Friday, April 09, 2010

Busking and Hat Fairs

The Raree Show - Crissie on clarinet, Clown Jules, John Trigger on stilts It was great to hear from Mike Dean the other day. He's the man behind the original Covent Garden Hat Fairs (1973/4) - long before the 'official busking for tourists' that you now see.

When I was a kid the theatre queues around Covent Garden had entertainers to amuse them while they waited to go in. The tradition had faded, but quite a few of us had started to rebuild the busking tradition. I did juggling, magic, acrobatics and fire-eating - working solo, as well as with The Raree Show, and with Justin Case (as Foolproof).

While Covent Garden was still a fruit and vegetable market, and an unusual and atmospheric place (working through the night, pubs open at dawn, etc) Mike got permission for people to busk anywhere within the area for a couple of days a year. No booking in advance, no payment, no auditions for quality and very little supervision. Wonderful, joyous anarchy in the streets.
Toby juggling fire sticks

A culture clash (and local politics) eventually drove the Hat Fair away, but it landed in Winchester and has thrived for 36 years now. London's loss, as far as I am concerned.

Winchester Hat Fair.

Anyway, Mike is writing something about the period, and was digging around for stories and photos, etc. On my website I had quoted a delightful impressionistic piece by Gerard Benson (Poet Laureate of Bradford) which appeared in the New Statesman at the time - Hats in the air.


Chris Hughes said...

I remember Ronnie Ross and the Roadstars, and the Earl of Mustard, who danced in skis of varying lengths...

Toby said...

Ah yes, Chris! The Road Stars (who I saw with my Saturday Dad, must have been the first glimpse I had that you could make some sort of living acting crazily in the streets (and they still got arrested quite a lot).
I found some GREAT photos of them here, it really takes me back.

Toby said...

Never did learn much about the Earl of Mustard, but as I emerged, shocked and stunned at the end of 2001:Space Odyssey, into the 'real world' of Leicester Square, that surreal presence was what greeted me... :-)
Looking something like this

Anonymous said...

Great pictures of the Roadstars indeed... and that's when it was Leicester Square, and not some rotten pedestrianised piazza...

Liz Fraser... cor, I fancied Liz Fraser!

Sadly the link for the Earl of Mustard appears not to function. Curses!alsest

Toby said...

Ah, sorry Anonymous, I hadn't made a link to the Earl of Mustard, just made it bold.

You'll find it easy enough if you put his name in Google, but to save you a couple of clicks, try this link.

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