Times Online – From down a crowded tunnel comes a simple melody to lift the heart, by Matthew Parris

I concluded (and wrote in The Times) that London Underground should find a way of licensing and regulating busking rather than simply try to ban it. And this is what it has done. There are now proper rosters, designated and sponsored pitches in non-nuisance-causing places, and music of quality and variety which is real rather than piped. Over this Christmas, busking has made the rush bearable, lifting many a frazzled shopper’s heart.

So in answer to the request for my cultural highlight of 2005 I submitted this: “Amazing how a snatch of music heard in passing — a phrase, a tone, a rhythm — can lift imagination and spirit. Transport for London have finally relented and let buskers play at selected, marked spots in Underground pedestrian tunnels. Rock, opera, country, blues . . . setting and circumstance are all against these artists yet their music has stolen into my heart as I hurry by.”

There was something more I wanted to write, but no space. It was this. The appeal of a simple tune, unadorned, direct to the human soul, is a wondrous thing. You would have learnt this sitting beside my busker-friend, hundreds of feet beneath the pavements of Bank station. Musical arrangement matters, of course, when there’s time and space; orchestration matters; harmony thrills; rhythm energises; proficiency impresses; a fine voice adds tremendously; and if you can get an audience to sit down and give you their full attention for an hour you can build on a composition. But at the core of any composition we take to our hearts is a melody; and the melody is probably simple and usually short: often no more than the sequence of a few notes. Any music with a rightful claim to a place in the mainstream of our musical tradition is music a man can whistle, on his own, in a minute, in the dark.

Read the whole thing. There’s a surprise ending, and oh it made me laugh.