Worry in Westminster

Worry in Westminster

It seems that we are entering worrying times in Westminster, and that the Council are moving towards proceeding with a licensing proposal.

Despite our better efforts, including some great work by our former Director Dave Southern, it seems that Westminster feel that the Street Performers’ Association which we revitalised is not doing enough to deal with problems on the ground which amount to 2,000 complaints about busking annually.


For whatever reason the plan put in place at the meeting we attended earlier in the year has not been implemented, so cannot be deemed to have failed. We were promised extensive support in talking to other local stakeholders to make them aware of the new complaints procedure that would be routed directly to performers who were pitch-side and able to respond instantly but this support never materialised. Westminster SPA put together a website, code of conduct and offered free membership of the SPA to all who supported and agreed to abide by the code.

Westminster are making promises that it will be ‘performer led’ but these in practice are worthless. The Council themselves have ultimate authority over the process and licensing under Section V is a one-way contract where performers are legally bound, under threat of criminal prosecution, to accept whatever conditions are imposed. The result of the proposal is a simple ‘divide and rule’ scenario, creating two tiers of performers; one of which is entitled and legalised and the other marginalised and excluded.

The fact that proposals have been changed unilaterally by WCC indicates that their intentions are not to be trusted and is deeply troubling, although ironically this fact has lost them the support of the few performers who were on board with the license, unified our community and strengthened our campaign. The recent incident involving Sammi Jay where an enforcement officer unlawfully seized her CD’s has also fostered more mistrust of the Council.


KSL can vouch for the effectiveness of CPN’s (or other ASB legislation) in dealing with problem buskers because we deal with many cases where they have been issued. Even in cases where KSL believe there are genuine grounds for appeal most buskers do not have the inclination and/or funds to go through the court process. In fact our main concern has been that Community Protection Notices are too powerful a tool and leave performers vulnerable to abuse.


We firmly believe that a ‘crackdown’ of a few days will deal with the perpetrators, and that this would probably have to be repeated once every few months. Simple afternoon pitch walk with your enforcement Officers, Police and performer representatives would suffice. This seems very resource-light in comparison with licensing which is bureaucratic, open to legal challenge, will attract adverse publicity and disproportionately affect those who are NOT causing a problem.  And of course there will still be the additional duties of enforcement on the ground to deal with which will be increased as in addition to genuine problems there must also be checks on those who are busking responsibly but simply do not have a license.


Westminster have access to a wealth of experience in the form of Keep Streets Live, The Musicians’ Union, Equity, Busk In London and others. We’re currently working successfully with Local Authorities in dozens of UK towns/cities, and see no reason why this couldn’t be the same. Between us we really should be able to make something work, and I believe the chances of that are greatly increased by Westminster working with us rather than against us.

Please support the Westminster SPA Crowdfunder to help keep their website active, and if anyone can attend the next meeting in London on 19th November that would be fantastic.

Thank you London!!

Thank you London!!

After an amazing 3-day Buskers’ Pow-Wow on the canal we’d like to extend a massive thank you to everyone who attended, but especially Eric Ellman of Bards on Boats and the Union Tavern for hosting us. A big hand too for Sam Jordan from the Musicians’ Union who joined us for the Know Your Rights workshop, and Julia Gregory (Local Democracy Reporter) who joined us on Tuesday afternoon and wrote this article.

We set out to protest the Kensington & Chelsea busking bans but I feel here we now have the bones of a London-wide grassroots performers group, which will be able to take a more co-ordinated and holistic approach to busking across the capital rather than seeing pitches and issues in isolation. If this is something which you’d like to be part of please check out the Keep Streets Live in London Facebook group.

As you’ve all been so awesome we’d love to help you out so we’ve added a few of your tracks to our Spotify playlist and if you’ve got any photos/video from the event use the hashtags #KeepStreetsLive #SayNo2PSPO and #BuskersPowWow to make sure we can find them to like/share etc. Alternatively you can send by email to contact@keepstreetslive.com

We’re currently looking at the possibility of another canal-based London event later in the year, and certainly another full day of busking workshops in Manchester in early-November. If you’d like us to do something in your local area please let us know.

