Another Feather In This Street Musician's Cap
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.
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