Arts & Entertainment

Naked City: Bring back the Guitar Samurai

Talk to any of the bar owners, bouncers, shopkeepers and strip club barkers in Kings Cross today and they will tell you that the joint is now “dead”, not quite to the point of burial or cremation but certainly in a state of suspended animation. The 1.30am lockout on weekends has curbed the violence and mayhem but the fun factor has also been greatly diminished.

Over the years the City Of Sydney Council has made numerous attempts to smarten up the Cross, some of them successful, others imbued in controversy like the current makeover of the Fitzroy Gardens. In 2004 Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s catchcry for KC, was “naughty but nice” but almost a decade later the precinct is still in a state of limbo, striving for some real identity in the post underbelly world.

The question arises what can be done to put a bit of zip back into the old girl? Maybe the answer is an influx of street buskers, granted free permits by the Council and encouraged to roam the strip virtually 24/7. A few years ago a mysterious electric guitar-wielding young Japanese man, dressed as a samurai, set the standard as he meandered down Darlinghurst Road. His portable amp and power supply preceded him in a trolley pulled by a young  Japanese girl as his snazzy guitar riffs cut through the boisterous pavement crowd.

No doubt there is some weird Council by-law preventing buskers from being mobile, much the same as the rule that stops them from incorporating animals in their act. Many older residents of the Cross would remember Owen Lloyd, the so-called “Birdman from Kings Cross” who busked with his collections of budgies in the ‘60s and ‘70s, often in the vicinity of the El Alamein fountain. Today he would no longer get a licence to do so, as would anybody wanting to incorporate a parrot, a dog or even a flea circus.

Yet by putting all buskers on roller skates, where possible, and creating a never-ending cavalcade of musical talent, we may well introduce a new paradigm of social behaviour and interaction in the sometimes mean and often anti-social environment that is Kings Cross at night. Young men full of booze and testosterone would be more occupied with the merry-go-round of guitar strumming minstrels than bopping each other on the nose.

Our own City Of Sydney Council needs to look to the example of London’s Lord Mayor, the colourful albeit boofy Boris Johnson and his ‘back busking’ initiative. Spurred on by musicians like Billy Bragg and comedians Bill Bailey and Mark Thomas he has encouraged busking throughout the city, even on public transport, as well as sponsoring a youth busking competition. The idea is to embrace street musicians as part of the fabric of the living city rather than beggars with saxophones and ukuleles.

According to his YouTube clip, the guitar-wielding samurai last hit Darlinghurst Road around Christmas time in 2011. We need that warrior back, right now, along with an army of peripatetic entertainers. Let the cavalcade begin!

THE HIT LIST:  For a complete change of pace there’s a rare opportunity to hear four of the chamber works of Reza Vali, the composer dubbed “the Iranian Bartok” at the Sydney Conservatorium on Thursday August 21 at 6.30pm. Vali’s music is fast achieving recognition around the world with a recent CD of his music voted in the USA’s National Public Radio’s Top 10 Favorites for 2013.

Check out all the details at aic.org.au

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