Spare change for the cellist?

An acclaimed classical musician swapped the concert hall for the concourse of St Pancras station last week. Susie Mesure listened in

Over the bustle of a busy half-term lunchtime at St Pancras station, the mellifluous tones of a cello are barely audible. Even the musician caressing soaring melodies from a wooden instrument worth more than her home doesn't immediately stand out.

Casually dressed, the slight, black-haired girl looks like any other busker. Which might explain why barely anyone marching past M&S Simply Food on route from the Underground to the Eurostar check-in was paying her any attention.

But this was not your average street musician. She was, in fact, Natalie Clein, the 30-year-old concert cellist with a string of accolades longer than the bow she was moving so deftly across the neck of her 230-year-old cello.

She was there last week at the behest of The Independent on Sunday, curious to test whether an ordinary London crowd would recognise great beauty out of context – in this case without the backdrop of a concert setting, expensive tickets or programme notes. Clein has, after all, been BBC young musician of the year and won a Classical Brit.

The cellist herself was excited by the challenge: "My hope is that people dare to open their ears and eyes and be open to something different from the usual."

For the first 15 minutes of our hour-long experiment it looked like she might be disappointed. Yes, two women did toss a coin or two into the hat whisked from her boyfriend's head before she reached the end of her first piece of Bach (the prelude to the first solo cello suite in G major) but they were the sort of people who make up Clein's core concert following.

There was more cause for hope when a young Venezuelan man dragging a suitcase past the makeshift stage (a blue yoga mat) paused, shifted back a few metres, then settled back to enjoy the music, which he called "a meal for the soul".

Yet barely one in four people even turned their heads as they walked past, and of the first 100 or so passers-by, scarcely a handful broke stride. Denzil McNeelance, a regular busker who performs under the name Dr Sax, thinks he knows why. "If she'd chosen somewhere different, like the tunnel between South Kensington Tube and the museums, she'd have done far better."

True, Clein's music was somewhat muted against the bustle of an international train station: the departure of the 12.30pm to Paris did her no favours. And she had to endure her notes getting lost somewhere in the 100ft of air between her temporary platform and the vaulted ceiling of the refurbished St Pancras.

With her next piece though, Kodály's solo cello sonata, Op 8, the mood began to change. Maybe it was the choice of music, perhaps it was Clein's (frozen) hands warming up, or possibly it was a sheep-like public taking its cue from those around them, but suddenly people noticed her. One girl exclaimed to her friend: "Oh my God, that made me cry!"

By 12.50pm there was almost a steady stream of coins falling into the hat. The music's virtuoso fireworks proved magnetic for Maisey Shreeve, 10, who couldn't resist poking her head round the defunct information board acting as Clein's stage set. "It's lovely," she whispered. The Kodály's end drew applause. For Tobias Gibreel, 28, who was lunching outside Le Pain Quotidien, the experience was "beauty that you don't see every day".

Maisey aside, Clein's biggest fans turned out to be an American toddler, who craned forward in her buggy to get a better view, and four-legged Pippa, aptly a papillon hearing dog, who couldn't seem to open her shaggy ears wide enough.

And the money? Clein made £28.22p (and 55 euro cents), which she planned to give to her local Big Issue seller. Enough to make the busking bigtime? McNeelance thinks not. "She'd have at least doubled that in a different pitch. For me £30 an hour is a bad day. I can do as well as £150."

Clein, who is off to tour New Zealand and Australia, was enchanted, however. "It took me about 20 minutes to get into it but then I really started enjoying myself. I felt I didn't have to be anything other than myself – normally people come to watch me with expectations which can be quite inhibiting." For her, busking created the "circular energy" she says she needs to play. "Often I could just feel the appreciation, people didn't need to clap."

Star turns: Busking it: the roll call of past masters

Sting

The former Police frontman once busked in disguise to prove he could still do it. He made £40 at a Tube station.

Travis

The Scottish band treated Glaswegians to an impromptu busking gig in 2004. They were soon mobbed by fans.

James Morrison

James began busking aged 15 in his home town of Porth, Cornwall, making good money, "£70 an hour sometimes."

KT Tunstall

Last year, KT revisited her roots by performing on the streets of Glasgow. This time, however, she raised £270 for charity.

Damien Rice

Frustrated with record labels who wanted to make his former band, Juniper, more commercial, Damien left and spent a year busking around Europe.

Rolf Harris

The Australian entertainer sustained himself on his long sea voyage from Australia in 1952 by busking. He also played "Waltzing Matilda" on the accordion to crowds at the Coronation, as he later told the Queen.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing