You might know his music, but do you know the man behind it? Patrick Campbell has been a friendly, familiar face in Mercury Bay since first arriving in Whitianga in 1976, gracing the town’s sidewalks with melodies and the strum of his guitar for more than three decades.
It would be easy to assume that Patrick and his voice have been a permanent fixture of the town, and for some young enough that is true. However, that has not always been the case.
Patrick made a return trip to America, his home country, in 1986 and his brother took him to Redondo Beach Pier in California, a renowned location for busking. “I was looking at all these buskers and it freaked me out,” he says. “My brother was trying to convince me to pull my guitar out and play, and I was like, ‘Why would I ever do that?’ After reassuring me it would be fine and I’d have fun, I eventually gave in. My brother was right. I had so much fun that I’ve been busking ever since.”
Patrick has always had a strong fascination with music from the time he first saw, as an eight-year-old boy, The Beatles perform live on The Ed Sullivan Show. This led to his first ever guitar being gifted to him by his father on his ninth birthday. “I played that guitar day in and day out, and all hours around the clock, maybe to the point where my father regretted getting it for me,” he chuckles.
Unlike The Beatles, Patrick prefers to be a one-man band, unless when he is occasionally accompanied by his daughter, Bonnie. “I’ve had a couple of attempts at being in a band, but it turns out I’ve always liked being a solo player more,” he admits.
Unfortunately, like The Beatles, Patrick has also faced issues with substance abuse, alcohol being the poison of choice. “I did a band here in Whitianga way back, called ‘Medicine Man’,” he says. “It made me drink like a fish. I used to go busking at some of the local bars back in the day, which often resulted in my receiving jugs of beer as tips. I believe that’s where my battle with alcoholism began.
“I was very depressed for a long time and leaned into drinking to make me feel better, although it only ever made it worse. As soon as I gave up drinking eight years ago, the depression left me. I have been sober ever since and it has been the best thing I ever did.”
Patrick attributes his success in sobriety to his guitar. “It keeps me grounded and from thinking about booze,” he says. “Now I practise playing my guitar daily and I busk three to four times a week, often at my favourite busking spot outside Tango’s Shoes and The French Fig.”
When Patrick has a spare moment between busking and practising, he can be found going for long walks along Buffalo Beach or spending time with his grandkids. He’s proud to say, with a big happy smile, that he has “a dozen now”.
“I’ve relied on music to keep me on the right path,” says Patrick. “I hope that anyone who reads this who is struggling with the same mental health issues as I did, might possibly take away some inspiration from my story. My life has completely turned around and I’ve never been happier.”
Pictured is Patrick Campbell who has graced Whitianga’s sidewalks with melodies and the strum of his guitar for more than four decades.