The sound of someone tinkling the ivories has become commonplace at UK railway stations. But who plays them, what is their appeal and how did the trend take hold?
Every Monday and Friday, Denis Robinson, 92, makes the 30-minute trip from his home in Sutton, south London, to St Pancras International station, in the heart of the capital.
His final destination: an upright piano tucked beneath a staircase on the station concourse, opposite the arrivals door where holidaymakers from across the world depart the high-speed Eurostar train.
Denis is one of Britain’s amateur train station pianists. A minor celebrity, following a viral performance of Somewhere Over the Rainbow with West End singer Ceili O’Connor in April, he has been delighting commuters with his own arrangements of nostalgic hits for seven years.
He aims to arrive at the piano stool either side of lunch. Breaking with tradition to meet BBC News mid-week, he takes his pew by 11:30am on a Wednesday.
Within moments of his opening chord, passing travellers pause to listen, smile and offer him praise.
“It’s an absolute joy,” says the retired auditor, who has been playing since he was a child. “I nearly always come home with a memory to tell my wife.
“I’m lucky because I’ve got an ever-changing appreciative audience.”
Denis suffered a stroke at the station in August, which affected his left hand, but it wasn’t long until he returned to the instrument in autumn for a rendition of As Long as He Needs Me, sung softly to himself.
“When I walked round to the piano again, there was just this feeling of ‘I’m back’,” he says.
There are two pianos at St Pancras, located at either end of the station’s main arcade of shops. Denis credits his wife of 34 years, Diane, for introducing him to the one he plays.
She was studying Greek at the nearby British Library when it was donated to St Pancras in 2012, following a three-week art project that placed so-called street pianos at public locations around London.
While Sheffield is often cited as the home of the first street piano, the idea for the St Pancras pianos was the brainchild of British artist Luke Jerram, whose Play Me, I’m Yours project has been touring cities around the world since 2008.
The scheme sees second-hand pianos installed in public locations, with an open invitation to play. Each piano is unique, often decorated by local artists or community groups.
“I realised within a city, there must be hundreds of invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence,” Luke explains.
“Placing a piano into the space was my solution to this problem, acting as a catalyst for conversation.”
Several other pianos that were placed in London train stations in 2012 also ended up staying put after Luke’s project ended, including two at Canary Wharf and one at Herne Hill railway station.
And it’s not just talented amateurs that have taken to the keys. Global stars such as Sara Bareilles and Sir Elton John, who donated a Yamaha piano to St Pancras in 2016, have also given public performances.
Elton’s signed piano, still at the station, reads: “Enjoy this piano. It’s a gift. Love, Elton John.”
Inspired by the success of the St Pancras pianos, other groups have gone on to install their own at railway stations around the country.
There are now at least 34 pianos available to play on station concourses.
Labour MP for Hove Peter Kyle lobbied for a piano at Brighton station in 2014 in the hope that it would “reduce the misery” of time spent at the terminal.
Ten months later, with the go ahead from Southern Rail, the station’s first piano arrived from local dealer Brighton Piano Warehouse, painted in circus-style red and yellow with “Please Play Me” emblazoned above the lid.
While the instrument has been replaced twice due to wear and tear, a piano has been at the station ever since.
Brighton and Hove Council street cleaner Mikah Laiberg, 28, has made a regular appearance at the instrument from the outset – at one point rehearsing on it every day after work.
“It’s a compulsion,” he says. “I can’t understand how people who can play an instrument can walk past without playing it.”
Clips shared online show Mikah, in his employee high-vis jacket and boots, stunning passers-by with his classical improvisations influenced by composers such as Alexei Stanchinsky.
Such videos, of everyday people showcasing their talent, have arguably played a key role in the success of public pianos.
Street pianos emerged around the same time as the smartphone – the first iPhone was released in 2007 – making performances increasingly easy to document and share.
Now, videos of pianos being played prove particularly popular on YouTube.
