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You know the old riddle: “As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives…”?
Well, I’ve got a new version: as I was on my way to Norwich to catch the Kate Tempest gig I heard the busking tones of Vic(toria) Allen.
On a freezing December afternoon I’ve jumped off the train from London, and I’m now mulling around Norwich town centre in search of food, a hot drink and somewhere to pick up my voice messages.
In and around the busy market stalls I can hear a pleasant female voice and guitar accompaniment. Maybe it’s someone on the radio, or from a stall selling CDs. It’s a voice I haven’t heard before.
Leaving the markets behind I see the music emanates from a busker. A young woman, insulated against the cold, providing a distinctive brand of Americana vocals with neat chord changes along the way.
I listen to a couple of songs before going over to offer an introduction. Our conversation quickly becomes two pairs of chattering teeth fighting off the cold. We decide another time and place is best suited for a more in-depth non-chattering chat.
Busking ain’t easy, certainly not in December. It reminds we of a story from the late 90s: a Manchester band during a radio interview with swagger and conviction said they would make a heap of cash if they went out busking, that it was an easy occupation. The local radio station set up the challenge. After 45 minutes outside the Arndale Centre in central Manchester the band had gathered the grand sum of £2.20.
It was left to their PR company to save their embarrassment as they “inadvertently” let it be known who the band were, and where they were playing.
Vic Allen is a Norwich girl who released her first EP “The Missing Piece” in October 2016, a set of five original songs, recorded in Norwich with producer Sam McCune. She has recently spent time in Nashville, visiting iconic gig venues, as well as playing at the Bluebird and busking on Broadway. She recently had two acoustic songs on BBC Norfolk’s Introducing Takeover Day, along with a couple of London gigs.
PB: Can you tell us about you and your music?
VA: I started out playing the guitar when I was around 18 years old, but I didn't really start singing (well, not in front of other people anyway) until I got into country music on a trip to New York. I was working on a ranch and all the locals out there were big into country and would play music around the bonfire in the evening. It was so much fun and really inspired me to start playing music in front of people, so I started playing open mics in Bristol where I was at university from 2011 studying Zoology. Ever since then have been gigging and busking when and wherever practical. I started songwriting as soon as I started performing really. My songs are quite personal and I tend to write about things that have happened to me or people close to me.
PB: You released your debut EP ‘The Missing Piece’. What type of feedback have you had on the five tracks that make up the EP?
VA: It has been really good. BBC Introducing have taken an interest in the EP which is great. They've played three of the five tracks on their Norfolk show and also had me in to play a couple of songs live for their takeover day on Radio Norfolk. The general favourite off the EP seems to be ‘Bird of Prey’, which is the most upbeat. The song is about a girl that steals other people boyfriends (not really a personal experience, more about a girl I knew!)
PB: You recently spent some time in Nashville. Music or pleasure?
Both, really! I knew it was somewhere that I really wanted to go as I'd heard so much about it and that it's a great place to make connections if you're a musician. I absolutely loved it. My first day there I bought a guitar and played an open mic at The Bluebird and Douglas Corner. Everyone was so friendly and really talented. It was easy to make friends out there and meet other musicians to write music or go to open mics with. We went to various live music venues such as the 5 Spot and the Basement East. I also managed to get some time busking on Broadway which was great fun.
PB: Which bands/artists inspired you?
VA: John Mayer is a huge inspiration as his music is what inspired me to start playing guitar, not that my guitar playing is anything like his! He is definitely my favourite artist. Other influences include a lot of country artists - I am a huge Kacey Musgraves fan, and also love artists such as Miranda Lambert, Maddie & Tae, and Taylor Swift's earlier albums. I also listen to a lot of bands like Jimmy Eat World, Goo Goo Dolls, Anberlin, although you wouldn't really know from listening to my music.
PB: As someone relatively new to getting a musical foothold of the ladder to success and recognition, what are your major frustrations to date?
VA: Mainly just getting my music heard, and getting people that say they like it to buy it or share it with other people. It can also be disappointing when people aren't just interested in hearing original music, particularly in pubs. At a gig I played a couple of months ago a man shouted at me "Do you know any real songs?" which is obviously extremely encouraging.
Whilst I have my music on iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/the-missing-piece-ep/id1166983834. and my website www.vicallenmusic.com it’s still a bit of an unknown how many people you are actually connecting with.
PB: How long have have you been playing guitar? What else do you play?
VA: I’ve been playing for about 6 years. My first instrument was actually the clarinet when I was in middle school. I got to Grade 3 then gave up. After that I played the alto saxophone up until Grade 5 but once I bought a guitar I pretty much never picked up the sax again. I would really like to learn the piano as my new year's resolution this year. Hopefully it's one that I'll keep.
PB: Norwich seems a regular stop-off point for high profile bands these days. How has the city changed over recent years?
VA: Yes a lot more bands use Norwich as a stopping off point. There are lot of good venues, though I'd love to play the LCR one day! That's my favourite place for gigs. I also love Bristol, I’ve played at venues such as The Fleece, The Exchange, Harbourfest and the Bristol Balloon Fiesta. Both great cities I love.
PB: As the new year is now with us, what are your plans?
Well this February I will be returning to Nashville for another musical adventure and to visit some of the friends I made out there. Apart from that I plan to apply to festivals, put more videos up online and find band members to gig with.
I’ve also started putting together a gig listing together. Later in the year I have Buckles and Boots Country festival lined up for June in Manchester. I’m sure there will be a lot more dates by then!
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On his way to a gig in Norwich, Owen Peters chances upon a talented busker. Vic Allen tells us more about what she's up to and how she got here
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