Wednesday, July 01, 2009

X Is For Xtra Special

Another Feather In This Street Musician's Cap

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


Terry Sansom would have to be one of the most unique musicians I've seen anywhere in the world. He’s unique not because he plays the piano in the Bourke Street Mall here in Melbourne - he's unique because he treats it like a fully portable instrument.

He pushes the piano into the mall every day and when he’s finished, he pushes it away again. No fuss, no bother. No worries, mate. Me, I've never pushed a piano anywhere in my life, let along down a public mall, so I can only guess what a huge effort that would be.

And can he play? Mate, let me tell you, he so can play - he has a wide repertoire and he plays with a sense of fun as well. But because Bourke Street Mall is not one of my usual haunts, I'd never seen him until about four weeks ago.


Like I said, I don’t really spend a lot of time in this part of the city, but I was racing through the area one afternoon, in pouring rain. Naturally, I did not take my camera with me. My Pentax is efficiently weather-sealed, but I wasn't going to tempt fate in heavy rain that day. As I raced on foot through the mall, I suddenly heard the sound of a piano.

That’s when I saw him for the first time. Sitting there with a plastic poncho to protect him from the elements - and playing his heart out as the city bustled around him. He wasn’t part of a store promotion. He wasn’t playing with corporate sponsorship.

Just a bloke and his big old piano. Naturally, I had to ask the obvious question. I walked up, put some money in his bucket and asked him how on earth he gets a piano into the mall.


“Van”, he answered in a monosyllable because he was intent on playing. I had to find out more and I had to get some pictures of him. I asked if he would be there the next day, He nodded.

The next day, when I returned with my camera, the weather was clearer. Again I had to ask him how on earth he manages to push a heavy full-size piano around. This time I waited to ask him the question between songs. He told me he loads the piano onto his van at the end of the day and then brings it back into the mall the next day.

So how did he actually push it around? He pointed to the left-hand side of the piano. His eyes twinkled. "There’s a bit of redgum under there and I drilled through it to put a detachable wheel in so I can actually 'steer' the piano."


See, that another thing I’d never thought of. How on earth would you push a piano on your own - and "steer" it to ensure that it travels in the intended direction? It’s not like getting into a Ford, and turning on the ignition, is it? Just one of those things we don't think of because we've never had to do the task before.

I had picked the right day to meet him. With winter's embrace of our city, he was heading up north to seek warmth and longer days. He won’t be back in Melbourne until November.

When I ask permission to take photographs, he nods with a smile. Then he tells me people don’t generally ask permission. But he’s not complaining. He tells me he’s on YouTube. Passers-by film him and upload the clips to the site.

Then he tells me about the German tourists who bought one of his CDs. They took his music back to the factory where they worked - and the CDs were an instant hit. They were so popular that no one was allowed to take them out of the workplace. So they then had to put in an extra order for some more stock!


Does he do gigs? Yes, he says, he's doing a 60th birthday tomorrow. Far from where he lives? He shrugs.

I have to ask one final question. Where does he live?

He gives me a wry grin before he replies. "Wherever I park the van".

POSTSCRIPT: A big thank you to Craig Glenn, who tracked down this YouTube clip of Terry Sansom playing.


For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

49 comments:

Maria-Thérèse said...

What an impressive man!! I can practically hear his music all the way to Sweden.

Barbaloot said...

I love that second-to-last photo! It's amazing. Now I'm headed to youtube to look him up.

Virtualsprite said...

I am so impressed. I have pushed a piano before and, you're right, it's very difficult. Your photos really capture his spirit. Absolutely beautiful post.

Hilary said...

There's amazing character in that man's face and in his piano. No wonder you made a point of returning. Great stuff!

Craig Glenn said...

What a neat post! I really enjoyed this story. Looked him up on youtube... here is the link if someone wants to see...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2blwZnHUhM

Craig Glenn

jsd said...

thank you for sharing this man's story!

Katney said...

We moved a piano recently. Our first attempt was unsuccessful. We could push it across the room; we could have pushed it up the ramp into the truck, but the inch lift to get it onto the ramp was the sticking point.

When we did succeed, hubby brought six strong young men home from a gathering. With six, it was the work of about two minutes, (the ramp and pickup having been prepared ahead.

On the other end, my son had hired Dan the Piano Man, who came with two guys and equipment.

My granddaughter, 9, played over the phone for me a week or so later.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

what a wonderful man. My old gran used say it takes all sorts to make a world. And that it does. And no one is any less or more for it in my view.

over to youtube..

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Now that is very weird.....cos I can play the piano a tad and the sound coming out of the you tube wasn't what he was playing! SO I wonder if its one of those pianos that play em and you mime it..hope not the grande illusion would be shattered! MAybe it was just out of sinq!

Sherry said...

I'd love to hear him play. I also play the piano for all kinds of events but I certainly don't travel with a full-sized piano.

James said...

Wow. He really is Xtra special.
I'm so glad that I read this post. Very nice.

aims said...

What an interesting character. His life story must be quite something.

RuneE said...

One of you best post ever - highly entertaining and highly human. In every sense of the word.

You are hereby nominated to your own POTD!

Sandi McBride said...

He looks like he came straight out of Harry Potter, maybe he is a Wizard, which would explain his talent and his ease of movement with his instrument! Loved this post! It was magical in itself...
Sandi

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Oh, he is truly wonderful, David! You found a gem in this man, not only as the subject for your art but as a character in life. I wish he lived in St. Augustine. We do have some interesting characters, and most of them have jobs as reinactors. You never know when you'll see a pirate in Publix (that's our grocery store). ;-)

Loved this...

