Above the general hubbub of people going about their business, buying produce and browsing stalls, there is another sound to be heard at Belconnen Fresh Food Markets on a weekend.
It’s the music of Lucky Jim, the markets’ resident street performer who draws crowds and smiles with his quirky tones and lyrics such as, “There’s something stinky in the fridge,” plus other favourites.
Lucky Jim – aka Jim Sharrock – can be found at Belconnen Fresh Food Markets most Saturdays from 11 am, guitar in hand and corflute fridge prop by his side.
He has been at it for years, employing skills learnt as a teacher, parent and touring musician to snag a crowd and then hold it.
Jim says a successful street artist has to be open and able to improvise.
“I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from watching other street artists,” he says.
“I’ve got a little bag of tricks, and then also having good material is crucial. I’ve also got a full-size fridge that’s made out of corflute that acts as a very good prop, with pictures of each song inside – the kids really like that.”
Jim’s day job is as a teacher and principal at a Canberra primary school, while also running music workshops for organisations such as Young Music Society and Musica Viva.
For the past two years, he has been entertaining kids in schools around Australia in a touring show with Musica Viva’s band, Doctor Stovepipe, in places as far afield as Broome and Kakadu.
“Our goal is to take live music to children,” says Jim. “I love playing music for kids. It’s fun and raucous and they’re an honest and responsive audience.”
COVID-19 obviously put a stop to in-person performances, but it wasn’t enough to stop it altogether. The band pushed on with the shows for schoolkids on Zoom.
“Zoom is a very different medium for music, but we managed to turn it into a sort of magic show, with instruments disappearing from one screen and appearing in another, which was kind of fun,” says Jim.
That said, he admits his target audience is a tricky age group to cater to.
“I do get quizzical looks from parents,” says Jim. “It’s not The Wiggles, who do early childhood. I’m targeting children aged seven to 12, and they’re quite tricky because they have a wide range of interests so I have to do a range of songs, from simple animal songs with actions to more word-play based songs.”
Jim started life in Young and says the talent for music certainly isn’t an inheritance from his very “non-musical” parents. Rather, his primary school was lucky to have a “very good band teacher”, one that saw their humble school rise to fame at the Sydney Eisteddfod music awards three times in a row.
He ditched the flute in high school “because it wasn’t very cool” and went to the electric guitar. This was also when he started to write his own works, strongly influenced by English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg.
Later, while undertaking a degree in media studies at the University of Canberra, Jim discovered a smorgasbord of strange instruments and exotic playing styles. He began playing the congas in a Latin band twice a week and embarked on his gigging career.
Another degree in teaching later and he got a job at a primary school as a drama and music teacher, while continuing to dabble in jazz and percussion. From there, it was on to the Doctor Stovepipe band and the love of writing silly songs for kids.
This also marked the beginning of their street performances, which were initially quite successful in those early days.
“This was during the days of hard currency, which isn’t really much of a thing anymore, especially post-COVID-19,” says Jim. “It’s hard to busk nowadays.”
His number-one hit song at the moment is called Dog in the Doghouse, which started out as a slow blues song before morphing into more of an upbeat bluegrass number.
“I play that song all around Australia and the kids love it,” says Jim.
When he isn’t able to make it to Belconnen Fresh Food Markets, fellow local musicians in his group fill in so the markets are never left without a musical soundscape.
Belconnen Fresh Food Markets are back in full swing following Canberra’s COVID-19 lockdown – visit the website for more information.