‘Busking is pure. If you can get people to like you in ten seconds, you’ve consolidated all your practice in that one moment’
Philip Achille is not your average busker. He’s the kind that shatters every expectation. You may have heard him modestly playing his harmonica on the London Underground, possibly playing an impressive rendition of Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor on… yes a harmonica, to London’s commuters.
The British harmonica player, from the West Midlands, is in fact a Royal College of Music graduate whose list of talents is endless. The bass, saxophone, violin and piano are just some of the other instruments on which he experiments his jazz and classical styles.
Playing music is “something I feel like I have to do”, he tells me. Adding to the history of the harmonica is his mission and he says he achieves this by busking. “That’s the great thing about busking, I get an intense personal enjoyment out of it as well as the financial gain. Especially busking in London, the exposure and ability to connect with other people, the sheer volume of people that you end up playing to is quite amazing. For me, it’s been a great tool to get myself out there in a way.”
Philip shot to fame last month after a video posted by the jazz pianist John Turville went viral, featuring on the Huffington Post and on social networks. The reception of the video has compelled Philip to take his music to another level. He is currently raising money to fund a recording album, of which he has gained significant support.
Some of the musician’s proudest achievements to date have included playing the introduction for Jon Bon Jovi’s finale of the Royal Variety Performance in 2007 and playing at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s birthday celebration in Hyde Park in September 2008.
The classical player’s pure and graceful style is owed much to his mother, he explains, who ensured that he was given a wealth of opportunity as a child. Searching for a music teacher for the saxophone at nine-years-old led him into the hands of the only harmonica teacher in England. “So I just thought let’s give this a go. It turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
Only in his twenties and Philip has already won numerous awards, including National Harmonica League Player of the Year 2005, World Youth Solo Chromatic Harmonica Champion 2005, World Open Harmonica Champion 2005, Birmingham International Jazz Festival Young Musician 2006 and Eurovision Young Musician of the Year Finalist 2008.
The talented player began busking at sixteen years old in his hometown of Solihull. Since then, his ambition, passion and charm have allowed him to become a regular on one of London’s sought-after busking pitches. “It’s an amazing thing for a busker to know you’ve got a spot. I’ve met loads of cool people, got some cool gigs, recording sessions from it. The system definitely works as well because you don’t have to pay anything for it and you get to busk in the greatest cities in the world.”
For Philip, he says he tends to do really well with commuters. Providing background music is what he likes doing. He emphasises that with busking you cannot get disheartened. “As a busker, you’re always thinking about the fact that people are there to get on a train and not to hear you play. I don’t think people actively ignore you; they’re just in a hurry. The idea of good background music is that it doesn’t get in the way, but at the same time, it enhances the experience so people still enjoy it. For me if someone stops, I just appreciate it even more.”
Often perceptions of buskers are usually quite negative, with many people not taking them seriously. Addressing this view, Philip says, “The more people expect something the harder it is to actually impress them. When you’re busking, because people expect very little, they have no preconceptions. So when I go there, I give the best possible show I can, which means that many people listen in a pure sense.”
What has he learnt from busking? “Having done busking, it’s changed the way I play and teaches you how to hold a melody. It is quite a high level of performance because you’re trying to convey something to someone who will judge you based on the ten seconds it takes him or her to walk past you. Busking is pure. If you can get people to like you in that ten seconds, it’s almost as if you’ve consolidated all your practice in that one moment.”