following, some with an Olympics’ slant:
- The A Team (Ed Sheeran)
- Alright (Supergrass)
- Band Of Gold (Edythe Wayne & Ron Dunbar (a pseudonym of Holland–Dozier–Holland) – Freda Payne)
- Chariots of Fire (Vangelis – with little Jake playing the brass solo)
- Daydream Believer (John Stewart – The Monkees)
- Dry Bed (Woody Guthrie) – a surprise joke song
- Keep On Running (Jackie Edwards – Spencer Davis Group)
- Me And Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson & Fred Foster)
- Ooh La La (Ronnie Laine – The Faces)
- This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie – in honour of his centenary) – with adapted lyrics for the UK
- & the traditional final Billy Bragg number, A New England (with final verse dedicated to Kirsty MacColl)
A New England, Big Busk 2012
Ukulele chords are linked above for most of the tunes and here’s the YouTube list for more videos, including some of the behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage.