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Super-Troubadour


Troubadour Travels Book Review by JACK DIAMOND

'For someone who didn’t have too much idea of what was going on in the world outside Australia, the thought of travelling around the world playing music to different cultures seemed an interesting, exciting and very scary prospect. ...I left Australia for the first time in my life in 1987. I bought an around the world ticket for a year, not intending to go for more than a few months. My budget was small, only $1,500 spending money and $1,000 in the bank in case of an emergency. My backpack was just a simple nylon pack with a light aluminium frame. I had my guitar, a Pignose amp, about 8 inches in diameter which ran on 8 large batteries and a guitar cable. I fixed the Pignose to my back pack with wire and gaffer tape, to make it easier to carry.

...If you want to travel around the world on a working holiday, playing and performing, earning enough to cover your food, accommodation and travel expenses, still have enough money left over for other great times and hardly spend any of your own money... well, welcome to troubadour travels.'

  
Graham Cain has condensed decades of practical knowledge and experience into the fifty or so pages of Troubadour Travels – Traveling Musicians Guidebook. The book takes the form of direct, practical, generalised advice. In relation to performing music as a solo artist in small venues and public spaces around the world, Graham Cain really has 'been there and done that' to an extraordinary extent. He has busked in forty-degree heat on a dusty Indian street, and also given a solo concert for a Princess in a French ski resort. While Troubadour Travels is not an autobiography, Graham's fascinating personal story is related through several personal anecdotes within the text and a four-page section at the end of the book entitled My Story. After more than twenty years of being a travelling musician, Graham is showing no intention of slowing down. The travelling troubadour is currently based in Cambodia and perhaps readers can look forward to a future edition of the book featuring Graham's insights on the burgeoning music scenes of Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.

Visit the author's website www.troubadourtravels.com for excerpts, photographs and to purchase the book.


The heart of the text is dedicated to the art of busking. Graham discusses the 'eight different forms' of street busking, terrace busking ('performing on the street facing a restaurant'), train busking (comprising of station, tunnel, platform and carriage busking), 'walking street' busking and busking around government buildings and monuments. The author details all the practicalities - from equipment and song choice through to how to handle your money and the 'rules of the street'. There are a lot of do's and don'ts here. The author writes with insight and authority on the subject and has clearly spent a great deal of time pounding those pavements around the world. The chapter entitled 'dealing with street hustlers and other street performers' is particularly interesting:

'These are the people who come up to you on the street and ask you for spare change, cigarettes, etc. As a travelling performer you will have to make friends with some of them, in order for you to be left alone to play. Most of them live and survive on the streets and more than likely are a lot worse off than you are.'

Even if a travelling troubadour has to spend a lot of time earning his keep on the unforgiving streets of Western Europe, there are also more salubrious times to look forward to:

'In Cannes in the south of France, I ended up playing for no money in a little restaurant, but they gave me a beautiful little room at the back where I could sleep, with a bathroom. They gave me a nice meal every day, and I only played a couple of hours a night. During the day I went busking in walking streets'

The scope of the book relates to Graham's experiences in Australia, South-East Asia, Nepal, India, Turkey, North Africa, Western Europe, Scandinavia, Great Britain and the United States. As well as giving his reader the skinny on busking, the author gives advice on how to succeed in playing in regular music venues, small cafes, restaurants and bars, and even ski resorts. The advice runs from how to find a place in which to play three songs to finding a job in one venue for seven nights a week.

Troubadour Travels could be a very inspiring read for a young person who has never left their country or never performed before. It just might give them the confidence to strike out and do something beyond what they thought they were capable of. More experienced travellers and musicians may have to wade through some of the more obvious advice ('if your guitar has a pick up you will need a cable...') to get to the real gems. The layout of the book is well structured and my electronic copy was easy and pleasurable to read, even if the visuals are somewhat let-down by some very crude cartoon illustrations. The style of writing is direct. Graham does not waste any time in telling the reader exactly how things are.

Troubadour Travels contains a great deal of useful, practical information that might never have occurred to most travelling musicians – hints and tips that could make the difference between make and break. Personally I was inspired by Graham's advice and experiences as a busker. The author's fearlessness is inspiring. He has put himself in situations as a performer that most would only dare to dream about. This book made me want to get out on the street immediately, armed with Graham's wisdom, picturing myself in some of his favourite places to busk: France, Germany, Scandinavia and Greece!

The ideal 'Travelling Troubadour' seems to be, in the author's eyes, an extremely self-sufficient, self-reliant, streetwise and savvy individual. It's not an easy world out there, but the author attempts to equip the reader to deal with it.

'When I was in Greece, a TV crew from Germany wanted to interview me about life as a troubadour. I took them on a tour of the house I was building, and they asked me how I managed to do it. I took my hat off in a gesture that said, “I’m passing my hat around, & that’s how I did it.”

...Remember though, that when passing your hat around, make sure you follow my tips.

- Graham Cain, Troubadour Travels





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