Nomads (1)-beginnings.

Our friends at the train station, seeing us off on our journey

It was 1978. Mike had been in Turkey the previous Autumn, recovering from a bad attack of what he called Tube Train Sickness (more about that in some future post), and where he had – as he informed me on his return – felt the call to visit India at some point in the future. Back in London, in late Winter, it fell to me to inform him that the Street Poetry enterprise – which had been going since 1972 – was fast approaching the end of its life-cycle.

We put our minds to finding some alternative. Mike had always had his musicianship and song-writing (and occasional busking) as a second string to his bow, alongside his poetry; and as for me, I had in my younger days sung and played the guitar, and indeed even done a bit of summer holiday busking a couple of years running, as a kid…

And so it came to pass, that in the Spring of 1978 a new busking act appeared on the streets of London (see earlier post “The Professor of the University of the Street”); and almost simultaneously, the two buskers in question suffered the loss of their home in London, of five years standing, through eviction by the house-owners (the Roman Catholic Church), it having been only a squat.

So with a new job, which it looked like we could take with us wherever we chose to go but which was landing us in trouble with the Police in UK, and further with homelessness staring us in the face in our native London, we did what many British buskers used to do in those days – packed up and took ourselves across to the Continent!

Well, although considerably less risky in most European locations than it was in Britain, the life of a street musician was not entirely trouble-free over there either. After a month in Belgium playing to cafe terraces in Antwerp and sleeping in a disused old railway station at the edge of town, we caught the attention of a family living nearby our temporary home, and got run in by the local police (squatting strictly forbidden apparently), who advised us that if we signed a statement they had drawn up for us, saying that we had not been able to find accommodation in the local hotels, but were anyway now just on our way to Holland, they would let us go without any further repercussions. (We weren’t on our way to Holland, but don’t tell anybody…)

Or again, in Switzerland, where we were actually going, we arrived in the city of Winterthur, by coincidence at exactly the same time as their local festival, the 3rd Winterthurer Muzikwoche. Local publicity about this had, as we found out later, proclaimed that “the music should be on the streets“. But not ours apparently – after playing successfully to a moderately-sized audience for maybe half an hour, we were whisked off to the local Police Station, fined a percentage of our takings, and informed that the show was over! Though not especially publicity-hungry in those days, we did actually make the acquaintance of a local journalist called Arthur Shappi, who wrote an article about the incident, pointing out the obvious irony of the situation.

By the middle of September we were on our way again, crossing northern Italy without event and arriving in Yugoslavia; and our trip across that country that year, together with our involvement with the Hotel Shar in the city of Skopje, has been described in an earlier post (Song For Bayram).

Leaving Skopje by hitch-hike – our preferred method of travel in those days – we got a lift from a local who was driving to Bitola, a town near the Greek border. He spoke some English (we had not by then absorbed more than a few words of any of the Yugoslavian languages), and upon hearing that we wanted to go to Greece, he said that he would be happy to take us over the border himself, because he wanted to prove to us that there were people living over there who spoke Macedonian! We could not, at such an early stage of our acquaintance with the region, understand why this was so important to him, but anyway from the point of view of our journey it was one step further in the right direction, so who were we to refuse.

Anyway he did have the satisfaction of speaking to some random person in the street in Macedonian – or so it seemed, I must admit I wasn’t really an expert in those days – and celebrated the event by treating us to some food in a snack bar before saying goodbye. Thereafter we were, as so often in our nomadic years, left standing by the roadside at the edge of town in the fading early evening light, hoping for another lift before nightfall. We found over the years that Greece was never an easy place to get a lift, but I can no longer remember if on that occasion we got to Thessaloniki that night, or if we had to wait till morning. Nights were quite warm anyway, at that time of year.

Once in Thessaloniki we put up for a couple of nights in a hotel near the railway station called the Hotel Atlantis – which we would have a much fuller involvement with many years later – organized the Cholera jab which was required for entrance to Turkey that year, and set off again, next stop Kavala, a touristic town on the Aegean coast where we did our last bit of cafe-terrace performing for that Summer, and on again, arriving in Istanbul in the first week of October.

To be continued…

“It’s a Crime to Play Music in the Streets”, our protest song about the situation of buskers in London, performed in streets all over Continental Europe
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