If you missed our workshops or would like to re-cap you can find the livestreams here:

Know Your Rights. Tech For Artists part 1. Tech For Artists part 2.

David Fisher being interviewed outside Harrods.
Tech For Artists workshop with GigRide, The Hat App and Charlotte Campbell.

Lauren Collins– Fresh on the London busking scene from New Zealand.
Cap’n Eric
Acoustic punk from the Leyton Cat Lady.
Hobo World Folk from Pandoras Diary– Sara and Maya
Busking debut for Street Music researcher Lizzie Bennett.
Melissa Otero treating us to some Latin grooves.
A special medal for street magician Nathan Earl for making all 3 days!
South London troubadour Patti Paige.
Know Your Rights!! Workshop with Keep Streets Live and the Musicians’ Union

Buskers Launch Performers’ Association

“Busking, public performance for the entertainment and spare coins of passers-by, “may be the world’s second oldest profession,” muses David Fisher, a recording artist, busker and spokesperson for Keep Streets Live, an organisation which protects Britains’s rich legacy of spontaneous open air music and art.

An emerging cashless economy, however, and Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs), such as the one passed last month by the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea which bans or restricts busking over much of Portobello Road and other prime busking locations, threaten a tradition that is documented as far back as Roman times.

Against this backdrop, Keep Streets Live is organising a 3-day street performers’ pow-wow, August 27-29, designed by and for artists, and open to the general public.” -Eric Ellman of Bards on Boats.

Day 1 we’ll be opening the event at midday outside South Kensington tube with a protest busk to raise awareness of the issues. We have a diverse range of performers for you to enjoy including magic from Nathan Earl.

Around 3pm we’ll be moving on to the Union Tavern for our first Buskers’ PowWow which will be a mixture of discussions and entertainment featuring street performers from Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster and further afield.

Day 2 @ the Union Tavern – talk show format with panel discussions and performances.

Know Your Rights. Legal advice, campaigning and civil disobedience. Union Tavern, Westbourne Park. Weds 28th Aug. 3pm. Liberty/KeepStreets Live/Musicians Union.

Followed by ‘sultry, swinging world folk’ from Pandora’s Diary at 4.30pm, and punk covers courtesy of the Leyton Cat Lady at 6pm.

‘Chester’ live at Ophelia’s. Weds 28th Aug. 8.30-10.30pm. At Ophelia’s Cocktail Lounge. Nearest Tube Barbican. Indie/Folk/Americana. Door money to Keep Streets Live.

Day 3 Tech For Artists. Apps and online platforms. Holden House, 57 Rathbone Place , Tottenham Court Road tube. Thurs 29th Aug. 1pm. The Hat App/Gigride/Charlotte Campbell.

Workshops will be free (voluntary donations to Keep Streets Live welcome).

Thanks to Portobello Brewing Company for providing refreshments on our pre-launch Canal Cruise on Sun 25th August, Dave Holmes and James Dylan Thomson for their music, and James and Esther for sign making!

The Molly Anna- our event HQ moored outside the Union Tavern

We are currently looking for more people to be involved in this project in any capacity; musicians, speakers, community groups, art lovers. In fact anyone who has an interest in protecting access to our public spaces, and ensuring they retain their vibrancy. Please email contact@keepstreetslive.com

Kensington & Chelsea is a divided borough with a rich cultural heritage that is increasingly under threat. When beautiful moments like the one at the top of this post are designated as ‘antisocial and criminal’ we have to stand up and be counted. The Council should be supporting and encouraging their buskers rather than marginalising them and pushing them out. In these times of austerity they should be grateful for what we add to the borough. At no cost to the authorities or taxpayer we provide quality art that is accessible to all regardless of income or circumstance.

#SayNo2PSPO and #KeepStreetsLive