Amanda Palmer Supports Camden Busking Petition

By Philippa Morgan Walker

Former street performer turned Dresden Dolls frontwoman and now solo artist, Amanda Palmer has shown her support for our barely-24-hours-old campaign via Twitter. To a million followers, she retweeted ASAP! Founding Director, Jonny Walker’s tweet calling for people to sign the new petition. The petition aims to collect signatures to support the KeepStreetsLive and ASAP! campaign against a draconian busking policy that Camden Council are threatening to rubber stamp.

Amanda responded to Mr Walker’s campaign directly:

“We are us RT @JonnyWMusic thank you for standing up for those of us who are still making a living on the streets. You are an inspiration…”

Mr Walker replied:

“@Amandapalmer when you are next in London we’d love you to participate in a mass, kazoo-led street protest against Camden’s new laws…”

Amanda is a key inspiration for the leading members of ASAP!, as a fellow agent in lending credibility to street performance and its many positive effects on the atmosphere of a neighbourhood. No-one quite sums up kick-ass artist extraordinaire, Amanda like TED Talks, who invited her to lead one of its famous conferences:

“The singer-songwriter-blogger-provocateur, known for pushing boundaries in both her art and her lifestyle, made international headlines this year when she raised nearly $1.2 million via Kickstarter (she’d asked for $100k) from nearly 25,000 fans who pre-ordered her new album, Theatre Is Evil.”

There’s something wonderful about artists and like-minded people uniting and saying ‘hang on a minute’ to the powers that be. Blocking culture from taking place on the streets is a dangerous sign of things to come, unless we take notice NOW, and engage with the policy making process, our high streets risk becoming clone-like and dull at best and lifeless corporate shells at worst. Let’s clear up a popular point of tension; if a busker is causing a genuine threat or nuisance on the streets then there are many existing laws to tackle such issues: like the Public Order Act, Environmental Protection Act and Highways Act, to name but a few. Ring-fencing a public space with an empire of law and ‘order’ is a direct assault on grassroots culture, artistic freedoms and a basic human right to ‘get up, ‘stand up’ (to borrow from Bob Marley).

The Camden Keep Streets Live campaign is going to be one tough battle and we’ll need to draw upon a lot of support. The streets belong to everybody and, yes, that includes human statues called ‘The Eight-Foot Bride’, clarinet players, penny whistlers and beat-box groups – not just powerful brand names or the usual retailers we see up and down the country. Cleaning up the streets should refer to bin collection etc, rather than the forced removal of musicians and artists from promising paving stones. Camden Council are gathering suits and clipboards, so we need to assemble a more colourful crowd…

Camden’s Street Culture Under Threat

Camden’s Street Culture Under Threat

Street culture in Camden is under imminent and real threat. Under plans being drawn up by Camden Council, Street Performers face a fine of up to £1000 for the ‘crime’ of busking without a license. Council officers will have the power to seize musical instruments and other equipment, the tools of a busker’s trade, and to sell them if the fine is not paid within 28 days. ASAP has set up a petition calling on the council to rethink their plans, you can sign it here.

They are currently conducting a public consultation on their proposals to introduce a draconian licensing scheme for busking. If this scheme is introduced, it will be one of the most restrictive busking policies in the entire United Kingdom. Buskers will have to pay an annual fee of up to £123 to perform on the streets. A presumption against the use of wind instruments (including flutes and recorders), as well as any form of percussion (No bongoes or bins) or amplification (regardless of volume level) will apply.

The ‘right’ to seize instruments and equipment will also extend to private contractors working for Camden and is NOT dependant on a public nuisance having been demonstrated. Under this policy, busking without a license is itself criminalised. This could lead to a situation where people’s most prized possessions are taken from them by force and sold for no other reason than strumming a guitar in the street. This is not an acceptable use of state power or public resources.

These proposed regulations will have the effect of making it almost impossible to busk in Camden as well as settting a damaging precedent for other parts of the country. They are an assault on the freedom for people to use shared public spaces for grassroots expressions of art and culture and the ability of musicians to share their art with the public. The restrictions are particularly unnecessary in light of the fact that there are many statutory powers available to the council to deal with genuine episodes of nuisance without invoking new laws (Such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993). At a time when local authorities are being forced to make large cuts in spending, it is, at best, unfortunate, that Camden are proposing to spend scarce public resources on a policy like this when there are so many other issues of pressing concern relating to poverty, homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, the closure of essential services for social care and genuine crimes againt the person.

My name is Jonny Walker. I am a professional street performer, singer songwriter and the Founding Director of the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP!) a body that exists to campaign against policies that threaten street culture and to promote the idea that our shared public spaces belong to all of us and should be protected for the common good. We campaigned againt a busking law in Liverpool that would have seen buskers prosecuted for ‘tresspassing’ in a public space and facing other stringent limits on their freedom to perfrom, and we won. We asked York City Council to review their busking permit scheme because of the many restrictions it imposed on street artists, and they listened and made changes involving street artists and performers in that process. Now we are asking the same of Camden Council.

