#3 Charlotte Campbell “Southbank Busker”
14 minute read
In early April this year I took a short trip down to London to catch a couple of Muse gigs at the O2 Arena. Following the first night’s gig I decided to celebrate with one or two (maybe several) drinks, which resulted in me rising a little late the following day.
When I awoke on the Tuesday morning I felt very heavy-headed and was tempted to stay in the hotel room and spend the day writing. But instead I had a shower, got dressed, and headed out into Westminster.
Following a walk which took me across Westminster Bridge, past Big Ben, and then down Whitehall, I took a right across Northumberland Avenue and then stopped for breakfast at The Sherlock Holmes. After a hearty English breakfast I felt somewhat human again, and so I completed the loop back to my hotel by walking over the Golden Jubilee Bridges, and then onto the Southbank.
After taking a few photos of the various activities and entertainment that was taking place, I then stopped and sat on a wall, opposite a busker, as I changed lenses.
And this is where this latest story begins.
As I locked my lens into place, I suddenly found myself completely immersed in the music that this young lady was playing. When the first song ended, she engaged the passing crowds with a beaming smile and a series of greetings. Her manner was pleasant, her words were sincere, and she radiated positivity and a real sense of warmth.
I walked across, dropped some money in her guitar case, exchanged smiles, and then I picked up one of her flyers. Sitting down, I looked at the flyer and read the following words…
“My aim is to make people smile and get my name out to a new audience. I love what I do and am so grateful for the support I receive that allows me to continue making music.”
Her name is Charlotte Campbell, full-time busker, and I can say from first-hand experience that she does make people smile, she clearly loves what she does, and in this latest ‘people’ feature I would love nothing more than to introduce you all to Charlotte and the music that she makes.
Elliot – Hey Charlotte, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here on Lossul.com and I can’t wait to share your story with my readers. You’ve been writing music for more than a decade and have been playing on the streets of London for a number of years now, but could you give us an idea of what your journey has been to date, and what first made you decide to pick up the guitar?
Charlotte – Thanks very much for having me! I first picked up the guitar because I was a bad dancer. That sounds a bit strange but I loved musical theatre as a child and that was my dream, then as I got older I realised that my two left feet were going to hold me back. I still loved to sing so my mum suggested to take up an instrument so that I had an excuse to stand still on stage. I started writing songs straight away and soon applied for the BRIT School where I studied music for a few years. After all my studying was done I was bridging a gap between education and “real life” when I started busking every now and then for some extra pocket money. I couldn’t get over the thrill of it and still haven’t to this day! I felt like I’d accidentally stumbled upon my music career right there on the Southbank; it allowed me to share my music with new fans while making a living, and I didn’t want to give it up for anything.
Elliot – I think it’s amazing that you’ve been able to take something that you clearly love and make a living out of it, especially when initially it was about bridging a gap. Your music and busking for a living has become your ‘real life’, and there’s something really inspiring about that.
The very first thing I noticed when I saw you performing on the Southbank was an instant feeling of warmth and authenticity about yourself and your music, and you seemed to connect so effortlessly with your audience. How important would you say that is as a musician, and in particular, as a busker?
Charlotte – I feel very lucky to be making a living from it. That’s probably why I have a warm presence when I’m performing because even now, each day I just can’t believe I get to do this for a job! And every person who gives me their time is helping me make that a reality so I just feel a constant gratitude to the people who take the time to listen.
For me, music is all about communication and connection. It’s why I wanted to write songs in the first place, I wanted to say something. And while the money is how I sustain this lifestyle, the main reason I’m there is to interact with people, speak to them, and I hope that they’ll take that memory away with them and go on to discover my music online and continue to support it.
The connection is both easier and harder for buskers; you’re not performing to a captive audience and it can be hard to connect with people in a few moments before they’re gone, but you’re also there on a level with them and the personal connection, when you make it, is so much stronger. I’ve always thought a gig is like giving a speech, but busking is a conversation.
Elliot – That’s so very true. And maybe that’s because a passerby can stumble across a busker by complete accident, yet it’s at the right time and at the right moment in their life. The busker may be singing about exactly what they need to hear in that moment, and so it becomes a much more personal experience and feels like they’re speaking directly to you; like meeting people when you travel, it’s a random encounter which somehow felt destined.
I remember reading the flyer that I picked up out of your guitar-case which said that you want to make people smile through your music, and that’s certainly something that stands out in your performance. Where would you say that desire has come from? And how does it make you feel when somebody leaves one of your sets with a smile on their face?
Charlotte – Yes I totally agree about that chance meeting that feels destined! I really love being a serendipitous moment in someone’s life.
