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Downtown dreamers

PIPERS in kilts or jeans.

Bongo players. Banjo players. Acoustic guitar singer-songwriters. The pulsating pipes and drums of Scots troupe Clanadonia. Saxophonists. Violinists, and harpists, and a rock guitarist who looks and sounds uncannily like Slash, the guitar hero formerly of Guns'n'Roses.

Sometimes, and especially when the weather is fine, Glasgow's city centre resembles one big outdoor busking concert, spread across different streets.

The main shopping precincts - Buchanan, Sauchiehall, Argyle - are particularly alive with buskers. And that's to say nothing of the other street entertainers - the human statues and the rest.

Buskers busk for different reasons. Some because they enjoy the social aspect to it, or because they like the exposure that it brings. It can help them hone their craft, it can bring in some money - one teenage violinist says she has made well over £200 in the space of a few hours.

But for others, busking is a way of getting their name out there. It can be a platform to a musical career. If they do succeed in this choice, they will be following in the footsteps of such well-known artists as Tracy Chapman and Ed Sheeran, both of whom used to busk.

Many established stars have been known to busk on occasions, to get back to their roots. No less a figure than Neil Young busked outside Glasgow's Central Station prior to an appearance at the Apollo, in 1976 - it can still be seen on YouTube. Whatever their motivation - fame, money, experience, making new friends - Glasgow's buskers are part of a formidable worldwide network of street entertainers.

The Busking Project website, which aims to empower street performers with access to information and a global project, carries details of 900-plus buskers in 283 cities across 54 countries.

In Glasgow, film-maker Les Forbes knows many of buskers well. For almost five years he has beem filming them playing or singing, then uploading short edited clips on to YouTube.

'It's incredibly lively," he says of Glasgow's busking fraternity. "There are new faces appearing almost every day, which is good. It might not be so good for existing buskers who might not be so proficient at playing or singing, but on the whole I'd rather have more buskers than fewer buskers.

"They're young, for the most part," he adds. "If you were to ask them why they busk, the answer is obvious: they just love music.

"Yes, a percentage of them want to be seen, and there's nothing wrong with that. That's called entertainment. But a love of music is what unites them."

Forbes likes the sheer variety of performers. He has filmed guitarists, singer-songwriters, and classical players. You never know what to expect on the streets and for Forbes, that is part of the joy of it all. It is what makes Glasgow so interesting.

He has filmed a visiting Italian band, Rumba de Bodas, on Glasgow's streets. His eye has been caught by a youngster named Matthew Gibb, whom he describes as a great new talent.

Behind Gibb, on Forbes's video, a touching, home-made placard explains that he is self-taught, and "newish to busking. Please give me a smile".

Busking is an equal-opportunities field, too. In the last four weeks alone Forbes has filmed no fewer than 12 young female buskers.

His experienced eye is also caught by the buskers' sense of presentation. Some wear jeans and T-shirts but there are musicians like Derek Brown, "who wears a suit, a waistcoat and tie, shaved and with his hair combed. That's different."

Do the range and individuality of buskers in Glasgow reflect something of the nature of the city itself? "I think it does," says Forbes. "There is lots of talent out there on the streets, and you never know where you are going to find it."

Many of the buskers to whom we spoke are keen to establish a career in music - using the city streets as a sort of proving-ground, and putting up videos on YouTube and using social media as a means of spreading their name further still.

Of those featured here, who's to say we won't be hearing a lot about them in the years to come?

www.buskingproject.com; www.glaswegianbuskers.co.uk

MATT SPICER

MATT Spicer can often be found in Buchanan Street, as often as not beneath the Donald Dewar statue. There, the 20-year-old, armed with just his acoustic guitar, an amplifier and a mic, runs through some of his favourite songs, such as those by John Mayer, the multi-Grammy-winning American singer and guitarist.

Spicer is rather good at Mayer - check out the online video of his version of the song, Neon, with its tricky little guitar lines. He also does fine versions of other Mayer songs, such as Queen of California and Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.

