Updated: Saturday, 25th January 2020 @ 8:25am

'King of buskers' the Hoochie Coochie Mancunian on YouTube, Manchester's 'lowlife' and not being modest

'King of buskers' the Hoochie Coochie Mancunian on YouTube, Manchester's 'lowlife' and not being modest

By Bethany Armitage

The Christmas shopping rush may be reaching fever pitch, but for the Hoochie Coochie Mancunian, Manchester’s self-proclaimed king of busking, this is just another day doing his favourite job.

Playing his guitar and harmonica almost all year round on the corner of Exchange Square , Noel Ward, to use his real name, has become somewhat of a legend for his Chicago blues music, soulful voice and eccentric personality.

The 55-year-old is admittedly not your traditional busker, and while his name may be associated with Christmas, he’s not likely to be belting out a chorus of Frosty the Snowman anytime soon.

Asked this week whether he enjoyed busking in the middle of the Christmas markets in mid-December he replied: “Not particularly, no.

“Although I do think people feel a bit sorry for you because of the weather, as it’s so cold and I’m stood here with a blanket on my shoulders!”

But the summer is not the best for making cash, he admits. “You don’t make anything like the kind of money you do in December. That’s the whole point in us being here, it’s worthwhile to sit out the cold,” he said.

With reports of sub-zero temperatures and snow covering much of Britain, the Hoochie Coochie Mancunian’s enthusiasm for his music and love of performing seems to quell any calls to hang up his guitar.

“How can I put this without sounding too immodest? I’m the king of the buskers. I’m busking royalty. See this? Looks like a hat in my hand. It’s not a hat it’s a crown!” he even joked when asked about what makes his act so popular.

Walking through the busy streets it’s hard not to be drawn to the Hoochie Coochie Mancunian, even before he starts playing with a huge blue umbrella covering his equipment, a slick electric guitar in one hand and his famous, hat and sunglasses, which he uses to transform himself from an ordinary 55-year-old into the a local celebrity.

“I put 120% into what I do so it’s right in your face. I’m all over YouTube,” he said, however with the intense amount of energy he puts into his gigs most shows nowadays tend to last just two hours.

But, that’s the Mancunian’s tactic, to draw up a big crowd quickly, rather than plodding along playing background music to accompany the city’s shoppers.

Yet, despite the highs of his 14-year busking career, the white-haired blues crooner acknowledges the downsides of choosing to perform outside rather than in.

The two negatives associated with street performing are the British weather and, ‘the lowlife’, he explained.

“It’s a lot better these days, but five, six, seven years ago the streets were full of scum, who if it’s not nailed down they’ll rob it,” the Mancunian warned.

This is where his faithful brolly comes in handy, acting as not only a shelter from the elements for himself and his expensive equipment, but also helping to protect him against thieves.

“It keeps the lowlife from me back. If they wanna come up and pinch something while I’m playing they can’t creep up behind me,” he said.

The musician revealed that he never plays at night, as he believes is not safe and attacks or muggings are far less likely to occur during the day.

After highlighting what he feels is a lack of police officers on the beat on Manchester’s busy shopping streets, he explained that the most trouble he has is with drunken spectators.

“It’s just when they come up and destroy the show, they start wanting to take over, they think they are the show and I’m just backing them up, that’s when you get the hump and give them their marching orders,” the busker argued.

The Hoochie Coochie Mancunian has been a musician since the age of ten and gravitated towards blues music in the late 80s, before getting together a blues band in 1990.

After seven years of playing together he began to feel that he was ‘carrying passengers’, so he ‘released the harness and told them to get off and walk’.

But, it was a visit to the Colne Blues Festival in Lancashire in 1998 which gave him the idea of taking his music to the streets and tapping in to a far larger audience.

“At first, everybody thought I was mad and thought I’d lost the plot,” he joked, with fellow musicians going as far as to say that it was tantamount to begging.

After rustling up a willing partner and playing their first day busking, the Mancunian said: “We struck gold and it just started raining money, raining pound coins. I was flabbergasted, I couldn’t believe what was going on, I thought we can really do this, it beats the hell out of driving a car all-around the North West.”

“I came out to sing 14 years ago, I tested it out and I thought. I like this, this suits me down to the ground,” he added.

In contrast to playing the cabaret circuit, which he described as being ‘musical prostitution’, being able to break away from commercial songs and play his favourite Chicago blues music has been a gamble worth taking.

The musician, whose name originates from the famous Muddy Waters song Hoochie Coochie Man, has even become a hit online,  as his perhaps best-known cover, Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits has almost half a million YouTube hits alone.

But, while he may be regarded by some as a living legend, the Hoochie Coochie Mancunian is not about to share the secrets of his success just yet.

His top tip for aspiring buskers? “Don’t come on my pitch or anywhere near me because you won’t make any money!” he joked.

Be warned.

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