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Nottingham's Buskers: Mogs Morgan

6 April 18 interview: Bridie Squires
photos: Simon Parfrement

Long-time Notts busker and badman saxophonist, Mogs Morgan is a staple to the city’s landscape. You might find him knocking about near Xylophone Man’s old spot, among other places, having a toot. We gave him a bell...

Ayup Mogs, what you up to?
Just lighting a cigarette in the Union Mills in the Isle of Man, looking after my mother. That's where I'm from you see. The Isle of Man is a very small place, great for being a kid, but anybody with half a brain got off. There were very few opportunities, so I went to study fine art in Liverpool at the same place as John Lennon. Some at the college did really well in music; Bill Drummond out of KLF, Clive Langer who produced Elvis Costello and Madness...

What did you specialise in?
I started doing performance and film. Videos were just starting to be used, and we had these proper big tape machines that you carried over your shoulder with a camera that you couldn't point directly into the sun. They were just black and white.

How did you end up in Notts?
I moved to Leeds, where I was in a band called Goth Jackson and the Huns; it was formed in Hunslet, and Goth Jackson was a hi-fi specialist in Headingley. So we nicked his name. The band split up and I went to Singapore for a year.

What were you doing in Singapore?
Absolutely jack shit, just enjoyed a year out chilling. They don't like buskers in Singapore. Eventually, because I was running out of funds but didn't wanna go back to Leeds, I put a pin in a map and ended up in Nottingham where I had a distant cousin. I stayed with her for a while, and then ended up staying in Nottingham.

When did you first pick up the saxophone?
I was ten. My parents ran a big boarding house on the promenade, and an American air force band turned up. When they were practicing, one of them let me have a go on his saxophone and he immediately said “You're a natural.” I didn't pick it up again probably for another ten years or so, and then I joined that band in Leeds.

Do you play any other instruments?
A little bit of keys; I've had a few pointers from watching Justin Dodsworth in The Invisible Orchestra, which I left in the summer. I've realised I really enjoy busking. I feel far more at home on the streets, and I just don't like getting up on stage and doing a gig. I suppose I'll have to get over that one eventually. I've got my rehearsal studio, Rubber Biscuit, and I get a tiny bit of session work, but I'm really low profile, except for the street work.

You were in the press last year with a problem with your teeth...
That's all sorted. This is a salutary tale for all those that smoke: me gums went, then my teeth started falling out, so I was panicking a bit. A few people from The Invisible Orchestra whacked it out on Facebook, but I don't like loads of media attention. I didn’t go down the fundraising route in the end, I went through the NHS. I couldn’t play for six months, and then I got fitted with false teeth. Then at Christmas time another little crisis hit; I had two mini strokes. I've had to pay to keep the studio together and all the rest of it too. I don't wanna be practising in me flat, otherwise I'll have the environmental health department on me arse.

What do you get up to day to day?
I mooch around in the mornings, go to the studio in the afternoons, practise me saxophone, go home via town, and have something to eat. I've got my routine sorted, and I do some busking when the weather's right but I've hauled right back on that, and I don't go travelling as much as I used to. I haven't even been to Derby for years.

What are the best places you've visited?
The best one is where I am now, in the Isle of Man. They don't get many buskers, and the ones here are just not good. They try. Some are okay, but they have a different system here in that you book in for a slot, and get a bit of payback, so they're quite lucrative here.

In Nottingham they keep coming up with these silly ideas of licensing buskers; they've tried it a couple of times and it just doesn't really work. They can't afford to keep the system up and running. I'm not totally against it, but I am against the fact that you used to have to audition to get a license, which I thought was an infringement on artistic freedom and cultural expression. Quite a serious one. If you wanna go down town in a hat with a pair of spoons and crack on, then fine, it don't bother me.

Are you still knocking around near Xylophone Man's spot?
Yeah, it's a nice spot. There are a lot of little considerations if you wanna get your busking right. You get the sun, which is important, especially in the winter. But in the summer, you're in the shade of the trees. In winter, the best pitch is the corner outside Marks and Spencer’s, on Albert Street, but I get hassle there from an accountant's office.

Most are alright. I know my way around Nottingham, and if you just have a word with the shops, they're fine. Especially in the winter, I stand in the doorways to get warm before I start playing; you have to get to the pitch early and hang around for a few hours before you get the footfall, so you have to keep warm and I'm not getting any younger.

You must have a strong glove game...
Proper leather, with a fleece lining.

Giz a funny busking memory from over the years...
There was a geezer that went into Marks and Spencer’s, nicked a bottle of champagne and gave it to me on his way out while he was being chased by security. He says “Here, you can have this,” and legged it round the corner. Then he was dragged back because they found some other stuff on him. He gave me a wink and said “Enjoy the champers.”

What are your plans for the future?
I'm just gonna sort my mother out, that's the immediate one for me. I have been threatening to get a band and an album together, so you better get scared, but for now it's on hold until the immediate stuff here is sorted. I'll be back for Easter, then I'll be flying backwards and forwards between Nottingham and the Isle of Man, so I can't concentrate on a big job, but I'm recording and writing stuff.

Thanks for chatting to us for the hundredth issue, Mogs...
I do pick up a LeftLion when I'm in my local, the Lincolnshire Poacher. I see two of your journos in there sometimes, Ben and Ali. You get loads of musicians too; sometimes The Invisible Orchestra pile in after rehearsal and you can't move. Nottingham is a very vibrant city on the musical side of things... you have to enjoy life while you can, don't you?