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Young Dundee busker Spencer overcame bullying to brighten up the city this Christmas

From having rocks thrown at him by teenagers to receiving compliments from kind strangers - Spencer Shek shares what life is like as a busker during the festive period.

Spencer Shek hopes to make a career out of singing after he graduates from Dundee University. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson
Spencer Shek hopes to make a career out of singing after he graduates from Dundee University. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

In the dark and dreary weeks before Christmas, shoppers have been treated to the soulful voice of Spencer Shek busking in Dundee.

In front of the twinkling lights of the Overgate Shopping Centre, he has often been spotted blasting out everyone’s favourite festive tunes.

It is a busy time of year for the 24-year-old, who has been busking in the city since 2018.

“I’ve been out lots to try and make as much money as I can before the Christmas holidays,” he said.

“I’m trying to save up to get some nice Christmas gifts for my family.”

Spencer often plays outside the Overgate in Dundee. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

Spencer, who is studying law at Dundee University, says he enjoys playing during the festive season.

“The best thing about busking at Christmastime is the decorations in the streets and the busy atmosphere,” he said.

“Everyone’s getting their presents and just getting into the Christmas spirit in general, which gets me in the Christmas spirit too.

“I come across kind people who give me compliments which make my day.

“I also get a few more generous tippers because it’s the holidays!”

The Kilwinning-born singer also switches up his setlist with Christmas tunes.

He said: “I like performing Christmas songs at this time of year.

“I added a few to the setlist in mid-November.

Do They Know It’s Christmas? by Band Aid usually gets the best reaction because it’s so well known and upbeat – everyone loves singing along.”

Spencer’s crowd-pleasing tunes include Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Santa Baby and White Christmas.

His usual setlist includes modern pop songs by the likes of Ed Sheeran and Adele, as well as some classics by the Beatles and Beach Boys.

The songwriter also plays his own original music, inspired by heartbreak.

Spencer has been busking for six years. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

Not even the frosty weather can stop Spencer from busking. “When it gets really cold then I can’t play guitar very well.

“I should probably just buy gloves, but I always lose them.”

Spencer started singing at the age of eight after being inspired by the popular High School Musical movies.

He joined his primary school choir and quickly fell in love with performing. “I was one of the only boys in the choir but that didn’t bother me because I loved it so much.

“That really got me into singing quite a lot because it was every week.

“That’s when I started uploading videos of me singing on YouTube as well.

“Looking back, I wasn’t the best!

“I have definitely come a long way since then.”

Spencer further improved his singing skills when he took music as a subject at St Mathew’s Academy in Saltcoats, where he also picked up the guitar.

School bullying was so bad Spencer nearly quit singing

He went on to land leading roles in school musicals, performed in the annual talent competition and even organised a charity cabaret which saw him raise £1,000 for Save the Children.

But it wasn’t always easy to pursue his passion.

Spencer was bullied by fellow students at high school, who mocked his singing on social media.

The online hate was so bad at one point that he almost quit singing.

Spencer said: “I would get bullied for doing my music and singing, because usually boys are into football and nothing else.

“I would get a lot of hate on social media, it was really bad.

“I was in the Christmas talent show in the first year of high school, so I was very much new to the whole atmosphere.

“I sang the A-team by Ed Sheeran. I could hold a tune – but I wasn’t great.

“Two popular boys from the year above posted a video on Facebook mocking my singing and it got a lot of likes and comments from people at high school.

Spencer performing in the school talent competition as a fourth-year student in 2014. Image: Spencer Shek

“A lot of people were laughing at it and making comments about it, and it just made me really upset.

“I was watching it and then I was crying to my parents.

“I said to them, ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore. I don’t want to sing anymore.’

“And they said, ‘Spencer, it’s up to you, but don’t let them put you off. Keep going. If you love it this much you shouldn’t just give up on it.’

“I wasn’t sure what I should do but I’m very glad I kept singing because since then I’ve gotten a lot better and people stopped bullying me for it.

“They started realising that I had potential and I realised myself that I didn’t need to listen to them.”

Spencer’s singing career took off when he started busking in Glasgow after high school.

It was also around this time that he joined a theatre performing group, which saw him land the leading role in a musical.

“I started busking when I was 18, when I just got out of high school,” he said.

“My first ever busking experience was in Glasgow, where I I joined a friend.

Spencer says he enjoys busking during Christmas. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson

“I tried it, I fell in love with it, and then I got my own amp.

“When I went to university in Dundee I continued to pursue both busking and musical theatre performing.”

Six years later, Spencer says that busking is second nature to him now.

Not only does it allow him to do what he loves, but he has also earned enough money to support himself at university.

Spencer says the vast majority of passers-by are kind and supportive.

But sadly, he has also been faced with verbal and physical abuse at times.

Teens threw stones and shouted abuse at Spencer while busking in Dundee

“There are so many people who come up to me and say stuff like, ‘You are so amazing, you should go on the TV’ and ‘Release your music because we would definitely listen to it’,” he said.

“I get a lot of positivity and love.

“But obviously, now and then, there are some who will approach me and say nasty stuff.

“There are certain characters who shout abuse and curse words at me as they are walking past.

“There was one incident in summer when a bunch of teenagers were chucking stones at me. It wasn’t nice.

“But I just need to ignore it because in this industry you will get as much hate as you do positivity.”

Spencer on the cover of his school magazine in 2015 after performing at a charity cabaret event. Image: Spencer Shek

So what’s next for Spencer?

“My aim is to graduate with a degree next year and get my diploma as well,” he said.

“I will then pursue music and see how things go.

“If they go well then I can stick with it.

“If they don’t, I have a degree to fall back on for a stable career.

“But the dream is to be a successful singer-songwriter.”

Having recently secured a producer, he hopes to release some of his music on streaming platforms soon.

In the meantime, he enjoys sharing videos of him busking on TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.