Camden is one of the most dynamic and culturally diverse areas in London. It hosts many iconic music venues and is home to MTV studios and many record labels. It is famous worldwide as a vibrant centre for the arts and live music, as well as for its famous markets and nightlife. The council’s proposals to introduce draconian busking regulations threaten to damage Camden’s reputation as a local authority that nurtures and supports the arts as well as to damage the enjoyment of thousands of people, both visitors and residents, who enjoy the dynamic street culture scene in this iconic London Borough. The Council’s plans in their current form lack imagination and stifle creativity. At best they represent a heavy-handed response to complaints about noise and the use of a whopping great sledge hammer to crack a very small nut, at worst, they are a damaging attempt to restrict freedoms attached to the use of public space at a time of austerity and the closure of many live venues.

As a local authority that values its proud artistic and musical heritage, Camden should abandon its plans to license busking, and instead consult with street performers, residents, professional bodies like the Musician’s Union and Equity, as well as educational establishments like the London College of Music to come up with a supportive policy framework for busking that builds and improves upon Camden’s already vibrant street culture scene, deals proportionately with the issues that arise from busking from time to time, and, in-so-doing,  benefits the well being of the entire borough and the city beyond it.


The consultation runs until October 4th. People who are concerned about Camden’s plans can fill in the on-line consultation here.

Please also sign the petition asking on Camden to think again.

And join the facebook group here:

Keep Streets Live!



Why the campaign to Keep Streets Live in York really matters….

Why the campaign to Keep Streets Live in York really matters….

It is just over two weeks since my busking badge was ‘suspended’ by York City Council because of my refusal to pay the punitive rate of £40 per day they want from buskers who display their CDs. I had made mine available for a suggested and voluntary contribution instead and had brought upon myself the wrath of six public officials in the process. The heavy-handed treatment I received and the suspension of my buskers badge, without any kind of due process or right of appeal, convinced me that the way busking is governed in York has broken down beyond repair and needs to be replaced. I helped set up ASAP! (Association of Street Artists and Performers) last year to campaign for policies that help foster grassroots art and culture in public spaces, and to constructively oppose schemes that stifle it. We successfully campaigned against a damaging policy in Liverpool and won. It was clear we were now needed in York.

Our call to end York’s current busking rules is grounded in simple and clear values. We believe that public spaces should be places of spontaneity and diversity which allow for serendipitous experiences. We believe that in these fractured and uncertain times, policies that allow a sense of urban community to flourish are particularly important. Busking is a cost-free addition to the grassroots artistic and cultural life of the city. York City Council’s busking permit scheme, however well-intentioned it might have once been, is stifling street culture when it should be supporting and nurturing it. In addition, the Council seems to have granted themselves special powers, above and beyond the law of the land, to control which activities are allowed in the shared spaces of the city. They also appear to expect the police to act as their enforcement arm. This is the mis-use of scarce public resources at a time of austerity and needs to stop.

So what are we asking for?

1.) We want York City Council to scrap their restrictive busking policy and to replace it with a fairer and more open scheme that supports a vibrant and diverse street culture.

2.) Street performers, artists, musicians and professional bodies like the Musician’s Union should be involved in drawing up the new policy. Firstly, because it directly affects them, and secondly, because their input will be valuable in drawing up a policy with an impact on the cultural and social life of the city. Any subsequent changes to the scheme should involve consultation between all parties.

3.) The new busking scheme should be open and easy to access. Buskers should not have to fill out forms in advance and wait for an audition before taking to the streets (Though the council may wish to collect information about performers for their own records once they have busked in the city). At present people sometimes have to wait for months for an audition and are often told that there are no badges available. The council clearly lacks the resources to administer and enforce their current policy properly. This acts as a barrier to spontaneity and also discriminates against acts that are visiting the area for a short period of time and only perform occasionally.

4.) The scheme should be based upon cooperation between all the shared users of the public spaces of the city, and should aim to create a sense of urban community and belonging. People who wish to complain about a busker should be encouraged to talk directly to the performer in a polite manner rather then calling the council or the police in the first instance. In their turn, buskers should be considerate and cooperative in their use of shared space and responsive to the reasonable requests of public officials.

5.) Issues that arise from street performing should be dealt with fairly and transparently. The council should not grant themselves additional powers above the law of the land when dealing with buskers, such as restricting access to public space and removing busker’s badges without right of appeal or due process. Street performers provide a valuable addition to the urban landscape and deserve to be treated with respect. Buskers whose behaviour is unreasonable and inconsiderate will likely already be in breach of existing legislation such as the Public Order Act, the Environmental Health Act and the Highways Act. With the correct and proper application of existing law, there is no need for additional legislation.

6.) Musicians should be allowed to make CDs containing recordings of their own work available for voluntary contributions for no charge. If musicians wish to sell CDs the charge for a street trading consent should be reduced from it’s current excessive level of £40 per day to a fairer and more proportionate amount no greater than £10 per day. This will enable musicians to share their work with a wider audience at a time when traditional music venues are closing, and provide a vital civic and cultural outlet, both for performers and their audience.

There is nothing in these requests that it unreasonable or unworkable. A new busking policy could be worked out in the space of a few weeks at little to no cost to the local authority. York City Council have a unique opportunity to create a policy that sends an unmistakable signal to the world that they support their street artists, performers and musicians. By working together in a creative and collaborative way, we can offset some of the damaging economic trends that threaten the future of our high streets and our public spaces. A vibrant grassroots cultural scene is vital to the life of the City, and it starts on the streets. Work with us not against us York City Council, and Keep Streets Live!