When you see someone playing an instrument or performing a song in Brighton’s streets, how often do you think about how they ended up there? You would probably never imagine that the guy with the hat singing Frank Sinatra’s ‘It was a very good year’ in The Lanes once used to be a banker.
Well, that’s the story of singer-busker Alex Banks. We met him and he told us what had made him quit his job and go to drama school before finally becoming a musician.
It’s been almost thirteen years since Alex started what he calls his ‘Frank Sinatra niche business’. Today, he is a gigging singer performing swing and big band songs, especially those from Frank Sinatra, at weddings and private parties, an occupation that could hardly be more different from his former job.
Twenty years ago, the now forty-three-year-old used to work in a bank. The job allowed him to earn a living, but he wasn’t happy. “I was kind of doing it to please my dad and also because I was scared of doing what I really wanted to do”, Alex tells us.
When his father died, leaving him a bit of money, the unhappy banker saw himself given a unique chance to change his life: “Having been there doing a job I didn’t like for several years just made me think about life when he died. And the irony was kind of that his death gave me the courage and the means to change things and I am glad I did it back then because I wouldn’t have had the chance later on”, remembers Alex the time after his father’s death.
With this new courage, Alex decided to quit his old job and audition at the very renowned Guildford School of Acting, wanting to become a character actor. “I thought if I can’t afford it and if I can’t get into the best school, then I wouldn’t bother, but they offered me a place and so I went for it and took the risk. I left the bank, went to drama school and changed my life”, that’s how he describes his decision.
Having been involved in school plays and having done amateur shows and character parts outside of his job in the bank, Alex says that acting was always in him from the young age. “I just wish I had started earlier” is the only regret he has today, although he also sees the positive side of it: “I guess I appreciate what I am doing more because I know what it is like to do something that you don’t enjoy.”
But for Alex, acting wasn’t the end of the line in his career finding process. “I did a couple of parts in the theater and in musicals, but I found it very difficult to sustain a decent living and then someone came to me and asked me to sing Frank Sinatra at his grandmother’s birthday. So I bought some equipment and it went from there. That’s how I ended up building that little niche business as the Frank Sinatra guy”, Alex tells us.
‘The Frank Sinatra guy’, that’s what Alex calls himself today. He has come a long way, from the unhappy banker to the character actor and finally to doing what he really loves, singing.
“I didn’t necessarily see it coming, but I am very happy with the way things have turned out. I have a gift that I need to share and people enjoy it and they pay me money for it. I am very lucky. I mean nothing is perfect but in terms of making a living, I couldn’t be much happier. I love singing, I’ve got a lot of experience now and I’ve got a set of skills that no one can take away from me. And I am really proud of it.”
And his dad, would he be happy with what his son has done with the money he left him? For Alex, the answer is a clear yes.”He could see that my heart wasn’t in the job I was doing before!”
This is how the singer ended up in Brighton’s Lanes with his microphone and speaker. Although being a gigging singer in first place, he enjoys performing in Brighton’s streets. As soon as the sun is out, he is too.
“I love busking, it’s one of my favorite past times. And I get a lot of business through busking, giving out my cards when people pass by. The other day, I had an email from a guy who saw me singing eight years ago and he kept my card all that time. Now he is getting married and he wants me to sing at his wedding”, says Alex about what he calls his ‘best way of advertising’.
However, it was only when he came down to Brighton three years ago that he started busking. When he was living in London before, the swing act didn’t see the point in doing it: ” I tried it, but it’s just thankless. Whereas here, people just want to be entertained and if they have a bit of spare money in their pocket, they are happy to put it in your hat. I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else!”
Two or three gigs per week, that is what the ‘Frank Sinatra guy’ hopes for during this time of the year. Weddings or private parties is what he mainly does. Occasionally, he also sings at Suter’s Yard in Shoreham.
Up on stage or in the street, there is one song Alex loves to perform. ‘That’s Life’ is his absolute favorite among all the great Sinatra songs which he likes because of the meaning they carry in them: “A song has to have a point to it. And if there is emotion in it that you understand, then it is easier for you to deliver the song. When you perform it, you have to think about what it means to make it believable”, he explains.
When we finally ask him, why he decided to get into this kind of music in the first place, he smiles and says: “I heard an expression saying that ‘you don’t choose music, music chooses you!’ It suits my voice and my personality more than any other kind of music!”