Finding music on the Tube

This evening, in a foul mood, having just stepped out of a shivery drizzle and into the Tube, I heard something of a rarity: live violin music.

I love the musicians who perform in the official spaces in the official busking spaces of Underground stations. But here was a man on a train, travelling along the line, making beautiful music as we journeyed home.

He was obviously homeless or at least had fallen on hard times. His gray hair was messy and looked unwashed. His fingernails had dirt not just underneath them but all around the base of the nailbed. When he spoke you could see a gap where we was missing at least one tooth. Even the violin had seen better days. The finish looked oily. The open violin case on the floor revealed a purple lining that had wholly worn away and ripped in places, exposing the styrofoam underneath.

But as he started to play, his fingers moved swiftly — properly trained. His bow — with fluffly tangles of broken horsehairs at each end — coaxed flawless tunes from the instrument. He closed his eyes in concentration. His face was a man in love with music.

In the short journey between Kennington and Oval he transformed the coach into a small recital hall. All the passengers turned their faces toward him; some gave up their seats on the crowded carriage to put a pound or a scattering of silver coins into the case, with a loud thunk each time.

Between numbers he had a smooth patter with a gracious manner, describing the song and the composer before playing it. At the end people applauded, not in that meek embarrassed way I’ve seen people do for other performers in public spaces, but assertively, saying thanks as they stepped down onto the platform.

Several people positioned themselves to take pictures or video. As the musician was getting off the train, his violin safely stowed in that tattered case, an older well-dressed man in a camel-coloured coat said, “That was excellent. Expect to see it on YouTube tomorrow.”

The musician rejoined with a smile, “Again?”

I’m a journalist and blogger. Previously I was The Times’s online lifestyle editor and Alpha Mummy blogger. Now I’m co-founder of BritMums and BritMums Live! – our annual blogging conference that draws hundreds. Follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and Google Profile+


  1. February 6, 2013 / 9:08 am

    How lovely. Funnily enough you don’t see many buskers in Moscow (could be to do with the freezing temps 5 months of the year, I guess), but when you do, the quality is similarly excellent. Maybe I’ll get to show you, someday!

  2. February 6, 2013 / 9:39 am

    Just beautiful. What an uplifting experience for everyone in the carriage. I wonder what his story is?

  3. Brenda
    February 7, 2013 / 2:43 am

    Beautiful story thanks Jen, tears in my eyes.

  4. February 13, 2013 / 2:45 am

    Really beautiful. I like seeing musicians playing good music on the train or on the streets. I always leave a bit of money for their effort.

  5. February 19, 2013 / 11:38 pm

    I am so proud of London to think people came out of their own self-centred worlds for once. It does happen sometimes and is always beautiful to see. I am now stealing myself to watch the vid, knowing I will find it emotional xx

  6. February 19, 2013 / 11:42 pm

    Jenny, when he spoke was he Irish, as he is playing an Irish tune here:

    I did think he looked Irish when I watched your vid, but he was playing classical there.

    My Mum teaches Irish music.

    Liska xx

  7. February 22, 2013 / 11:07 am

    How beautiful. I hope to catch him on the tube someday. I love moments of the unexpected like that.


  8. Lia
    March 18, 2013 / 12:15 pm

    Utterly lovely, and why I absolutely love the randomness of London.

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