It’s never really quiet in Dundas Square, and, amid the ocean of sound that is passing cars, music pouring out of restaurants, and snippets of blended conversations, a drum beat occasionally breaks through. There are a few percussionists who frequent the area, but Peter Richards, who usually stakes out a spot on the sidewalk left of the Eaton Centre shopping mall doors, has been around for a while. He won’t say how old he is (“That’s classified. I’d like to tell you but I’m not allowed.”) or how long he’s had his kit (“It’ll give too much away.”), but he’ll tell you that he was in the city in the ’80s before he went “out west” for “quite a while,” and, after coming back, has performed in the square for six consecutive years.
Richards’s kit is a simple one that he wheels in on a trolley from Kensington Market—a bass drum, snare, tom, high-hat, and two cymbals that have clearly seen their share of action over the years. But they’re all Richards needs to come up with catchy, coherent beats on the spot.
“It’s just something I loved, I guess, in my teens,” Richards said about drumming. When he speaks, it’s in a chilled-out, mellow voice, and those traits seem to extend to his style of drumming; even when he’s hammering out an intricate beat, everything looks calm, almost involuntary.
Before he became a full-time musician, Richards worked as a computer programmer, but he quit the field because he thought it wasn’t going to continue being “very interesting.”
“When I was doing it, I loved what I was doing, but it wasn’t heading that way,” he said. “I didn’t like where it was going so I got away from it.” Richards also did audio engineering gigs before he decided to start busking. Besides playing in Dundas Square, Richards also plays shows in small venues (mostly bars) around the city with a band made up of himself, a stand-up bass player, acoustic guitar player, and vocalist.
Richards is primarily a jazz guy when it comes to what he plays and listens to, but he said that he’s open to any style and enjoys challenging himself to play in different ways. And when it comes to listening, Richard’s ear is more concerned with inspiration than genre.
“People will put stuff on and I’ll hear it. Most of my life, [I’ve been] exposed to other people’s stuff, interesting stuff I wouldn’t have [found],” he said. “Music. I like music.”
“It’s a nice place. The Square is beautiful,” he said. “One of my favorite things is that you get all walks of life. Like, everybody comes here, because people end up going through here eventually, you know?”