But it’s not always the glitz (more rats) & glamour (more smackheads) that are so obviously lacking when you return to your humble Mother Soil. It’s often just the small things. Walking along the greyer, more gum-spotted pavement of my hometown, I realise it’s not food stalls as there are still an abundance of those being manned by sixth-generation jacket-potato sellers (looking like they’re using the same sixth-generation oven and sporting the same sixth-generation teeth, with knuckles like ping pong balls sellotaped onto twigs). And there’s no shortage of latte-quaffing arses sat outside Costa, ignorant to the futility of their tapping away at a laptop. Then it becomes apparent. Where are the sounds of steel drums? Of old violins? Where are the street performers? AND WHERE IS THE BLOODY ACCORDION?!
A 2 month old puppy trying to run across polished laminate flooring... Fearne Cotton having her feet nailed to a train platform and her eyelids hooked onto a passing high-speed service: these are perhaps the only things more cheering to me than the sound of ‘Yellow Bird’ pouring out from the silver dome of pure joy that is a steel drum whilst I walk to whatever ultimately pointless activity I am partaking in of the day. And there’s never just one – in fact, I can walk along New Street in Birmingham and from Zara up to HSBC, I can be on a Jamaican beach with palm trees and cocktails in half-coconuts and the 45 bus to West Heath passing through; and then from Waterstones to Tesco Metro, I’ll experience the heady rushes of flamenco acoustic guitar with flourishing runs of passionate material flinging, eyes as dark as night staring with a crazed lust and the staccato stabs of swarthy Save the Children charity workers locking you in a deep embrace with a clipboard; and then from Superdrug to Café Rouge (the one that’s ok, but their dauphinoise potatoes are a bit peppery so try the one at The Mailbox), I’m transported to a celebration in a small village of Romania with tambourines and violins as rustic as the curly mullets sported by the musicians themselves, bringing some slight merriment despite the season’s bad harvest, a tethered goat nearby and the smell of traditional Gregg’s sausage rolls wafting in from four shops up. This is what is missing in smaller towns.
Of course, where there is good there shall always lie evil and I am not in the business of proclaiming all street performers are there solely for the advancement of mankind. Living statues, for example (not to be confused with the majority of the Conservative party who are also (barely) living statues). They’re only good for scaring children* (*me) and showing us what a policeman or cowboy would look like were we still all in black & white, before colour TV. And street performers who sing – no, I don’t like those. You’re just far too showy, and if I want to scoff at a scruff amateurishly singing a song I probably don’t like in the first place, there’s The X Factor. The Dalai Lama himself would have to hold back from roundhouse kicking some shabby hipster in the Underground warbling Savage Garden at you.
Small towns need more street performers. Tell your friends, neighbours and colleagues in the hope of inspiring them. Give your Gran a unicycle, or teach your vicar how to slutdrop. It’s a bleak world in which we live – things like ‘double-dip recession’, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Peaches Geldof’ exist. Gin and screaming alone won’t make these things go away; although they certainly help, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the complete set by throwing in the occasional fiddler outside Peacocks. Or perhaps I should just cash in on this incentive, and create a “Sounds of the Streets” download for the devices of the modern town-dweller too busy to use their ears to take in their surroundings. Featuring such classics as “Cool Calypso” and “Sweary Tramp #2”, I’ll be on that private yacht in no time. Or flat broke and performing on the streets.