The Council Strikes Back!

The Council Strikes Back!

Photo: peter.clark


Only two short months after being forced to abandon their contentious and coercive busking license scheme, we have reliable reports that Liverpool City Council are up to their old tricks again. We have received information that individual street artists and performers have been approached by police officers and council officials and asked to give their names and addresses. Many performers have been approached on multiple occasions in what amounts to a coordinated campaign of harassment and intimidation.

In the light of the savage cuts to essential services that the council are having to put through, we think that a new campaign against the buskers of Liverpool is a terrible misuse of the council’s scarce time and resources. Our shared public spaces are a vitally important resource for our communities. Buskers help create a sense of place and identity for a city. Compulsory license schemes are bureaucratic, restrictive and unnecessary. A common sense voluntary code of conduct is all that is needed to promote a vibrant culture of street performance. Issues that arise from time to time can easily be dealt with on a case by case basis without the need for regulation.

ASAP! exists to help protect our public spaces and to safeguard street culture. We want to help local authorities to see the benefits of street animation, and to help them realize that this is one area of city life where a light-touch, hands-off approach will bear fruit. The city council at its best is a steward of our shared resources and exists to promote and protect the common good. When it goes after street performers in a misguided attempt to create ‘order’ on the streets, it departs from its primary function. We ask them to seriously consider whether sending out enforcement officials and police officers to intimidate people who are bringing life and colour to the streets is a good use of their time and efforts at this time.

In order to help Liverpool City Council see sense, and to raise awareness of this new campaign of intimidation, we are arranging a spontaneous celebration of street culture in the form of a communal busk this Thursday the 22nd of November on Church Street, Liverpool, just outside of Primark. We will be gathering from 5pm onwards with our instruments of choice. This will be a peaceful and joyful occasion. Everyone is welcome. We will be a positive presence on the streets! And remember, wether you are a street artist and performer, or just someone who values and cherishes street culture, ASAP! is here for you. We will not stand aside whilst local authorities conduct misguided clampdowns on a vital aspect of civic life. We will continue to campaign to keep streets live!

We will jam, we will play, we will never go away!

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16 Comments on "The Council Strikes Back!"

  • I have cited Birmingham – the 2nd city, has having the most enlightened, liberal and progressive attitude towards street-performing and busking in the uk.

    I have drawn this conclusion ( not cast in stone! ) after 3 yrs playing outthere in the ‘streets’ as a performer myself – as a kind of ‘free’ journeyman ( or is it ‘free’ apprentice ) of ‘crossover’ classical guitar – I perform a ‘growing’ set of romantic cafe guitar.

    The audition was partly introduced in the context of publice protest
    about ‘standards’ of street performance in the city and the continual problem of ‘rogue’ buskers taken over spots, harrassing
    passersbye, playing the same tune – badly!, and causing general
    nuiscance for shops in the city centre.

    I’m not elitist but as a player and ‘conscentious’ performer I do understand the concern about ‘standards’ or at least having some
    accounability to the needs and wants of the wider public.

    Those who are ok with busking in principle but are concerned aboutunwanted intrusion and ‘noise’ nuiscance appear to want a little bit of ‘genuine’ entertainment, art and beauty in the public sphere. This is a heartfelt plea I’ve heard again and again in
    Birmingham at least, my home town.

    In the last intance I support the ‘freedom of opportunity ‘ of players
    to simply turn up and play, especially those on the streets. but heres a few points for consideration and ‘ re-consideration’ with regards ‘audition’ policy you can put this to the membership – I guess thats how The ASAP does things when formulating its Street Performing stance?


    One of the more serious ‘morally frustrated things that arises when turning up to play at various ‘designated’ spots is when ‘good’ space has been taken over by the kind of player that obviously can’t play.

    This type of player always comes across not just to myself but others ( I’ve spoken a concerned few on the issue ) as a kind of performance ‘ fraud ‘. Very, very annoying when you have put in hours and hours of practice time to conscientiously learn ‘new’ material to turning up in good faith to play to find
    an individual simply making clatter has taken up space.

    This is one reason of course why shopkeepers, retailors, and members of the public complain about ‘standards’ – it is an all to common kind of ‘negative’ circumstance, very unfair to the generally reasonable and good player and a potentially controversial condition that can and does for many put the name of ‘busking’ into disrepute.

