London Astoria


It all began with moving some furniture in our flat in London, in April 2002. We’d spent the day moving stuff to the centre of the rooms, so that builders could install double-glazing for the windows and some radiators for the new central heating, and then we’d camped out in the sitting room to get some sleep. But disaster was waiting to strike.

Getting up energetically the next morning, from a makeshift bed on the sitting room floor, Mike slipped a disc. And then there could be no more Bongo Mike for a couple of months.


But you will be familiar with how “necessity” is often credited with being “the mother of invention”? Our chief vocalist and percussionist could not perform on bongos on the train, because the getting up and down continually from his stool, not to mention the bodily movements involved in playing the bongos themselves, were too painful….well, ok, but he could still sing couldn’t he?

A trial run through of “If you can’t have a shave….”(albeit in our kitchen this time)

Yes, it seemed he could.

And so was born “The Singing Passenger” – as we called the act that we went on to perform for some two months, while Mike recovered from his injury. We appeared in our usual locations – although preferring tube trains to suburban mainline trains – but minus the bongos.


Despite our initial reservations it was quite successful. Artistically, at least. Our volume was lower, and frequently insufficient to reach much of the carriage, given this rather noisy setting we were accustomed to performing in; but the effect on those in our immediate vicinity was electric. Dressed for the occasion in white shirt and bow-tie, maybe hanging onto an overhead strap, and not obviously connected with me standing nearby, Michael would suddenly burst into song, as I hoisted up my guitar and launched into our introductory rendition of “This Train”.

And so it was that, after a couple of weeks of this, two or three members of a rock group with their manager heard us singing, in the train carriage they were travelling on, and gave us a phone number to ring re: playing as a support act at a concert they would be giving a couple of months later, at the Astoria Theatre in London.

Not the type of booking we usually got, as our solicitor friend pointed out!

At the top is a film of our section of the concert, as provided to us by the management of the group My Vitriol.


And after a certain interval, in December 2016, as works were in progress to demolish the Astoria theatre to make way for alterations to Tottenham Court Road tube station, a telling sign appeared on the hoarding by the side of the road. It struck me as a possibility that some Westminster bureaucrat was thinking they’d really scored a triple whammy this time: no busking on trains since London Underground had brought in the limited licensing scheme at some tube stations; no busking now in the street outside the Astoria; and in case one were getting any big ideas, no more Astoria either!

But knocking down stone walls does not kill an idea…. as William Blake might have said.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s