April 15 2010
Bettina von Hase
My new treat on a Sunday in London is a visit Columbia Road Flower Market; not just to wander among the rich array of blooms and plants, but also to witness a live band. Each time I go, the Bonfire Band (first picture) are there, busking outside the shop Vintage Heaven, next door to a pub: three, sometimes, five band members, who play their own songs or bluegrass tunes about love gained and lost, or being at home on the range. They attract a large crowd, particularly when they are joined by a four-year-old boy (second picture) who lives nearby and joins in with his harmonica.
The players in the band look authentically scruffy and Wild West-ish; with their core line-up of banjo, acoustic guitar and double bass (sometimes joined by a drummer and a keyboard player), they add a festive flavour to this bustling market. The band is a full-time project for its members, who recorded and released an album last year, and although singer and guitarist Ben Faulkner says most of their income comes from busking, they also hire themselves out for special events. Among their engagements have been a one-year-old’s birthday party and even a wake.
The advantage of their weekly busking pitch at Columbia Road market is that those thinking of hiring the band can just turn up to witness for themselves their laid-back country-folk ramblings. Their fee for private engagements is upwards of £1,500 for two one-hour sets, depending on the location, the occasion, and the number of musicians (the boy with the harmonica is unfortunately not included). At Columbia Road, though, a few coins tossed into the guitar case will suffice.