The Voice of London brings you inside the world of a London’s busker. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to CJ Stephens.
Words: Mattia Bosio, Subeditor: Cerys Kenneally
Busking, or street performing, is a form of art that goes as far as a man can remember. Performed all over the world by men, women and children of all ages, busking is a way to entertain the crowd, to show off your own skills and, most importantly, earn some money.
Performances include everything that people find entertaining. From acrobats to comedians, magicians and painters, buskers take over the spots of all the major cities in the world.
In London, a city full of explosive musicians and talented voices, music is the form of art that predominates. From the underground tunnels to the Southbank walk, from Covent Garden to Camden Town, buskers spice up your commuting and entertain you on your shopping day.
“Home is where the heart is”
Cameron Stephens, aka CJ Stephens, has come a long way from Brisbane, Australia. Indeed, Australia. I know, you might say why on earth would an Aussie want to move to London? But for a musician, there is probably no better place in the world.
Cameron is a qualified Paramedic and Registered Nurse back home. Fresh off the boat, he never leaves his guitar alone, playing gigs as a solo artist around the city.
“I think London holds such appeal, especially for the folk back home because it’s a funky city with plenty going on, and on top of that it’s a gateway to the rest of Europe, so close and cheap to get international. So you begin to realise why so many people make the move. That’s the main appeal for me anyway – travel. Plus you guys have a kick-ass pub culture!”
One of CJ’s goals moving to the UK was to export his Australian, mellow folk, funk/rock to the European scene. “I would throw myself out onto the streets and start giving it a crack” he says.
CJ finds busking one of the purest, most authentic and exciting forms of art. There is something magic about being outside in the sun, and taking your music to the city, adding another element of entertainment to people’s day. “Money really isn’t a factor in it for me personally, it would be purely out of the love of playing that entices me.”
“My first experience with a guitar was with my Dad’s old Yamaha 12-string that he used to have lying around. According to Mum, Dad used to be quite handy on it but then for whatever reason put it down and hasn’t played since. Then My brother was the first to pick it up and fool around on it. I think I used to sit and watch and listen to him jammin’ and that was a kind of a catalyst for me. So one day in grade four I took my guitar into school and my teacher, who played for the class every now and then, showed me a few chords and from then on my love for it just continued to grow. From there on I just continued to develop into a style I liked, incorporating loops, effects, stomp-box, harmonica and vocals.”
His music is characterised by elements of Blues n’ Roots and folk, mixed with a bit of pop. Taking a lot of inspiration from some great Australian bands and artists such as Xavier Rudd, John Butler and The Beautiful Girls, he tries, with an extremely open mind, to incorporate the tones of various artists from all around the world with many different styles and genres.
He revealed his influences when I asked him what his favourite song was.
“Ocean, by John Butler. It’s song that I kinda listen to when I need to zone out and rid myself of any negative energy floating around. The s**t that man can do on guitar is out of this world. I’ve spent years trying to learn it by watching videos over and over and have finally started to get the hang of it, except he changes it every single time he plays which doesn’t help.”
However, according to CJ, moving to London and becoming a busker allowed him to diversify his musical taste. Beside those artists he grew up with, he became closer to genres like electro and techno, widening his experience and style.
For CJ Stephens the relationship of the artist/audience is one of the most important things for a musician, and even more fundamental for a busker. He tries to hug the crowd with melodic sounds and lets the guitar transmit the passion.
“Being the artist on stage looking out of the crowd it’s a pretty awesome feeling to imagine. Hundreds of people coming together to hear your stories and songs. It would definitely be the dream job but there’s a lot of work, and external factors that influence that potential.”
The main point of being a busker for him is to be able to constantly move and change places, which is the best way to live the city. In addition, playing solo gives you the freedom to make decisions yourself according to what, and where, you love most. “Red Rocks in the States looks like an incredible venue and one that I will definitely tick off the list one day. I think my favourite venue I’ve been to was back home in Kuranda, near Cairns in North Queensland. Kuranda is a beautiful little town surrounded by rainforest, and then venue was in this small natural amphitheatre. It was raining lightly and lit up with lights, it looked pretty spectacular.”
CJ expressed his experiences and feelings, and made me understand how much he loves the city and what he’s doing now, “My life is awesome, chilled and exciting right now”. Then he shared a little ‘secret’ about himself: “I think anyone who plays music wants to be able to do it full time and tour behind it. However realistically I have a few small, short term goals. Firstly I wanna keep on busking and doing some gigs around London, not with any goal in mind but just for some fun. In the long run I definitely have goals of playing in a band and recording another song or EP.”
“For me music is still just a hobby, a love of mine and some fun. I’ve never put pressure on myself so I don’t face troubles. If anything the biggest troubles I’ve had so far is carting all my gear around, having a bad day with the voice/sound or screwing up a loop live, that one always hurts!”.
“I had the pleasure of recording my first single this year with a producer and absolute legend, Steve Thornely, which was an unreal experience. He developed my song into this huge sound and took it to a place I never would have imagined it going from jamming it out at home and playing it live. The things that wizard could do was pretty amazing.”
“I’d like to think my music continues to change and develop with time and as I draw on a greater range of artists and influences. However I will always have an affliction for Blues, Folk and Rock. In terms of themes, it is usually just a reflection of a thought, or feeling, or ideal that I happen to have at the time. The song I recorded earlier this year definitely has political undertones. I just try to let all happen naturally and not force the song, hence the reason I might have to let the developing song rest for so long.”