Passenger pens exclusive tour diary for The Big Issue!

May 14, 2014

Smash hit songwriter Passenger busked Britain - and shared it all with

Passenger's tour diary...

Tuesday 13 May - Glasgow, Buchanan Street / Wednesday 14 May - Edinburgh, Royal Mile

I’ve been coming to Glasgow for about six years and I’ve spent a good few days busking just down the hill from where we set up on Tuesday, which was at the top of Buchanan Street, at the bottom of he Royal Concert Hall steps. I’ve got a lot of friends in Glasgow and as well as the busking I’ve played a lot of the venues here before, so it’s a place close to my heart. We had so many people there for the busk, I could see people all around, up the steps and in the shop windows above. It was really something else.

After the sunny day in Glasgow I thought there’s no way we could be lucky with the same in Edinburgh but I was wrong. I’ve been to Edinburgh lots before and I swear that’s the first time I’ve went that it’s not been raining. We went over from Glasgow on Tuesday night and got to grab a couple of drinks in one of my favourite pubs in the world, The Sandy Bell’s. It always has great music, with live singers and bands, and great beer. I can’t come to Edinburgh without going to The Sandy Bell’s.

We set up in such a stunning location. It was right in the middle of the Royal Mile, which is busking heaven, and a place I’ve actually been moved away from before by police. I played right next St Giles Cathedral, which is the most beautiful building, in front of about 500 to 600 people. People were climbing on the ledges and statues to get a better view  and there was such a wicked atmosphere. It was like a festival but no one was drunk. Everyone was so quiet during the songs.

These two busks really have been such an incredible way to end the tour. Two of my favourite cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, in the sunshine with hundreds and hundreds of people lining the streets just to hear my music. I’m still finding it a little bit overwhelming, to be honest. That so many people will travel and sit or stand so quietly, so respectfully, while I play is just amazing. I don’t think I’ll ever not be blown away by that.

This past two weeks has really been something special for me. It‚s been tiring, with all the promotion work on top, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’ve been delighted to help The Big Issue and that’s something I want to do again in the future. Thanks so much to all my fans who came out to each city and to those who just happened to hear me play. I hope you all enjoyed it, I certainly did. Now I’m heading to finish off the prep for launching the album and to make a video before the big tour. See you all again soon.

Saturday 10/Sunday 11 May - Dublin (Gaiety Theatre) and Belfast (Victoria shopping centre)

What a busy weekend. It was pretty non-stop from Dublin to Belfast and the weather wasn’t great for the busks, but we found a plan-b for both days. It’s been a pretty intense week overall, with a lot of traveling and promo, and then on Friday I went to see a little boy called Carson in Liverpool, who isn’t well in hospital. Just thinking back about it now is making me emotional...

As I’d mentioned before, Carson’s mum got in touch on Facebook and asked if there was any way I could visit. If possible I will always do these things – it’s not always possible but I will do my absolute best. Carson’s family was there and I went along and played a few songs, with Carson playing his little red guitar beside me. They are just the most amazing people, it’s such a heartbreaking situation for Carson and his family but they all stay so positive. It was heartbreaking but I am so glad I got to visit and see them all smiling and laughing and singing along.

By the time we got to Dublin I was completely exhausted. We were convinced on Saturday morning that we’d need to busk indoors and made a few calls. We went to the Gaeity Theatre, where there is a little covered canopy bit outside, but we somehow managed to busk in the one hour it didn’t rain in Dublin. It was great, the Dublin crowds always sing along so loud. We had more radio interviews and sessions lined up and then drove two hours to Belfast.

There was no cover at the outdoor spot and typically the rain showed no sign of stopping but there was a shopping centre just up the road so we went and spoke to the manager. Sometimes you find there are so many hoops to jump through with these things, but the manager couldn’t have been more helpful. We set up right in the middle, with all these stairs and balconies all around, and it looked wicked. It felt like one of these multi-theatre gigs, but in a busy shopping centre.

I’m struggling to balance everything at the moment. I’m very hands-on with everything – the album, the promotion, the tours, the videos – and I’m behind with everything right now. I had to spend time catching up on emails and thinking about the video shoot next week for my new single, Scare Away The Dark. There’s so much going on but I can’t complain – I’ve wanted to be in this position for years and I know how lucky I am.

