The first street musician I ever met was at the horse fair in the West of
Ireland on a cold autumn day in 1973 - an old man playing a violin between
the horses. It was like an epiphany.
A few years later I started to live in London close to Portobello Road Market.
Street musicians played there frequently and the feeling of being in the
presence of something precious stayed with me. The street musicians
themselves were often quite lonely men, yet their music lessened the
loneliness of the street, the people in it and my own loneliness.
When I heard music in the distance, even before seeing the musician,
I would say to myself: "And the music is playing." The Czech photographer
Josef Sudek, a great music lover, would say this when putting the needle
on the gramophone record, he used to say it almost as a greeting. He was
among the people I missed most in my early days in, London.
Some two years after I came to London, my son Matthew was born.
We Czechs believe in the goodness of fresh air for babies. The literal
translation of the Czech word ”vozit" is ”to carry", but it has a special
meaning in the context of childcare. It means to walk outside with the
baby in a pram. Older siblings, cousins and particularly grandmothers
must all take turns with this task. The vibration of the pram’s movement
in combination with fresh air is considered very beneficial for babies.
I had no relatives in London to help me, so every day I took Matthew out
myself. But I was also a photographer and while pushing the pram I would
photograph street musicians, usually on the way to and from the park.
Later on, when my son began to enjoy the musicians and their puppets,
we used to skip the park altogether (pages 11, 78-79).
Most photographs in this book were taken while out walking with my baby
in the pram, although a few were taken already before he was born, during
the first couple of years I was in London and some I took much later on.
There were no street musicians in my childhood in Czechoslovakia in the
1950's and yet I think that one of the things that made a difference for me
and helped to make London a home, not a place of exile, was the music
in the streets.