- 22 Jan 20
Waterford’s BuskAid is the country’s first city-wide charity busking festival – aiding local homeless women and families through Tinteán Housing Association. In the run-up to its fourth year, we talk to its founder, musician and writer Tadhg Williams, about BuskAid’s remarkable journey so far.
He may be opening for the likes of Glen Hansard, David Keenan and Rozi Plain these days – playing “depressing songs about ex-girlfriends and sex” in between cramming sessions for his upcoming Christmas exams – but it wasn’t too long ago that Tadhg Williams was getting his start busking on the streets of Waterford. It was there that he came face-to-face with homelessness in his city – and the seeds of BuskAid were sown.
“It was New Year’s Eve, 2015, and there were only two buskers in the whole town: me and this old fella who kept playing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ on the tin whistle over and over again,” he recalls with a smile. “I was still in sixth year, and my mental health was very poor – so it was almost as though I was searching for something to give me a little bit of a lift.
“There was a lot of visible homelessness in Waterford at that time. I was heartbroken at the thought that there were people without anyone to share New Year’s Eve with. So, when I finished up busking that day, I went up to Dealz and bought them a rake load of sandwiches, giant Toblerones and bottles of Coke with whatever money I had.”
As Christmas approached the following year, Tadhg decided to step it up a gear. Taking to Facebook, he asked people to join him busking around Waterford to raise money for the homeless.
“People started liking and sharing it, and before I knew it, it was getting so much traction,” he says. “Everyone wanted to get involved. Within a week someone had sent me a logo, someone else had said they wanted to sponsor jumpers for us all, and someone else had offered us a HQ for the day. It just completely snowballed.
“I don’t know how many times I cried the first year we did it. It was so special, the way it all just came together.”
From these humble roots, BuskAid has rapidly transformed into a Waterford Christmas tradition. With the help of his team, particularly his fellow co-ordinators, writer Anna Jordan and musician Derek Flynn, the city-wide busk has raised over €15,000 over the last three years. Programmed like a festival, last year’s BuskAid saw 100 buskers and volunteers getting involved.
“I like to call it a ‘Walking Winter Music Festival’,” Tadhg laughs. “People sign up to get involved, and we have different hour-long slots throughout the day in various parts of the city. We create a walkway through the town, so every couple of 100 yards or so, you’ll find another busker. We’ve had everything over the years – flame-throwers, dancers, poets and musicians.”
Local musicians have been eager to lend a hand, including TOUCAN’s Conor Clancy and Backroad Smokers Club – while David Keenan has also been spotted wearing a BuskAid badge when playing a gig.
“At one point in the afternoon, all the buskers and volunteers from throughout the whole day get together, and we do a giant group busk,” Tadhg says. “I’ll never forget the first year we did it. There was about 50 of us belting out songs in Red Square, and by the end there was probably 300 people standing there listening to us. It was insane.
“I suppose it’s a bit like the Grafton Street busk – except that we obviously don’t have Glen Hansard (laughs).”
BuskAid’s proceeds go to Tinteán Housing Association, who have been providing accommodation and support for homeless women and families in Waterford for the last two decades.
“We made a decision when we started that we wanted the money to stay local,” Tadhg says. “People forget that there’s a homelessness crisis outside of Dublin as well. So we did a bit of digging around, and we found Tinteán Housing Association. I’ve been up there a few times to see the work they do, and its unbelievable.”
Several of the women availing of Tinteán’s services have also got involved with the city-wide busk.
“Anna Jordan does writing classes in Tinteán, and she’s brought some of the service users in to read their poetry on the day,” Tadhg smiles. “We set up poetry corners around the city, where people can say their poems out loud. It’s so special to see someone who has been knocked down so much in their life, standing up in the street reading a poem that they wrote. That really gives you a boost.”
Earlier this month, Waterford band Chimpanbee released the 2019 BuskAid anthem, ‘This One’s From Me’, with all proceeds going to Tinteán Housing Association. It was a bittersweet moment, as it was revealed to be the final release from the local legends, whose keyboard player, Damien O’Brien, died after an assault in Waterford in July 2018, aged 28.
“Chimpanbee are real Waterford rockers,” Tadhg nods. “They’re a great bunch of lads, and they’ve been through the wars the last year or so. This is the first music they’ve released since that happened. They wanted it to be something upbeat and happy – a Christmas song that people could dance to. It’s a brilliant track.”
Chimpanbee are also set to headline Viking Promotions’ BuskAid Live & Loud gig in Electric Avenue on December 14, with all proceeds once again going towards Tinteán. The main event takes place across the city a week later – and Tadhg reckons that this year looks set to be the biggest one yet.
“It’s growing all the time,” he grins. “People are starting to take notice of it outside of Waterford as well – I got a message from a girl in Cork last week, saying that they want to do a BuskAid there next year. I can’t wait for this year, because it creates such a vibrant atmosphere around town. It really gives me purpose at Christmas.”
See buskaid.net for more information.