Busking

I first started busking while still a student, hitch-hiking round Europe with  some friends from college.

Ed Alleyne-Johnson Busking in York 2013

Ed Alleyne-Johnson Busking in York 2013

Since my bass guitar was too big and heavy to hitch-hike with, I dusted off my Grandpa’s old violin, sprayed it metallic purple and stuck a Barcus-Berry pick-up on the bridge. Played through a small battery-powered amp, it was portable, and sounded great! We busked all round Europe; Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Florence, even round the  Greek islands, busking to earn the ferry-fare to our next destination.

It was my first taste of real freedom and life on the road, and I loved it!  Once I slept underneath the Eiffel tower on a starry summer night, using my violin case as a pillow.  In the mid 1980′s the first digital delay effects pedals were invented, just when I needed them! These produced echoes and loops just like a Copicat, but were portable and battery- powered, and so could be used on the street for busking.

My first digital delay was an Ibanez DDL, which only had a 2 second delay, but I soon learnt how to capture short phrases on the violin and then improvise harmonies over the top of them. I started using a Boss Octaver pedal  which enabled me to play bass lines on the violin, mimicking a bass guitar. Armed with these two pedals, I started busking on my own, first in Oxford, then travelling by coach and train all over the country. I gradually added other effect pedals to my set-up; phaser, harmoniser and wah-wah, and built them into a home-made pedal-board.

After taking part in several Anti-Nuclear Missile demonstrations at the Upper Heyford Air Base and reading Doris Lessing’s ‘Report on the Threatened City’ I came to the realisation that the human race was on the brink of insanity and self-destruction; our leaders had let us down, and the world was facing a very real threat of nuclear annihilation!

This inspired me to try and compose a soundtrack for the society around me, bittersweet violin music combining sadness for the current state of the world with optimism for the future, and faith in the underlying goodness of humanity.  That’s how ‘Purple Electric Violin Concerto’ was conceived, as a sort of musical antidote to the alienation of modern city life, which could be played live in city centres and draw people together in a shared experience.

In 1985, my Grandpa’s old violin got seriously damaged in a bar in Amsterdam. I decided to design and build a solid-body electric violin to replace it. I got some seasoned walnut, maple and oak from a harpsichord manufacturer, and fashioned them into a new violin using a jig-saw, a router, an electric sander, and a small Kitchen-devil knife which I used to hand-carve the neck and head-stock. I built a guitar pre-amp pedal into the body, and used a Barcus-Berry pick-up, after seeking advice from legendary Fairport Convention violinist Dave Swarbrick, who I met backstage after seeing his new band Whippersnapper perform in Oxford.  A few weeks later, my new violin was finished, and my first performance with it was at Richard Branson’s birthday party, held in a marquee in the grounds of Virgin’s Manor recording studio.

53 Responses to “Busking”

  1. Piggy June 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm #

    Hey how about a little tour?

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson June 9, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

      No tours planned at present, but new album on the way soon!

  2. jogga June 15, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    I’m recently displaced from merseyside to yorkshire. It’s good to know you’re on the doorstep. All power to your bow!

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson June 16, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

      Many thanks! I busk in York most Saturdays (weather permitting!) and sometimes midweek as well.
      It’s a long drive from Liverpool, but the council in my home town won’t let buskers sell CDs of their music!

  3. Gibran June 16, 2014 at 5:34 am #

    hey, i’m from méxico, i like so much your violin’s sound and the music that you create whith your violin and efects, i play the violin and tank’s to you i discover this magical way to play a violin. tank’s for your beautiful music. sorry for my bad english. i will wait for your new album.

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson June 16, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying playing the violin! I think the 21st century
      will see a big rediscovery of bowed instruments of all types!

      • Gibran June 17, 2014 at 6:14 am #

        thank’s for answer, sure the art ever will find new ways, is our spirit and fealings what make beautiful the art. t’anks again

        • Craig July 27, 2014 at 10:44 am #

          Hi,

          Saw you in Chester yesterday, really good !