  • In ‘reality’ what tends to happen in Birmingham regards ‘designated’ spots is that the better players do tend to get them by ‘booking’ ahead. Is this elitist ? Well again in ‘reality’ the ‘one trick pony’ performers – those who attempt to sing the same song for ‘hours on end’ ( who ‘really’ can’t play , most ‘reasonable ‘people can see that ) of their own accord tend to gravitate to other more ‘off-piste’ spots eg Moor Street Station in Birmingham.

    In Birmingham those who might otherwise be labelled ‘nuiscance’
    buskers ( there was a phase of ‘crisis’ nuiscance busking a few years back ) are tolerated by police, train station masters and the like, they appear relatively happy in these ‘fringe’ spots because ironically they can make more money there than in the city centre.

    The bigger more open spots are then left ‘free’ for the more reasonable and those regarded by ‘peers’ and public as the
    more ‘professional’ street performers to use ( ‘Public Musicans’ as I call them ). Note that in practice not all have been vetted by ‘audition’ a few are those just commonsensibly seen as ‘the good ones!’

    Obviously circumstance and conditions vary from place to place
    across the country however this particualr street performing arrangement appears to work very well in Birmingham.

    Nothing is perfect but it does show how with a little good will, awareness, patience and flexibility workable street performing schemes can be worked out – in part naturally, organically, anarchistically!.

    Of course it also exposes the difficulty of formulating ‘catch all’
    general values, codes and schemes that would apply to all places andl ocations. Variation and ‘condition’ seem to be the name of the day in ‘reality’ . Though I will ponder more on this matter and be back with more ‘insights’ and ideas.

  • As for so called ‘designated’ spots in Birmingham there is an issue over who gets to identify and label what are ‘the good spots’.

    When I started playing 3 years ago the first thing I noted was how the City was not thronged with ‘entertaining’ ‘street musicians’ , the city centre streets were dominated by The Big Issue – I would argue quite ‘legitematelyl of course going about there daily work
    and struggling to earn themselves a living.

    The big issue have some great spots in the town and within a few weeks of my street performing career I was approached by the key
    organiser, the guy responsible for drawing up the map. He’d been given sole responsibility for the job by the Council, no consderation had been given to ‘busking’ , that was a task taken
    on later by then named Birmingham City Centre Management and now re-organised and re-titled Birmingham Retail BID.

    Again here things generally work out generally fine. ‘Buskers’ have ended up with some decent ‘offical’ spots whilst other ‘off-piste’ space additonally identified ‘good playing spot’s by performers themselves are 9 times out of 10 successfully negotiatied ( not formally but ‘informally’ – unspoken, unsaid, just with a nod and a gesture and practical good will with other interested ‘players’ in the area ). Everone in the most works together very well in this common practice.

    As far as Birmingham goes ‘formal’ spots are generally dictated though pretty good ones and other spots ‘freely’ identified and chosed are available with a little awareness, tact and, diplomacy. However not all such towns and Cities have such ‘benign’ authorities and one can never be complacent about the good current state of affairs existing in Birmingham forever.

    It would therefore be wise and I think quite proper for the ASAP
    to stuggle for street performers having formal ‘negotiation’ rights alongside Councils when playing spots are being identified and
    decided upon.

    I for one despite some good pre-booked spots find it liberating and refreshing to go for the more ‘off-piste- playing areas simply because of the fact that I can ‘choose’ .

  • As for those with ‘learning’ difficulties and ‘mental’ health problems
    no specific allowance is made for them in Birminghams busking codes ( nor in any other code that I’ve played under that I’m aware of any how )

    I support the right for people with physical or mental difficulties to
    play on the street and to be acknowledged, welcomed and and wherever possible catered for.

    However no performer regarless of their learning/mental disability should be given license or privalege to make ‘noise’ nuiscance or any trouble whatsoever. All such people should be granted our
    warmest human sympathy or understanding but our emotions must not descend into ‘pathetic’ sentiment they be allowed out of such ‘false’ sentiment to get away with causing a disturbance for others.

    We must recognise that while disability discrimination and the like can destroy lives, Political Correctness can destroy lives too. Whether someone has a disability or not they cannot be allowed to inflict harm on the lives of other people.

