Buskers evoke cheery ghost of shaken city

19:05, Jan 28 2013
Bendy Em at the World Buskers Festival
Bendy Em at the World Buskers Festival

The World Buskers Festival has stormed Christchurch for the past 10 days. Charlie Gates reflects on the festival and selects his favourite acts.

I was walking along Gloucester St last Saturday afternoon. If you haven't been down there lately, it is a bit of a sight.

There are loads of vacant lots, and concrete is being pulverised by an army of large machines.

Acrobatica performs at the World Buskers Festival.
Acrobatica performs at the World Buskers Festival.

It's where they send tourists who are after a bit of disaster porn. It is also where I work.

The machines lie dormant at the weekend, making it an eerily silent landscape. But last Saturday there were strange sounds drifting across the rubble. I could hear music coming from somewhere, and then a huge and joyous roar went up from the direction of Hagley Park.

At first I was slightly perplexed, but then I realised this was what the city used to sound like before the heavy machinery took over.


It was the sound of life in the city centre. It was the sound of the World Buskers Festival creeping back into the central city for the first time since the earthquakes.

The roar was coming from the crowds enjoying buskers in Hagley Park. The music was coming from the Re:Start mall, our little slice of city life.

The mall was really alive. It felt like a real city centre, rather than just a place for stunned tourists to photograph cathedral ruins.

It was complex, bustling and vital. People were taking in buskers, buying coffee and eating pizza. Or just hanging out in the shade watching the musicians.

It felt great. We had the city back for a moment.

Over the 10 days of the festival I saw some extraordinary sights.

I saw a man propose to his girlfriend with a flashmob dance. I saw a huge man in drag captivate hundreds.

I saw an evil hate monkey up close and personal. I saw stunts thought scientifically impossible.

I played bingo in the ruins of a city and I interviewed a puppet.

I also saw a man on a small unicycle with a propeller on his helmet and a yoyo in each hand perform in front of a ruined cathedral. It was a one-off concert for red-zone workers in Cathedral Square. There was something special about seeing a busker perform in the Square again for the first time since the quakes. The busker was like a cheery ghost of Christchurch past.

But, most importantly, I saw a strange city hustling back from a knockdown with almighty pluck. I saw a city pushing to be reborn in a miasma of demolition dust.

On the walk back from the Re:Start mall I passed the Christchurch Arts Centre. It was propped and silent like a beached whale.

I started reminiscing about the great busker shows I enjoyed in its Gothic courtyards before the quakes.

It was a cauldron of so much laughter in previous years. They were memories that made me feel a bit sad.

But then another roar went up from Hagley Park and shook me out of my nostalgia.

I couldn't help but smile.




Charlie Gates' favourite acts from this year's festival:

Wilson Dixon. The droll lovechild of Steven Wright and Johnny Cash.

Bendy Em. A British contortionist with charming patter and one hell of a finale.

El Gleno Grande. Takes the art of doing nothing to ridiculous and entertaining lengths.

Acrobatica. Incredibly impressive acrobatic skills.

Space Cowboy. He swallows two stainless steel swords. Impressive and gross in equal measure.

Lords of Strut. Hapless Irish duo who want to be famous dancers.

Mr Wizowski. Kiwi performer who has a nice way with the crowd and some slick circus skills.

Le Tigre Bleu. The best venue of the festival. See buskers in a tiny space.

Mulletman. Canterbury's best busker. Funny, natural and energised.


The Press