In August, Alicia Palmer, 16, wowed the internet with her rendition of Edelweiss at Tottenham Court Road’s piano alongside public piano player Brendan Kavanagh – gaining more than 750,000 views on the site.
‘Life and colour’
Selhurst is one of several small stations in London with a public piano.
Hannah Sayers, 34, and her local community group arranged for a piano to be placed there in 2018.
Donated by Hannah’s neighbour and painted by a local resident, they hoped it would “help people feel positive about where they live”.
“We wanted to bring life and colour to our little ward in Croydon,” Hannah says.
Selhurst’s piano is conveniently located near to the BRIT school, for performing arts students to play, and has a large passing traffic of commuters and Crystal Palace football fans.
“The one thing we were really worried about was that it would get damaged or vandalised,” adds Hannah, “But it hasn’t been so far.”
Neighbouring Thornton Heath station recently installed its second piano after a water leak damaged its original instrument.
Local resident Linda Watson calls it a “community asset”. She adds: “Thornton Heath has many brilliant musicians. To have live music when you are travelling is a delightful surprise.”
Meanwhile for Malcolm Ingram, of Ingram’s Removals, placing a piano in Darlington Bank Top station was a way to save an unwanted instrument.
Pianos, once the entertainment hub of the family home, have long been in decline.
Some 5,000 are sold annually, the Financial Times reports, compared with 30,000 in the 1980s. Malcolm says customers are frequently looking to get rid of their old pianos.
In 2018, he had a brainwave and arranged for a client’s Hemingway piano to be relocated to the station concourse, where it is now loved by staff and passengers.
“A piano brightens up peoples’ day – if someone has the gift to play it, it provides that feel-good factor,” he says.
“The piano was just going to have to go to landfill otherwise, which seems criminal.”
Speaking at the end of his performance in St Pancras, Denis says his repertoire of old-time classics are a constant hit with audiences.
“The songs bring back memories for some people, so they come over and say thank you,” he says.
“The music I play, it’s simple really. It’s a blessing to see that I can provide happiness.”
Photography by Phil Coomes, Dave Charnley and Julia Horbaschk
“I just took a DNA Test, turns out I’m a credited writer for the number one song on Billboard.”
That’s what British singer Mina Lioness tweeted after officially being credited as a writer on Lizzo’s song Truth Hurts.
The row started after Lizzo wanted to trademark the phrase “I just took a DNA test turns out I’m 100% that…”.
Mina tweeted a similar phrase in 2017, but Lizzo claimed not to have seen it.
It’s the opening lyric to Truth Hurts, which reached number one on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
“In 2017, while working on a demo, I saw a meme that resonated with me… I later used the line in Truth Hurts… I later learned that a tweet inspired the meme”, Lizzo said on Twitter.
“The creator of the tweet is the person I am sharing my success with…”
While she didn’t name her, Mina responded shortly after with a tweet thanking Lizzo and her team.
Lizzo also mentions two men who claimed to have created the lyric with her in a writing session.
Justin and Jeremiah Raisen said the line in question was taken from a song called Healthy that they wrote with Lizzo and two other writers in April 2017.
They say they’d been “shutdown” when trying to resolve the issue for the past two years.
Lizzo said they “did not help me write any part of the song”.
“There was no-one in the room when I wrote Truth Hurts, except me, Ricky Reed, and my tears.
“That song is my life, and its words are my truth.”
Even though the song was released in 2017, the row began this year when Mina heard that Lizzo wanted to trademark the “DNA” phrase.
It was reported she wanted to use it on t-shirts, jackets, hats, bandanas and wristbands.
Lizzo said in an interview that after the initial reaction to Truth Hurts, she almost stopped making music, feeling it wasn’t “even making a splash”.
But the song began to grow in popularity and was added to the deluxe version of her 2019 debut album Cuz I Love You.
It’s been a big year for Lizzo since then – she made her Coachella debut and Rihanna gave her a standing ovation after her performance at the BET Awards.
