Newcastle singer-songwriter Tad Poe Dee says his busking income has dropped two thirds in a year thanks to the rise of the cashless economy

Money talks: Busker Tad Poe Dee in Darby Street, where he says his takings have dropped because people don't carry coins. Picture: Marina Neil.
Money talks: Busker Tad Poe Dee in Darby Street, where he says his takings have dropped because people don't carry coins. Picture: Marina Neil.

HAS payWave killed the busking star? 

Not yet, but Newcastle singer-songwriter Tad Poe Dee says the the creep of the cashless economy has bodyslammed the once generous sums of coins tossed into his guitar case on a Friday and Saturday night in Darby Street.

“People walk past and you see them almost touch their pocket to see if they have change and you know they don’t because they are of that age where it’s just card,” says the amiable surfer, father of two and city resident. 

In the 10 hours each weekend when he pulls up a chair and strums on the corner of Council and Darby Streets, opposite the Delaney Hotel, his earnings have dropped by two thirds over the past 12 months.

Raised in Dudley, Tad Poe Dee (he prefers to go by his stage name) is a stalwart of the Newcastle entertainment scene, drawing his income from regular gigs in bands which in the past included El Nino and The Afterthoughts, which he fronted when they warmed up the crowd for Silverchair at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre in 1999.

For better and worse, though, he’s always busked. 

“Every season, and I say say season though I mean year, is another roll of the dice, really,” he says of the precarious but always entertaining world of busking in a town once rated as the most violent in the State. 

“In the early days, sometimes even now, you don’t know if you’ll come home alive …  because you are out there on your own.”

 The gently spoken 52-year-old said the crackdown of pub closing times in Newcastle in 2008 was a blow to his street hobby. 

“The curfew annihilated the city and the numbers [on the street] from The Cambridge down to the top end of town, well I reckon they dropped by 20,000,” he says. 

“At midnight you used to hit Hunter and Darby Streets and there would be hundreds of people, now there’s no-one.”

Though he knows the crowds are bigger around the Sydney Junction in Hamilton, he prefers his twice-weekly gig on Darby Street.

“It’s close to home and there’s a good mix of people, you get the surfer crown and families and the young moderns, as I call them,” he smiles. 

A self-taught guitarist, Tad Poe Dee has been playing guitar since the age of 12 and began singing at the age of 25 after he flew to California.

There he had a musical epiphany, realising the power of his voice and returning to his home town to gig about town, often working with fellow creatives to raise awareness of youth issues. 

He refuses to play covers, rather writing his own songs and singing them in a sound that’s been described by muso mates as Eddie Vedder meants the Warumpi Band. 

With smartphone payment technology threatening to eliminate the wallet – this week Samsung Pay added close to 40 banks and credit unions to its payment app, allowing people to ditch their cards – Tad Poe Dee admits he’s thought about moving with the times.

He considered getting a portable EFTPOS to put in his guitar case but he just can’t bring himself to do it. 

“It’s not all about the money, it’s more of a social thing, to tune out and work out on my tunes,” says the muso.  

“I guess getting a machine would benefit people because they might drop $5 rather than just put $1 on it, but busking is set up to play and go, it’s an art, and for me technology detracts from that.”

Loathe to give the public a bad rap about his predicament – “Even I use a card, it’s just the way the way the world is going” – he will try and make up the cash shortfall via extra gigs. 

Kathy Smithson, owner of Darby Street boutique Blue Star Elements, said two years ago she was making weekly bank deposits but now she was lucky if it was monthly.

“Everyone taps or Paywaves and a lot of people have forgotten their pin numbers because they tap everything,” she said.