Playing on the street

Graeme Turner
Christopher Simms sings and plays guitar. He is blind. He often performs at Victoria Market in Melbourne. He has tried many other locations in the city. Finding a good location to sing is a challenge. Christopher says he can often get drowned out by others. He likes hearing people enjoying his music. He has also heard people stopping others from taking his money. Christopher says busking has helped improve his skills. He encourages people to give it a try.
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Graeme Turner on 17/10/2011
A man wearing jeans and a white shirt is strumming an acoustic guitar and singing into a microphone

Finding a suitable busking location is always a challenge

Christopher Simms is a musician who also happens to be blind. You might hear him among the sounds of spruikers and laughing children at Melbourne's Victoria Market. Christopher has a great voice supported by the sweet strains of his guitar.

Christopher says he really enjoys playing at the market. I live five minutes walk from there, he says.

Guitar lessons

Born in South Australia with total blindness, Christopher grew up in Adelaide. He took guitar lessons and strummed along at church. Then he took the plunge and tried busking at Adelaide's busy Rundle Mall.

Christopher's first experience of busking was positive. But he soon discovered that making a living in Adelaide had its limitations. You're playing pretty much to the same audience, he says.

It wasn't long before Christopher arrived in Melbourne with a guitar in hand. He gained his busker's licence and played his first song at Federation Square to great applause.

A challenge

Finding a suitable busking location is always a challenge, says Christopher. You go and set up somewhere and unbeknownst to you, someone else has set up across the road, he says. The next thing you find oneself being drowned out. Christopher has also found himself being upstaged by nearby pavement artists.

Christopher has now played at many locations around the city. One of his most memorable performances was in Collins Street on a Melbourne Cup Day. Many people in the crowd stayed for a long time. He says it is a great feeling when you've got a group of people in a great mood. Sure, they might have had a few sherbets, but in actual fact that's the best type (of audience) But he still believes the Victoria Market usually serves him best.

Audience appreciation

Audience applause is Christopher's key indicator of people's appreciation of his singing. But donations are also appreciated! Christopher says there have been rare occasions when people have attempted to take his money. Fortunately, others have come to the rescue. Chris was alerted when he heard someone being tackled to the ground.

Christopher does not sell CDs of his music. He would prefer to take mail orders rather than risk someone taking the CDs off the street.

Attitudes to buskers

Christopher believes that attitudes towards buskers with vision impairment have improved over the years. He is also pleased that he has been able to land other gigs from his busking work. Christopher encourages other people with a disability to give busking a try.

Although he now works in debt collection, Christopher has no plans to stop busking. I'm sure it's helped with my people skills, he says. As some people have said, I (now) have almost as much front as the MCG. Christopher says busking has also given him a creative outlet and helped improve his musical skills.

Next time you are near the Victoria Market, listen for the sound of Elvis or The Beatles. It might be Christopher sharing his talents.

Readers comments (1)

Many councils have banned buskers sadly. An expensive licence is now needed which most cannot afford.

They give heavy fines of thousands of dollars if no licence.

We miss the good buskers and believe once or twice a month outside Coles would be great again. Gives seniors a no cost social activity. Singalong and toe tapping - meeting others - the joy it brings.

Not every week or day - nor kids playing violins off key and out of tune either.

Bring back our social inclusion and the buskers

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