She also starred in the movie Hustlers alongside Jennifer Lopez and Cardi B.
London Underground lines have been partially suspended as climate change protesters climbed on top of trains.
The Jubilee Line and Docklands Light Railway were affected after incidents at Stratford, Canning Town station and Shadwell during Tuesday’s rush hour.
Commuters were seen physically dragging protesters from the roof of a train in a video on social media.
Extinction Rebellion said the disruption was “necessary to highlight the emergency”.
British Transport Police said on Twitter: “At this time we have three separate incidents involving Extinction Rebellion protest action at Stratford, Canning Town, and Shadwell.
“Arrests have already been made and officers are working quickly to resume services.”
Two of the so-called “IS Beatles” have been taken out of Syria to “a secure location controlled by the US”, President Donald Trump has said.
El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are accused of being part of an Islamic State group cell which kidnapped and murdered Western hostages in Syria.
The pair – who are from London – are in the custody of the American military, according to US media reports.
In a tweet, Mr Trump described them as “the worst of the worst”.
He said the decision to remove them from Syria had been taken “in case the Kurds or Turkey lose control”.
The announcement comes after the US withdrew its forces from the region this week.
On Wednesday President Trump told reporters the US had transferred “some of the most dangerous IS fighters” amid fears they could escape custody as Turkish troops invade Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria.
The Kurds – who helped defeat IS in Syria and were key US allies in that fight – guard thousands of IS fighters and their relatives in prisons and camps in areas under their control. It is unclear whether they will continue to do so if fighting breaks out.
Other members of the IS cell – dubbed “The Beatles” because of their British accents – included Mohammed Emwazi, known as Jihadi John, who was killed in a US air strike in 2015, and Aine Davis, who has been jailed in Turkey.
Emwazi is thought to have killed US journalist James Foley in 2014.
All four were radicalised in the UK before travelling to Syria.
Elsheikh and Kotey are designated as terrorists by the US state department, which links them to the group’s executions and “exceptionally cruel torture methods” including electric shocks, waterboarding and mock executions.
They were said to have been captured by Kurdish forces in January 2018.
The New York Times reports that the US is planning to take Mr Elsheikh and Mr Kotey to Virginia, where they will be put on trial.
It remains to be seen whether the evidence against the pair amassed by British investigators will be handed over in full to US authorities.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May, when she was home secretary in 2015, told Washington the UK would only hand over evidence after receiving a categorical guarantee that neither man would be executed.
The UK has long sought and obtained such a death penalty assurance from the US.
That position was reiterated by Mrs May’s successor, Amber Rudd, but then reversed after Sajid Javid entered the Home Office in April 2018.
Mr Javid decided to hand over 600 witness statements, without seeking any kind of guarantee that Mr Elsheikh and Mr Kotey would not be put to death.
Mr Elsheikh’s mother, Maha Elgizouli challenged the decision but, in January, lost that case in the High Court.
The issue is currently being decided by the UK Supreme Court.
A man in his 20s has died after being stabbed in a fight near Ealing Common, west London.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police were called to reports of a fight close shortly after 18:00 BST and discovered the man suffering from stab injuries.
Members of the London Ambulance Service and the air ambulance also attended, however the man was pronounced dead at the scene at 18:48.
His next of kin have been informed and a post-mortem will be held.
A man was arrested on suspicion of affray and was taken to a west London police station where he remains in custody.
Inquiries are ongoing.
Anyone with information is asked to call officers on 101.
A section 60 order is now in place for the Hillingdon and Ealing areas until 07:00 on Wednesday, allowing the police greater search powers for a limited period.
This order comes after a murder investigation was launched when a man was stabbed to death on a train at Hillingdon station shortly before 16:00 on Tuesday.
Commuters have been told not to travel from London Waterloo during the rush hour after a fire closed nine platforms.
The lineside blaze damaged cabling outside the station, meaning trains cannot use platforms 16-24.
