It’s A Long Way To The Top

Having spent a lot of time recently thinking, reflecting and writing about vulnerability, I want to share a personal perspective with you today. As many of you know, I like to murder a good tune on the guitar now and again. A good deal of my guitar work is carried out in the safety of my own home, and though some of it ends up on Youtube, I’ve gradually become used to the ‘it’s just me and the camera’ approach to the recording process.


A few months back I applied to audition for a busking licence on the London Underground. It did not go well, and I wrote about the train crash of an experience and while I’d like to say I learned loads of great lessons and moved on, this would not be quite true. My failure at the audition stuck with me. Oddly, I learned that I hadn’t passed the audition right after this impromptu performance in Louisiana which went down well, so who knows, maybe I simply overanalysed the London Underground opportunity? Whatever the reason, I was pretty down on myself about it, and for a while I wondered if that was the end of my attempts to conquer my performance gremlins.


Our family is fortunate to be a part of a fantastic summer camp weekend experience organised for the last several years by some great friends. This year, Keira asked if I would perform with her as part of the traditional talent show. I agreed and we practiced a song in secret, ready for the big day. Between you and me, our practices went well and I began to look forward to our opportunity to perform.

The day came, and so did my nerves and I’m sorry to say that there were a couple of times when I suggested to Keira that if she wanted to perform with her friend and let our slot slide, that would be OK by me. Thankfully Keira didn’t see it the same way and so we found ourselves on stage cranking out a version of ‘It’s A Long Way to the Top’, and in that few minutes, you can see we gave it everything we had. The reaction was great and afterwards lots of people congratulated us. I think perhaps these things are made easier when tackled together but I wanted to push on from this experience and see if I could get over my case of buskers block.


I was in luck – an opportunity to play at Matthews Yard in Croydon arose, so I offered my services and to my surprise, was added to the line up. I was given a half hour slot, 2pm on Saturday July 13th. I’d never performed like this before so I took a little time to plan. I drew up a long list of over 20 songs then pared it down by running through each song, checking to see how well I could play it and how each song fitted with its neighbours. I ended up with this set list:

  • Croydon Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
  • Speed of the Sound of Loneliness – John Prine
  • Billy Hunt – Paul Weller
  • Yesterday’s Burrito – Chris Plush, Doug Shaw, Meg Peppin
  • Stand By Your Man – Patsy Cline
  • Human Resource – Neil Usher, Doug Shaw
  • Down in the Tube Station – Paul Weller
  • I Met a Man – Flipchart Fairytales, Doug Shaw, Various Artists
  • It’s A Long Way to the Top – AC/DC

I found the thread of a story emerging at times and decided to work on talking to the audience between each song. Carole helped me and supported me through this process and when I left home on Saturday, despite my nerves, I had built a sense of belief, I can do this thing.

The gig came and went, and so, to a greater extent, did my nerves. Yes I was feeling pretty uptight at the beginning, but I was fortunate to have a few friends in the audience and I think the decision to engage in a bit of banter helped me to calm down, and helped people to enjoy themselves too. This was the first time I’ve ever sat down and performed in front of a bunch of people, most of whom I didn’t know. I did a good job, and the feedback through the set and afterwards indicates that others thought the same too. Later that day, Carole and I talked about how things had gone, and she said something like, ‘Maybe you simply need to give confidence first in order for people to hand it back to you?’

I’ll leave you to take whatever learning you want from my experiences. Suffice to say, I’m glad I didn’t choose to close the busking book on a bum note.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

13 thoughts on “It’s A Long Way To The Top”

  1. Thanks Doug – I am getting myself geared up to try and do some speaking events… so a timely post, not just in terms of getting up there and doing it, but also to remind me that sometimes it just doesn’t work. But it is not always not going to work (love a double negative…..).

    1. Good luck – try and have fun. Easy to say – and worth focusing on. Let us know how you get on.

  2. Similarly seriously….the stand up comedy would be good prep and practice. Not dying that you want to be a comedienne, but that you can take aspects that you learn into other engagements.

    1. Thanks Peter. I may be wrong, I often am, and I wonder if your info might be a little out of date? When I applied we talked through the arrangements. I understand it’s a year long permit and you arrange a flexible schedule for playing to try and work for you and them. In any event, I didn’t pass the audition, I may try again next time though 🙂

  3. It was a couple of years ago when I considered doing a few gigs in the city to plug the book and was told it was 6 months and you had to turn up every day. I thought that impractical for what I wanted to do. It sounds like it has changed.

    1. For the last few years the rather tedious process has been register – wait (sometimes years – though they seem v good at keeping records) – get invitation to apply – apply – wait – get shortlisted – wait – get audition etc etc. I agree – a daily appearance would be impractical. They seem to run auditions about once every two and a half years.

  4. @ Peter. That would explain the dreadful woman at Oxford Circus tube. Every time I go there, she’s strumming away and caterwauling. I have thought seriously about complaining – it’s aural abuse.

    1. I think I know who you mean – she sports the visitors badge so I’m pretty sure she must have passed an audition at some point! Doesn’t give the rest of us much hope I guess – though one person’s caterwauling is surely another’s melody?

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