Bath’s Buskers Under Threat-Keep Streets Live Stands With Them

Bath’s Buskers Under Threat-Keep Streets Live Stands With Them

 

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.

 

BathBuskers

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.

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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

Best Practice Busking Guides

Since our first success in Liverpool, we have now worked with several dozen UK councils to introduce best practice guidance for busking, applicable both to performers and the street side community of businesses and residents.

Our guidance is a system based on dialogue, mutual respect, and backed up with properly-used enforcement action where necessary. The approach is flexible, constructed involving all stakeholders, and can be adapted to suit the particular geographical and cultural needs of any given town or city.

You can find links to some of these below which can be used as reference for the specific locations, and also as a template for starting negotiations in the future.

Accrington

Bath

Birmingham

Canterbury

Carlisle

Chester

Liverpool

Worcester

York

Criminalising Culture in Leicester Square

Criminalising Culture in Leicester Square

Westminster Council-stop the prosecution of young musician Dan Wilson aka ‘Dawson’, support your street artists.

On Wednesday 20th August at 10am a talented young musician who has represented Great Britain in the world loop championships (http://youtu.be/Zh2gvYsWZP4) appeared in court in Westminster answering criminal charges of ‘illegal street trading’ and using a speaker in the street for a 10 minute busk in Leicester Square early this year with a couple of CDs of his own music with a sign saying ‘suggested donation £5’ and giving details of his Facebook page. This was his fourth court appearance relating to this one incident of spontaneous live music and he now faces a fifth court hearing in November.

If convicted this graduate of Leeds College of Music will have a life-long criminal record which will affect his ability to travel aboard, an essential part of life as a touring musician, and face heavy fines.

Westminster Council’s determination to prosecute Dawson comes against a backdrop of the Mayor of London’s #backbusking campaign launched in April with the intention of making London ‘the most busker-friendly city in the world’. Boris Johnson has convened a task force designed to remove obstacles to performing in the capital city which includes Westminster Council, the Musician’s Union and the Keep Streets Live Campaign. Despite this, Westminster Council have decided to spend thousands of pounds on a heavy handed criminal prosecution against Dawson perhaps to make an example of him lest any other musician decides to commit the ‘crime’ of playing music in Leicester Square. The extravagant waste of scarce public resources involved in using the police and courts to criminalise an activity which actually brings colour and enjoyment to the streets of our cities is very troubling

If you share the view of the Keep Streets Live Campaign that this protracted prosecution is a scandalous misuse of public time and money and that it represents a campaign of legal harassment against a promising young musician please email the cabinet member for Public Protection at Westminster Nickie Aiken on naiken@westminster.gov.uk and also the Head of Legal and Democratic services at Westminster Peter Large on plarge@westminster.gov.uk who, bizarrely, maintains that it is in the ‘public interest’ to spend thousands of pounds prosecuting Dawson. Politely point out to them that it serves no ones interest to criminalise culture and that the public don’t need protection from music makers who are bringing enjoyment and colour to public spaces.

In response to emails they received when this news went public, Joseph McBride, Cabinet Officer for Communications and Strategy for Westminster stated that ‘…street performance can give rise to real problems for local residents and businesses and in such cases it may be necessary to ask buskers who are causing a public nuisance [emphasis mine] to desist and, in exceptional circumstances [emphasis mine] make use of our legal powers as a last resort’.

Dawson had never performed in Westminster before and only played for a matter of minutes on the evening he was challenged. He is an accomplished musician and was not causing any nuisance, so why is he being targeted?

Metropolitan Police have justified police action against buskers in Leicester Square by claiming that ‘Spontaneous, unauthorised, unlicensed street performing causes anti-social behaviour and is a driver of crime’. Repeated requests for evidence of this claim under the Freedom of Information Act have been fruitless. However, it may be of interest to note that recent police crackdowns on buskers in Leicester Square, including the well publicised arrest of The King’s Parade, winners of the Mayor’s GIGS competition to find ‘ London’s best buskers’ have been partly funded by Heart of London Business Improvement District, picking and choosing legislation to use against buskers on an arbitrary basis. This is a troubling example of private interests hijacking civic and cultural freedoms. On its website the Heart of London BID states that it promises  ‘quality, licensed street entertainment’ but Westminster do not issue busking licenses resulting in the absurd situation where award winning musicians who have represented the UK internationally are criminalised under the pretense of targeting antisocial behaviour. This is a Kafka-esque farce in which the police claim, entirely without evidence, that unlicensed busking causes anti-social behaviour in which a private company funds police action against buskers whilst claiming to support ‘quality, licensed entertainment’ and in which Westminster Council do not even issue licenses for busking so that even if a musician wished to obtain one, they couldn’t! London can, and must, do better by its musicians and culture makers if it wishes to avoid a descent into a dull, authoritarian conformity on its streets.