Network Rail said “significant damage” had been caused to equipment, meaning trains will be delayed or cancelled.
Disruption is expected for the rest of the day while the Thursday morning rush hour may also be affected.
Network Rail said its engineers would be working through the night to fix the damage.
Waterloo is the busiest and largest railway station in the UK.
The platforms which are closed are normally used by trains serving Windsor, Reading, Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston.
However, services from other platforms are also being affected because trains have to be diverted or revised.
- Circular services via Hounslow, Richmond, Strawberry Hill and Kingston have been cancelled
- Trains between Waterloo and Windsor & Eton Riverside are diverted via Kingston
- Trains between Waterloo and Exeter/Salisbury are terminated and will restart from Basingstoke
Passengers were warned that services on other routes may also be subject to short-notice cancellations or delays.
In a joint statement, Network Rail and South Western Railway said commuters were “strongly advised to use alternative routes where possible and check their journeys before travelling at southwesternrailway.com for ticket acceptance and service details”.
Some passengers took to social media to express their frustration at the travel disruption.
One Twitter user described the situation as an “absolute shambles”, while others complained about being given the wrong or no information at all by train station staff.
|Specsavers County Championship Division Two, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff (day two):|
|Middlesex 384 Malan 166; Carey 4-54 & 189-5 Robson 73*, Simpson 56|
|Glamorgan 171 Lloyd 67; Helm 5-53, Roland-Jones 4-45|
|Middlesex (7 pts) lead Glamorgan (3 pts) by 402 runs|
Middlesex have a formidable lead of 402 over Glamorgan at 189-5 in their second innings, going into day three in Cardiff.
Sam Robson (73*) and John Simpson (56) have strengthened the visitors’ grip.
Toby Roland-Jones (4-45) made the most of a helpful pitch as Glamorgan were hustled out for an inadequate 171.
David Lloyd’s 67 was the top home score, while Tom Helm (5-53) wrapped up the innings with his fifth wicket after his first-evening purple patch.
Lloyd shared half-century stands with Billy Root and Chris Cooke before the visitors’ seamers re-established control, as Glamorgan’s last five wickets mustered just 28 runs.
A lead of 213 runs was not enough to persuade Dawid Malan to enforce the follow-on, wanting to avoid batting last on the most bowler-friendly Championship pitch of the season in Cardiff.
Although Middlesex slumped to 85-4, they were never under pressure thanks to their first-innings lead, and the Robson-Simpson century partnership blossomed in the evening sunshine to grind down Glamorgan hopes of avoiding a first defeat of the campaign.
Glamorgan vice-captain David Lloyd told BBC Sport Wales:
“A very difficult day, they hit their lengths more regularly than we did, then we started well with the ball in the second dig but it’s always tough when you’re chasing the game.
“It’s a wicket where you have to be positive and get forward because it’s starting to go more up and down- it’s about looking to score rather than sit there and wait for things to happen.
“We’ve showed in previous games that we can battle draws out so you never know, we’ll have to try to bat the rest of the game and we can do it if we get our mindsets right.”
Middlesex bowler Tom Helm told BBC Radio London:
“It took a bit longer to get the fifth one than I had in my head last night, but Toby had four and I’m very happy with it.
“If you get the ball in the right area, the odd one zips through and it changed a bit from day one.
“There’s so long left in this game, we can bat for as long as we want and it’ll be interesting to see how the morning goes, they’ll come out fired up but we’ll see how we go.”
A woman riding an electric scooter has been killed in a crash with a lorry in south-west London.
The 35-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene at the Queen Circus roundabout, Battersea following the crash at about 08:30 BST.
A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said her next of kin had yet to be informed and no arrests had been made.
In July last year a cyclist was killed at the roundabout after being hit by a bin lorry.
A London Ambulance Service spokeswoman said: “We sent an advanced paramedic, two ambulance crews, an incident response officer and two medics in cars to the scene, with the first of our medics arriving in under four minutes.
“Sadly, despite the extensive efforts of medics, a woman died at the scene.”
