Rail Talent

Published on 23 December 2016

Photo: Jeremy Chan

While singer/actor Windson Liong continues performing on the London stage and beyond, he also finds joy singing in train stations.

BY JO TAN

Talent’s often subjective, but Windson Liong’s is official. Thanks to fine performances in concerts and theatrical productions spanning Singapore, New York, Shanghai and Sweden, the Singaporean singer/actor obtained the United Kingdom’s Exceptional Talent in the Arts visa. Now based in London, Liong has been workshopping films, writing scripts, touring a show about the Chinese Labour Corps in World War I and… busking in Tube stations.

“In Singapore, people sometimes see buskers as poorly disguised beggars. This is a misconception,” asserts Liong. “Buskers differ, but good ones spend time and energy constantly improving and updating their craft. Also, busking can be more difficult than stage productions. While performing Miss Saigon came with the stress of doing justice to the other 59 cast members, the 40-strong orchestra and the thousands of audience members filling the centuries-old theatre, I find it possibly scarier busking alone without the support of colleagues, to a public that might not even be interested.”

Photo: Jeremy Chan

Last year, Liong responded to a call for busking applications by the London Underground, which allots successful applicants time-slots and locations. (Busking in Tube stations requires special licences, unlike in most other public spaces in the UK.) Thought Liong, “It’s now or never.” His application was approved within the week, and Liong spent two days scrambling to memorise 50 songs and buy new equipment for his first slot. He didn’t regret it.

“Busking has turned out to be among the most uplifting things I’ve ever done. I’ve continuously received unexpected kindness: whether from fellow buskers with tips on what to do for better outreach, or homeless passersby warning me about impending rain.

“Once, the trains were delayed and everyone was upset because they couldn’t go home. One commuter just stood there for some time, not looking at me as I sang. Suddenly, she came up to give me my first £10 note for busking, saying, ‘It’s been an absolutely rotten day and your music made me feel so much better, thank you.’ Another time, a homeless gentleman actually emptied out his pockets to give me money. It was probably all the cash he had in the world.”

The best reactions don’t always involve money. “As I sang ‘The Way You Look Tonight’, this old lady stopped in her tracks to gaze at her husband with incredible tenderness. There and then, they slow-danced, then looked at me with such warmth and gratitude. I will remember that look forever. That’s something you don’t get performing in the finest theatres: the ability to reach all kinds of people who might really need to be moved by music.”

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