Tales of two lost souls.
In late December 2010, Alex and I took to the streets with our guitars, a bag full of flyers for a gig and brimming with confidence. There we were, shivering in the cold after a few hard hours busking, leaning against the black steel fence that protects the war memorial in the Buttermarket. (The Buttermarket is an old square in Canterbury outside the Cathedral gate.) It wasn’t going very well. We were cold, scraping by the skin of our teeth, singing “Waiting on a Sunny Day” in an attempt to warm us up when Hugo came bopping round the corner beatboxing to the rhythm of our guitars. Hugo and Beatboxing. I don’t think I have a single memory of that boy that doesn’t involve beatboxing.
He brought the warmth Alex and I needed into the Buttermarket that day. Within minutes he transformed the cold walls and cobbles into an amphitheatre brimming with life, laughter and smiles. His presence spurred Alex and I on, powering through despite our frozen fingertips. (And I’m not kidding. Try and play guitar when it’s around freezing. Its pretty painful) That boy was always full of surprises and hidden talents. He never failed to amaze me with his beatboxing, breakdancing and weird seagull impression, not to mention his word-perfect rendition of Tina Turner — Proud Mary. His charisma drew in a croud of maybe 30 of 40 people, an assortment of cathedral — going tourists and confused locals. Out of nowhere a homeless man called Kevin made his way to the front of the crowd, hobbling on a walking stick. He stood there on the side-lines for a few seconds watching Hugo do a beatbox off with an incredibly drunk Russian fellow, before throwing down his walking stick and doing a backflip. Yep, he did a backflip. At first I thought he had fallen over until he leapt to his feet engaging Hugo in some kind of intricate dance off. It was probably the most unexpected and surreal moment of my life. A quiet busk had evolved into a street party/dance in a matter of minutes thanks to one guy.
As dusk crept over the cities streets, slowly plunging the Buttermarket into darkness the crowd dispersed, wondering down the cobbled pavements leaving Hugo, Alex and I alone. There was no cloud cover that night and it was bitterly cold. We had an unusual amount of snow that year and although the counsel had done a pretty decent job of clearing the town centre, there was still plenty of crisp and settled snow up on the terrace outside the Morellis Café. The three of us made our way down butchery lane, past Casey’s and up the stairs onto the rooftop garden. We sat there laughing and smoking in the cold evening air. “D’you want any of the money we made”? I asked Hugo, rummaging around in my guitar case for coins. “Nah mate, don’t worry about it” He replied. “Oh come on mate, you helped make all of it” I insisted. “fine, just gimme enough for some fags.” He replied bashfully. We fished out 3 or 4 quid and slid it across the plastic table to him. While this was going on some students had joined us in the deserted rooftop terrace, sitting at another table sharing a crate of beer. When Hugo saw this he leapt up, strutted over to them and said simply “scuze me, can I have a beer”? So taken aback by his confidence and possibly his towering physique they handed one over to him, no questions asked. Beaming, he swaggered back over to our table, bit the bottle cap off, took a swig and passed it round. We “threesed” it between us and got up to leave. At the bottom of the stairs we parted ways and he was off, the beatboxing champ.
Over the days, weeks months and years that followed, Alex and I began busking more and more. Every Saturday we’d take to the streets rain or shine. During school holidays we’d be out almost everyday. The two of us became acquainted with all the other regular buskers and became very much a part of the community. One of those who we got to know was Daniel Lloyd — known to us a Taihg. Taihg was the King of the Corner. The corner of The Highstreet and St Margaret’s street was his. There he’d sit/stand there leaning against the bank, busking his heart to whoever wanted to listen. He was the soundtrack to this city. When I was about 15 before I started busking regularly, I approached him on the corner and asked him if he could buy me some smokes. `’Buy rolling tobacco mate, you get so much more for your money”. Despite my complete incapability to roll cigarettes at that time, I agreed. It was the best smoking related advice I have ever received.
Taihg seemed to be more than just a busker. He was a part of Canterbury, as familiar to me as the very cobbles and brickwork that make the city. He was young, talented and so friendly — the most approachable guy you could ever meet. Canterbury always felt like it was missing something when he embarked on his spontaneous adventures. But he’d always come back. Hearing his voice echo down the streets of Canterbury always gave me a real sense of home. He was an inspiration for so many. Its not easy to articulate exactly how much he influenced me and many others, not through any form of leadership but just from doing what he did: live. He was Canterbury in many ways, a city personified through one incredible human being.
The busking scene in Canterbury is truly unique; we all know each other, are and are all friends. Bands have formed from it, including my own and I like to think that in some way we keep the Canterbury Scene alive. It is one of the few cities in the country where it is completely unlicensed for buskers. We are free to take to the streets, to play, perform and to do our thing pretty much anytime, and pretty much anywhere. Even the local police officers give the occasional nod, smile or stick up for us in the faces of complaining locals. ( Love you PC Sally). We are all so thankful for this law, or rather the lack of law. Busking has made me the person I am today, enabled me to do some life-changing things and created some of the strongest bonds of fellowship I have encountered. I wonder if I would have ever of bothered if I had to acquire a license. Many people look down on the art, and yes, it is an art. I believe it to be one of the purest forms of art. Some even see it as begging. They could not be more wrong,
“When I am busking I am sending out messages to whatever and whoever wants to listen. Reaction and interaction is the reward. The money is a bonus to it all”. — “Taihg” Daniel Lloyd.
Taihg breathed for music, the essence of the streets and the freedom of busking for a living. In late January 2012 Dan and I were walking up the highstreet. It was a Friday night, Friday the 28th to be exact. I felt ever so slightly under the weather but brushed it off, deciding to enjoy the weekend never the less. We ambled through the streets of the cold city that night until we came to the high street and the familiar sound of Taigh’s voice. “Jonas!” I immediately looked around, ignoring the poor girl asking me for directions to see Taihg, Hugo and Pat (another busker) together outside an empty shop front. Dan and I walked over to join the three man street party. Hugo was his cheery self in his big old blue puffer jacket and his dirty trainers. Taihg and Pat seemed a little worse for wear — pat was struggling to stand, slumped against the wall. Taihg smiled at me, taking off his guitar and leaning it against the shop door. I thought about giving him so grief about the disgusting Bornean tobacco he sold us on new years eve a few weeks earlier. “You boys looking for any tobacco?” “Always” I replied. “Best shag of you’re life guys, 4 quid”. He reached into his pocket and brought out a crinkly brown square pouch. Written across the front in bold capital letters was one word “SHAG”. As it happens, it wasn’t the best “shag” of my life — it was disgusting. I decided not to say anything about it and went to pick up his guitar the same way he had done to me in the exact same spot a few weeks prior. “Play something Jonas” called Hugo. “D’you mind mate?” I asked looking for Taihg’s approval. “sure mate, I’m too fucked anyway”. I laughed, picked up his guitar and began strumming. Hugo promptly began beatboxing along and the street was reintroduced to a cacophony of sound.
The song came and went without much fuss. “You coming to the Blind Dog?” I asked Hugo. “Yeah mate, I’ll be there in ten”. “okay see you there” I called already walking up the highstreet.
That was the last time I ever saw Hugo. It was also the last time I saw Taihg.