XO,

Sheila :-)

Grace Albaugh said...

What a face. He reminds me of the elf statues I see at gift shops here. What a great way to live. Where ever your van takes you.

Maggie May said...

That was a really interesting post and what a great character of a man.
Great photos.

JoAnn's-D-Eyes said...

Hi David,
Great X post I loe the piano details, the man is really an artistic looking guy, great story,

My X is up too, Happy ABC. JoAnn

Carol said...

David...From the way you wrote about him, I feel like I know him. I would love to stand there and listen to him play. What a testimony to "no use complainin' about stupid stuff".
My favorite photo is the one you shot from the top of the piano looking down on the hammers and keys. This is one of my favorite posts of yours!!

Pastor Sharon said...

David! This is my favorite post ever! The character in this man's face, the character in his piano! I would be money (if I wasn't a pastor who needs my license) that he wouldn't trade that piano for a brand new Grand Piano!
I have to go and find this guy on youtube!
He's gotta be an angel undercover. . . just gotta be!

Elizabeth Bradley said...

What an amazing character! And your shots are wonderful. This was a terrific post.

i beati said...

unique musicman

Cheffie-Mom said...

WOW, this is definitely one of my favorites. My son, Kyle is passionate about his piano playing, as well. I enJOYed this post tons!

Pouty Lips said...

I want to hear his music. I'm going to see if I can find him on You Tube.

Rebel Mother said...

Quirky, eccentric and different. To me, this is what makes the world go round!

Hope he gets his royalties!

RMxx

lakeviewer said...

Oh my. The last picture is stunningly beautiful, worthy of Rembrandt's sensibilities.

Great story, DAvid. Lucky for us, you happened to hear, return and get the story and pictures to share with the world.

Thank you.

cheshire wife said...

It must be wonderful to live such a care free existence.

imac said...

Wonderful post David.

Travel Oyster said...

We have a boogie-woogie pianist here in Ann Arbor who pushes his piano around town, but only on special occasions. Here's to musicians.

secret agent woman said...

Cool. Street musicians provde a little magic to an ordinary day.

Thumbelina said...

Had to stop by and tell you how much I loved this one. Brilliant post. His character shines through. And I love how he can't converse when playing. I admire people who can - how DO they do that? Like Terry, I can't because I am too busy concentrating on what I am playing! To push that piano alone - wow.
Great post. Thanks for sharing it.
*off to youtube now*

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

What a wonderful post, wonderful photos and a wonderfully interesting man! It's characters like him in life that make the world a better place - maybe there's still hope for a better world!
Thanks for sharing David, made me smile!!

Leslie: said...

Wow! What a character! And how lucky that you ran into him. I bet there's a story there, David, and you simply MUST get it. :D

Deb said...

I love the last photo. What beaustiful eyes that sparkle as he shares his passion. Thank you for taking the time to listen to his story and to then share it with all of us.

TechnoBabe said...

My favorite photo is the first one, his face shows wear but there is a softness and gentleness and the lighting is awesome. Good shot.

Brian Miller said...

beautiful post. he seems such a colorful man, and down to earth. i bet you could tell you a story as well as play you a song. priceless.

Tumblewords: said...

Clever man, as well! Imagine thinking about adding a wheel for guidance and sleeping in a van with a piano. Amazing, amazing. I love this post!

God of Another World said...

This is some of the best work I have seen from your collection, David. What an amazing subject and a better story. Your inspiration, respect, and wonder is clearly seen in your photos. Each piece seems to seek answers yet finds wonder. There is also a beautiful continuity in the man and his piano - appropriatly so considering their partnership and daily struggle. It is always tough when dealing with this kind of subject, the tendancy leaning toward exploitation, but you have handled it with grace and found a wonderful and transferrable beauty. Excellent work!

Merisi said...

Against all odds,
he plays his music,
what a great human being and performer!

Walking in Vienna's downtown, one can often hear a piano being played, beautifully at that. It is an upright on wheels! The young woman who plays it, pushes it into the middle of the main shopping street when evening approaches and then hits the keys with expertise and abandones herself to the music. I photographed her in 2007, here is a picture of that street, coming alive with music after the stores close.

Roger Owen Green said...

I love that face!

Shadow said...

a feather in a cap... perfect! the lines in his face read like a story too...

Sarah Lulu said...

Fabulous story and the photos are pure magic.

Mojo said...

Now that's a guy I'd love to meet! I wouldn't have ever thought of a piano as an instrument for a street performer -- for all the obvious reasons. What an amazing story.

I don't suppose that CD is available on Amazon or anything is it?

Tiffany Norris said...

What a beautiful story! Being an avid piano player myself, this one tickled my ivories! ;)

Janie said...

What a fascinating fellow. I was riveted to your characterization. Great U-tube clip, too.
We had to move a piano from an old house to a new one. No fun at all. I can' imagine moving one every day. He's very inventive to not only push it around but arrange the steering.

Daryl said...

What a great interview/post ... the newspaperman in you is showing beautifully. I suspected he was homeless from the get-go ... I did have to wonder with all the pushing, loading, unloading how it stays in tune.

Suldog said...

Wonderful! What a face - like a roadmap of a life.

jay said...

What a wonderful character! He certainly is Xtra special in many ways, not just his hat!

I wonder if he's ever thought of selling his CDs in a more commercial way?

Thérèse said...

As simple as can be. A great lesson.