Q’town busker do­ing it for love of mu­sic

Re­porter Rhys Cham­ber­lain caught up with well-known Queen­stown busker AJ Hick­ling for a cof­fee and chat.

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE -

He’s one of Queen­stown’s most recog­nis­able street per­form­ers. He’s the dread­locked fel­low play­ing a pi­ano he res­cued from the dump.

You can of­ten find him parked up in the Queen­stown Mall. He’ll be the guy seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to the hordes of on­look­ers, to­tally en­grossed in his craft.

No, it’s not Mathias Le­feb­vre, an­other tal­ented Queen­stown busker. Le­feb­vre has chopped his dreads off.

He’s AJ Hick­ling, clas­si­cal pianist.

What you might not know is that Hick­ling, 40, could well be one of New Zealand’s most tal­ented mu­si­cians.

Christchurch born, he learnt to play the pi­ano from age 2, by ear, un­til he reached his teens when he took lessons.

He had a schol­ar­ship of­fer to study clas­si­cal mu­sic at the Univer­sity of Otago and he’s played in front of hun­dreds of suit-clad dig­ni­taries. But he gave it up, he says, to do mu­sic his way, for the pure en­joy­ment.

‘‘No­body was hav­ing any fun. It wasn’t re­ally my scene.’’

From Mara­hau, in the Tas­man Dis­trict, Hick­ling plays Queen­stown through the winter, pre­fer­ring it to the busker-soaked streets of a Queen­stown sum­mer.

‘‘Queen­stown is re­garded as one of the top 10 spots in the world for busk­ing.

‘‘I re­ally do love it down here. That whole Cen­tral Otago buzz is pretty much in my blood.’’

He won’t say what he makes in a day busk­ing, but what he will say is that it’s con­sid­er­ably more lu­cra­tive than any other job he’s done.

He’s able to ad­e­quately sup­port his 7-year-old daugh­ter and live a com­fort­able life.

Hick­ling’s been com­ing to Queen­stown for about the past 20 years, but only started busk­ing with the pi­ano about five or six years ago when he saw it at a dump near Mara­hau, rain-soaked, ham­mer­less and with most of the strings bro­ken.

‘‘I worked on it for a year just to get it playable again [and] this pi­ano has just got bet­ter and bet­ter and bet­ter with the play­ing.’’

All his mu­sic is orig­i­nal and he pro­duces and records when he can, but busk­ing is his love.

‘‘I just love the psy­chol­ogy of busk­ing.

‘‘I pretty much need to get my­self into a zone where I can hardly be­lieve it my­self and that builds a crowd.’’

He’s come to no­tice things about busk­ing over the years.

‘‘[Peo­ple] stop, then af­ter 45 sec­onds, they would do some­thing af­fec­tion­ate like put their arm around their kids.

‘‘I truly be­lieve there is a magic about mu­sic, that it goes where it can find peo­ple who need it.’’

RHYS CHAM­BER­LAIN

RHYS CHAM­BER­LAIN

Busker AJ Hick­ling plays his pi­ano in the Queen­stown Mall last week.

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