Boom or busk
Benito Di Fonzo
George Gill, busker and co-host of Bondi Junction's Busk-Off, says the best busking moments for him come "every time that you get a nice look from a nice young lady".
The 32-year-old singer-guitarist from Barbados, whose specialty is "reggae-tising" songs, hooked the co-hosting gig by turning up to the inaugural Busk-Off in 2004.
"I got into the final," Gill says. "I didn't have much to play at the time. They were having a massive jam session. I was at a loss, so I took up the mic and started making up a song as we went along and had a good old time, everybody dancing. Afterwards Debbie Dawson from [Waverley] Council and Cathy [Levins, organiser] said, 'That was fun. You'll have to come and co-host next year.'"
Waverley Council runs the event each year as a way of distributing free Oxford Street mall busking permits.
"Listening to great music as you come around the corner is just so fantastic," Levins says.
"It can absolutely change the colour of your day. Listening to something really bad as you come around the corner is not so good, so creating the competition allowed us to create a series of busking permits and we've left it in the hands of the judges."
Performers will have up to seven minutes each during today's and Saturday's two-hour sessions. The event ends with the aforementioned finalists' jam.
"That's the fun bit," Levins says. "It's literally a busk-off."
Meanwhile, in the city, you have to fork out $40 a year, or $10 for three months, to busk. That is, unless your act is considered potentially dangerous, in which case you'll find yourself performing an audition in the Bay Street truck depot in front of "peer judges" such as veteran busker J-P McKendry, a ruck of council workers (shovels optional) and Sydney City Council's Kiersten Fishburn.
"Ten dollars is pretty reasonable for three months," Fishburn says. "If you can't recoup that pretty quickly in the city then possibly you need to rethink your busking act.
"The ones we audition are the ones that could be construed as dangerous - that's fire, knife juggling, chainsaw juggling, axe juggling, anything that potentially holds a risk.
"We get a whole diversity like people on unicycles who are juggling knives and fire simultaneously.
"We get some pretty eccentric characters - they're buskers who have travelled the whole world. We also get people for whom busking is a total career change. We had someone who had been the spruiker at Kings Cross who has moved on to busking - he was very excited to get his licence."
Could busking be the new sea change?
"For some it is but what we tend to see is that there are a lot of people who have busking run in their family," Fishburn says.
"I don't want to use the word 'carnies' - that has interesting connotations. They're a kind of contemporary circus on the city streets."
Fishburn does occasionally fail acts.
"People who have failed to undertake their act safely," she says.
"That can involve one of the busking auditioners walking behind them and they've got no awareness. When you translate that into a crowd scene you can imagine there are issues. One person was juggling fire and his firestick landed on his own head."
Michael Jackson jokes aside, Fishburn finds that those buskers who make it through can end up with a following.
"They have their own fan club so if they move from a particular site we get phone calls asking where they've gone."
The winners of last year's Busk-Off, Angus and Julia Stone, have gone on to snatch record deals as well as Triple J airplay.
Gill is happy with the simpler pleasures busking has given him, even if he's afraid to follow it up sometimes.
"I would assume that a percentage of all those girls who ask, and the guys who are you know 'I have a place' or 'I have a party'. Maybe one or two of those but I dare not go there."
Busk Off 06
Today and Saturday, noon-2pm, Oxford Street Mall, Bondi Junction, pre-registration at http://www.bondijunction.org.au/busk-off
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