  4. Paul Maggs June 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm #

    Missed you at chester on june 1st. Gutted you were just packing up. When will you be there again? Thank you

  5. paul tomaney June 22, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi
    Where in ork could we catch you? We re up in Durham and would love to catch you one day- Thanks

  6. James from Stratford Upon Avon June 23, 2014 at 1:15 am #

    Listened to you in Chester today, outside Central Perk, the coffee was good, but you were excellent. I’m pleased I bought one of your CDs to listen on my way home to Stratford Upon Avon. Thank-you for sharing your talent. James

  7. Ian Turner June 27, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    Saw and heard you play in Chester yesterday: was mightily impressed and your choice of music. skill and style of presentation was superb. All the best for the future and thank you for the moment.

  8. Zead Said July 8, 2014 at 1:41 am #

    Is there a list of where EA-J is planning to busk?
    Any plans to go to Sheffield?
    I caught a very brief glimpse at York a while ago. I have to admit, I’m tempted to hop across to York Saturday morning to have a coffee and listen then inevitably buy another CD.

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson July 30, 2014 at 9:48 pm #

      Can’t say for definite – it depends on the weather!

  9. Oscar July 19, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

    Hello Ed!
    I wonder if I could ask you a question about the very first release of ‘Purple Violin Concerto’?
    I first bought it many years ago, motivated I seem to recall by the TV add that featured part of ‘Inner City Music’ .. was it for some sort of cereal? … I can’t remember at the minute!
    Anyhow I’ve been a fan of yours ever since and bought just about every CD up until ‘Arpeggio’ , your latest, the anniversary special is next on my list!
    Imagine my surprise though when I found that there is a Vinyl LP release in Greece of your first CD!!
    Here’s some details from the excellent ‘Discogs’ web-site …
    http://www.discogs.com/Ed-Alleyne-Johnson-Purple-Electric-Violin-Concerto/release/2747691
    I immediately bought one from a Greek seller, playing it now in fact and it sounds damn good!, but I can’t help wondering if this is a legit release or some sort of forgery?
    Any thoughts Ed?
    Nice work on the new web-site by the way!
    All the best to you and your family … cheers!

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson July 30, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

      Hi! Thanks for your kind letter – The TV ad was for Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, in which a vampire can’t resist one more bowl. and gets blasted by the rising sun!
      The Greek LP is definitely a bootleg, but I’d love to hear a copy; I always wanted to release a vinyl record, but CDs had taken over when I finally recorded it!
      (Although the’Vagabonds’ single by NMA on which I played violin was released as a 7″, 10″ and 12″ single as well as CD!)

      • Oscar August 10, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

        Thanks for that info Ed, bootleg it is then?, I did wonder!
        Interesting idea though, I’m imagining a double LP re-release of your 1st and 2cds on ‘purple’ vinyl … quite a prospect don’t you think!!
        I’m looking forward to it …

        • Ed Alleyne-Johnson August 13, 2014 at 5:24 pm #

          Actually, having looked it up online, it appears to be a legitimate China Records pressing licenced from our original label Equation (although they never told me they’d had it pressed!)

  10. Sue July 23, 2014 at 10:10 am #

    Hey Ed,
    I’m trying to remember which year I went to Glastonbury. I cannot recall which bands I saw however I clearly remember seeing you play within a campsite/walkway and you had cassettes for sale and this is the moment that stuck with me. Which year did you do that? I’m thinking 87, 89?
    As an aside I used to work in record shops and played Purple Electric Violin Concerto to many punters when it was released, as I loved it and consequently sold on your Cd’s to them. Thank you

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson July 30, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

      Hi! It was probably 92, as PEVC wasnt recorded until April of that year! ( I might have been selling some live tapes at Stonehenge on previous occasions!)

