Elliott Herrington, the Tottenham Court Road busker who has played at Paul Weller’s concerts speaks candidly about his beginnings and life after Covid.
London streets and tube stations have been the stage to many famous faces in their busking years. From Ed Sheeran to Rod Stewart, the capital has seen them all. Elliot Herrington has the potential to make it big too.
The talented Tottenham Court Road busker who has played at Paul Weller’s supporting act gigs says he started noodling on the keyboard from the age of five.
“I showed a paper with a piece to my parents and they were, like, “Wow, you should probably have a few lessons.” So, I had a few lessons, but I didn’t enjoy them. I can’t read music still, so I had to give myself my own direction. 20 years of experience now, it’s been a long time,” says the 25-year-old.
Elliott started busking at the age of 14 in Chichester, where he grew up, and only moved to London seven years ago to pursue his dream of a successful solo career.
“I love London, it’s been a really warm receptive sort of crowd, actually, playing in Tottenham Court Road. More than I’ve expected,” he says.
His love for the capital shines through, but he admits the first couple of years were tough. “When I came to London, I struggled the first two years a lot, actually. I didn’t busk for the first year.” says Herrington. “Living on my own was a new experience for me. I found it tough, it took a while until I found my community and my friends. I was very nervous and I wasn’t actually earning good money or anything.”
Elliott has been a session musician for a number of different artists and bands but now feels like honing in on his solo projects: “At the of the day, regardless of who I’m playing for, whether is myself or someone else, I love performing. That’s sort of the key to everything, and song writing.”
The musician says making the leap to being a full-time busker was not easy: “I didn’t really have enough faith to think I could sustain myself just off busking, cause of the weather and cost of living crisis.”
Having worked in special needs education with autistic children to support himself, he ultimately made the courageous decision to focus on his music. “I was balancing that with the music, and I found it incredibly exhausting. I’m now able to be a full-time busker, doing what I love so I’m very grateful for that and I don’t take it for granted for sure,” he explains.
Elliott frequents Tottenham Court Road but will also play at Waterloo station, which sees 150,000 commuters daily. “I’ll play at Waterloo station because you can book a busking slot if you have a license, so I do. But they only give two Waterloo slots a month.”
Most of his music is instrumental. I ask him if he sings at all when busking: “I do sing, I’m building my confidence up. I’ve never busked singing and I haven’t done much live singing. I’ve barely done any: I mainly play classical piano. My influences would be very classical, but the majority is composition and improvisation as well because to me it keeps it more fun.”
Improvisation is key to his work: many of his pieces come from just improvising on the street. “If people react to it, I know that it works. When you busk, you have to earn your crowd. They don’t buy a ticket to see you, so you have to draw them in,” he says.
Music is how Elliott copes with his low moods. It has a direct influence on his creative process, and he’s adamant about using his work as an outlet. “Funnily enough, I busk better when I’m in a bad place because it’s almost like you’re playing out of necessity, because you need it.
“There’s a special thing with the creative process when you’re creating because you have to. I think that’s where great art comes from. It’s sound cliché, but when you’re sad, you create great art,” he told us.
“When I’m really happy, I’m just living life and being happy. When I’m sad, it draws me closer to the music. There’s something very powerful and profound about that I feel.”
Elliott briefly mentions the recent busking fees introduced by Westminster council but says free spots are still available in the city. “On Oxford Street, it’s first-come-first-served, but you have to be very conscious of shops and not annoy them. You can’t be really loud, you have to respect the shops basically.”
After being asked about the fees introduced in central London two years ago, the songwriter says he agrees with them. “I’ve spoken to a few old-school buskers, and they seem very angry about it. I think at the end of the day, from what I know it’s a one-off fee to play on the streets which pays you money anyway. I understand it, I’m quite easy with that. But I also understand why some old school-buskers would be annoyed by it.”
The covid pandemic, Elliott says, had a huge impact on his creative process. Having had a two-year break from busking as a result of it, he says he felt very strange during lockdown.
“It was really crazy to me. Because obviously cashless society really affects buskers’ income. Like, a lot of my creativity comes from living life, being outside and inspired. The whole lockdown just numbed my creative antenna. Some people thrive in it, some people just use that time wisely, but I didn’t unfortunately.”
His advice to young musicians is to stop drinking excessively. After having battled with an alcohol addiction in the past, he says he is now sober.
“My advice in general to people in their twenties is not to get drinking all the time. A new leaf has been turned and I’d really recommend it to people because some people are scared with the idea of being fully sober, but sobriety and looking after yourself is a huge drug. You’re there, you’re present, you’re in your body.”
Elliott finds the recent arts funding cuts affecting London cultural institutions “ridiculous”, and expresses frustration with the Tory government.
“They’re using cuts on the creative industries and really they’re using the creative industries in their personal life.” he says. “They all listen to music, I bet they all go to the theatre, I bet they watch films regularly … I bet they all have expensive art in the house. It’s a greed thing, I don’t understand it myself.”
At the end of our conversation, he shares his plans for the future. “I’m quite positive about the future at the moment. If I keep just working hard as I am now, I feel like in five years time I could be doing big solo gigs or big gigs for myself. I like to think it’s going in a positive direction with my music. This is just the beginning of a journey I like to think. As long as I keep working hard, because I do, I do work hard.”
Featured image by Fellipe Pigatto de Andrades.