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Ingrid Pitt Orchestra.

Busking cornucopia coming to the Stade

An exciting day of music awaits on the Stade this Saturday when the Gilded Hand is raised and the second International Buskers Fair gets under way. Organiser John Knowles hopes the event will help carve out a bigger space for busking in Hastings, as he explained to Nick Terdre.

Headlining at this year’s International Buskers Fair, part of the Stade Saturdays programme, is Earl Okin, jazz guitarist and humorist, who will be appearing at around 4.30pm (and who can also be caught at Rye International Jazz Festival on 24 August).

Also among the several dozen acts will be Jazz Train, accordionist and French chanson singer Helen Kane and jazz guitarist Nicky Mitchell, as well as many local performers including the Ingrid Pitt Orchestra (genre: Transylvanian Gypsy Tripp-Hop), singer/songwriter and guitarist Tim Hoyte and folk group the Wobblies. The music gets under way at 12pm (and not 1pm or 2pm as stated in the official programme).

Earl Okin, the main attraction.

“Earl Okin may seem a strange choice for a buskers’ day,” says John. “Dapper, clean-shaven and almost whispering in his style, he’s not your stereotypical image of a busker. But Earl has been around longer than some of us have been on the planet, not only being an almost resident figure at the Edinburgh Festival but also travelling far and wide, guitar in hand, entertaining audiences from young to old and as far away as Australia.

“Busking isn’t just about shouting, it isn’t about being louder than the next guy, it’s about an attraction, a draw which takes you out of the everyday and transports you for a moment to something out of the mundane. So whilst you may not see Earl on a street corner day by day, if you did, you’d stop, so for one day, here he is, in Hastings and I have no doubt he will stop you in your stride.”

Busking should be a spontaneous form of street entertainment, in his view, popping up alongside the normal activities of the town. So this year a produce market and hog roast in the Stade will form the backdrop for the music – or is it the other way round? There will be a main stage but the buskers will also perform on a raised platform and a ground-level platform.

In Hastings, despite its reputation as a leading home of music, busking is rather a poor cousin to other more established forms of musical expression. In this respect we contrast unfavourably with Brighton, where there is a space regularly used by buskers, says John, who worked with Nicky Mitchell to put the show together.

Local folk group the Wobblies (photo: Carol Hughes).

It was John, also a member of HOT, who first put busking on the State Saturdays agenda last year. By raising the Gilded Hand – the sign in medieval times that buskers were free to play without fear of having the authorities crack down on them – he hopes to give the activity a kick-start in this town. “My idea is that busking is acceptable as an art form and should be encouraged,” he says.

Although this year’s acts are all invited, he also wants to see busking’s inherent spontaneity come to life, and hopes that the annual event will before long become self-organising.

Busking is a low-cost form of public entertainment, which fits in well with the reduced financial backing available for the Stade Saturdays programme. But remember, though the event is free, buskers depend on the public showing their appreciation by putting their hand in their pocket. Be generous!


International Buskers Fair: Saturday 9 August, 12-5pm. Stade Open Space, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings TN34 3FJ.

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Posted 14:49 Monday, Aug 4, 2014 In: Music & Sound

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