  11. Jane and Deb July 26, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    We had our lunch in York yesterday – you were playing outside. Thank you very much! Superb, esp liked the Coldplay and Pachabel’s Canon. Got Jane playing your cd’s when she got home. High point of my holiday in Yorkshire!!

  12. samantha duffy August 7, 2014 at 10:21 am #

    Yesterday on a day trip from Newcastle, I was very fortunate to come across this fine musician busking on the streets of York. The music you played was wonderful and very touching to the soul, even bringing a tear to my eye.
    A truley inspiring artist which i hope one day to see again. I will be purchasing your cds and if you’re ever in Newcastle on tour PLEASE let me know. Hearing you play was the highlight of my day in York, thank you for doing what you do.

  13. Daz Humphreys August 16, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    Hi Ed
    Can you tellme if you’re in chester or Liverpool anytime soon? My daughter loves watching you on youtube and wants to see you live!
    cheers
    Daz

  14. stephanie jervis August 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    I used to watch you on the streets of Oxford, I brought your cd with my last 10 pounds and still have it and even more so I still listen to it 20 years on!

  15. Tom McCauley August 20, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    Hi Ed,

    Great playing in Chester today. Well done! Liking the “Echoes” album too.

    With regards,
    Tom

  16. Paul Andjelkovich September 5, 2014 at 10:46 am #

    Hi Ed
    I was in Chester on Wednesday the 3rd September. Were i happly stumbled on you playing in front of the Forum Shopping Centre, I had to stop and watch as you played amazingly. I would love to know what the song you where playing was as it sounded magical. I managed to record a snippit of the song but couldn’t work out what it was.I hope on my next visit to Chester i can watch you play again.

  17. Pam October 21, 2014 at 10:45 pm #

    I was in York a couple of weeks ago and heard this amazing music coming from somewhere around Browns store. I then saw that is was you and I was totally blown away. Bought the two cds that you had available and I am enjoying Echoes very much and playing it for friends and family. Thank you very much for a very enjoyable experience a great memory of York.

  18. Ian Padarasz November 2, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    Hi Ed,We saw you in York 24th October 2014 having just came off the Northern Belle (Orient Express) from Edinburgh,I was celebrating my 60th birthday.Your music is in a class of its own, your talent is phenomenal we could have listened to you all day,my wife was in tears because it was so beautiful .I bought your echoes c d which we are currently listening to. Thank you for adding to a special birthday .Regards Ian,

  19. Carleton November 28, 2014 at 8:52 pm #

    Hi Ed,
    Going into to Chester tomorrow 29/11 hope to see you there.
    I have 2 of your CDs, but there is nothing like the real sound.
    Regards,
    Carleton

  20. Jonathan Powell November 28, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    Hey Ed,
    I work as a street fundraiser for Greenpeace and saw you in Chester on tuesday…an absloute joy to behold!I see alot of buskers in many different places in my job and have to say you are by far the best!Ive watched videos of you live on youtube and will be buying your music.I live in Birmingham now so hopefully will see you there someday but am originally from Sheffield so will definitely come and see you in York on a saturday!

    Keep up the great work!You should definitely be on BBC 6 music….

    All the best,
    Jonathan

  21. mark walker December 7, 2014 at 11:00 pm #

    hi,got all yr albums,saw u both im chester and York,anything new comin up.
    love to u in notts,

  22. Gorey December 14, 2014 at 5:09 am #

    Saw you in Chester whilst on holiday there last February. Listened to your fabulous music for over an hour. Wife had to drag me away and I bought your Echo’s CD. Now you music is blasted out of my Ute all over Western Australia.
    Thanks for sharing your Talent.
    Wish you could do a tour here and inspire people.

  23. Mark April 15, 2015 at 5:37 pm #

    I am from Canada. I found you on youtube while I was searching for interesting music I hadn’t heard before. What you can do is absolutely incredible. To say you are one of the most gifted men in the world world would not be an exaggeration. I always thought it would be cool to visit England someday but after hearing you play one of my dreams now is to go there and watch you busk. I wish you and your family great success, health, and happiness.

