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