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 ( 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 and also the Head of Legal and Democratic services at Westminster Peter Large on 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.


This post was written by
Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

15 Comments on "Criminalising Culture in Leicester Square"

  • I hope Danny Wilson fairs ok in all this. Its no fun being arrested while out busking. I remember a few years back ending up in the cells at Leamington Spa Police Station ( yes Leamington the home of English Occultist and Ceremonial Black Magician Alaister Crowley ) after an incident whilst out performing in Stratford upon Avon.

    Luckily for me, I have to admit, that in my case the Police treated me very well, leaving the cell doors open even, since the charges against me were ‘minor’ and clearly very much in doubt, in fact they were dropped a few months later in court.

    Of course one outcome of ‘my’ personal experience here, albeit involving a ‘good’ arrest outcome is that I did get ‘ a taste ‘ of what it must have been like in what I think of as the ‘bad old days’ of busking where summons before the ‘Magistrates’ were routine for many Buskers ( and busking generally classified as ‘itinerant’ indeed petty criminal ). In this context Danny you have all my sympathies and no doubt the support of many others. An appeal to Magistrates, be leniant, please let go these charges.

  • Jonny says

    Well said Nigel

  • An important point of interest ( to the above ), note that ” Philosopher John Moore opined that Crowleys thought was rooted in Romanticism and The Decadent Movement. An assessment shared by Historian Alex Owen, who noted that Crowley adhered to the ‘modus operandi’ of the decadent movement throughout his life ” .

    Q. What relevance does the above statement have for Buskers?
    A. Well questions of standards and taste simply won’t go away with regards busking! ( the answer – a ‘deceptively’ difficult one – being ‘central’ to buskings future, particularly in places like Leicester Square ).

    The issue is a fairly clear and simple one though Q. Busking as its rapidly developing today ( and being ‘accepted’ ) in many of our towns and cities Q. What does its ‘modern’ manifestation really reprepresent, Progress or Decadence ?.

  • * My Message To Greater London Authorities

    Burger King, Pizza Hut, Casino etc , leff’ the man ( aka ‘Dawson’ ) alone Q. Leicester Square? A.The perfect place to ‘stage’ the World Loop Championships!.

  • Of course some supporters of ‘ Loop ‘ Culture may be tempted to say that UK Champion ‘ Dawson ‘ and his act is in fact a cut above the consumer mileu of Leicester Square. If it could be reasonably demonstrated to be true, in this case, it would be more correct to see Danny Wilson with his arrest ( and along with it ‘ loop ‘ music in general ) as a ‘ Scapegoat ‘ of decadent Mass Culture.

  • If Danny Wilson and his act can’t be shown to be in any way superior to the surrounding culture he’s best understood as that other kind of ‘sacrificial’ Lamb, the kind that is from time to time thrown into the Lions Den that can be/often is your local Council ( or its equivalent! ), a world ‘ apart ‘ of petty office clerks, jumped up officials and departmental head culture snobs.

  • One remaining question that begs an address here is that there is one sense in which Street Performance in the form of ‘musical’ loop acts could be seen as detrimental to the surrounding environment and that is as an unwanted intrusion on the otherwise peaceful ‘ park area ‘ in the centre of the square.

    Yes what may appear as an urban ‘mirage’ to many a Tourist etc approaching the high street Mecca that is Leicester Square does in fact turn out to be a little peace of ‘park’ ( like! ) green space dead centre to what is essentially this culturally developed ‘consumer’ playground.

    I am an enthusiastic fan of the idea of Town Planners creating ‘Oasis of Sanctuary’ in the otherwise concrete urban jungles that are our cities. So in principle well may be sypathetic to restrictions being placed on certain types of performance being allowed in to such areas. However in the case of Leicester Square I see no good grounds for such restrictions ( never mind ‘ punative ‘ arrests and sanctions ) since the park area is clearly not a real space of tranquility but a carefully designed and constructed illusion ( i.e. to me, merely an artifical add-on, and in this instance simply functioning as an ‘artifice’ of mass culture )

    No the truth is, in the case of Leicester Square, Babylon has not fallen, but rather has grown firm and taken concrete root. Its not even a case of Paridise Lost, but rather paradise never was nor intended to be. So its in this context ( and light! ) that I call on authorities to re-think their current approach and strategy with regards handling ( pretty regressively and draconianly ) buskers.

