The story so far

About James Higgins

 

Singin' for a livin' on the streets of France

I made just enough for a beer.

I stood on the corner and played like mad

But nobody seemed to hear.

My spotlight was a lamppost.

Pavement stage by a shop window.

My audience were passersby.

My pay was what they'd throw.

 

Well that's the short version.

Basically I developed a bad case of restless leg syndrome as I walked in circles around my village in Scotland. So, one day, long ago, with no particular goal or destination in mind, I quietly stepped out and disappeared into darkest continental Europe.

Before I knew it, I was wandering around as a full time street musician, playing my old guitar anywhere there was a cluster of buildings. No town was too small, no bus queue too short, no tunnel too dark. As a peculiar bonus of this rambling walkabout, I began learning all the stuff I didn't bother with at school. Oddly enough, I also loved it. I found myself immersed in an inspirational course of art, music, German, French, geography, history and social studies. Most of the classes took place either outdoors or in cafes and bars. Which suited me fine. My schedule was very flexible too. I still didn't make much progress with Mathematics. I guess that is just never meant to be. Why would I need it anyway? As a busker once said, "It's not the money that counts, as long as it's me that counts the money".

Wandering around is great fun, living day to day, weaving irrelevantly in and out of peoples lives. Sometimes a day can feel like a week. So there's plenty of time for doing nothing. As Bon Scott once said, "Doing nothing means a lot to me".

I first picked up the guitar when I was somewhere between 5 and 7. I really don't know. I remember bashing away on a one string guitar one day, when my brother walked in. He noticed that I was holding the guitar upside down. He swiftly corrected my mistake and I "played" on. That is why to this day, though I am left handed, I play right handed guitar.

In my teens I evolved from a guitar strummer into a fully fledged wannabee (but cannydoo) lead guitarist. Jimi Hendrix and myself may have shared the same initials but the similarities ended there. When I arrived in France and began busking, I swiftly noticed that lead solos were a useless commodity on a windy street corner. A radical style rethink was hastily needed if I planned to stave off starvation AND hit the pub. I started to learn a bunch of Dylan tunes. Dylan songs seemed a lot more appropriate for busking than some obscure twanging excuse of a guitar solo.

I set about playing a new song every day. Without the aid of music cassettes or LP records to listen to and memorise songs from, I was usually obliged to pick up new material from other passing buskers. They in turn had picked up their versions from some other incidental stranger who'd blagged it from a deaf guy who'd heard it in his youth from a distance sung down a tuba by a juggler on a unicycle. So my versions were understandably a little different from the originals. Not to worry. As long as the catchy bit was recognizable then who really cared? I'd stand down the subway tunnel in Annecy and sing a chorus over and over for half the morning. Most folks were just passing by to catch a train. They never had time to notice. I can remember singing Neil Young's "Old Man". All I knew was one line. "Old man take a look at my life. I'm a lot like you were". I just kept singing it like a broken record stuck in a groove. It was a big hit until someone would stop to listen, then I'd have to pretend I was just finishing for the day. Even to the extent of actually departing the pitch if they struck up a conversation. Heaven forbid that they ask for a request.

I spent a few years hanging about in Annecy up in the French Alps. I can safely say I liked it there. When I moved on, I didn't realise that it would be a while before I returned. I'd met a girl and that was that. Bye bye Annecy.

After a stint working up on the Isle of Skye, in Scotland, I was ready for some more aimless wandering around the continent. So my girlfriend and I set off in a tiny Suzuki delivery van (as ye do) which was duly sent to the scrap yard in the sky shortly afterwards. We ended up living in Regensburg in Germany. There I got into the gig scene and was lucky to meet and play with a great bunch of musicians and friends. It was in those years that I feel I was most productive as a song writer and guitarist. I guess being surrounded by musicians, albeit spaced out musicians, I couldn't help learning a lot about music and pub politics. I even invested in some guitar lessons. Regensburg was often referred to as "The Musicians Graveyard". From the outside it really did look that way, but I always thought that the Regensburg crowd was more imaginative and less money oriented than the musicians who worked in the bigger towns like Munich and Nurnberg. In Regensburg, most musicians were not far off the breadline but there was always someone to buy you a beer, give a cigarette or give you a crash. It didn't mean that it was all peace and love. Far from it. There was always an ex pat walking around with a broken nose or leg or black eye, yet they'd all be back in the pub again the next morning.

Regensburg was a perfect base for exploring all over Europe. We spent about eight years there, but I knew in the end that it was time to leave. We had reached suburbia and could go no further. We even had a dog. Regensburg had truly been home for us. So after having the best party ever, we said aufwiedersehen and left town.

Off we went in a VW bus with Huk the dog. This was like a farewell tour of Europe. We played some street music, picked grapes and casually took in some culture.

Finally in the late winter of 1997 I took a trip on my clunky bike down the Danube, just me and the dog. He didn't have a bike so he just trotted along beside me. That trip for me was kind of a personal private goodbye to Europe. After about 6 weeks of that nonsense, me and Huk flew to the States and ended up in the Pacific North West.

So for now I live out here with the girlfriend who became my wife back in Denmark. We have a wee son and Huk the dog is still with us. Life is fairly settled.

I've taken the time to record a whole bunch of my songs, so there are about 6 CDs available on CD Baby online. I have another half a dozen or so that I can't afford to release yet. I've put up a bunch of outtake music on this site just for fun. Personally I like outtakes. They highlight the thought and sketches that goes into art behind the scenes. It doesn't have to be good, just interesting. I must say though, that with my music, it's hard to tell the outtakes from the finished article. I'm not exactly high tech. My recordings certainly have an organic touch of honesty about them. I still gig and have played in a few more bands but no one in the States seems to want to pay for live music. Ah well. I may be underpaid but I guess I'm still singin' for a livin'.

 

UPDATE  

The Story So Far. (Part 2).

Well we left the Pacific North West last September. It's now May 2012.

We've moved to a small town on the German/Austrian border for a year.

So far so good. We've been checking out old haunts and meeting old friends.

I'm slowly starting to do a few gigs but it's hard to know how much energy to invest in musical ventures when I may be back in the USA within 6 months.

For the moment though. It's great to be back.

we'll see what happens.

 PS. I've now made about 10 CDs. They are all still available on cdbaby.com