Walthamstow’s got talent

A classic fade or classical? Meet the barber who can do both

By Marco Marcelline

Alan, a barber at Mozart hairdressers on Walthamstow High Street regularly entertains customers with violin concertos. Credit: Marco Marcelline

Walk down Walthamstow High Street during the day and, if you’re lucky, you might be blessed with the graceful sound of a fine tuned violin streaming through the window of Mozart, a rather appropriately named barber’s shop near St James Street.

Pop your head in, as I did one muggy July afternoon, and you may be treated to a mini-concerto spanning from traditional Kurdish music to classic Mozart by Alan, a barber who’s been working at the shop for just over three years. As soft jazz plays over the markedly less therapeutic sound of hair clippers, he begins to unfurl his life story.

The 28-year-old came to London from his small Iraqi hometown in 2016, leaving behind a country ravaged by war and conflict at the hands of foreign forces and now ISIS.

He grew up around music. His father, for example, plays the baglama, a pear-shaped seven-stringed instrument that popularly features in Kurdish music, and eight of his cousins all play instruments of some kind, though “none play the violin”, he emphasises. When he was twelve, Alan began to study music theory and learned how to read and write music. Then, as a teenager he started a five year music course at a Fine Art college, where the delicate violin was his instrument of choice.

I ask him if he was one of the best violinists in the college. “I wasn’t bad!”, he laughs, before explaining his fondness for the four-stringed instrument. “The sound is lovely, I love it”, he says, grinning. After picking the violin up, it didn’t take long for him to start performing in front of people. While at college, he used to play in the local under-18 orchestra, and would regularly perform at local music events and concerts in his hometown. After picking up his college certificate, he made his way to the UK where he found work as a barber. While he had some experience in cutting hair in Iraq, it was never in a professional context, he says.

This story is published by Waltham Forest Echo, Waltham Forest's free monthly newspaper and free news website. We are a not-for-profit publication, published by a small social enterprise. We have no rich backers and rely on the support of our readers. Donate or become a supporter.

Alan playing his violin, Credit: Marco Marcelline

At Mozart, Alan isn’t alone in possessing musical chops. There’s the singing shop owner, who Alan says is like an uncle, while his colleague can play the setar, a long-necked lute that originated in Persia. During quiet moments in the shop or after closing, the trio have sung, strummed and performed Kurdish music together. While the business isn’t a family-run one per-se, he says it very much feels like one.

A departing customer comes to the back of the shop, where we are sitting, to compliment him on his “serious talent”. He clearly has no shortage of fans. As Alan notes, several customers ask him to play while they’re getting their hair cut. Does he take requests on the violin? “Yes”, he nods, smiling, “anything”.

Alan continues to play the violin in small bands and at any event he can perform at on weekends, and has hopes to play in a large professional orchestra one day. Chat to your barber; you might be surprised to learn their talents don’t stop at an excellent fade and trim.

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