  24. Clare July 17, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    Hi Ed

    Wow!!! There is nothing to beat live music, and i was lucky enough to hear you last Friday in York. Sadly i had to go to an appointment or i would have stayed to listen all day, the talent you have is something else andi was actually moved to tears, every hair on my body was on end!!! I played the violin as a child, yet i have not played for 25 years, yesterday i bought myself a new violin, thank you for the inspiration to play again. I would love to know if you have any plans for a concert at any time as i would love to come.

    Love and Light to you and your family

    Clare

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson August 3, 2015 at 4:50 pm #

      No concerts in the near future, but I’ll be busking in Chester tomorrow (aug 4th) and in York wed 5th and fri 7th,
      playing some new tracks from the forthcoming new album! Glad to hear you’ve taken up the violin again!
      cheers – Ed

  25. Bill October 12, 2015 at 10:17 pm #

    Hi Ed,

    Saw you busking at the York food festival in Sept.
    I was visiting from the US and was pretty amazed at your playing and skill with the pedals and looping. I listened and then got lunch and came back to listen some more! I also bought Echo’s and was pleasantly surprised to get a 2 disc set! I love the mix of acoustic soaring violin and dirty electric violin. Better than most guitarists I know.

    Probably the best street musician that weekend in York.

    I have several photos and a video of you from York. If you have somewhere , I could upload them for you.

    Keep it up and cheers from the US!
    Bill

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson October 13, 2015 at 9:11 am #

      Hi Bill,
      Thanks for your kind comments!
      My new album ‘Pluto’ is being mixed at the moment and should be available early next year.
      Best wishes
      Ed

  26. Fiddler On The Roof October 28, 2015 at 2:03 am #

    Hi Ed, what a surprise we had today, 27th October at about 2:30pm, whilst walking through the streets of York……..yes we heard the sound of a violinist busking away! Nothing unusual I suppose for many, but a first for my ten and eight year old sons Joshua and Charlie (the two blonde boys, who gave you the only cash I had in my pocket), it was a meeting of chance as they both play violin (Charlie the drums too) for our local youth orchestra. Both their tutor and I keep telling them how they could always earn a few bob with their musical talents by busking on the streets. So to bump into you, although unaware of your fame at the time, was just perfect and has given them both even more enthusiasm and hunger to play!! Just wanted to say thanks for the performance (although it make have cost me an electric violin or two) and inspiration you have given my boys. Hope we bump into you again sometime soon. Terry AKA Dad.

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson October 28, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

      Hi Joshua and Charlie! Glad you enjoyed the music; keep up the good work – violin is a very useful instrument to learn and it helps you play other instruments as well, like bass & guitar. Did you know the electric mandolin has the same tuning as a violin? You can also buy little pick-ups to stick on the bridge of your own violin if an electric violin is too expensive!
      Best wishes
      Ed

  27. Mick April 29, 2016 at 10:04 am #

    Bought your CD off you yesterday (I was the considerate one that put some change on the note so it didn’t fly out of your case) I watched you picatta for 10 seconds and that was me sold.

  28. Gavin June 19, 2016 at 6:48 pm #

    Hello Ed,really enjoyed hearing you play in Chester today whilst on a visit from Harlech.It was a lovely surprise as I have owned some of your work for years.My friends were very impressed.
    Gavin

  29. Emilie August 12, 2016 at 5:44 pm #

    Hi! I stumbled upon videos of some of your performances (moonlight shadow and pachelbel’s canon), and I had to somehow let you know that your music moved me to tears. People like you make the world a better, more beautiful place. Thanks a lot.

