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.”

Press: Camden New Journal On Camden Council Debate

Press: Camden New Journal On Camden Council Debate

 

‘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.