Thursday May 8 - Manchester - Cathedral on the Street

Rain, you were never going to defeat us. It was clear as we were approaching Manchester that the rotten weather wasn’t going to let up. A few phone calls later and we had managed to move the busk to this wicked little space just next to Manchester Cathedral. There were probably around 300 people there and it felt like the little pub gigs I used to play. The place was packed and you could hear a pin drop. Such an incredible crowd.

After the other busks I’ve not really been able hang about for too long. People want to get photos and autographs, and I love that, but there were over 1000 people in London and there was no way I could stay for several hours after. Today I stayed behind for about an hour and loved getting to talk to everyone. I really miss that, it doesn’t happen very often now. Never in my life did I think I’d get to play to 1000 people, and I know how lucky I am, but you do miss those small gigs sometimes.

There was an elderly couple at the busk, there right from the start, and they waited after the gig to come and say hello. They must have been in their seventies and it turned out they’d just got married! The man was smiling, telling me how he had ‘let her go’ 30 years ago, and that they hadn’t really met again until recently. He said my song really spoke to them. It was a wonderful moment.

It’s been a couple of busy days so tonight I’m going to switch off and catch up with some old school friends in Manchester. I’ll try and catch the Brighton play-off game and then tomorrow we’re off to Dublin. My girlfriend is coming along, which is great. She’s from Wales and it can be a bit tricky at times when I’m traveling all over so I can’t wait to see her.

I’m going to see a little boy in hospital in Liverpool tomorrow before we get the ferry at Holyhead. His mum messaged me on Facebook and asked if there was any way I could ever stop by. I’ve only done this sort of thing a few times and it’s always challenging, but it’s amazing what just 15 minutes of your time, to go and say hello and play a few songs, can do for someone. It’s fucking heartbreaking, actually, but nothing like what these children are going through. I just hope it makes them happy.

Wednesday May 7 - Birmingham - Outside the Bullring Centre

We got to Birmingham so late last night. I was up early on Tuesday morning for a solid day of promo and that didn’t finish until 10pm, after the Radio One Review Show. We got here about 2am and I had a terrible night’s sleep, I had all sorts running through my head. I’ve been knackered all day.

I’d planned to start playing around midday but we were concerned about the weather. The forecast said rain was on its way and we were there and set-up for 11am so I started half an hour early to try and beat the rain, and it turned out great. I love Birmingham. I’ve probably busked here five or six times now, back when no one was watching and we also played one of the best gigs of the tour here last year. This was a treat today.

There were probably only around 100 people there at first and it felt like a bit like how it used to. I played some old songs that I haven’t played for years, forgot some lyrics, then broke a couple of guitar strings – but that’s what busking is all about. These things happen. People expect it and I’ve been doing this long enough that I can improvise and make a joke of it. It was really relaxed.

The numbers picked up quickly and in the end there must have been well over 500 people there, which I thought was amazing. It’s one thing getting 1500 people to a busy tourist spot on a sunny bank holiday in London, but this was a cold, miserable Wednesday afternoon. I was pretty fucking blown away actually.

I had a break after and we went for sushi. I love Japanese food and probably eat it five times a week. I was starving after my kinder egg and coffee breakfast, which isn’t the most nutritional choice, but my sushi sorted me out.

Tonight I should relax in the hotel after a busy couple of days but the rain is causing a bit of concern for the next busk in Manchester and we need to try and find a back-up plan. I’m very hands-on with everything, from the album artwork to the venues, there’s a sense or responsibility there. Then if anything goes wrong I can be pissed at myself and no one else. Hopefully we can find somewhere in Manchester, maybe like a church or a venue, that can take us at last minute. We can’t let the rain wash us out.

Video by @ShoppingInBham

Monday May 5 - London - On the banks of the Thames, behind the Tate Modern

Today was our second busk of the tour, down by the Southbank, after Brighton on Saturday. I was in an odd mood today because we had a technical problem earlier when one of our speakers wasn’t working. All I could think about was what if I let down all these people?

