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.

This post was written by
Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

3 Comments on "Press: Camden New Journal On Camden Council Debate"

  • I talk elswhere about my experiences street performing in Birmingham the past 3 years and how ‘the 2nd city’ for me has
    probably the most liberal, progressive ‘busking’ scheme in the
    UK .

    Of course the truth is that the scheme is essentially a ‘voluntary’
    code and in acutuality a ‘would be’ performer is quite ‘free’ to play
    wherever he or she likes.

    I see myself as a ‘free’ individual and thats just what I do, I play in the city practically anywhere I want and without ‘interference’ from
    anyone police, wardens , or authorities.

    The major problem facing street performers in Birmingham is
    not as it might be presumed for example ‘oppressive’ authorities
    – I have tended to be left alone by ‘officials’. The major obstacle
    to ‘free’ performing in the city has always been for me as alluded to above ( and again and again ignored or played down by campagners ) and that is ‘noise’ nuiscance.

    One simply can’t ignore the case or play down the case made
    by many critics of buskers that they too often go beyond acceptable noise volume levels and ingore the fact that in doing so rather than ‘entertain’ they inflict much misery and distress
    on others, causing a serious upset fo peoples right to ‘peace’ and

    I’ve been drowned out numerous times by other musicians, and
    I’ve witnessed performers playing way above reasonabe levels
    of loudness so many times its untrue, it really is a common fault. There are many theories as to why? I’ve reached the conclusion that its largely down to the ‘ego’ of the individual performer.

    Its so easy to get locked into your own ‘solipsistic’ universe out there playing on the streets. When you’ve busked as many hours as I have you know that performance states can become like that of a ‘fictive’ dream.

    One can become so easily locked into a ‘mental’ universe that simply does’nt notice that one is playing at such a loud volume as to seriously annoy others in the vicinity’, particularly shops and
    offices etc and sometimes those just sitting around simply ‘relaxing’.

    Sometimes the big ego and low self esteem of some performers will lead to over-compensation in the form of upping the volume levels, and drowning everyone else out.

    The solution again is’nt simply to rely on the cumbersome process
    of enforcing noise pollution regulation on those guilty of noise
    nusciance. It simple becomes another level of ‘unnecessary’ beauracratic machinery. A long drawn out legal process.

    As performers call forth right to spontenious performance so critics call for the right to spontenious action by authorities when excessive noise becomes a problem to them. And that often means the introduction of ‘speedy’ city-centre ‘warden response

    If we simply can’t police ourselves and ‘egos’ then as ‘responsible’
    agents we can’t be too surprised when our ‘solipsistic’ bubble
    is burst by ‘outside’ authorities working on behalf of ‘just’ complainents.

    In fact this is the philosohical basis and function of the ‘liberal’ state which we all live i.e. at an ‘ideal’ level, to act as an ‘neutral’ mechanism of civil government for the people when the common codes of everyday life and society break down.

    The real key to ‘free’ society is’nt simply public space for all, that space is in reality always ‘negotiated’. The way forward is self-policing, self-master, self-control if not there are ‘moral’ consequences ie. one puts oneself at the mercy of ‘a state’ acting on the behalf of other injured parties.

    When the police are called on you out there on the street, the ‘moral’ truth is often you have only yourselves to blame . Its our own ‘ego’, our own moral blindness, our own lack of self supervision that all too often leads us as street-performers into

  • *Postscript – Revisionist Spelling

    (Note ) ‘Spontanious’ is more correctly spelt spontaneious etc

  • * Caution here though. I do write here about Individual responsibility and accountability and I do mention places like Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon and how Town Host/Warden Scheme’s can work well as a readily accessible ‘call/response’ method for dealing with ‘immediate’ noise problems afflicting shops, offices etc.

    However as a means to dealing with the abject ‘discrimination’, and petty minded grievances that ‘often’ best Street Performers ( eg. people like myself ) then Town Host/Warden Schemes are not such an ideal solution. There is according to my experience a ‘detectable’ bias I would argue when it comes to dealing with the complaints of ‘buskers’ towards some of the towns businesses.

    There is a very clear lack of accountability for shopowners, retail managers etc when they themselves are guilty of abusing ‘buskers’ and mistreating Street Performers.

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