The Xylophone Man

by Frank E Earp

“I don’t pretend that I’m Mozart, I’m just having a bit of fun and keeping people entertained”.
Frank Robinson, Dec. 2003.

Anyone who has ever walked along the busy shopping street of Lister Gate in Nottingham’s City centre, before 2005, would have heard the distinctly ‘unmelodious’ sound of a ‘tinkling’ xylophone. This assault to the ears was the ‘music’ of Frank Robinson, Nottingham’s favourite busker.

Frank was certainly no musician, even by his own admission. He was there to entertain and would simply ‘bang out’ random notes in an attempt to play a tune. Around Christmas time Frank’s music would vaguely resemble popular carols. Frank was a very private man and until his death in 2005, few people knew his real name and he was popularly known as Xylophone Man. However, the instrument he used was in fact a child’s toy known, as a metallophone.

Frank was born in 1932, in the village of Cotgrave some 5 miles southeast of the centre of Nottingham. Nothing is known of his early life, – Frank only ever gave one interview, – but he continued to live in Cotgrave until his death in 2004. Sometime around 1989, Frank took to busking and began his daily ‘commute’ to the City centre. His favourite ‘pitch’ was outside the H & M store in Listergate. A small man with white hair and beard, Frank sat on a little wooden stool with his ‘xylophone’ on his lap. Striking the instrument with rubber tipped wooden sticks he would often produce the same three or four notes repeatedly. Frank’s pitch was strategically placed and because of its enclosed position, the sound could be heard from one end of the street to the other. It was certainly not the quality of his music that endeared him to the good folk of Nottingham, but rather his child like enthusiasm and ready smile. In fact, Frank earned himself something of a cult status.
Frank gave his one and only interview to Jared Wilson, Left Lion media organisation, in June 2003. At the time Frank was 72 years old. Among the few facts that he revealed about himself was that he had used several Xylophones over the year and that his current instrument was his favourite. After his death it was discover that Frank owned 25 xylophones (metallophones), his first having been brought from a charity shop at the start of his carrier.

Frank Robinson, Xylophone Man, died from a heart attack on 4 July at the Queen’s Medical Centre, on the 4th July 2004 at the age of 73. His funeral, attended by over 100 people including representatives of the City Council, took place at the chapel on Wilford Hill in West Bridgford. On 10 November 2005, a memorial plaque was unveiled on the very spot where Xylophone Man sat. The plaque simply reads:

“He played his Xylophone here for fifteen years, bringing a smile to the faces of the people of Nottingham”.

‘Xylophone Man’, Frank Robinson has truly earned his place in Nottingham’s history and his name will be remembered for years to come, replacing that of ‘The Old General’, Benjamin Mayo who died 161 years before.


Credit: Joe Earp- Nottingham Hidden History Team

About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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