Singing, stringing, sketching and shaping for their supper, Brisbane city buskers show there’s style and substance going begging, writes Julie Thomson.
Wayne Bloomfield’s eyes cross when he tries to calculate how many sausage balloons he has tugged and twisted into shape in the 19 years he has been the Queen Street Mall’s balloon busker. Working six days a week, up to 10 hours a day, it’s a number that escapes him.
But he wouldn’t be still doing it if he didn’t love it, he says, shaping clever and colourful creations for children – and adults – from all walks of life. He isn’t the longest standing mall busker. He says that’s Des, the Trinidad drummer, who’s marked the Treasury building for 32 years. And there’s Graham, the blind saxophonist, who has been playing a bit further down Queen Street for 25 years.
Bloomfield started with 30 different balloon animal characters in his repertoire. Now he says it’s close to 600.
“I get a lot of ideas from the kids,” he says. He doesn’t even price his work. “People pay what they want to pay.”
Artist JC from Taiwan settles herself crosslegged on the ground at the Albert Street intersection of the mall and draws delicate, detailed watercolour portraits, both from life and photographs. She’s there most days and often until after 10pm on Fridays.
“People out on weekend nights are a blessing and a curse,” she says. A few drinks are a purse opener, but makes others careless and they walk over her work spread on the footpath. She says the attitude to busking is very different in Brisbane to her home in Taiwan.
“Here, people think you don’t have a real job,” the fine arts and design graduate says.
Female vocal string quartet Quatro use their mall busking for practice opportunity, as the four 18-year-old university students are split between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Amity, Vanessa, Claudia and Radha met at high school in Bundaberg and their sassy mix of classical, Celtic, pop and rock numbers has them gaining popularity locally.
They were crowd favourites at the recent Australian Street Entertainment Championships at Surfers Paradise, earning an invitation to the renowned Coffs Harbour International Busking Festival later this year. They’ve also played Tamworth and been on Young Talent Time and The Today Show, so their eyes are fixed firmly on a music career. Mall audiences get good value seeing Quatro play for free, as they are in strong demand for corporate events throughout Queensland.
New Zealand singer/guitarist Jason Lockhart, 36, delights passers-by at the Edward Street end of the mall with his reggae version of the Games of Thrones theme, but not the woman who lives in an apartment above there.
“She has complained a bit about me,” he admits. Lockhart says he makes about $100 a day – up to $250 at Christmas time – busking in Brisbane every day between 9am and 6pm.
And it’s worth his while, he says, to returns for the “drunks” between 10pm and midnight on Friday and Saturday. He says he loves the busking life. “Fresh air, good feeling; what’s not to like.”