Singer-songwriter Charlotte Campbell talks to Adam Shaw about busking on the streets of London and receiving a private message from Ed Sheeran
The lights on the Pyramid Stage went out and a hush of anticipation rippled through the Glastonbury crowd as it awaited the final headliner of this year’s festival.
Out walked a man in simple attire – jeans, a black t-shirt and a checked overshirt – armed simply with a guitar and a shy smile. A short, sharp powerful strum across the strings and his set had begun.
Seconds later the tens of thousands of people who had come to see him would be singing in unison. “I’m on my way…driving at ninety down those, country lanes…singing to Tiny Dancer.” Ed Sheeran has come a long way.
He spoke of his time busking and living on the streets, dreaming of making it big and playing in front of modest crowds.
His story might be remarkable but who’s to say it’s unique? Charlotte Campbell, a London musician who used to entertain patrons after pulling pints in Irish pubs across the city, was recently contacted by Sheeran on Facebook.
Her account had been locked after she uploaded a clip of her singing to his ‘Castle on the Hill’, the very song he opened with at Glastonbury last week.
“I’m a big fan of his and I love covering his songs,” Charlotte says. “I regularly post them on YouTube and decided to post a short snippet on my Facebook page.
“Apparently this is against their policies and my page was blocked for three days.”
She subsequently recorded a video about the situation, expressing her frustration and questioning why they would want to block someone covering his songs.
Sheeran caught wind of what had happened and sent a personal message to his fellow singer, apologising for what had arisen.
“It was so crazy – very sweet of him and I couldn’t believe it when I saw a notification from Ed himself.”
“One of the best things I get out of my job is seeing other people find enjoyment too. “I asked what’s gone on and apparently it’s a bot that Warner have that works on some weird algorithm (I have no idea what that means) but it’s just bad luck it was your video.
“I’ve had a word and I’ll get it sorted. Sorry again, keep doing what you do, tis ace. Ed X.”
Charlotte, as well as being in utter shock at receiving an actual message from the actual Ed Sheeran, says she was delighted to see that he keeps in touch with his past as a smaller artist.
Her own ambitions might not necessarily extend to the Sunday night headline slot at Glastonbury but, like Sheeran, she is always looking to improve and just gets a buzz out of performing.
Busking, once seen as a nuisance and little more than elaborate begging, has developed a culture of its own, particularly in London.
At her regular pitch on the Southbank, she speaks of an organised schedule where she and her fellow performers agree to give each other space for certain slots.
“We arrange things based on who arrived earliest and we are each designated an hour,” she explains.
“Once I have my time slot I am free to do my own thing and I usually spend my break times writing new songs or answering emails.
“I perform for an hour and if there aren’t too many other performers in the ‘queue’ I can put myself down for another slot in the afternoon.
“I try to play about three to four hours a day and spend my break times as productively as possible.
“On some evenings I gig around London so I usually head to the venue after my last busking slot.”
It sounds exhausting. But Charlotte notes how she loves playing for crowds and that she gets such a “high” when people build her up on social media or come back to hear her play. Plus, it is a way for her to expand in the industry.
Much in the same way Sheeran found success, it’s all about getting your name out there and hoping for a break.
“I’d really like to grow my fanbase as much as possible and once I’ve done that, I want to tour and see as much of the world as I can on a musician’s wage.”
She is evidently very down to earth – someone who enjoys music, always has, and likes to spread this enjoyment through the form of performing around London.
And you sense that if, sometime in the future, a busker is banned on whatever the social media platform of the age is for covering one of her songs, she’ll be the first to get in touch with them and try to right that wrong.