On any given day or night along Granville Street, you will see and hear the city come alive. From drunken revelers, to panhandlers, to painters, to buskers, Granville Street is home to some of the most interesting folk in town.
Thomas Beckman is one of those lesser known artists who see Granville Street as their stage. So much so that he, Jarrett Plett and Matthew Lennox are part of a trio called Sons of Granville. Across the street from our offices on Granville Street, you might find Jarrett drumming away on his cajon, Matthew furiously strumming away at his guitar and Thomas on the violin fiddling his way through the beauty of music composed and performed for the people of the streets.
Beckman was born in Vancouver in 1984 but was raised in South Africa until 2008, when he moved back to Vancouver to study for a Master’s degree at the University of British Columbia. With him he brought the energy of growing up in South Africa – a country he calls the “rainbow nation, as Mandela had just been released and the country was going through a difficult but miraculous transformation.”
Although classically trained, Beckman is a busker to the core and he wants nothing more than to delight the ears of those passing by and get the word out that homegrown talent exists in Vancouver – you just have to go out there and look for it, literally.
The Source: Why did you decide to form Sons of Granville?
Thomas Beckman: It started in June of 2010 [with Matthew Lennox], to emancipate myself musically from the classical dogma and find freedom through the new genre we’ve created. As our music tends to be both spontaneous and improvised it grants a lot of the above mentioned.
S: Although you’re front and centre on Granville Street and other major lanes in Vancouver, your band hasn’t received much coverage. Why do you think this is?
T.B: Something I’ve realized is that in this business it’s not enough to be good, or even great. You have to actively seek out the coverage and the opportunities – no one is going to come up to you and hand you a free lunch, no matter how impressive your act or how big the groups you attract [are]. As we have been so immersed in the musical aspects of the band, we have neglected this other part, something we are now rectifying with KFM, our new marketing company, that will be generating press releases, coverage, grants and promotion for our future efforts.
S: What influences your music?
T.B: The vibrancy of the streets has become a wealth of ideas and feelings. Being downtown exposes you to a very colourful and energetic part of life. There is constant movement, emotion, poverty, wealth, fashion, sex, everything. The streets in the city’s core teem with life of all kinds and we get to absorb and observe all of it while making music….Big voluptuous and resonating viola tone with a Russian passion is a big driving factor of my performance, and it largely characterizes our band’s sonic personality.
S: How do you engage your audience?
T.B: Head on. We love the audience. And even when there isn’t an audience I still feel as if I’m playing to thousands… our mission isn’t just to bring great music to their ears, it’s also to impart a message – we’ve all dealt with hardship, and we are all dealing with an overload of false information that confuses and distorts our reality. So, [we] urge our listeners in between songs to actively seek their own passions and, in a sense, their own truths.
S: Why continue to play the streets of Vancouver and not set your sights on bigger places?
T.B: You don’t stop what you have going until something comes along. You work both: you pound the streets, making good cash and keeping up with the practice, while simultaneously planning for the future. I think a lot of people underestimate busking. Thanks to busking, we’ve sold close to 5000 records in two years. We’ve had numerous invitations from people who have seen us perform, and we would certainly not be where we are, musically, had it not been for the hundreds of hours performing.
S: What advice do you have for other lesser known local artists?
T.B: Stop thinking it’s hard – it’s not. Life is your own amusement park. Go find your ride. Yes, you’ll probably have to make sacrifices, but isn’t it worth it?