Busking: music for free

Before the train doors slid shut, two young people hopped on to the train, and the girl, dressed in short-sleeves and long boots on a gloomy winter day, broke the silence in the cabin:

“Hi everyone, we’re a newly formed band and we are passionate about music. We are traveling around singing and making music and trying to get as many people listen to our songs as we can. We are now going to sing to you a few songs and we hope you will like our stuff. As we are still starting out — you can see that our guitar is in a sorrowful state — we’re in need of money to get ourselves on track with better equipments, so any change that you can spare is welcomed! Here goes our song,” the girl introduced themselves, then pulled out a drum, and the duo started playing.


Their self-promotion on the tube is touching to see: fueled by passion, the young duo are working hard towards their dreams. They are starting out and have little to back them up in their music careers bar their resourcefulness, and they are bold and self-assured when reaching out to their potential audience.  There is a lot of competition in the music industry, and London is never short of young and talented musicians, but they are willing to try. I once heard of a friend who says, if you keep on trying and failing, there is very little chance that you will not succeed.

Set up in 2003, London Underground’s busking scheme gives talented musicians an opportunity to obtain a licence to perform in metro stations. Other than commuters giving money to these musicians in support of their artistic career, the scheme has attracted various big-name sponsors.  Today there are over 400 buskers playing on the London Underground, offering free, original music to 3 million commuters in the city. While some continue to see buskers as doing it for the donations, there are many who genuinely appreciate the chance to listen to original music as they travel to and from work, and the scheme has made it easier for discovering local talents. I have listened to many of their songs.

Small and beautiful. Small is beautiful. There is a world for small independent artists in every city.

Tube service

The tube service in London always reminds me of the Hong Kong comparable: the MTR.

Every now and then you listen to the broadcast on the London Underground: “all lines are now operating a good service”. Surprise surprise. You never get that in Hong Kong. Any such broadcast would invite sniggering.

Today I spent almost an hour travelling from West End to London Bridge by the Underground. Each time as I travel by the District Line, I am shocked by its likelihood to run late, or to stop in the middle of the rail-track without much warning. Passengers seem to take this so calmly, except for one or two of them who might winge or grimace somewhat.

The most acceptable reason for train delays or suspension must be signalling failure. Signalling failure is the golden phrase that explains everything. To make matters worse, there’s no mobile phone connection in the tube, so if you are running late and you are meant to be meeting up with someone, there’s no way you can call to explain or postpone the meeting: you will simply have to turn up late and say sorry.  I read from the news that London passengers actually prefer not to have mobile phone connection on the Underground because the last thing they wanted are phone calls on the train.

London tube

If you happen to live along the Jubilee Line, you will be surprised by the money you can save, since the frequent weekend suspension of a major section or even the entire line is more than likely to keep you at home.  The weekend suspension is a necessary move to improve public infrastructure and to prepare for the London Olympics.

In Hong Kong, where time is a luxury, turning up late for work because of a train delay is a very lame excuse. A train delay lasting ten minutes or longer always becomes the headline story for the next day, and would call for an in-depth inquiry by a Legislative Council committee. Repair and enhancement work is always carried out at night.