    Now, I personally don’t like acoustic pop guitar ‘ loop station ‘ acts and the like, I admit it, however I am a ‘realist’ – I’d like to think, a broadly tolerant human being with liberal values. So in this context I’d keep the park eg. I’d prefer munching my Mcdonalds burgers ‘outside’ in the ‘fresh’ air ( no pun intended ) in some green space rather than sitting on ‘plastic’ seats indoors. And rather than ‘banning’ Street Performers – I’d only be ‘annoyed’ by ‘loop’ musicians if I had to sit and listen to them all day – I’d manage the ‘public’ space so that a ‘variety’ of good Street Acts could play, as a regular fixture in the area, though perhaps on a ‘rota’ system of 2hrs each playing time a day ( and with perhaps some clear breaks of musical ‘silence’ built into the ‘daily’ busking scheme )

    • *Byetheway Jonny, in this context ( * see commentary above ) , I’d be very interested in hearing what your Wife Philipa Morgan Walker ( online fashion & lifestyle journalist/expert ) has to say on the brand Coca Cola’s ‘new’ addition to the family ( there words not mine! ) i.e. ‘Coca Cola Life’, now in our shops.

      Its the first lower-calorie cola sweetened from ‘natural’ sources ( i.e. made from a blend of sugar and Stevia Leaf extract ). This new drink consumable is marketed as part of the Cola Corporations committment to offer a variety of drinks so theres something to suit everyones lifestyle and occasion.

      Q. Whats this got to do with Busking you may ask?
      A. Well in the context of Leicester Square everything I add!

      • Yes, Philippa Morgan Walker, I await in trepidation for your reply ; fashion pundit, with your very own up and coming ‘online’ masterclass, rumour has it according to some circles that you’re the next ‘Marjorie Proops’!.

        • In the meantime heres an ‘insider’ tip on how to land the ‘top’ jobs in todays mass media.

          Q. So what is the key qualification to opening those hallowed doors to a career in todays competitive, fast moving popular radio, tv or press you ask? What does a fresh faced grad fresh out of communications school have to do to win over that mean-faced PR chief in the corner of the interview room?

          A. Well that easy, ask Philipa, just learn to smile like a Cheshire Cat!.

    • Of course there are more than a ‘few’ viable solutions to the problem of busking in Leicester Square. An independant ‘local’ London solution is what I’d like to see here, with as much ‘open’ input as possible from Performers, Artists, Musicans who really know the area, are the ones who will actually playing there on a ‘regular’ basis, and have a real stake in a succesful busking scene happening in London generally.

  • As for me right now, yes I think I’m ready to give it all up and go and live on a Kibbutz, if only it were one situated in the kind of country ‘Israel’ ought to have been from the off, you know a place closer to the Zionist ideals of dreamers like Noam Chomsky, Martin Buber etc eg a ‘Bi-National State’ called Palestine – a country where Arabs and Jews lived happily together.

  • 1 in 6 people in Stratford Upon Avon voted UKIP in this years May 7 general elections, the party, coming in 2nd to a Tory Majority – that explains ( ‘confirms’ ) a ‘few’ things!.

    Though ‘generally’ a fairly pleasant town to busk in, enough ‘good’ folk, lots of Tourists ( ‘foreign’! ) etc; a bit like the place where I spent a significant part of my childhood, an area I would describe as ‘ the English Mississippi ‘ ( somewhere up North! ), it can get a little bit ‘spooky’ at times!.

    It happens on rare occasions, on ‘odd’ days, its a bit like an ‘eclipse’ of the sun; a wave of people pass by & you get the strong feeling that you’re not really wanted. A deep ( & powerful ) ‘subliminal’ emotional message that you’re not at all wanted, that un-nervingly can stay with you for days!.

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