A lady once sent me an email to say she was having a really bad morning and got off the tube one stop early at Southwark (a station she never goes to) to get some air. I was there singing “You’ve Got A Friend” and it totally changed her day and she felt like it was meant to happen. Things like that remind me I’ve definitely made the right life choice doing this for a job.
I don’t know where my desire to make people smile comes from. I guess that when I was a child my grandparents would sing a lot so I feel like music is a comforting thing. And as a teenager I found music was the most effective way of changing my mood when I really needed a pick me up. I was in awe of the people who made music that cheered me up or even music that reflected my own life so I felt less alone. I wanted to do that for other people.
The thing that people don’t realise is that their happy reaction creates the same reaction in me. They walk away happy and so do I.
Elliot – I really like that story, and it was great that the lady took the time out to let you know of the difference you’d made that day. Thank you for sharing that with us.
It’s so true what you say about music being something that can work as a pick me up. It’s like when you can dress differently depending upon what your mood is, because there is music that can also fit perfectly with what our mood is at any given time; invoking feelings of happiness, reflection, motivation, and inspiration. And it’s great that you write music which reaches out to people like that.
As you know, one of the songs that really stood out for me when I saw you play was a song that you wrote about pursuing your dreams and facing up to any fears that stand in your way. What inspired you to write that song? And what other themes do you like to explore with your music?
Charlotte – I think the song you mean is my song Safe Harbour, which makes me really chuffed that the message in one of my own compositions stuck with you! I was inspired to write that song when I read a quote that said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” It made me want to focus on my music career and stop worrying about what people thought of my life choices. It’s a bit of a love song to my music career.
I tend to write a lot of songs about love, even non love related themes I find are easiest to explore through the idea of love because it’s so universal. But I also like writing songs about places, places interest me a lot.
Elliot – Yes I think that’s so true, because themes of love in all its various forms, is something that we can all relate to. It’s perhaps the thing that people actually have most in common.
I really like the inspiration behind the writing of Safe Harbour. A lot of us can end up battling against that fear of what other people think of our life choices, but when all is said and done, all that really matters is what WE think of our own life choices. Drawing on your experiences, what advice would you have for anybody who has a dream that they wish to pursue but is having trouble in getting started on that path?
Charlotte – That fear of what other people think of my life choices is definitely something I’ve struggled with, especially choosing a career as a busking musician which is sometimes a little controversial.
As someone who spent a long time talking about pursuing my dreams but not really doing it, my best advice is that it isn’t going to come looking for you, you have to go out and find it. I was making music in my bedroom for so long and getting so frustrated that nobody was listening. Then I realised people were willing to listen, but I wasn’t letting them hear!
Elliot – You mentioned previously that you like to write songs about places, and that places interest you a lot. Would you mind elaborating on that a little? And what places in particular have inspired you the most?
Charlotte – London is my main place that I’ve written about. My most popular song is called Streets of London and it’s about my love for my hometown, and I’ve recently written another song about how much I love London which I want to release but I’m worried it’ll be a bit confusing having two songs about London. But I love them both so it’d be a shame not to release this new one. Songwriter dilemmas!
I also co-wrote a song about a small town in Greece called Matala. I visited one year to play a music festival there and fell in love with it; supposedly Joni Mitchell wrote Carey while she was there and I found it so inspiring! I’m also working on a song about my trip to Nashville, another place full of songwriting inspiration and songwriting history!
Elliot – Hahah, indeed! But that’s not a bad dilemma to be facing at all. Streets of London is a great song and whenever I listen to it I’m instantly transported back to a sunny afternoon on the Southbank. I say go for it. And that’s really cool about the Greek music festival. Carey is actually my favourite Joni Mitchell song and it has such an upbeat sound and sunny feel to it; I could definitely believe that it was written in Greece.
Your mention of Nashville actually takes me onto my next question.
Some of the themes that I’ve written about on Lossul.com have included the kindness of strangers, the opportunities that come from random encounters, and also the feeling of living your dreams. I understand that you have a story about your ‘Nashville Sessions’ recordings which ticks all three of these boxes?
Charlotte – Yeah my Nashville story is one of the craziest things that has ever happened to me. I was busking one quiet day in October when a man from America picked up a CD from me and had a brief chat about our lives. He told me he was from Ohio, I knew nothing of it but as he was from the States I told him about my dream to visit Nashville someday. He took that CD home and his 4 year old granddaughter became a big fan of mine. When I launched a Kickstarter campaign I couldn’t believe it when he booked me for a show in Ohio, to play at his granddaughter’s 5th birthday party! We spoke on Skype about it and he made sure I made it to Nashville while I was there. I decided to make the most of the experience and recorded an EP in a Nashville studio. It was really insane looking back on it all now!
Elliot – That’s incredible. I really like the saying ‘strangers are just friends that we’ve not met yet’, and your story really does emphasise the impact that such a chance encounter can have upon our lives.
