‘Lead Us Away In Handcuffs’, Says Buskers Pledging ‘Non-Vioelnt Resistance’ to Camden’s Licence Rules
Published in Camden New Journal: 13 November, 2013 by PAVAN AMARA
BUSKERS say they are ready to be arrested and led away in handcuffs after losing their campaign to stop Camden enforcing a new licence system for street performers.
Street musicians who fail to sign up for a licence face having their instruments confiscated or a £1,000 fine, under a new policy ratified at the Town Hall on Monday.
The policy, which bans amplified music and sets a cut-off time of 9pm, was confirmed after Labour councillors and one Liberal Democrat voted in favour of the scheme at a full council meeting on Monday.
Conservatives, the rest of the Lib Dems and Camden’s Green councillor had opposed amid claims that it was “draconian” and “unenforceable” to crack down on busking in areas like Camden Town, which for so long has been a mecca for musicians and music fans.
Labour leaders insisted the policy, which buskers say they will challenge in the High Court, was necessary to protect residents from being disturbed and accused musicians of “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
The new law will come into force next year, meaning street entertainers must pay an annual fee of between £14 and £49, or risk being fined up to £1,000 and having their instruments confiscated.
Veteran Liberal Democrat councillor Flick Rea told the meeting: “I don’t like the noise of traffic but I wouldn’t expect it to be banned from the street. This policy is nutty. Are we going to have enforcement officers hunting the borough for buskers? It is Cromwellian and absurd.”
Haverstock Liberal Democrat councillor Matt Sanders labelled the legislation a “blind attack” that “targets the little guy.”
He added: “I don’t want the police checking the passports of 14-year-old boys playing their guitars on the Kilburn High Road. If you stand on top of a barge and sing you’re fine. Step off the barge and you get fined.”
But Camden Town Liberal Democrat Chris Naylor broke the party line and voted in favour. He said he had pushed for the policy for months “because residents have been suffering hell – loud, intrusive, late-night noise.”
He added: “The idea people singing on the street should be worried is ridiculous. It’s like the policy we have to stop gangs, that doesn’t affect people meeting for good reason, the police only enforce it when there’s trouble.”
Conservative councillor Jonny Bucknell said the council were “letting down the underdogs” and the Town Hall should simply introduce a code of conduct. “When we lose our freedoms, they are very hard to get back,” he said.
Jonny Walker, who has organised protests against the new policy, said late singer Amy Winehouse would be “turning in her grave at the thought of this.”
He said: “It’s like having a sign over Camden saying ‘Spontaneity and creativity are no longer welcome here.’ This has basically drawn the lifeblood of Camden Town. Any legislation that makes it illegal for anyone to sing in the street without a licence is extraordinarily illiberal, crazy and ill thought out. This is only the end of the beginning. I believe I have a moral responsibility to lead non-violent resistance to counter this divisive policy. I advise buskers to go and busk, do not be frightened.”
He added: “Go with a legal observer and a video camera. We will see what happens to the Metropolitan police’s reputation worldwide when there are images of them forcibly separating musicians from their guitars and marching them with handcuffs into a police van for singing songs. There are plenty of buskers out there who are willing to be arrested in the name of music.”
Resident Roy Walker, who has lived close to Camden High Street for 55 years, said he had spoken to buskers playing music who had refused to compromise with residents “for months.”
“We and the council tried everything else,” said Mr Walker. “The small buskers will have a chance now, because they won’t be drowned out by amps and big bands. My own flat had such a noise problem that I couldn’t hold a conversation. I’m looking forward to my first night’s sleep, so are many of us.”
Labour community safety chief Councillor Abdul Hai said: “Campaigners against this new policy have been making a mountain out of a molehill suggesting that we are trying to outlaw busking. I can categorically say this is not what this policy seeks to achieve. We’re simply implementing light-touch regulation of street entertainment that will strike a balance between the rights of residents to a quiet life and buskers wishing to perform in public places.”
SEE ALSO: Conservative Jonny Bucknell’s ‘freedom’ speech at Monday’s full council meeting.