Press: BBC On ASAP’s Camden Kazoo Protest

Press: BBC On ASAP’s Camden Kazoo Protest

See the TV coverage of Bill Bailey, Jon Gomm, Mark Thomas, Billy Bragg and Jonny Walker in Camden (oh, err, with kazoos – of course)

BBC Published on 24/10/12

Kazoo Protest Against License Plans

A kazoo orchestra has taken to the streets of Camden to protest about plans to licence buskers.

Comedians Mark Thomas and Bill Bailey along with musician Billy Bragg were among the people playing the wind instrument.

Under the proposals by Camden Council, anyone who wants to play a wind instrument, apart from the flute and the recorder, would need a special licence.

The council says it is responding to the concerns of residents who have complained.

BBC London’s Wendy Hurrell spoke to comedian Bill Bailey; Jonny Walker, from the Association of Street Artists and Performers; and Camden councillor Abdul Hai.


BBC, By Rebecca Cafe, PUBLISHED ON 24/10/2013


Camden Town is famed for its musical connections – so why is the council trying to ban kazoos?

If you meander through the north London town on any given day your ears are assaulted by a cacophony of sounds – loud music, market traders, sirens and gig goers spilling out on to the streets.

Along with famous venues such as the Roundhouse and the Electric Ballroom, the “most rock ‘n’ roll borough in London” also offers music in the form of buskers.

And on Thursday afternoon, the main buskers drawing the crowds were comedians Mark Thomas and Bill Bailey along with musician Billy Bragg.

A kazoo orchestra played in Camden against plans to licence buskers
They were playing Star Wars’ Death March on kazoos, a wind instrument they claim Camden council wants to ban.

At the moment anyone can rock up and play whatever they like, whenever they like.

However, the council wants to restrict performances to between 10:00 and 21:00.

Under the proposals, anyone who wants to play a wind instrument – apart from the flute and the recorder – would need a special licence, as would all percussion instruments. Any form of amplification would be banned.

‘Social cleansing’
“It’s a particularly draconian law,” said Mark Thomas.

“The thing about culture and where we live is that London is a vibrant, exciting and lively place and we want it to stay like that.”

He added: “It smacks of social cleansing and I think Camden is a unique and wonderful borough and actually it needs to keep its uniqueness rather than airbrush over it and to clean it out.”

Thomas said the council did not need to introduce a new law, but should instead set up a forum whereby the entertainers, business owners and residents could get together and work out any problems.

“I totally accept there’ll be occasions when it’s too loud; totally accept there’ll be occasions when it’s inappropriate, but you just get a method of good practice.

“If the people in Camden who are living this cutting edge life can’t put up with a few people standing in a street singing… then it’s musical incorrectness gone mad”

Billy Bragg
“If you want to solve the problem, the way to do it isn’t to be very draconian and use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Busker Jonny Walker, who has spearheaded the campaign, said although the council had accused him of being alarmist, it was using the threat of coercion to manage what was a “very small problem”.

He said in the last year, there were 104 complaints – 15 from the same person – and that there were 52 complainants in total.

The musician added that under the terms of the licence, instruments could be confiscated and performers could be fined £1,000.

For Bragg, his main concern is that the cultural heritage of the area could change.

Camden’s links with rock ‘n’ roll go back to the mid-’60s, after a disused railway yard was turned into a counter-culture landmark called the Roundhouse. Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix played in its cavernous interior.

Amy Winehouse praised the area in her Grammy Awards acceptance speech; Bob Marley lived there in 1972 and Prince had a boutique shop there in the mid 1990s.

‘Dull and dead’
“Camden is the most rock ‘n’ roll borough in London.

“Wouldn’t it be sad if Camden was as dull and dead as some other backwater place? It’s vibrant, it’s alive.

“My friend’s kids, when they come to play in London they want to play in Camden, they don’t want to play in Barking or Sutton,” said Bragg.

Under the licence terms, acoustic guitars would be allowed
He added: “If the people in Camden who are living this cutting edge life can’t put up with a few people standing in a street singing “Take you by the hand and let me take you around the streets of Camden” then it’s musical incorrectness gone mad.”

The council said it had no plans to ban busking, but it had to listen to the concerns of residents who have complained.

Cabinet member for community safety Abdul Hai said: “We believe that all forms of street entertainment are an important part of the musical and cultural heritage of the borough.

“However, in recent months we have received an escalating number of complaints from local residents regarding disruptive busking activity, particularly where amplification is used in residential areas.

“We cannot allow the lives of people who live and work in Camden to be disrupted by noise nuisance.

“However, we are not trying to drive away street entertainers we are instead looking to attract them and add value to the performances that they give.”

Press: Celebrity Busk By Indymedia

PUBLISHED by Rikki at Indymedia on 28/10/13


Camden Council looks set to introduce new controls on buskers in the area, with a pay-to-play licence scheme, and severe penalties of up to £1000 and even instrument seizure and sale.
Busker and campaigner, Jonny Walker, ( has been working with comedy activist Mark Thomas (100 Acts of Minor Dissent), and after forming the Citizens’ Kazoo Orchestra, they introduced an array of celebrity buskers in Camden High Street on 24th Oct 2013.