Transport for London and Wandsworth Council redesigned the roundabout in 2015, which trialled the use of raised kerbs and separate traffic lights to keep cyclists and vehicles segregated at junctions.
Concerns had been raised that the new layout was too complicated.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, e-scooters are illegal to ride on public roads, including in cycle lanes or on the pavement.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We extend our deepest sympathies to all those involved in this tragic incident, and fully support the police as they carry out their investigations.
“Safety is at the heart of all our road laws and it is important that retailers continue to remind people at the point of sale that it is illegal to ride e-scooters on public roads.”
An electric scooter, or e-scooter, is similar to a traditional children’s scooter but has a motorised engine attached.
An engineering train has derailed in south London causing the closure of the Gatwick Express service.
The train partly left the tracks at low speed outside Victoria station at about 03:00 BST.
No Gatwick Express trains are running, while Southern warned its services would be “severely reduced”.
The train has moved and the track will now be “assessed for damage” and repaired if necessary through the night, according to Southern.
Disruption is expected to last throughout Tuesday but Gatwick Express and Southern said a normal service was expected on Wednesday.
The train was stuck across a number of tracks meaning platforms nine to 13 at Victoria were blocked, while services were not able to use the “slow/stopping” lines to and from Clapham Junction.
Some trains were also unable to leave the Battersea depot – further reducing the number of services that could run.
Recovery teams cut the 50-tonne train from its two wagons and lifted it back on to the track using hydraulic jacks.
Trains running through Gatwick Airport were also disrupted by a separate signalling fault and a passenger who was injured as they left a carriage, which led to one platform becoming blocked.
Some commuters took to social media as they found their trains had been cancelled.
Other stations, including London Bridge, also became congested as people tried to find alternative routes.
You may also be interested in:
A Network Rail spokesperson said passengers should travel “via London Bridge or London Blackfriars as trains will be delayed, diverted or cancelled”.
Train tickets for Southern and Gatwick Express services have been accepted for reasonable routes on other services.
Train services affected:
- Gatwick Express services are completely suspended
- Services to Sutton, Epsom Downs and Epsom to and from London Victoria are reduced
- Some mainline services will be diverted to London Bridge instead of London Victoria
- Southern services between London Victoria and Reigate are cancelled and passengers are advised to use Thameslink to and from Redhill and then Great Western Railway between Reigate and Redhill
- Services between London Victoria and East Grinstead will call additionally at Selhurst and Streatham Common
- Services between Milton Keynes and East Croydon will call additionally at Wandsworth Common when not already booked to do so
- Services between London Victoria and Horsham via Sutton will call additionally at Ewell East
- Southern trains from Sutton to London Bridge via Wimbledon will be cancelled. Thameslink will be running as normal
Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:
|Specsavers County Championship Division Two, Merchant Taylors’ School, Northwood (day one):|
|Middlesex 172: Malan 28; Shaw 4-33, Higgins 3-52|
|Gloucestershire 59-2: Dent 27*; Roland-Jones 2-15|
|Middlesex 0 pts, Gloucestershire 3 pts|
Josh Shaw took three prize scalps as Gloucestershire triggered a Middlesex collapse which put Division Two’s bottom club in trouble at Northwood.
Shaw removed Sam Robson (23), Dawid Malan (28) and Nick Gubbins (26) in his 4-33, and Ryan Higgins took 3-52 as his old club slipped from 98-2 to 139-8.
They were eventually bowled out for 172 before two Toby Roland-Jones wickets in reply lifted their spirits.
But Gloucestershire steadied the ship to reach 59-2 and trail by just 113.
Seamer Shaw’s performance built on his six wickets against Glamorgan in their previous game, as he claimed three of Middlesex’s top four.
His victims included Malan, whose hopes of an Ashes call-up were boosted by a career-best 199 at Derby last week.
However, he top-edged a short of a length ball and Graeme van Buuren ran in to take a fine catch.