This music crept by me upon the waters

In a tent behind the bandstand in Palmerston Park in Southampton, the Beatles are preparing to go on stage., wearing their classic Sgt Pepper outfits. A rather bemused and astonished audience (didn’t two of them die?) are watching as they launch into their opening number…. “It was twenty years ago today….”

I love watching music in the open air. I don’t mean only at festivals, although I’d quite like to die happily, many years from now, in the sun, with a beer in my hand, watching young people do noisy things with guitars at the Wychwood Festival.

I suppose it all started at my (boys only) grammar school, where a band with a rather good guitarist called Gary played rock and roll numbers under the science block at an open day one Saturday morning. The sheer incongruity of it all was great. Of course, there are numerous open air concerts, with bands, orchestras, fireworks, etc. But I like music outside, anywhere, the more impromptu the better.

Buskers are the most common form of this phenomenon. I once saw the legendary saxophonist Lol Coxhill busking, almost unnoticed, in Winchester High Street.

File:Lol Coxhill.jpg








Lol Coxhill: Photo by Gary Burnett


A great rockabilly band sometimes play in Southampton Above Bar. (I think they call themselves the Orbitones.) I don’t stop and watch buskers often enough. Or put money in the hat often enough.

Southampton Above Bar by Gary Reggae [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Some bands have quite a reputation for performing in the open air (although PT says the sound is hard to manage). Hawkwind, legendarily, played outside the Isle of Wight festival. Nik Turner, their one-time sax player, apparently has busked regularly in Cardiff city centre. I’m sure the Three Daft Monkeys have played all over Europe. Dixie jazz should only be played outside (or in a pub).  Winchester Hat Fair was a joy for busking musicians, before it became huge and organised. Wimborne Folk Festival features musicians in the streets as well as some very strange Morris sides.

So, I hear you asking, what’s all this about the Beatles? Famously, they played on the rooftop at Abbey Studios. But, believe it or not, I often walk past the bandstand in Southampton and for some strange reason imagine them playing Sgt Pepper there, complete with uniforms, all still alive. Totally fantasy- but why not? Oddly, when I’m at the seaside, I often imagine Roxy Music- the early Roxy Music, the one with Eno- playing on the promenade. ‘Remake/Remodel’, ‘Editions of You’- the rocky ones. It somehow fits.

Mrs Oblique and I made our own small contribution many years ago, playing guitar/ mandolin on French campsites. We never had any objections. Excitingly, a new initiative aims to get people all over the world playing outside on August 27th. (Play music on the porch) Go for it!


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