Thursday, March 15, 2018

RIP Jonny Walker

Back when I was heavily involved in the London Underground Licensed busking scheme, I was more or less randomly* asked to go on RT TV to talk about the flaws in the Busk In London scheme then being set up. I was, as you can imagine, terrified. Busking, I can do. Performing music in public, yes. Being interviewed on telly? Not so much a thing I am used to, or indeed have ever had happen before or since.

I was also well aware that it was a great shame that they were not instead talking to Jonny Walker, who, as founder of the Keep Streets Live campaign, and author of the Liverpool Best Practise Guidelines for busking, was far more knowledgeable and articulate on the subject than I was. I'd tried in vain to get RT to interview Jonny instead of me. But, no, they wanted a London busker.

So, the night before the interview, I did the next best thing: I got his number off the Keep Streets Live campaign website and I rang him. Out of the blue. A complete stranger. "Hello Jonny," I said. "Sorry to bother you. We've never met, my name is Wayne, and I'm being interviewed on the telly about the Busk In London thing tomorrow. Do you have time for a chat?"

And he did. We spoke for a couple of hours in the end, not just about my interview and the Best Practise Guidelines, and how I could best explain them on his behalf, but also about busking in general, music in general, and life in general. He was warm and friendly and funny and extremely generous with his time given that he didn't know me from Adam. I was left feeling that I had cold-called someone and ended up making a friend.

Tonight I learned that Jonny has passed away, far far too young. Most people who encountered him did so through his busking - he played regularly in towns across the UK, or his music, widely available online. People who already knew him... already knew him. Those who didn't may not realise just how lovely, big-hearted and generous a bloke he was.

I only spoke to him once; we never did end up meeting in person after all, but I've been banging on to people about Keep Streets Live both before and since then - a uniquely powerful force defending buskers and busking in the UK. Beyond his music, his legacy lives on in the Best Practise Guidelines and the long reach of the educational side of his work with buskers, with local authorities, with the police, and with local businesses co-operating fairly and sensibly with buskers in the streets outside.
RIP Jonny Walker

 * By 'randomly' I mean I'd written an article in the Guardian about it, but I still fail to see why this means I was a First Call for talking about it live. I was crap in the end, like a rabbit in the headlights, except for the bit where they let me play guitar.