It was a far-fetched plan that English folk-rocker Mike Rosenberg devised five years ago when his quintet Passenger splintered after one critically acclaimed album, “Wicked Man’s Rest.”
“Plus, my manager at the time quit, my girlfriend and I broke up, and I had to leave my house,” says the singer-guitarist, who appears today in The City. “It was just one of those bleak moments in life where everything around you just collapses, you know?”
As he saw it, there was only one way to keep playing music: street busking, solo, in Britain for half the year and in Australia for the other half. Remarkably, it worked.
“For the past four years, I’ve been going summer to summer,” says Rosenberg, who retained the Passenger moniker and began projecting his ethereal music to pedestrians by patching his elfin vocals and delicate guitar filigrees through a special German-made acoustic amplifier.
On his current December tour of the U.S., backing fifth album “All the Little Lights” and its international hit, “Let Her Go,” he has been out of his element — playing warm, intimate nightclubs, then shivering when he walks outside.
“I’m now in the Northern Hemisphere at the exact wrong time — winter!” he says.
The do-it-yourselfer learned many lessons: Never play in London tube stations — people are too hurried. Instead set up shop near a cafe, where there’s a regular captive audience. Travel by train to other cities, sleep in youth hostels, have plenty of CDs and business cards on hand, and be prepared for hecklers.
“With busking, every day there’s one person — whether it be a passerby, a shopkeeper or a security guard — who doesn’t want you
to be there,” Rosenberg says. “So now I kill them with kindness, make them feel like an idiot by being as lovely and accommodating as possible.”
The street serenades started as a quick way to pay rent and bills. But gradually, Rosenberg built a strong word-of-mouth following.
“When I say ‘busking,’ I think people have this image of some drunk dude with a beard, playing Oasis on a street corner, really badly,” he says. “But when you stumble across someone who is playing original material, and making it sound really good with the equipment they’re using, I think it stops people in their tracks.”
Now, Rosenberg finds it bizarre that his ditties — such as “Feather on the Clyde,” used in the TV series “Elementary” — are finally catching on. But he won’t stop strumming on the street.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is make music that connects with people,” he says. “And for me, nothing achieves that better than busking.”