The line-up featured comedian/musician Bill Bailey, protest-singer Billy Bragg, and virtuoso guitarist Jon Gomm, and was compered by Mark Thomas. Jonny Walker explained the Labour Council proposals, spoke movingly of his own experiences as a busker, the connection to the homeless and the disadvantage, and the subterfuge of Camden Council (who tried to prevent him addressing their Cabinet meeting, and failed to respond to Freedom of Information requests.

A BBC film crew was in attendance, and Mark and Jonny managed to hijack their interview with Councillor Abdul Hai. After repeatedly being asked, he eventually and reluctantly agreed to meet with them before the next Council meeting.
This short video tries to capture the spirit of that day, which was blessed by Indian Summer-like weather.
There is also a written piece and some photos at my WordPress blog here

Democracy? ASAP’s Deputation To Camden Council

Democracy? ASAP’s Deputation To Camden Council

Last night (October 23rd) I made a deputation to the Cabinet of Camden Borough Council and asked them, on behalf of street artists and performers, not to implement the strict licence scheme for busking that they have proposed. I was fortunate to be there at all as my request to attend the Cabinet meeting had earlier been refused by the leader Sarah Hayward who initially responded to emails asking her why my deputation request had been refused with the following stock answer,

I have no problem with the council being challenged. Indeed I think challenge is both healthy and results in better policy making. However tonight’s meeting is neither considering this issue, nor the committee that will make the decision. There will be opportunities to present and I hope not least that he has entered comments to the consultation.
I trust this answers your query.


It turns out this stock answer was misleading. Busking WAS on the agenda at the Cabinet meeting, item 9 to be precise, and if I hadn’t been allowed to speak the item would have been carried without even so much as a debate.

The policy proposal was introduced by a Camden officer with the following piece of bureaucratic jargon,

“The draft policy takes into account the priority of harnessing economic growth by creating a light touch regulatory framework that permits most street entertainment to take place, while taking a proportionate approach on necessary restrictions”

When I pointed out that the new policy would empower officials to confiscate instruments, impose fines of up to £1000 and to sell instruments to pay the fine I was accused of being sensationalist. It was pointed out that these powers would only be used against people who didn’t sign up to the policy and agree to abide by its many restrictions. That was my point exactly!

The legitimate concerns of over 3100 people who have so far signed our petition against this policy were dismissed by Cabinet member Theo Blackwell (Labour) as ‘ultra-libertartian angst’ which I thought was a bit dismissive given that many more people have so far signed the petition then have responded to the consultation. The Cabinet Member for community safety Abdul Hai (Again, Labour) said that these proposals would ‘Add Value to Camden and were part of an approach for ‘sustainable neighbourhood, harnessing economic growth and would actually ADD VALUE and VIBRANCY to the neighbourhood, although he didn’t explain HOW criminalising the playing of instruments in the streets would add colour and vibrancy to the area.

I’m sorry to report that the Cabinet recommended that the policy be adopted and have sent it off to the Licensing Committee who will make a decision on it next Tuesday night before the full council consider the proposals at a meeting on November 11th. We have much work of persuasion to do before that date arrives if the nature of public space in Camden is to be protected.

There have been some changes to the proposals Camden Council are making to their proposed policy following the consultation which I will attempt to summarise here

1.) Two types of licence are proposed, STANDARD and SPECIAL. All wind instruments, percussion instruments, use of amplifiers or groups of more than two people are excluded from the STANDARD licence and have to apply for a SPECIAL licence. Applications for a STANDARD licence will take 5 working days to process. SPECIAL licences will take 20 working days to be processed, will be considered by a special panel who will decide if the applicant is a ‘fit and proper person for a licence.

2.) Flutes and recorders have been exempted from the ban (but not Kazoos)

3.) The cost of the Licence has been reduced in response to concerns that £123 yearly was excessive. The new amount is believed to be £49.

The consultation document I have just red has an appendix which lists the complaints that have been received about busking in the last 12 months (The justification for this new policy).

There have been a total of 106 complaints in the last 12 months but many of them have been made by the same people. Indeed 37 of those complaints come from a total of FOUR people!! A total of 54 people have complained in all, the most prolific of whom,

Complainant number 22,  accounts for a massive 15 (over 10%) of the overall complaints with the following complaints broadly representative,

‘Busker on Camden High Street’

‘Busker on Canal Bridge’

‘Two buskers on Camden High Street by the bridge are playing musical instruments’ (isn’t that the idea?!)

complainant number 11 made a total of 10 complaints ranging from,

‘busker on Camden High Street using a guitar with an amplifier’


‘report of busker with violin and amplifier and a rapper too’

Complainant number 8 made a tidy 8 of the overall complaints including,

‘Two loud live guitar players – Camden High Street’

Complainant number 37 weighs in with 4 complaints including,

‘Busker near the canal bridge in Camden lock’

I have so far listed four people who alone account for 37 of the total complaints received in a year. Often it is not clear whether they are complaining that the busker is creating a nuisance, or merely complaining that the busker is there at all. I would suggest that statistics like these are a very flimsy basis on which to base an entire policy and give undue weight to the prejudices of a small minority of people who clearly have a very low tolerance threshold for busking.

More to follow, but for now it is time to grab a Kazoo and go to meet Billy Bragg, Bill Bailey, Jon Gomm and Mark Thomas to make a joyful noise!