    I suggest that in drawing up busking codes and practices and
    special provision be made for learning disabilites. In the
    the case that they cannot acutally play yet wish to express themselves, like our ‘one trick ponies’ out there who may have limited resoursce to develop therir repartee yet need to make money other ‘reasonable’ performance spaces need to be found.

  • *Postscript

    A revision to a statement above. Would the ASAP consider and reconsider their policy stance against ‘auditions’ on the ground
    the are ‘elitist’.

    I am critical of ‘auditions’ by city centre management in places like
    Birmingham on the grounds that they cd be used as a ‘simple’ management tool to bludgeon ‘potential’ performers by a bullying Boss ( not necessarily because they are ‘elitist’ )

    They can very much feel like an unnecessary hindrance to ‘outside’ performers ‘new’ to the city. One could feel victimised here by unnessessary beauracracy, what is felt as another layer of cumbersome ‘red tape’.

    ( Tho’ note as mentioned above to give and to give
    ‘credit’ to Birmingham Retail BID and the police, if you already have a demonstrably ‘good’ reputation i.e. you’re seen as
    ‘one of the good ones’ you cd get booked in on spots by telephone ‘from afar’ and ‘free’ of auditioning. )

    As for the question of ‘elitism’ and auditions that could be a misleading red-herring ( not maliciously intended of course just
    a result of ‘limited’ consideration of the issue ).

    It is certainly not ‘elitist’ to argue for or indeed insist on in some circumstances a reasonable level of performance from street entertainers in certain ‘sensitive’ spots.

    Everone has a right to be heard on this matter including representatives and users of businessess, cafes, seated areas of ‘relaxation’ who have just as much right to a certain level of peace and comfort or indeed ‘genuine’ entertainment, or if at all possible spiritually uplifting art and beauty.

  • On the question of ‘fair’ ways to police ‘noise’ nuiscance in general
    – ‘on the day’ socia ,barometers, are still an excellent and less beauracratically intrusive form of management drawing on my
    past 3 years experience as a street performer.

    ( i.e. until we’re at the ideal stage where we can police ourselves effectively – at some far off distant ‘utopian’ stage i.e. the age of the ‘egoless’ soul – some kind of ‘light’ intervention, in the first instance, is I would argue legitemate ).

    In Stratford upon Avon a small ‘tourist’ town a Town Host can be
    on the spot relatively quickly to deal with complaints ‘relayed’ from
    shops. Birminghams Warden scheme set in a larger city, is not far behind Stratforwards pretty damned efficient ‘troublesome’ noise street protection system.

    Noise problems in this context then can be dealt with without the use of ‘pre-screening’ auditions cutting out a layer of timely

    The problem occurs when ‘crisis ‘strikes. Birmingham it appears introduced its ‘audition’ schemes in part as a ‘cost’ effective fix
    to the problem of the then ‘overburdoning’ prescence of ‘nuiscance’ musicians in the town 3 or 4 years back.

    ‘Auditions’ were seen I think ( I’m not a spokesman for Birmingham City Centre Management ) as a solution to many complaints about ‘low’ standards leveled against street musicans back then. All at a time of austerity and cuts. This methinks was the decisive ‘factor ‘that led to the introduction of auditions.

  • I must say that Birmingham Retail BID has from their point of view
    and as well as the opinion of many others dramatically reduced ‘nuiscance’ busking in the city.

    According to their view, today objectively there are ‘few’ instances of very poor performers clanking away on their guitars, singing the same tune all day outside shops and annoying staff and customers in the city centre.

    My position would be that upon observation the problem identified has clearly been reduced with ‘auditioning’ functioning today as more a ‘pschological/cultural’ factor in detering would be infractors.

    Of course one could argue that with the increased resources of today and the future and the main ‘crisis’ now safely managed ,we could now abandon ‘auditioning’ and return to a more ‘organic’ city Warden ‘call and response’ type policing – again with a very ‘light’ touch.

    I say ‘organic’ because this style of proctection allows for a spontaneous ‘choice’ on the day that offers more ‘freedom’ for both shop business and street performer.

    The performer can feel more confident ( and ‘anxiety’ free )
    on simply turning up on the day traveling from another part of
    the country to try a spot ( we’re all potentially ‘travelling’
    musicans ) and shops and city/town businesses can make decisions on the day as the mood and conditions – and quality
    of the performer dictates ( give the shopkeeper some freedom of mood, and therefore the ’emotional’ space to be more human and
    give the performer respite from worry and the weight ‘unnecessary’ beauracracy. Very healthy indeed methinks! .

