Busking has been described as an “urban ritual that challenges the way in which we think about public space by promoting spontaneous, democratic, intimate encounters in some of the city’s most “routinized and alienating environments” (Tanenbaum cited in Simpson, n.d., p. 3). It is hard to think of a less alienating environment than the public square outside of Bath Abbey where buskers have performed for many decades in the shadow of that beautiful church building. The high culture of the choral evensong has long mingled with the ‘low’ culture of the musicians animating the streets outside in the intermingling of cultural and social currents that characterises so many cities. Relationships between the buskers outside the Temple gates and the rector of the Abbey broke down in dramatic fashion when he decided to call a halt to Evensong because buskers could be heard inside the church and penned an emotive article for the Western Daily Press. In the words of Rev Edward Mason:
How do I feel? I feel like weeping. Truly. Weeping for a city ruined by the clamour of music. Weeping for choirs that are victims. Weeping for my staff subjected to music every day. Weeping that we human beings just cannot resolve conflict. (Let’s not look at Syrians and condemn them when we can’t even sort out music amicably!) Weeping for an Abbey that has had a superb ministry of peace, healing and quiet for hundreds of years and which is being subject to the violence of noise.
In talking about the noise from a few buskers Rev Mason writes about the ‘violence of noise’ and draws comparisons with the Syrian conflict. We could speak of the ‘violence’ of his rhetoric and could also question the necessity of his actions in calling a service to a premature close. In any event his words and actions were ‘amplfied’ by the intersection of the social media age with the traditional press and a local dispute had become national news alongside his prominent calls for Bath Council to impose strict controls on the busking community. Almost immediately the Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for neighbourhoods David Dixon was modelling kneejerk local democracy by promising to use new legislation to bring in blanket controls against buskers in response to these complaints and was using Twitter to make his intentions clear.
Bath Council seem to be intent on using the new Public Space Protection Orders to restrict busking in the vicinity of the Abbey. It is highly regrettable that they are considering the use of these illiberal, controversial blanket powers, which will make it very difficult for buskers in Bath to make a living, in response to complaints about the actions of a small minority of musicians. It is a form of collective punishment which harms all buskers and will have a detrimental impact on the cultural vibrancy of Bath which is famous for its diverse street culture scene.
Fortunately there is an alternative. The council have a wide range of existing legal powers that they can use in cases of noise nuisance or obstruction and could target enforcement action against any busker who was causing a genuine problem whilst leaving the vast majority to carry on. In Liverpool the busking community has worked alongside the local authority and the business community to develop busking guidance that promotes harmony between all users of shared public spaces in that city. Instead of blanket bans the council should work alongside the Abbey and the buskers to work out a code that they can all agree upon together. The guidance we produced in Liverpool by working with the council can be seen here and could be a useful template for resolving issues that arise from time to time amicably: http://keepstreetslive.com/uncategorized/2014/09/best-practice-busking-guide
We will write more about this in the coming days but will close for now with a statement released earlier by the busking community of Bath:
‘Bath is a beautiful and vibrant city with a renowned, long standing street music scene that needs to be protected. We’re saddened by the events of the past week and hope we can sit down and reach a positive solution for all parties involved. We still support the mutually agreed code of conduct, which most buskers follow. The issue now is ensuring it is followed by all buskers, so live performance can continue to be enjoyed in Bath.’
Work with the buskers and not against them Bath Abbey and Bath Council! The Keep Streets Live Campaign will be watching this unfolding situation very closely.
Read more: http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Bath-s-buskers-make-weep-Bath-Abbey-rector/story-22963092-detail/story.html#ixzz3EHL3IIpk
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Read more at http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Bath-s-buskers-make-weep-Bath-Abbey-rector/story-22963092-detail/story.html#EbOzPkEHL0cZ81XE.99