Tom Kitching is, if you need reminding, a fiddle player, a former musical partner of Gren Bartley and a founder member of Pilgrim’s Way. In 2018 he decided to interleave his regular work with a busking tour of England and compile a blog as he travelled. Seasons Of Change is that blog reformed as a book. As Tom points out this isn’t really a book about busking, although there is plenty of that involved. Nor, I would say, is it really a travel guide although it is packed with obscure and interesting – and sometimes amusing – facts about the towns and cities he visited.
Seasons Of Change is more about people than places although Tom took time to explore his surroundings and it’s also about certain philosophical questions. Tom travelled by car, and slept in it on two occasions, and the unwritten rule was that he had to be self-sufficient on his busking days. That is, he had to make sufficient money to buy food, a cheap bed for the night should he need it and, eventually, petrol to move on. Of course, being a well-known musician, he has friends all over the country who might provide a bed and a guided tour of their locality.
The tour was divided into geographical segments with trips home in between for laundry and baths and he began in the north-east during an inauspiciously wet spring. Berwick-Upon-Tweed was his first port of call and the days would all follow the same pattern: arrive, choose a pitch, play for an hour or so, find some lunch and repeat the process in the afternoon. The weather had a bearing, of course, and Tom talks of having to dry out his fiddle case before putting his instrument away. Each segment included four or five stops and he continued through East Anglia, the West Midlands, the south coast, London, Cornwall, the South Midlands and the north-west before concluding in Hull.
Busking is a dodgy business but Tom Kitching seems to be remarkably good at it, making sufficient money, avoiding trouble and playing for anybody who would listen and sometimes just for himself. He also finds himself considering how we, as a nation, deal with our own history whether in tatty “antique” shops or sanitised industrial museums and how we pass it on to the next generation. His other preoccupations are integration and homelessness and, being a musician, he is usually seen as non-threatening and people are happy to talk to him in a way they wouldn’t if he was just a tourist. This is where the meat of the book lies.
Seasons Of Change is a fascinating read and I found myself worrying on Tom’s behalf about what the next day or the next town might bring, Spoiler alert: he emerges unscathed. Alongside the book is a CD of fiddle tunes. The CD wasn’t recorded in the streets – I doubt that would be possible and would almost certainly have separated Tom from his audience. We’ll review it a little way down the road.
Author’s website: www.tomkitching.co.uk
ISBN: 974-1999333935 Softback 332 pp