By Luke Voogt
ARTICLE WRITTEN PRIOR TO THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF VICTORIA’S SNAP LOCKDOWN. TODAY’S PERFORMANCE CANCELLED.
From New York City’s Times Square to Marrakesh, Morocco, Steve Thew has busked almost everywhere.
“You name it – I’ve done it,” the Kiwi expat and long-time Geelong local told the Independent ahead of his latest central Geelong Street Serenade.
“I’ve been to about 30 countries. “Usually I have a small guitar with me when I travel, and I get it out and sing.
“I just enjoy playing music for people out in the open.”
Thew remembered performing among stalls, snake charmers and monkeys on chains with a travelling companion at the Marrakesh Night Market in 2019, before COVID-19 hit the world.
“He had a guitar and I was singing. We were doing a few Rolling Stones songs,” he said.
“The crowds were huge. It’s a big square about the size of two football fields.
“And the food, you can imagine what that’s like. It’s just magic.”
The Newtown singer-songwriter began his musical journey growing up in Auckland.
“I got an old guitar given to me when I was 12,” he said.
“I couldn’t play the thing and it had strings missing. So I restrung that and learned to play.”
Thew played in a few local bands, before moving to Australia in 1985.
He first remembers busking solo in Australia at Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall in the early ’90s.
“I got an old banjo given to me then,” he said.
“I’ve got no idea how old it is but I play it every now and again. I usually play a bit of folk to play to add to my busking.”
Thew moved to Geelong 1999 and, after 40 years working as an engineer, retired in 2015, freeing up more time to hit the streets of Geelong.
“[A council officer] came to me and said, ‘do you want to do some busking for the council?’” he said.
“I said, ‘no worries’, so I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Influenced by Sting and, more recently, Passenger and Ed Sheeran, the blues and folk artist has released three albums so far.
He plays a mix of original tracks and covers, using his skills in guitar, banjo, harmonica and piano.
“It’s normally 75 per cent originals, but it depends,” he said.
“If I’m playing at a pub somewhere, like Beaves Bar, I’ll just play covers because a lot of people don’t know your music.”
A few years ago Thew started organising Geelong’s Best Busker, along with a junior competition, for council.
“But it’s pretty well impossible for me to put on by myself currently due to COVID-19, so I’ve just put it on the wayside for now,” he said.
But, perhaps surprisingly, COVID-19 has provided a boon for some local buskers.
“It’s really taken off because you can’t play inside a lot of time or at festivals,” Thew said.
“Even in the streets in Geelong at the moment, you get a lot of people come up and say they enjoyed your music.
“They ask, ‘where are you playing?’ and I say, ‘I’m playing here!’”
Council has plans, dependent on Victoria’s latest COVID-19 outbreak, to expand its Street Serenades from the CBD to the rest of Geelong, according to Thew.
“It’s ramping up in June where they’re going to Lara, Ocean Grove and Pakington Street,” he said.
“There’s going to be a lot of us doing that.”
The Street Serenades feature dozens of local buskers and musicians like Thew, who has dates lined up for June and July too.
“A great big thanks to Geelong council for all they’ve done for the local musicians,” he said.
For details search ‘Street Serenades’ at geelongaustralia.com.au.