PUBLISHED Ham & High online, by Paul Wright on 25/10/13
Bill Bailey And Billy Bragg Lead Campaign Against Camden’s Busking Policy
Comedian Bill Bailey and musician Billy Bragg joined campaigners in Camden High Street to rally against council proposals to impose stricter rules on busking.
The duo, who were also joined by comedian Mark Thomas and singer-songwriter Jon Gomm, led crowds in acoustic performances of their own songs as well as kazoo-led renditions of the Star Wars Imperial Death March and Jerusalem yesterday.
The stars’ support for the second protest within weeks came as Camden Council put forward proposals to licence busking following complaints by some residents over levels of noise.
Under the new proposals, amplification equipment would be banned and buskers wishing to perform with wind or percussion instruments – including the kazoo – would need to get permission from the council and buy a special licence.
Those caught without a licence could face a fine of up to £1,000 and risk having their instruments confiscated or even sold.
Mr Bailey, who led the crowd in an up tempo sing-along of California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and the Papas, said the plans were “draconian and set a dangerous precedent”.
“Busking is the ultimate in freedom of expression,” he said. “It’s the first opportunity you get to perform in a public place when you’re first starting out.
“I myself busked around Europe and the UK and Eddie Izzard started his career as a street performer.
“So if you’re putting people off at an early stage then it curtails the arts.”
Mr Bragg, who praised Camden for being “vibrant and alive”, said busking was often the only way for people to get themselves known.
“It’s the central part of not only the British spirit but the human spirit to keep the streets open for people to go out and give things a go.
“That’s what busking is about – it’s like the people’s X-Factor. It would be terrible if Camden ended up becoming another dull and dead backwater place because of this.”
Emily Lee, 26, a full-time musician, who lives in Holloway Road, said her own livelihood relied heavily on public street performances.
Although she usually busks around the Embankment, she said her first time performing in Camden left her in tears.
“I came to sing on Camden High Street back in June and the experience means I don’t ever want to come back,” she said.
“After telling me to turn down my amplifier, which I happily did, community officers threatened me with a £2,500 fine and with having my instruments confiscated.
“I started to cry as my instruments were my livelihood.”
But Cllr Abdul Hai, Camden cabinet member for community safety, said the plans were justified.
He said: “We believe that all forms of street entertainment are an important part of the musical and cultural heritage of the borough.
“However, in recent months we have received an escalating number of complaints from local residents regarding disruptive busking activity, particularly where amplification is used in residential areas.
“When we did our consultation the vast majority of our residents supported the draft policy.”
A vote on the suggested proposals is expected at the full council meeting on November 11.