"I started busking a year-and-a-half ago," says Spicer, who is from Neilston. "I wasn't able to get a job for a while, so I thought, hey, I'll give busking a go, because I've played music for a while around the house.

"I thought I would give it a go as an income stream, and a year-and-a-half later, I'm still doing it.

"It is going really well. It's definitely a bit harder in the winter time but it's really good in the summer. You make good money, it's a lot of fun. It's good to be able to play music for a living."

At home, on his electric guitar, Spicer plays blues songs by such names as Mayer, and Eric Clapton.

"But when I'm out busking it's more your classic singer/songwriter kind of songs - I do a lot of covers of songs by guys like these, but I also like to play my own songs. It's nice to see how people respond to them.

"Obviously, you get the odd negative comment when you play in public but for the most part people are really friendly and very complimentary.

"A big part of it is that you're playing in Glasgow, where people are so friendly. I've busked in other places, including in England, and it hasn't been as friendly. Fewer people come and chat to you.

"People playing music on the street totally changes the whole atmosphere - the vibe in the street seems to change. It relaxes people, I think - people remember not to rush.

"The money varies from day to day and from person to person. Some days are slower, and you don't make very much. But some days you make loads. It averages out at quite a lot of money."

As for the future, Spicer really hopes to make a career from his music.

"The dream," he says, "would be to keep doing this, and start doing some gigs and let it develop. I'd love to do this as a full-time performer; busking my entry into the industry." He cites the artist known as Passenger - Mike Rosenberg - who found fame as a solo artist after busking, and who recently busked a few songs in front of a substantial crowd in Glasgow ... at, of course, the Dewar statue.

www.facebook.com/mattspicermusic; twitter.com/mattspicermusic

DANNY NEO

SOME acoustic guitarists merely strum. Fingerstyle guitarist Danny Neo does something different. He uses a specialised technique broadly known as "two-handed tapping", in which both hands hammer down on the strings, much like someone playing the piano. On top of which, he sometimes uses his guitar as a percussive instrument.

The result is startling. It has made others sit up and take notice, and it certainly turns heads when he's busking in Glasgow.

Neo, 19, who has recorded a downloadable album of songs, Picnic Project, says: "I don't come from a musical family.

"I wanted to do something artistic and one of the cheap instruments to take up was the guitar.

"At school I studied a range of styles - flamenco, gypsy blues, jazz. When I was 16 I joined a group and progressed to the Glasgow Schools Big Band, where I learned how to read music.

"When I was still at school I had my own funk-jazz-fusion trio, initially a Jimi Hendrix-inspired sort of thing that gradually ventured into crazy, experimental stuff. As more members joined we were playing with horn sections. It was surreal."

In time, Danny evolved his own distinctive solo guitar style, which was inspired by such guitarists as Preston Reed, Andy Mckee and Michael Hedges.

"My longer-term ambition is to write music and let people hear it. I just want to play for people," he says. "I need money to eat but am probably not too interested in making loads.

"Just today, someone told me he was amazed - he had never seen the guitar being played like that. I get that quite often. It's things like that make my day.

"It's definitely a spiritual kind of thing, when you connect with people through music. But the techniques I use are always there to serve the music."

www.weedaftbusker.bandcamp.com; facebook.com/weedaftbusker

SELINA CLARE ROSS

TEENAGE violinist Selina Clare Ross had an interesting encounter while busking in Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games. "There was one man who had, I think, come over from America," she says. "After I'd finished he told me he'd started playing the violin three months ago.

"He took my violin and started playing a few tunes on it. It's one of the nicest experiences I'd ever had while busking."

Ross, 16, has herself been playing the violin for five years. She studied at Glasgow's junior Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for three years and is now at the Music School of Douglas Academy, in Milngavie.

When it comes to busking in Glasgow - she plays her repertoire of Scottish traditional music - she says: "It is such a great city. There are so many people and they're all really appreciative of music. Not a day goes by when I don't get any positive criticism. People will applaud, and some come up to me and offer feedback, which is nice.