  30. Lee September 26, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    I have been a fan for over 20 years after a friend came across a your music on a cassette in the local library where he loaned it for a week, which he played to me blown away by the music. About 3 years ago I was in Browns of Chester where I heard this music which I recognized, thought it was Browns playing it through the store, sounded like Pia nope, as I wandered through the store it was getting louder so I followed where it was coming from which lead me outside of Browns to a busker. It took me a few mins to realize who I was looking at and listening too which brought a smile to my heart. Thank you Ed Alleyne Johnson.

  31. Jean October 22, 2016 at 9:47 pm #

    Having heard your music for the first time while xmas shopping in York last year I had to find where the music was coming from. When I saw you playing I instantly bought you echoes cd and have loved it since. My only regret is not having enough time to sit and enjoy it live then. I would love to know if you plan to be back around the xmas markets this year x

  32. Gauthier October 27, 2016 at 10:55 pm #

    Hi Ed,
    Back in the early 90′s, when I was a teenager, I discovered your music and bought your two first CD’s which I listened to quite a lot. They still have a place in my music library.
    Two days ago I surfed on the visityork.org website because I had just bought tickets for a city-trip with my wife and I wanted to prepare our visit. As I was watching a short video about the city on the homepage I immediately recognised that purple violin of yours (even if it is appearing for 1/2 second)!
    And I thought “no way…”?! I didn’t know you were regularly busking in the streets of York. If by any chance you are planning to play there next Wednesday or Thursday just let me know (depending on the weather, I know). We are from Belgium so it would be a great opportunity to see you performing live!
    Best regards,
    Gauthier

  33. PAUL DINNAGE November 12, 2016 at 2:39 pm #

    Hi Ed….what are your plans for 2017? Do you think Canada will be on your list of locations again?

    BIG FAN!

    Paul

    • Nina Moore September 26, 2017 at 5:18 am #

      I too would LOVE to see Ed in Canada! Come on over!

  34. David Miller December 6, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

    I was was visiting York on Sat/Sun to pick child up from University and heard the distictive sound of Ed’s violin sounds over the heard of people and like the pied piper I quickly headed to his spot and enjoyed seeing the real Ed play “in Real Life”
    I even had to buy another Echo and was pleased to hear there’s another CD on its way in the New Year.
    David Miller

  35. Kris January 28, 2017 at 10:47 pm #

    Hi Ed, probably at the start of spring I’ll visit York. It might be good weather then… any chance I see and hear you play there? Regards Kris

    • Ed Alleyne-Johnson February 21, 2017 at 11:12 am #

      Hi Kris!
      Yes, I’m in York most Saturdays when the weather’s fine!
      Cheers! Ed

  36. Rob May 26, 2017 at 5:46 pm #

    Ed please come and perform at the Parr Hall Warrington – I was first blown away by PEVC back in the early 90′s – and listened to it today and thought its still bang on 25 years later – like liquid silk for the ears.

  37. Graywolf August 16, 2017 at 3:47 pm #

    Ed, caught you last Saturday in York, absolutely blown away with your sound and style. We had a few words with you and bought Echoes at the same time, played it driving home and then bought “arpeggio” and “ultraviolet”, not received them yet but really looking forward to listening when I get them. Sadly bought them from Amazon but will purshase future discs from your website. Playing Echoes disc 2 as I write. Many thanks for such beautiful and thought evoking music. All the very best to to you and your family

  38. Keith August 16, 2017 at 4:04 pm #

    Hi Ed, caught you in York last Saturday, I was filling in time waiting to meet my wife when I heard this fantastic music, tracked you down and stood opposite for about 20 minutes just listening (made me late meeting up with “the boss”) but well worth it. We spoke to you for a few minutes and bought “Echoes” from you, played it on the drive home and just loved it to bits. Went online as soon as I got home and bought “arpeggio” and “ultraviolet” simply by the reviews. Sadly bought them from Amazon but will buy from the website in future. Thank you for your beautiful, haunting and thought provoking music. Hopefully will catch up with you again in York as we live close by. All the very best to you and your family.

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