Aberdeen city centre is finally blossoming back into life after a long winter hibernation.
Among the friendly chatter of pals meeting up for a coffee and the bustle of shoppers making their way along Union Street, the sound of live music has added to the upbeat atmosphere.
Whether it be the distant thrum of some familiar chords, a teenager singing her own lyrics or even some rock and roll classics reimagined on the accordion, there’s no shortage of variety on offer.
We are taking our hats off to the buskers today at a time when the council is considering new rules to govern the practice, and we asked the performers themselves what they make of the plans.
‘It’s nice to see people happy again’
Sporting shades and with long hair flowing past his shoulders, accordion player Daniel Cameron is more Jim Morrison than Jimmy Shand.
The 26-year-old only picked up the squeezebox, a favourite of Scottish entertainment legends, last year as lockdown robbed him of his livelihood carrying out piano and keyboard tuition around Peterhead.
But it quickly became his new passion, and Daniel soon decided to put his own twist on the instrument as he travelled back and forth to Aberdeen to perform in the streets.
As well as playing some staples, he is known to dazzle crowds with performances of tunes like Light My Fire by The Doors.
He said: “I had been playing the piano in the house but obviously you can’t take it out anywhere with you for a jam.
“I ended up busking when lockdown restrictions meant I couldn’t carry on doing my tuition.
“It’s a source of income but it’s also become this strong passion.”
Daniel added: “I have been playing a range of things; Russian folk music is quite lively and gets people dancing.
“But I also do traditional stuff, my own arrangements and even covers of rock and pop stuff, like Light My Fire by The Doors.”
The Peterhead native has become so taken with busking that he wishes he could do it “every day” and tries to get into Aberdeen to play as often as he can.
“I have seen the town completely dead”, he said.
“But in the past few weeks the life has started to come back, it feels like there is colour again when before it felt quite grey and drab.
“It’s nice to see people happy again, there has been a lack of that for too long.”
Daniel plays during the day so is unlikely to face any sanctions if new rules are applied to busking at night.
He thinks any new rules should restrict the likes of people “playing AC/DC on an amp outside houses”.
‘The dream is to be big eventually’
Fingers trembling with nerves, Abaigh McMenaman took her place outside the Trinity Centre earlier this year to busk for the first time.
Abaigh, 19, has since played a few more times and says her confidence grew as she watched the city centre become busier.
The aspiring performer arrived in the city from Arbroath in September to study music at Aberdeen University.
Though she has been denied the sort of experience she had been hoping for, Abaigh still managed to impress her tutors and pass her first year.
Abaigh said: “I’d never busked before but thought it was an opportunity I should take while in the big city.
“I just started when things began to gradually open up more.
“It is always intimidating, especially on a busy day.
“But it’s always so nice when somebody stops to have a listen or says something, it makes you feel appreciated.
“And the more you do it, the more confident you get.”
Abaigh writes her own songs and plays her own compositions alongside popular tracks by the likes of Ed Sheeran and Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy.
Busking is a way for the teenager to hone her craft while awaiting the chance to practise in front of an audience in some of the city’s grassroots music venues.
She added: “The dream is to be big eventually, and this is one of lots of steps to get there.”
Abaigh reckons rules should be brought in for buskers “shoving their music” upon people by blasting it too loudly from speakers.
‘There should be music on Union Street’
Stomping around on the George Street pavement, Ben Lee Collett performs as if he is on the stage at P&J Live.
The spell is only broken when the 25-year-old shop worker pauses to pocket a fiver dropped in his guitar case to stop it fluttering away.
The Stonehaven man is part of band The Shackles, and is “giving it his absolute all” to forge a career in music, but works in Sainsbury’s on Schoolhill in Aberdeen at the moment.
Ben said: “I fell in love with busking in Edinburgh and have kept doing it in Aberdeen, I try to get out every few days.
“I didn’t busk during lockdown and forgot all the covers I used to play, so now I’m doing mostly my own stuff, but it is going well.”
Ben – who lists his influences as Eminem, Katie Melua and Arctic Monkeys – reckons any rules on busking should be carefully applied.
He said: “While Union Street is pedestrianised, there should be music there.
“Maybe there could be busking permits, which might encourage more people to do it and ensure there aren’t just people with loud amps playing poorly.”
‘It cheers me up and it cheers others up too’
We met David Angus as he was belting out a rock version of The Eurythmics song Sweet Dreams on a sun-drenched June afternoon.
The 25-year-old, who lives in Mastrick, has been busking since 2013 and does it for a living.
He said: “I have made a lot of friends through busking. It cheers me up and it seems to cheer everyone else up.”
David is now busking regularly while eagerly awaiting the chance to perform again in pubs, where he had regular slots before lockdown.
“Seeing people sitting around in St Nicholas Square listening to music, it does feel like normality is coming back”, he said.
“Everyone seems to be abiding by the rules, and they all seem happy.
“I hope to get back to playing in a venue by September, when there is a festival planned at The Tunnels.”
He would welcome the “code of conduct” proposed by the council as long as it was directed at amps “blaring too loud”.
David added: “The main thing is that it is done in fairness.”
‘Some days, you’d barely see a single person…’
It takes more than wind, rain or even a global pandemic to stop veteran busker Tom from taking to the streets of Aberdeen.
The Bob Dylan of the Bon Accord Centre is originally from Southampton, and moved to the north-east in 1990.
He has been busking for 40 years, and was one of very few who still played on to prevent the streets from falling completely silent during the most stringent periods of lockdown.
The 62-year-old describes himself as a “traditional busker” who frowns on the idea of using amps.
He reckons any new rules should be purely focussed on the volume of the music being played, to cut down on any potential complaints from residents.
Tom, who didn’t want to provide his surname, told us how people’s kindness shone during the bleakest times over the pandemic.
He said: “I have been playing through the winter and the whole Covid lockdown, almost every day.
“Most buskers vanished when Covid came along, and you would barely see a person in town at some points.
“The flip side of that was, because people knew that things were very difficult, they were much more generous.”
Read our previous piece on the council considering new rules on busking here.