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?”