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When top Nottingham busker Xylophone Man used to lift our spirits

todayApril 23, 2022 2

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Without question, the bum notes of Nottingham’s number one busker Xylophone Man really struck a chord with shoppers back in the day.

The small man with white hair and a beard kept us entertained for 15 years with his random hitting of the bars, sending his five-note signature tune high into the air – and lifting our spirits with them.

His name was Frank Robinson and he would regularly perch on a small wooden stool outside H&M in Lister Gate, with his instrument balanced on his lap.

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His lack of musical prowess did not matter to him, or any of us.

Xylophone Man garnered a cult following from the tail end of the 1980s right up until his death in 2004, aged 72.



Xylophone Man Frank Robinson
Xylophone Man Frank Robinson

We all remember him fondly, but how much do you actually know about the city’s most famous busker?

Frank was born in 1932, in the village of Cotgrave, five miles southeast of Nottingham city centre.

A very private man, little is known of his life up until that fateful day in the late 80s when he decided to catch a bus from his home in Cotgrave and begin to busk.

Frank lived with Christine and David Barnes, and he paid his rent by helping them look after their 130 rabbits.

Despite his nickname, Xylophone Man actually played a child’s multi-coloured metallophone, which uses metal in place of wood.

Frank owned 25 of these instruments, his first bought from a charity shop at the start of his career.

It is fair to say he had a limited repertoire, which occasionally stretched to the odd Christmas Carol, but his enthusiastic and excitable playing quickly endeared him to city folk.



One of Frank Robinson's metallophones
One of Frank Robinson’s metallophones

An enthusiatic musician, he dabbled in piano and guitar and cited the Beatles, Van Morrison and Elvis among his favourite artists.
He was also a keen Nottingham Forest fan but also followed the fortunes of Notts County.

After Frank died of a heart attack in 2004, within a year, a plaque paid for by public donations was placed in Lister Gate where he used to sit.

Paying tribute to the Xylophone Man, the plaque simply reads “He played his Xylophone here for fifteen years, bringing a smile to the faces of the people of Nottingham”.

A huge outpouring of grief followed Xylophone Man’s death, with even a dedicated website calling for a statue in his honour and requesting for a tram to be named after him.
Tributes poured in from across the world from as far away as Melbourne, New York, New Zealand and Prague.

Messages included one from Scot Lambert appealing for members to create a tribute band, while some called for a tram to play his five-note signature tune



The plaque to honour Frank Robinson in Lister Gate, Nottingham
The plaque to honour Frank Robinson in Lister Gate, Nottingham

Others said that one of the Council House lions should be named after him, or even the redeveloped Broadmarsh Centre.

Katie Langham, from Woodthorpe, seemed to sum up the mood of those logging on. “He was part of the fabric of Nottingham,” she said.

“He always bought a smile to my face and others and he will be greatly missed.”

And Mike Bowler, from Nottingham, said: “Every day I walk into town for lunch and that bloke made me smile every time I saw him. He always looked so happy and content even though he couldn’t play a single tune. What a man.”

The website was set up by Jez Dean, 23, from Lowdham, who called in to local radio station 96 Trent FM to encourage as many people as possible to sign up.

Thousands of tributes were left in the end.



David and Christine Barnes, who were good friends of busker Frank Robinson. They are pictured in 2004 at their Cotgrave home with Frank's favourite rabbit, Sandy.
David and Christine Barnes, who were good friends of busker Frank Robinson. They are pictured in 2004 at their Cotgrave home with Frank’s favourite rabbit, Sandy.

Frank lived with Christine and David Barnes in Cotgrave. Mr Barnes said: “I can’t believe that so many people have signed the petition. It just shows how many people he affected.”
Elsewhere, following Frank’s death, David Flint said “I was saddened to read of the passing away of Frank Robinson who I fondly knew as ‘Xylophone Man’. He became a bit of a Nottingham legend between me and my friends (as I’m sure he was with hundreds, if not thousands of other people) and only the other week we were reminiscing about him. He will be sadly missed, but remembered forever by the many people who regularly saw him play”.

Helen Murray said she had moved away from Nottingham for a few years yet still remembered Xylophone Man.

She said: “Given that he seemed to brighten up everyone’s day, I think it would be appropriate that he is remembered with some form of plaque in one of his usual spots.”

Finally, a busker from New York City, Andrew turner, said: “I read the article about Xylophone Man passing away and it brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for letting the world know this sad news of a wonderful man. I will dedicate a tune to his memory when I play in the NYC subway (I play the musical saw).”

Why not share your memories of Xylophone Man in the comments below?

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