You published an article recently about some of the people you’ve met while busking and it was such an entertaining read. Would you mind sharing your favourite of those ‘people’ stories with us?
Charlotte – As someone who connects with so many different people each day I really do feel an affinity with strangers. I started my blog so I could share some of the amazing stories I’ve seen, or been part of, in my time as a street performer, and the people I’ve met have really brought the streets to life for me. There are really too many stories to choose just one! But one of my favourite moments in my time busking and someone that I didn’t include in my blog yet was a very scruffy looking man who listened for a couple of songs and sat down on a bench with a pen and paper. He dropped a crumpled up note in to my case and said he had no money but thanked me quite a lot before he left. When I opened the note it said ‘Thank you for making this broke man smile”. I still have it, it’s a wonderful reminder for me to keep making music.
Elliot – And it really does show that you’re achieving exactly what you’ve set out to do; making people smile through your music. I love that story.
Your live performances as a busker feature a number of cover versions by various bands and artists. Is there a specific reason for including cover songs? And who would you say your biggest musical influences have been over the years?
Charlotte – I include quite a lot of covers in my set, sometimes people ask why I don’t have more confidence in my original songs but that’s not why. I just know that I’m there to be an entertainer and while I think my songs are good and I’m proud of them, I know that familiarity makes people comfortable and by playing a few covers that people know they’re more likely to be entertained. I use covers as bait almost to draw the crowd in and then I play them one of my own songs and I find that structure works best. When people stop just from hearing one of my own songs though it’s really the best feeling in the world!
I’m really inspired by Ed Sheeran, especially recently; his songwriting ability, his story and his humble attitude. When I first started writing I was inspired by artists that my parents introduced me to, so Carole King, Joni Mitchell and The Beach Boys.
More recently I’ve found a lot of inspiration in lesser known artists who have niche followings, like Ingrid Michaelson, Regina Spektor and Tristen Prettyman.
Elliot – Thank you for that, I can imagine it must be an incredible feeling to have people pay such close attention to your own music. So what plans do you have for the coming months and what can we look forward to seeing from you?
Also, with busking being something that’s quite spontaneous in terms of time slots for playing, what is the best way for people to find out how they can come and see you play?
And finally, what is the best way for people to be able to follow all your latest news?
Charlotte – Well it’s been nearly a year since my album Making Waves came out so definitely time for something new! As I play so many covers when I’m busking I often have people ask if I’ll be recording any. I’ve decided to release a small covers EP this summer along with some new original songs in November. So that’s the plan for 2016!
If you’re hoping to catch me at a gig all my shows are listed on my website. I play regularly on the street too, so if you want to find me busking your best bet is to sign up to my mailing list on my website where I list my Southbank busking schedule or follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for daily updates!
Elliot – That sounds like a pretty exciting schedule for this year and I look forward to hearing more about your future releases.
Well sadly that just about wraps things up now. But there’s a tradition that I need to uphold, and that’s to ask a completely random question which is normally along the lines of the last movie you saw, what you had for dinner last night, or who would win in a fight between Jason Bourne and James Bond.
But this next question is remaining slightly on topic and I’m asking it because I’m curious. Imagine you’re busking one day, and you could have any musician (dead or alive) stop by and watch you play; who would it be?
And in fact, while we’re at it, what did you have for dinner last night?
Charlotte – So sad that this interview is ending I’ve really enjoyed getting into the gritty details of busking! Thanks for inviting me to be part of it.
While my mind goes immediately to my heroes like Joni Mitchell or Alanis Morissette, I think I’d actually be too scared to open my mouth if I saw them! So I’d probably go for someone who I admire very much, but who I think would get a real kick out of the busking thing and that’s Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys! I don’t know why but I just imagine he’d love to see a busker on the streets and I think he’d quite enjoy my Streets of London song.
Thanks so much for having me.
Ps. I had very boring cucumber sandwich for dinner. I’d only just got back from my gig in Switzerland and that was all I had I the house!!
And I can most definitely say that I was sad this interview came to an end too. Speaking with Charlotte has been a true pleasure, and it’s been a real eye-opener into the world of busking. Charlotte’s music is available to buy from her website www.charlottecampbell.co.uk and there are also a number of videos available on You Tube which you can check out.
If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read then please do show your support by checking out Charlotte’s music. And if you’re going to be in London then please do check out her gigs page, because you just may get the chance to catch Charlotte singing away on the Southbank.
And to go back to what I was saying at the start of this feature, none of this would have happened if I’d stayed in my hotel room that afternoon in London. I’ve written before about how we can make something happen out of nothing, if only we make the effort and put ourselves out there.
So get out there, enjoy your surroundings, and keep your eyes open for all the wonderful people that surround us. I’m glad that I did.
Thank you for reading.
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