BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 09 MAY 2011


Imagine you walked into St Peter’s in Rome. You’re through the square and into the Big Church. Going with the flow you reach one of the most famous spaces on the planet. In there you find Lionel Richie belting out “Dancing On The Ceiling”. Now Big L is a megastar, but you’d have to think he was being just a bit rude (and what is he doing advertising crisps… do you imagine he needs the money?).

I have a favourite spot in the area of London I spend much of my week; nearly half way along the bouncy bridge that connects Tate Modern with St Paul’s. At tea-time today I reached it after a sneaky half-hour work-out along the banks of the Thames, so was feeling especially virtuous as I jogged to my own personal viewpoint.

Imagine my horror when the serenity of the occasion was broken by a busker: a fat Mick Hucknell in Cuban heels. Now Chunky could sing - well he hit the notes - but there are two reasons buskers sing in the subway. One, the sensory environment in the bowels of the earth is poor, so they enhance it. This is not difficult, provided they are not playing the bagpipes. Two, these chaps, and it is almost always chaps, are not really very good and the splendid acoustics in the tiled tunnels hide a multitude of sins in pitch and tone.

Now if it had been the real Mick Hucknell all would have been hunky dory. The ginger chanter has a terrific voice, it would have been a real coup to see him there doing his stuff and I would hardly have been human had I not for a few seconds imagined de-bridging the annoying little Mancunian just for crowing about sleeping with all those beautiful women.

But no, Chunky was definitely not famous. I’m thinking he was not a big hit with the ladies either as he was singing on a bridge for the occasional twenty pence piece. This may seem harsh - in fact that last one was harsh - but he should not have been there. I imagine the Busker Bizzies of London would have swiftly dealt with him had they been around, since there are doubtless many rules about public performance art. But that’s not really my point (live and let live, everyone has to make a crust, there but for the grace of God go I and all that). He shouldn’t have been there because he was in the way. He was in my way. He was in everyone’s way.

Standing at my spot you have Tate Modern in front and you can feel St Paul’s behind; just to the left is Shakespeare’s theatre; proper left The Shard is half-way built and Tower Bridge stands up-river. Sweep further round and it’s the Gherkin. Spin the other way from The Tate and you get a slice of The Eye through skyscrapers. The post-modern spy HQ looms far down river. Helicopters and planes track low at regular intervals. It all makes you glad to be alive. It truly is a wonderful world.

But Chunky was ruining it. Now on the one hand you might say that you need to “have a set” to do your chanting for money on a sacred spot. That it takes chutzpah and self-confidence to ply your trade in such a theatre. It is not just my sacred spot, by the way: go there and try not to stop and stare. It will be yours too, and you can have it if you behave yourself. As someone who speaks for a living you might think I have a sneaking admiration for him. But no, he wasn’t displaying self-confidence; he was exhibiting a lack of self-awareness: over-reaching his grasp by some distance. Just as, much as I love Lionel, he would not be welcome as I craned my neck to see Michelangelo’s masterpiece. Not even if he did requests. Three Times A Lady, Easy (Like Sunday Morning) if you are interested.

And what was Chunky singing? Let It Be. Too right my man, too right. My thoughts entirely.


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about the author

Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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