  • My position is to call for the ASAP to summon all councils across the country to suspend street performer ‘audition’ schemes ( ‘proposed’ and ‘existing’ ) on review of resources.

    Where resources are deemed lacking and ‘audition’ schemes viewed as the most cost effictive method of ensuring standards i.e. councils argue they don’t have the staff to run albeit more spontaneous, freer, healthier ‘Warden call and response schemes’ to fend of ‘noisce’ nuiscance, I argue the ASAP simply argue the ‘moral’ case persuading authority’s of its ‘merit’ in principle and then suggest that they ‘creatively’ shelve the ‘cultural’ policy idea until economic conditions arise where they can afford to introduce the scheme. All in the interest of healthy freedom growth and civil progress

    ( note BID is the method used by places such as Stratford upon
    Avon to finance their ‘Town Host’ style schemes )

    Yes it seems Warden style ‘call and response schemes’ ( not ‘auditions’ ) could be an important key to protecting and nurturing street performance arts and so improving the cultural mileau of our towns and cities for the good ( health and enjoyment ) of everyone.

  • * correction supplement ( to above first paragragh)

    ……suspend street performer ‘audition’ schemes ( ‘proposed’ and
    ‘existing’ ) on review of resources ( add ) and ‘conditions’!

    Nigel snookes aka Romanza Rose

  • Finally I would suggest/support the ASAP taking a ‘pro-active’ role in promoting the idea that the towns and cities of the UK do have certain reasonable ‘standards’ and that we support ‘fair’ policing in this area freer, healthier ‘new’ schemes that are now being introduced or are in transition.

    I’d like to see a statement for example that ‘ we at the ASAP’ do support such Warden/Town Host ‘call and response’ city/town management schemes on provision that they are ‘justly’ administrated and there is is ‘reasonable’ consideration of equality of access to any person including those less able
    performers ( not necessarily ‘innate’ but due to circumstances and
    resources ) who may want to express themselves including those
    with mental health and learning difficulties.

  • One final suggestion

    Above all a message ‘ we at the APAS ‘ together with the councils
    of England, Wales, Scotland and Nothern Ireland do not support
    ‘noise’ nuiscance what ever the Street Performing source it might
    be generated from’ (Jonny Walker founder and Chief Spokesperson)

    – this might prove the most important step in winning over the trust of the great British public!

  • All in all then, for me, yes it’s abut ‘social’ justice but just as importantly its also about ‘serious’ popular ‘cultural’ progress, yes right out there in the public sphere, in the streets.

    In love as in life, there is that identifiable courtship between ‘Realism’ and ‘Romance’ ! ……..

  • …But if I was pushed and had to choose beween them, between realism and romance, in the last instance, I’d always go for ‘romance’ . To defy the currently ‘real’ and to will and watch human courage, creativivity and imagination triumph thats what its really all about for me.

    Peace, love ( virtue and ‘piracy’ ) to all lovers of freedom, justice
    and ‘the impossible’ !…… in the new year 2014

  • I would argue that all too often ( & ‘in fact’ ) its not the ‘dream’ thats at fault in lifes endeavour(s) but the plan.

    The human desire for ‘wealth’ – all the things conducive to life as Adam Smith would define it, appears to me quite ‘natural’ and common to us all, but non too rarely its the the plan thats at error ie. the thinking – ‘theoretically’ how we go about achieving our ultimate needs and desires that can be the problem.

    On lifes jouney, ( ‘in reality’ ) , it indeed may not be wise to let go of our big goals in life, our long-term ‘heartfelt’ visions, but rather to simply redraw our ‘life’ maps, i.e. reconsider the road on which we have to travel on to get where we want.

    And this kind of ‘thinking’ includes imagining the ‘major’ milesones and likely ‘obstacles’ we could meet on the way to attainment. And of course it means having the will, tenacity, and creative problem solving skills to overcome ‘hurdles’ as we meet them.

  • * For Adam Smiths conception of ‘wealth’ as being ‘ all the things
    conducive to life eg. beautiful gardens, freedom etc ‘ I cite
    Alan Macfarlane Professor of Anthropology at Cambridge

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