"Every time I go busking, at first you're getting to know your audience. The first song can either go really well or really badly, but after that, it's great - you get into it, and the audience starts to appreciate what you're doing."

For Ross, busking is all about the music. "Scottish traditional music isn't played so much these days and I think it's nice to share it with other people."

The weather is probably the key factor determining how well she fares. "There have been some days when I've made well over £200 in just a few hours, but on other days I can play for five hours and make maybe £40. It definitely depends on the weather."

People, she says, busk for different reasons. "I played in Edinburgh during the Fringe and there were so many different kinds of buskers.

"There are people who do it as a full-time job, and there are people like me, and there are others who just enjoy the social aspect of it all."

Longer-term, she plans to concentrate on science, "but it will be important to have some sort of release from academic pressures, which is where music will come in handy.

"When I'm a student, it will be nice to take the violin out and make a little bit of money for food, or things like that."

SACHA MARY MITCHELL

SACHA Mary Mitchell's harp is rather unusual, as is the choice of music she plays on it. ''I went on a course and made the harp when I was 13," says Sacha, 19, who is originally from the isle of Lewis, and busks regularly in Glasgow, where she lives.

"It's so much fun," she says. "I've met so many interesting people through it and I have lots of interesting talks with other buskers. I play traditional music, because that's what I've always been taught, but I got slightly bored with that.

"I'm really into pop-punk and modern music, so I started playing pop-punk songs on the harp and posting videos on YouTube.

"Sometimes, if younger people come by and I'm playing Fall Out Boy or All Time Low, they'll stop and say, 'You're playing a song I know' and will start talking to me.

"But other people will see the harp and think, 'She's playing such lovely music!' I get lots of different reactions."

"I would love to have a career in music," adds Sacha. "People ask me to do weddings and things like that, and I always say yes, but I'm not sure about to because not a lot of people want a harpist, so it is kind of difficult."

www.youtube.com/JustAnotherHarpist, www.facebook.com/SachaMitchellMusic

ANNA SHIELDS

ANNA Shields played violin for eight years until the age of 12, when she realised that she hated the instrument. So she switched to guitar and taught herself how to play. Six years later, the Glasgow teenager is an established musician, capable of covering other people's songs - her version of Paramore song, Ignorance, has had more than 265,000 views on YouTube - as well as writing her own.

"When I was 14 I decided to start busking," she says. "At first it was quite scary. You don't know what's going to happen. You're standing in the middle of Sauchiehall Street, playing and singing. You don't know how people are going to react, if they're going to be nice.

"At first I didn't have an amplifier, it was just me and my guitar, and I wasn't making that much money.

"But as times progressed I made a lot of new contacts and made a lot of new friends among buskers. And when I got the amplifier and mic, that really helped my confidence."

Shields's usual busking stance is outside the Apple store, in Buchanan Street. "I mostly do covers because if you're walking down the street and hear a song you like, you're more inclined to stop.

"I'll play a song that people like and once I've built up an audience - sometimes there can be as many as 50 or 60 people watching me - I'll tell them I'm going to play one of my originals.

"Some people walk away because they don't know the song but most will stick around and listen to it, and afterwards will tell me how much they enjoyed it."

Given all of this, it's no surprise that Shields hopes to pursue a career in the music industry.

"Hopefully one day I'll be performing and making money just through my music, but it is a hard industry to break into''

YouTube has, for Shields as well as countless other teenage musicians proved particularly valuable. Her YouTube channel has no fewer than 6,000 subscribers. "I've had a lot of business enquiries through YouTube," she says. "And I've had people commenting on my music from places like Mexico and China, which is brilliant."

She is, however, now looking for "something a little bit edgier" in terms of her performances - she is on the look-out for a male guitarist, drummer and bass player or keyboardist, to flesh out her sound.

"I've got enough songs to make an album, as well as few others I'm still working on.

"As soon as I've got the back-up band together, that is when I'll start approaching more managements, and more record labels, and start to get serious about it.

"I'm only 18 - there is plenty of time to perfect everything before I approach anyone about it."

www.facebook.com/AnnaShieldsMusic

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