On a recent trip to the East Coast of England I found a busker known as Juggling Jim. I had decided to try busking in the beautiful town of Kings Lynn. My time there was limited to a few hours so I was determined to make the most of it. The streets of Kings Lynn are nice and narrow and it looks like the perfect place for a bit of unamplified busking . Sadly not the case . After an uncomfortable few hours I soon started wishing I had my amp more than ever.
Kings Lynn is about halfway up the East Coast of England . It sits back from the coast of the wash and for many years its been a popular location for London overspill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaGCjJk_x70
Town Centre, Kings Lynn, Norfolk
I set up opposite a small café with outside tables as it was a glorious hot day in August. Started to play and immediately it felt great . I was getting a good response and starting to think it was going to be a good day. I was amazed when after about 10 minutes a woman with a real new age look and a recorder came and set up 2 shops to my left. She pulled out a flask and placed it down by the side of her . She was in for the duration. I was puzzled because I could not have been missed. Curious as to what she would do I started to play ” Country Roads ” . To my surprise she tried to follow along with it . She was dreadful. Nearly a full second behind and hitting all the wrong notes. I tried another song. The same again. It was a lost cause.
How could she not understand she was spoiling it and creating a no give situation for joe public ? Nobody is going to give to two different buskers two shops apart. A passer by noticing the discord gave a chuckle and I asked ” What is it with people ? ” and he told me that she came there everyday . I always cringe when I hear that because it is a public highway in an average size town. It is a pitch for who gets their first when its free.
The local went on to say he thought she had mental health issues so I decided to clear out and find another pitch. It was clear something was wrong and I was not in the mood to waste time explaining it.
I found another pitch in the next street along. Again I started to play but before I even finished the first chorus an old man with a guitar and a long white beard came and set up directly opposite. Only later did I find out that I had just been confronted with ” The Enigma Of Juggling Jim ” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRnYYwAWl3c
The Enigma of Juggling Jim – Documentary
Larger than life and looking like a vagrant Juggling Jim as built up quite a reputation for all the wrong reasons. I was later told he was voted in the Daily Telegraphs top 5 worst buskers in the UK. He has reached the heights of busking fame and even appeared on The “Graham Norton Show ” for being such a bad performer. He is often known by the name cardboard guitar man. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCm2poO2M9I
juggling jim king’s lynn
Totally unaware at this point who he was I went over and pointed out to him I was busking there already. I was stunned when he replied ” I come here every day.” Not again I thought . I tried to tell Jim that I only come there once a year and only had a hour and that he could easily find another pitch. He grinned his black teeth and pulled a harmonica from his pocket. Menacingly he waved it as if to say ” I’ll destroy your set with wailing random notes”
Juggling Jim has had a lot of success in Kings Lynn it turns out. His vagrant like appearance and his looney approach have earned him notoriety. He is like the town character or mascot. Sitting in a café with a busking friend later, a local entertained us with some “Juggling Jim” stories . He has come up with some strange performance techniques over the years including a karate chop that was scaring shoppers.
The Telegraph had a poll of the top 5 worst UK buskers and Jim was in it ! He is a veteran of many dust ups with other buskers and became so annoying to Kings Lynn at one point he was moved by the council to Hunstanton. The plan failed when he annoyed too many people there. I think at this point the authorities told him that he could return to busk/perform on this pitch in Kings Lynn. The result is now Jim sees it as an exclusive pitch for him which has been accepted because of his age and tenacity.
As much as I loath the mans attitude to busking and complete disregard for others, I have grown fond of Juggling Jim. He serves as a reminder of the English love for an underdog and we all like to have a little chuckle over his antics. I wondered about the value this was offering and I felt uneasy at the prospect it might be grooming our own egos to throw him a coin and feel slightly better about ourselves. For me Jim’s situation seems to be like the really bad talent show contestants that everybody loves to see get crushed by failure.
The gimmick coin seems to play more of a part in street performance these days and I am all for street art to keep moving with the times. The floating statues for instance are very much a product of our modern “selfie ” culture. However it worries me that so many people confuse busking and begging. When I meet new people and tell them I am a busker and their first response is ” I don’t think it’s begging ” it kind of hurts my ego a little.
I am good with that though and I turn it into a positive. All the more reason to bring talent to the forefront and surprise the public with street culture that will rival the performances we see in the clubs around the cities and towns. To move people with art and not situation. Inspire people to play music and to appreciate the universal language it contains. Invite them to love and not to pity.
You can find Juggling Jim and the neighborhood where he performs in Norfolk, England, UK by looking on our Street Culture World Map.