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.

 

London Evening Standard: Best Buskers Row Over Arrest Rages On

London Evening Standard: Best Buskers Row Over Arrest Rages On

Published by Rachel Blundy at the London Evening Standard on 02/06/2014

A row over the decision to arrest a band hailed as London’s best buskers by Mayor Boris Johnson is raging on today after a community leader voiced his support for a police crackdown on busking.

Colin Bennett, chairman of the Leicester Square Association, has come out in support of police after last week’s arrest of the King’s Parade in Leicester Square.

The four-piece from Cricklewood were led away by officers last Wednesday as they came to the end of their set in front of a bewildered crowd.

They did not require a permit to perform but police arrested them under the terms of an archaic Metropolitan Police Act from 1839, claiming they were performing in order to earn cash from passers-by.

Mr Bennett has said that police were right to detain the musicians, adding that the authorities’ approach to buskers in the capital needed “managing”.

He said: “Entertainment is fine but it needs managing. At present it isn’t.

“Nobody wants draconian action, but without a clear policy in place, there is little left.”

Speaking about Mr Johnson’s ‘Back busking’ campaign, which aims to prevent parts of the city becoming ‘no-go areas’ for buskers, he said: “The Mayor’s busking campaign may be headline grabbing, but it lacks forethought, resulting in places like Leicester Square becoming unregulated free for all with the potential to project a poor image – not the world class destinations I’m sure he and we wish to convey.”

In response, band member Olly Corpe challenged Mr Bennett’s stance on the issue.

He told the Standard: “It seems Colin agrees with the Met’s decision to arrest us but wants busking to be managed – surely arresting buskers isn’t a good way of managing it?”

He continued: “He obviously hasn’t read up on the ‘Back busking’ campaign because the whole idea of it is to regulate and unify the busking rules around London, which is exactly what Colin is asking for.

“If he agrees with our arrest then he believes that all buskers in Leicester Square should be arrested as well. Considering our arrest took more than five hours, I’m wondering if Colin has considered the time and resources needed to do so.”

The band were released without charge but could still face a court summons.

Defending the arrest earlier this week, a spokesman for Scotland Yard said that “unlicensed street performing” contributed to “anti-social behaviour and is a driver of crime”.

In a statement, the Greater London Authority (GLA) said it was involved in discussions with police over the band’s arrest.

It said: “We were made aware of the arrests of the Kings Parade and note that they were released with no further action being taken. Since then we have been liaising with the Metropolitan Police to review what happened.

It added that representatives for the Mayor’s pro-busking campaign are set to meet next week.

It said: “The Mayor announced a high level taskforce in April, aimed at making London the most busking friendly city in the world. This is bringing together the police, boroughs and other organisations to develop a pan-London approach.”

Metro: Praise be! Buskers form Church of Holy Kazoo

Metro: Praise be! Buskers form Church of Holy Kazoo

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Published by the Metro on 27th March 2014.

Even the humble triangle must feel smugly superior to the lowly kazoo.

But the last shall be first, the Bible tells us – and the once sneered-at standby of the one-man-band now finds itself deified by followers of a new religion.

A group of buskers has decided to get around a ban on performing in the street by forming the Church of the Holy Kazoo… and exercising the human right to preach in public.

Church founder Ben Van der Velde said: ‘Our religion doesn’t have too many rules, but the main ones are that every song ever written is a hymn and busking is a form of worship.

‘That means that. if the council or anyone else try to stop us from performing on the street, then they are impinging our religious freedoms.’

The inspiration for the new church arrived, 30-year-old Mr Van der Velde insists, when he was spoken to by the Great Golden Kazoo in the sky.

It just so happened that his spiritual vision came just in time to counter a threat from Camden council, which this week banned amplified street music and introduced a requirement for unplugged performers to buy licences.

It has enraged buskers in the north London borough, who say bosses are trying to ‘gentrify’ a renowned musical hub.

The council did not comment on the church’s plans to hold its first service on Camden high street in the next few weeks.