14 MARCH 1931, Page 10

The Street Artist


HE hailed my car between Newhaven and Lewes, and at once I was interested. His strong flaxen beard was neatly trimmed : his eyes were blue ; and there was something clean and rollicking in his face which made me think that he had heard the call of the sea. Only the square black box which he balanced on his knee beside me puzzled me. It was not a sailor's box and I suggested that he might be more comfortable if he put it on the back seat. His reply was frank, if not particularly gracious.

" Your back springs are too rough, and I'm taking no risks," he said. " The box would get bumped to bits back there."

That was that : and I said nothing. It was the way to make him talk.

He bore my indifference for perhaps ten minutes and then : " Ever seen a box like this," he said. - " It!s my own patent : I made it myself : I used to be a cobbler."

The box opened in two like a Gladstone bag. One side was partitioned into pigeon-holes of all sizes and shapes and each pigeon-hole was full. In one was a cake of soap, in another a sponge, in another a nail-brush, in a fourth a hairbrush and comb. And dovetailed among these larger compartments were smaller slots, full of different coloured chalks. Strapped into the other side of the box was a clarionet in two sectio congratulated my friend and told him that I felt I could read his character from his box. " A man of parts," I said, " and you certainly know how to look after your things. And you follow the arts ? " He gave me a slow smile of condescension.

" Not bad," he replied. " I gave up being a cobbler two years ago, because they told me that my lungs were going, and that I must try an open-air life. Nowadays I get quite as much open air as I want. Of course, don't sleep out. I don't need to. Now that I am getting known in my district as a clean man I never have any trouble about getting good lodgings cheap. But the open air is no fun in weather like yesterday. Were you out in that storm ? It came down like hell in Newhaven, where I was, and ruined my week-end ! "

I told him that my week-end had been ruined too, and that I had to stay indoors all day.

"It is easy to see that you don't have to work for your living," he retorted contemptuously. " I had to stay out of doors all day, playing my clarionet outside the pubs ; and my hands got so cold that I could hardly play a note. Not 'that that made much difference. In that weather everybody stayed in their houses and the pubs had just as bad a time as I had. I only made 1 s. 9d. in two days. The week before I was at Seaford and made 12s."

I asked him if he had always been fond of music.

" Never touched a note," he replied, " until a year ago when another street artist, who was fed-up with the clarionet and after a saxophone on the hire system, swopped his clarionet with me for a pair of boots:" " And did he teach you how to play ? " I asked.

" Oh, no. No one ever taught me how to play. I play by car, and I know about ten tunes now. I play them one after the other, and when they are finishe I start all over again!'

" And what tunes do you find go down best ? "

" Well, that depends on -where I am. At a pla-ce like Seaford, when the weathei is good, all the old ladies are sitting out on the free seats on the front and I give theili a bit - of " Trovatore P and Tosti and " Pale . Islands." They like that_ sort of stuff. At Dorking the other , day, an old lady asked, for "Goodbye-" twice, and gave me. 2s. 6d. • I told her • to make it 3s. 6d. and I. would . play it four times. But the pubs want different sort of stuff. Still, I think I know. now what they do want. You've got to study them like the old ladies. There are British Legion pubs : .I give them " Tipperary " and "Pack up your Troubles.". At Newhaven and Rye and Deal I give them "Toms Bowling!' and " All the Nice Girls." Give each of them what they want and they pay. But, as a matter of fact, I am getting fed-up with this clarionet. It requires a lot of wind, and its blooming hard to blow on a cold day, and there is blooming little noise, even when you do blow. If I get a chance, I am going to sell mine and get a concertina. It plays itself."

" Does it ? " I queried. " You've tried.? "

. He gave me another of his condescending smiles.

" No, but I am all right on a mouth-organ, and its the same idea—blow and suck. I have always said to myself that I could make a concertina talk. Do you , play anything ? "

I told him that I could play the piano quite well with my right hand.

" You would be no good in my line," he shrugged " You can't cart pianos about with you."

I preferred to change the subject.

" I saw some chalks in your box," I began.

" Well, I paint a bit."

" Pavement artist? "

" Yes ; when I am not a musician. I play over the week-ends when the pubs are full ; but the rest of the time, I draw pictures at the street corner. But the profession is getting a bit crowded. Not that it matters to me much, because I am well known now all the way round from Dorking to Tunbridge Wells and down to Deal and out to Worthing. That is my beat. I have got my own pitch everywhere, and the others don't dare to pinch it, if they know I'm about. You have got to make a reputation for yourself. I made mine at Crowborough about two months after I started. I got there and found another fellow drawing on my bit of pavement and I socked him one in the eye, and told him to have a good look at my face and never get the wrong side of it again. Since then I have had no trouble.

You see, if you go in ,for being a street artist, you get to know everybody and everybody gets to know you, and if you pay, your bills in the lodging-houses, you will always be respected, and other fellows won't try to jump you ! "

" But, do you always get into lodging-houses ? Don't you ever have to go to the Union ? "

" Never been in one in my life. They are too rough for me. Not that lodging-houses aren't a bit rough sometimes. But.I look after myself.. It's. the only way ; otherwise everything gets pinched. When I started, if a fellow asked me for the loan of my. soap in the morning, I used to lend it to him, and five times out of six I never got it back. That is why I keep it in a little box of its own—the same with the toothbrush. Not that anybody ever asked to borrow., that. And one way and another I have made good,‘ and I don't know that one day or other I won't settle down and marry. I met a woman. the other day who wanted to marry me. She danced. a bit. and played the bones, and we might have made a sort of touring .shoiv. But I think she was, a bit close with her money, I told her I would take her on if she paid me £5 down, Then it was all off.'! One way and another my friend's narration of his brilliant career had gradually established-such ascendency over me that I became as putty in his hands. I was for East Grinstead ; he for a pavement pitch at Hayward's Heath ; but when we came- to a junction where our roads forked, " Left," he said, and left -I went. When we got to irayward's Heath the pubs were open and I suggested that -he-should have a pint -of beer with me. - • " Never touch .a drop before evening," he said. " Gives me hiecoughs=and no- one can play the clarionet if he is hiccoughing.-