TfL Tube busker auditions held for first time since Covid

At their best, they can be relied upon to brighten a weary commuter’s day. At their worst, they’ll be tipped little but a few derisory coins.

The next generation of Tube buskers are battling it out at auditions on Wednesday for the right to entertain passengers on the London Underground.

About 280 have been selected from 500 applicants to perform in front of judges in a “real life” setting – with the first 30 appearing at Southwark Tube station on Wednesday morning.

Auditions will also be held at Bank, Blackfriars, Canary Wharf and Farringdon over the next 10 days.

Each performer will have 10 minutes to win over a selection panel that will include a professional musician and station staff. The panel will assess each musician’s repertoire, musical ability and performance style.

Those selected will enjoy the added bonus of being able to bag prime spots on the Elizabeth line for the first time.

Cedar Rose Johnson, 23, hoped to play Black Horse and the Cherry Tree by KT Tunstall - though it was up to the judges which songs from her playlist of 10 she would perform.

"I would love to make a living from playing music," she said. "It's another way of marketing myself as a musician. I would love to perform at Liverpool St station. My girlfriend works near it and she could come and listen to me."

Cedar Rose Johnson (Jeremy Selwyn)
Cedar Rose Johnson (Jeremy Selwyn)

It is the first time TfL has held busker auditions since before the pandemic. Those selected will join about 200 performers already licensed to perform in TfL stations.

Buskers have legally been allowed on the Underground for 20 years and have more than 40 designated performance spots in stations and tunnels.

TfL began the search for new buskers whose music “reflects the sounds of London” – anything classical to world music or jazz to rap – last November.

It said: “All genres and performers are welcome – the most important thing is the music is performed well.”

Aaron Wiggett, 24, was the first to perform. He played stunning instrumental versions of Children by Robert Miles and Get Lucky by Daft Punk.

"I use a lot of Live Loops," he said.

"Doing dance tunes is a unique way to get the music across without singing. It's great we are able to do this. We are not normally allowed to perform on private land."

Aaron Wiggett at Southwark station (Jeremy Selwyn)
Aaron Wiggett at Southwark station (Jeremy Selwyn)

Andrew Bruell, 62, a retired manager at Ford, planned to play What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong on the saxophone.

"This is the toughest gig to get," he said. "I already busk on the Overground but the Underground will be a bit warmer in the winter."

Andrew Bruell played What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Jeremy Selwyn)
Andrew Bruell played What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Jeremy Selwyn)

Hide Takemoto, 46, who played classical guitar, said he had applied because "I need to pay off my debts - I need to pay my rent and bills".

The professional musician had previously busked on the Tube 20 years ago.

"Somebody dropped a £20 note for me," he recalled. "It was 1999. It was a different time - the cash era."

The auditions will be managed by TfL with support from Found in Music, which runs Busk in London, a programme supported by the Mayor.

Justine Simons, deputy mayor for culture, said: “Music is the beating heart of London and buskers bring our city to life every day, so I am delighted to see the return of TfL’s busking auditions.

“We know the important part music can play in people’s lives and the difference a song can make to our day. This is a fantastic opportunity for musicians to showcase their talents.”

Emma Strain, TfL's customer director, said: “We have been blown away by the response to our call out for more buskers, and there’s a palpable feeling of excitement at all the stations where the auditions are taking place.

“In a diverse, multicultural city like London, music truly is a common language. As Londoners pass through our stations and go about their busy lives, it has the power to cheer them on during the good times and lift them up in their lower moments.”