Fortunately we fixed it but I did panic a little. When I got down to the river and saw the size of the crowd, with the sun shining and St Paul’s Cathedral glistening in the background, I had this crazy big smile on my face.

There must have been 1,000 people. They were all over – up on Millennium Bridge, the balcony of the Tate. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in the world at that moment. It really was such a pleasure.

I saw a couple of ‘No Busking’ signs on the way down, which was pretty funny. I started playing at Kensington tube station the other day and got moved by Transport Police. I’ve been busking since 2007. It’s what I know. This is what I love. It’s what got me where I am. I want to play music for hours every day. It’s a selfish need of mine.

Busking ticks so many boxes. It lets me play and express myself, it lets my fans come and listen for free, you don’t need money and don’t need to be over 18. It’s exciting. There was such a wide range of people of all ages there today, which has always been the case with my music, whether there’s ten people there or one thousand. I love that. 

I ran through some old and new songs, including a couple from Whispers that people haven’t heard yet, and a Bruce Springsteen cover [Dancing in the Dark]. I mix it up every time, it keeps me on my toes, but there are songs I always play. I don’t think people would be happy if I didn’t play Let Her Go, for example. But I don’t want to be the guy who plays the same set and makes the same jokes.

I was hammering the guitar towards the end and broke a string so I had to improvise. I had a spare guitar but it was the last song so I just messed around, pretended I still had the guitar and got the crowd to sing along. Off-the-cuff stuff like that adds something to the gig and the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Things go wrong, you just react.

I've got some press things to do while in London but I managed to catch the Arsenal game yesterday and see my sister here, which was great. I’m hopefully heading off to see Ed Sheeran play a small gig over in Camden later and then I’ve got the Radio One Review Show and a Shazaam session tomorrow. Then it’s off to Birmingham and Manchester later in the week. I can’t wait.

Saturday May 3 – Brighton, Seafront, outside Brighton Music Hall

It was great to be playing at home. Brighton was at its beautiful best. I had my mum and dad and a few mates at the Brighton busk on Saturday. I spend so much time in other countries that it was great to hangout back home.

It’s always good fun in Brighton. I’ve been in Brighton all my life, that’s where the busking started, and I always find it quite emotional to be honest. There was so many people there, several hundred at least, and I couldn’t help but think of those days when I was busking on the same spot and no one was listening. It really drew my attention to how far it’s come. I felt so grateful.

It’s good be back in the UK. There are subtleties that the British crowds get. It’s self-deprecating, there’s a hilarious misery to it, people get my rubbish jokes. I’ve not busked here for so long, it felt great. I was a little nervous. I’m not normally but before it was just a busk, when the opportunity came up ahead of this to support The Big Issue.

Why Passenger is supporting The Big Issue

The Big Issue is a wonderful thing, it helps so many people in different ways. I don’t need to play on the street with my guitar case out to try and live any more, so it’s the least I can do to try and help Big Issue vendors across the country.

One day when I first went to busk in Bath, there was a fantastic Big Issue seller there. I went over and asked him if he didn’t mind if I did a little busking. It was his pitch after all.

He had every right to say, ‘No, bugger off, I got here early and this is my spot’, but he was so lovely. He said, ‘Of course mate’. I had a great day, I had a good crowd, I sold a few CDs, and at the end of the busk I said to everyone, ‘Please, please, don’t give me any more money, go and support The Big Issue and that lovely man over there.'

It was a wonderful moment, I remember about 25 people went over to him and cleared out his magazines. He was so happy. I felt fucking great and it changed his day.

I’ve been busking a long time, I’ve met a lot of homeless people from all over. The stereotypes are so frustrating. You chat to these people for five minutes and you realise that so many people have been unfortunate, some have had terrible luck, and by and large they’re bloody lovely people. It breaks your heart how they are treated a lot of the time.

When this came about, it was a real fucking privilege and is something I’d love to carry on doing. When you get to a position where you can make a little difference then you should try and channel that into something productive. If it can help someone in even a small way then brilliant.

Passenger popped into the Big Issue's Glasgow office to say hello...


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