Nottingham saxophone man Mogs says he used to make £500 a day but now it's £20

Nottingham saxophonist/sax man John 'Mogs' Morgan smiling with saxophone outside M&S, Albert Street, Nottingham city centre
-Credit: (Image: Nottingham Post)

Every week outside M&S on Albert Street, a mysterious man in a black sailor's cap and sunglasses appears. Tall, thin and exquisitely dressed, the character pitches up, unpacks his case and starts playing the saxophone.

He doesn't talk, nor can anyone see what he truly looks like, and he scarcely breaks his pursed lips from the mouthpiece. In fact, in all the times I've walked past him, he's never been doing anything other than playing.

Except today. He's perched on a small stool, so small it almost touches the ground, head down, glasses still on, puffing on a hand-made cigarette.

It's barely lit but he smokes away. I approach him in a cautious manner, wondering if this man even owns a voice but for the triumphant notes of the brass instrument that he has made his own.

But to my surprise, he's no mute, nor the enchanted Pied Piper-like figure his aura emits. This is Mogs - Nottingham royalty.

His real name, he reveals, is John Morgan. "But nobody calls me that except me mother," he explains.

Over the next 20 minutes, I become acquainted with most of Mogs' life story. Born in the Isle of Man, he grew up there and went on to study fine art in Liverpool.

He chose to land in Nottingham after dropping a pin on a map. "It landed on Derby," he says. "But I didn't know anyone there."

He first lived in the Meadows before a stint in Mapperley Park and moved up to Leeds before returning to where he is now - in a flat in Arboretum, from which he gets the tram into town. He's 72 now, but still plugging away on the city's streets - once in the week where we are now and on Clumber Street on Sundays.

Over the years he's made much money from busking - it's been his career, at points - and also dipped his toe in stints as a roadie at the Royal Concert Hall and picking up other music industry gigs here and there. It all started in his late teens.

"One of my mates told me I was a jack of all trades, master of none," he explains. "I thought: Right, that's it - I'm gonna concentrate on the saxophone."

Always a fan of jazz, Mogs had grown up on the Isle of Man seeing big band acts like Joe Loss and Ivy Benson. He picked up the sax, as he puts it, "because I liked it."

With no teacher, Mogs set about his mastery through pure practice. He'd played the recorder in primary school - but this would prove to be his first proper foray into the industry.

The rest, as they say, is history. For the next 40 years - and still, to this day - Mogs is a frequent sight on Nottingham's streets. In the 1980s, he'd make £500 on a good day - equivalent to around £1900 now.

He'd also travel around. "I'd get in my car and could go to places like all the way down to Luton to do some busking, or Bedford," he recalls. "Or closer, I could nip over to Lincoln or nip over to Derby. You'd make enough money to make it worthwhile."

By 2008, average weekday takings were down to about £40. Now, he'll be lucky to make £20.

Mogs has recently sold his car of 30 years. He simply no longer needed it - a journey out of town was no longer financially worthwhile.

"Yeah, damn right it was better back in the day," he says. "You could go out and make a couple of hundred pounds, easy. That's not going to happen now. Nobody asks buskers about economic **** but we know. Nobody's got any money. All the shops are shutting. It really annoys me. I get more and more angry left wing."

Weddings used to be a part of Mogs' regular musical output, too. But no more.

Nottingham saxophonist/sax man John 'Mogs' Morgan playing saxophone outside M&S, Albert Street, Nottingham city centre
The lone figure of the Nottingham sax man has long enthralled passers-by -Credit:Nottingham Post

"Nobody wants to pay me enough," he explains. "I'd used to tell people my fee and they'd be happy. I'd turn up and play. Nobody wants to pay me that anymore. I haven't done a wedding for years. People haven't got the money."

Mogs even says he doesn't believe the digital transition from cash to card has had any effect on the decline of busking. It's simple, he says - people simply do not have the funds anymore.

Despite the hurt and the bittersweet memories of the long-gone glory days, Mogs maintains a generally upbeat spirit. There's plenty of laughs amid our conversation.

At one point, he waves to someone behind us. I ask if it's someone he knows, or who knows him.

"No, it was just a little kid looking at the sax," he says. The boy may not have been familiar with Mogs, and neither was I, but plenty are.

"I get enough comments," he explains. "'Where's your sax?', people say when they see me without it. Actually, it's usually: 'Where's your trumpet?' That says a lot. Does it look like a trumpet to you?"

Mogs may indulge in a touch of grumpy humour every now and then, but he does have love. Love for music.

He's never been married or had children. At home, he's got his own studio where he records much of the backing track material that accompanies his melodies ("I didn't make all that money for nothing!", he quips).

After our chat, he'll be on with his set. Forty minutes of Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Bob Marley, and Elvis.

"It's a big cross-section," he explains. "Not the jazz standards that people expect from a sax player. But they do just as well. It's all still jazz."

Come rain or shine, Mogs' double-denim act - "an advert for them (M&S) behind me," he says - means he's suitably equipped for any weather conditions. The shirt and jeans are choice picks for all weathers, because, in his words, "polyester isn't warm in winter and isn't really cool in summer".

His hat, from his collection, and his glasses complete the outfit. They're not there to complete the mystique, he tells me - they're there to keep the sun out.

That goes for his eyepatch too - imperative after suffering a detached retina 25 years ago. And besides, even with all the gear, the people who know him, know him.

"Loads of people know who I am," he tells me assertively. "When they see this they'll say: Oh, it's him. Mogs."