28 July 2014

York’s Street Entertainers – Present & Past

In York recently, I paused to consider the many street entertainers in the pedestrianised city centre. 

The singers and musicians were very ‘now’, even if the electric jazz close to the striped awnings of market stalls in Parliament Street was wonderfully mellow to the ear. Beneath the shading trees in Saint Sampson’s Square we stopped for refreshment and to listen to alternating guitarists with voices as languorous as the summer heat. Walking along mediaeval Stonegate, teeming with locals and visitors, fleeting strains from an unseen saxophone teased the ear.

With a nod to the Minster, we turned into Low Petergate, an even narrower mediaeval street following the course of the Via Principalis of the Roman fortress beneath its foundations. Here we came face to face with a man dressed in as near as modern motley as it’s possible to get, his concentration on elaborate body movements as he manoeuvred a crystal gravity ball to the fascination of onlookers.

But it was in King’s Square where the true action was taking place. A master of his audience, a fire-eater was rousing the crowd prior to juggling burning brands blindfold.

Market stalls and street food, itinerant entertainers... today, 500 years ago, a millennium past, two millennium even, all that would be different would be the dress of the audience. It makes a historical novelist content.

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