Friends mourn loss of beloved busker who performed in St Albans
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Tributes have been paid to a “beautiful” talented campaigner who busked in St Albans.
Father-of-two Jonny Walker, who often performed outside Boots in St Peter’s Street, died suddenly aged 37 in hospital after three days in a high-dependency care unit.
He toured the UK for 15 years, with his popular covers and self-penned songs, and made genuine strong friendships through professional busking, which he more recently began live streaming to followers from his iPad.
He played in St Albans regularly and often declared it one of his favourite places to busk.
Close friend Laura Bill, 39, who lives off Holywell Hill, St Albans, said: “Jonny was such a beautiful influence to so many. He always challenged inequality and championed the most vulnerable people in society. He was like a brother to me. I will miss him like crazy.”
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The Liverpool-born guitarist and singer described himself as a “wandering minstrel”, and travelled daily taking to the streets of Leeds, Norwich, Lincoln, Liverpool, York, Chester, Hebden Bridge, Huddersfield and Hull among scores of other towns and cities.
He campaigned for buskers and other street artists’ rights to enjoy open public spaces – even taking Camden council to the High Court when they tried to ban street performance.
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Jonny cleverly set up The Church of the Holy Kazoo to side-step a point of law, meaning musicians could play publicly outside on the grounds of collective worship.
His not-for-profit campaign ‘Keep Streets Live’ garnered huge national support and led him to media attention, including making Daily Mail news and being asked to give radio broadcast interviews.
Boris Johnson once borrowed his guitar, Billy Bragg campaigned alongside him and he was also patron of Yorkshire homeless charity Inn Churches.
His family announced his sudden death on his Facebook page, devastating his 24k followers, many of whom were friends. They posted: “It is with great sorrow but immense thankfulness for a passionately lived life, that after three days in the critical care unit at Leeds General Infirmary, Jonny died peacefully at 11.13am on Wednesday 14 March, surrounded by family.
“During the coming days his family ask that you allow them time to grieve. Details of opportunities to celebrate and remember Jonny’s life will follow in due time.”
Beeston Coronor’s Court confirmed that an inquest has been opened and investigation is underway.
His endurance, kindness and integrity are what stand out in the written tributes, along with his beaming smile, snappy fashion sense and generosity.
Posting on Facebook Christina Holmes wrote: “A truly cool performer, a great voice and a lovely guy. We are all going to miss him. He lived his life with love, passion, conviction and kindness. We’re lucky to have known Jonny and he will be remembered with fondness, smiles and wonderful songs.”
Allie Stewart paid tribute to “an articulate musician, activist, campaigner, street performer and so much more to many” and Kerry-Anne Mitchell referred to Jonny as “an absolutely beautiful man”.
A video clip of Jonny and ‘Belfast Brian’ went viral when he did an impromptu duet of Ella Fitzgerald’s Summertime with a homeless elderly man one New Year’s Eve. At the time Jonny said that he had only ever seen the man slumped and in a bad way but “his voice was absolutely incredible and blew [him] away”.
Across the nation at the weekend, organised street gatherings honoured him with live music and a minute of silence led by his brother.
He leaves six-year-old son Joseph and daughter, Avalon, three, his parents Michele and John, and his younger siblings Michael and Sarah. His funeral is to be held on April 20 at 2.30pm at Leeds Minster.
A fundraising page set up by his sister can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/in-memory-of-jonny-walker