London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


The English Street Bands.


CONCERNING these, a respectable man gave me the following details:—

I was brought up to the musical profession, and have been a street-performer 22 years, and I"m now only 26. I sang and played the guitar in the streets with my mother when I was four years old. We were greatly patronised by the nobility at that time. It was a good business when I was a child. A younger brother and I would go out into the streets for a few hours of an evening, from five to eight, and make 7s. or 8s. the two of us. Ours was, and is, the highest class of street music. For the last ten years I have been a member of a street band. Our band is now four in number. I have been in bands of eight, and in some composed of as many as 25; but a small band answers best for regularity. With eight in the band it"s not easy to get 3s. a-piece on a fine day, and play all day, too. I consider that there are 1000 musicians now performing in the streets of London; and as very few play singly, 1000 performers, not reckoning persons who play with niggers or such-like, will give not quite 250 street bands. Four in number is a fair average for a street band; but I think the greater number of bands have more than four in them. All the better sort of these bands play at concerts, balls, parties, processions, and water excursions, as well as in the streets. The class of men in the street bands is, very generally, those who can"t read music, but play by ear; and their being unable to read music prevents their obtaining employment in theatres, or places where a musical education is necessary; and yet numbers of street musicians (playing by ear) are better instrumentalists than many educated musicians in the theatres. I only know a few who have left other businesses to become musicians. The great majority—19-20ths of us, I should say—have been brought regularly up to be street-performers. Children now are taught very early, and seldom leave the profession for any other business. Every year the street musicians increase. The better sort are, I think, prudent men, and struggle hard for a decent living. All the street-performers of wind instruments are short-lived. Wind performers drink more, too, than the others. They must have their mouths wet, and they need some stimulant or restorative after blowing an hour in the streets. There are now twice as many wind as stringed instruments played in the streets; fifteen or sixteen years ago there used to be more stringed instruments. Within that time new wind instruments have been used in the streets. Cornopeans, or cornet-à--pistons, came into vogue about fourteen years ago; opheicleides about ten years ago (I"m speaking of the streets); and saxhorns about two years since. The cornopean has now quite superseded the bugle. The worst part of the street performers, in point of character, are those who play before or in public-houses. They drink a great deal, but I never heard of them being charged with dishonesty. In fact, I believe there"s no honester set of men breathing than street musicians. The better class of musicians are nearly all married men, and they generally dislike to teach their wives music; indeed, in my band, and in similar bands, we wouldn"t employ a man who was teaching his wife music, that she might play in the streets, and so be exposed to every insult and every temptation, if she"s young and pretty. Many of the musicians" wives have to work very hard with their needles for the slop-shops, and earn very little in such employ; 3s. a-week is reckoned good earnings, but it all helps. The German bands injure our trade much. They"ll play for half what we ask. They are very mean, feed dirtily, and the best band of them, whom I met at Dover, I know slept three in a bed in a common lodging-house, one of the very lowest. They now block us out of all the country places to which we used to go in the summer. The German bands have now possession of the whole coast of Kent and Sussex, and wherever there are watering-places. I don"t know anything about their morals, excepting that they don"t drink. An English street-performer in a good and respectable band will now average 25s. a-week the year through. Fifteen years ago he could have made 3l. a-week. Inferior performers make from 12s. to 15s. a-week. I consider Regentstreet and such places our best pitches. Our principal patrons in the parties" line are tradesmen and professional men, such as attorneys: 10s. a-night is our regular charge.

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 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men