Busking is a driver of PEACE is part of our “Stories from the Pitch” series, in conjunction with the Busker Hall of Fame. Have a story you want to submit? Email us, or submit your story here

Morf playing his guitar

About Morf
John O’Challis quit his job back in November 2014, as a regional representative for a large IT firm in Sydney, and became a full time busker. Since then, he’s been all over the world, busking and performing for booked shows in countries he’d never dreamed of visiting. You can check him our on Facebook, or at his website, www.morfmusic.com.


 

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Nick Broad: What had been going on prior to the attack? There was a London busker meeting the day before, right?

John O’Challis: Yeah, the day before the attack I actually attended a round table meeting with the council and ministers of London to discuss future plans for London’s busking scene. There was an attempt to make agreements with the head of local business departments, and to decide what can and can’t be done by buskers. The meeting was mainly just to clear up the issues, so everyone is happy.

When one of the other members noted the lack of police representative at the meeting, I had no idea that the next day I would be a victim of violence on pitch!

NB: Actually, that’s surprising the cops didn’t show up to the meeting. You’d have thought they’d be interested; they’ve officially stated twice now that “Street performing causes anti-social behaviour and is a driver of crime.” What do you think about that? Do you cause bad things to happen when you busk?

JC: Ha ha, no. I and many other buskers see ourselves as positivity bringers. The majority of buskers I personally know around the world will be the first to step in to help resolve a negative situation, or to prevent it from getting worse.

We are so used to working and speaking directly with everyday passers by, a lot of us find it very easy to diffuse an aggressive situation far better than the people involved or their friends. And, often, if no police officers are close, and things begin to get heated, I personally will try and resolve any issues I see with words. 99% of the time it works, this 1% it didn’t.

And actually, the Leicester Square cops have always been pretty good. They have a kind of mobile police station (a large van with an office in it) and officers routinely patrolling LS on a daily/nightly basis. We’re on good terms; we don’t chat to them much, because they need to be on the look out for potential crime, given LS is such a hotspot/big spending spot with lots of money and expensive things being carried around. But, we always say hello, smile and occasionally share a coffee together when we can.

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NB: Okay, so tell us about it. What happened?

JC: On the day of the attack, I was playing a show Friday night at around 8:30 p.m., about 30 minutes before the busking curfew. Just as I was finishing the show I noticed an argument occurring at the entrance to the Leicester Square Christmas market involving 3 young, hostile men. I stopped my show and walked over to try and reason with them.

It was not my duty. But I’m a regular busker at LS, and I don’t like to let someone suffer in silence. Also, working on the street gives you this sense that you are almost in some way responsible for the public around you, even though you’re obviously not.

NB: What were they like? How did they react to you coming over?

JC: When I spoke to them, they seemed to be reasonable, apart from one of them who was a bit more aggressive. I realised quite quickly it simply wasn’t worth my time, and turned to return to my seat to pack up my equipment.

As I walked off, the aggressive one came up behind me and punched me. I fell and hit my head against a concrete seating structure. I was then kicked and stamped on repeatedly, unconscious, until security and police intervened.

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NB: And then what?

JC: The three men were arrested. I woke up surrounded by members of my audience, the police and the security team, who all gave statements and sat with me, ensuring I stayed awake, giving me the positivity that I needed.

The thing that touched my heart the most was one of the women from my audience, I believe her name was Stephanie (although my memory was jogged after my brain took such a beating). She sat with me for over half an hour in the freezing cold just to make sure I was ok, left once the medics arrived, but then returned with a cup of tea and a twenty pound note.

She put it in my hand, smiled and said “We’re not all bad people. Keep making people smile,” then left.

NB: Amazing. So, this is a bad story or a good one? 🙂

JC: To me, that one small act completely outshined the negativity that had just happened. It was her kindness that made me go out and perform, after I was dismissed from hospital.

It was a rather crazy and horrible incident. But, it’s shown me the strength of the collective; the crowds we spend our lives entertaining do really care about us, even when sometimes it’s difficult to remind yourself they do. Things like this show us how valuable and loved we are by the public we try to make happy.

Also, the police officers on night patrol that helped me were fantastic; they were extremely attentive and sat with me to ensure I didn’t lose consciousness a second time. They even helped pack my busking gear onto my trolley, and did a pretty damn good job of it! They then put my trolley on the Ambulance to ensure I didn’t lose any of my equipment!

Whilst I don’t remember any of their names, due to my memory of the whole thing being somewhat hazy, I will always remember their faces and have a further increased respect for the officers at LS.

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NB: What did your parents say? Are they happy you’re back out busking?

JC: My parents were on the road as soon as they found out. As expected, when they turned up they were worried, but at the same time proud, once they found out I was injured after standing up to bullies. My mum obviously said she wishes I wouldn’t get hurt, but she knows that’s me; I stand up to things I don’t agree with.

They took me to my place and made sure I was ok, they’ve always been extremely supportive of my life choices; quitting my job to pursue an extremely alternative career path especially. They were happy I’m back out busking, but obviously have told me to take it easy (though, they know what I’m like!)

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NB: If Stephanie was here now, what would you say to her?

JC: I’d like to say thank you. I said thank you at the time, but I don’t think she realised how much I meant it.

One small act of kindness in any situation can counteract 100 acts of negativity. And especially at the moment for buskers; in November when it’s 5 degrees and raining 50% of the time, the “November blues” can settle in, and routinely we can begin to doubt ourselves, feel like we’re failing at entertaining, and we can often feel sad.

When a member of the public goes out of their way to be kind; be it a nice hat drop, a physical hug, a proper form thank you, or even as far as to spend a long period of time ensuring our health is ok after being injured, it really reassures us as performers. People are always good, but when performers go through periods of “hard audiences”, small acts of kindness can make us feel reborn again.

So in short, I’d like to say thank you, Stephanie, for re-instating my faith in the public I entertain. You were right, you’re not all bad people; almost all of you are good.

 

 

Stories from the Pitch podcast is dedicated to creating is a living oral history about street performers and some of the crazy characters that populate this world. Have a story you want to submit? Email us, or write your story here.