Bath’s Buskers Under Threat-Keep Streets Live Stands With Them

Bath’s Buskers Under Threat-Keep Streets Live Stands With Them


Busking has been described as  an “urban ritual that challenges the way in which we think about public space by promoting spontaneous, democratic, intimate encounters in some of the city’s most “routinized and alienating environments” (Tanenbaum cited in Simpson, n.d., p. 3). It is hard to think of a less alienating environment than the public square outside of Bath Abbey where buskers have performed for many decades in the shadow of that beautiful church building. The high culture of the choral evensong has long mingled with the ‘low’ culture of the musicians animating the streets outside in the intermingling of cultural and social currents that characterises so many cities. Relationships between the buskers outside the Temple gates and the rector of the Abbey broke down in dramatic fashion when he decided to call a halt to Evensong because buskers could be heard inside the church and penned an emotive article for the Western Daily Press. In the words of Rev Edward Mason:

How do I feel? I feel like weeping. Truly. Weeping for a city ruined by the clamour of music. Weeping for choirs that are victims. Weeping for my staff subjected to music every day. Weeping that we human beings just cannot resolve conflict. (Let’s not look at Syrians and condemn them when we can’t even sort out music amicably!) Weeping for an Abbey that has had a superb ministry of peace, healing and quiet for hundreds of years and which is being subject to the violence of noise.



In talking about the noise from a few buskers Rev Mason writes about the ‘violence of noise’ and draws comparisons with the Syrian conflict. We could speak of the ‘violence’ of his rhetoric and could also question the necessity of his actions in calling a service to a premature close. In any event his words and actions were ‘amplfied’ by the intersection of the social media age with the traditional press and a local dispute had become national news alongside his prominent calls for Bath Council to impose strict controls on the busking community. Almost immediately the Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for neighbourhoods David Dixon was modelling kneejerk local democracy by promising to use new legislation to bring in blanket controls against buskers in response to these complaints and was using Twitter to make his intentions clear.



Bath Council seem to be intent on using the new Public Space Protection Orders to restrict busking in the vicinity of the Abbey. It is highly regrettable that they are considering the use of these illiberal, controversial blanket powers, which will make it very difficult for buskers in Bath to make a living, in response to complaints about the actions of a small minority of musicians. It is a form of collective punishment which harms all buskers and will have a detrimental impact on the cultural vibrancy of Bath which is famous for its diverse street culture scene.

Fortunately there is an alternative. The council have a wide range of existing legal powers that they can use in cases of noise nuisance or obstruction and could target enforcement action against any busker who was causing a genuine problem whilst leaving the vast majority to carry on. In Liverpool the busking community has worked alongside the local authority and the business community to develop busking guidance that promotes harmony between all users of shared public spaces in that city. Instead of blanket bans the council should work alongside the Abbey and the buskers to work out a code that they can all agree upon together. The guidance we produced in Liverpool by working with the council can be seen here and could be a useful template for resolving issues that arise from time to time amicably:

We will write more about this in the coming days but will close for now with a statement released earlier by the busking community of Bath:

‘Bath is a beautiful and vibrant city with a renowned, long standing street music scene that needs to be protected. We’re saddened by the events of the past week and hope we can sit down and reach a positive solution for all parties involved. We still support the mutually agreed code of conduct, which most buskers follow. The issue now is ensuring it is followed by all buskers, so live performance can continue to be enjoyed in Bath.’

Work with the buskers and not against them Bath Abbey and Bath Council! The Keep Streets Live Campaign will be watching this unfolding situation very closely.




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Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

17 Comments on "Bath’s Buskers Under Threat-Keep Streets Live Stands With Them"

  • In the interests of all parties concerned I hope a genuine peaceful solution can be found here, that the public ‘space’ of both Busker and complainant is respected and that a way forward non detrimental to everyone is searched for and found here.

    To achieve this kind of ‘positive’ outcome, where everyone is a winner, requires first and foremost a dash of good old fashioned ‘objectivity’ ( * Note – scientific method and The Enlightenment period that popularised it is now 300 year old ).

    Secondly what we need, perhaps a little more demanding in this the post-modern age of of mobile ‘smart’ phones, twitter ( ie. rather shallow, sound bite linguistic sentimentality ) is some ‘authentic’ communication ( yes a rather allusive thing by todays standards! )

    So gentlemen please, a little noblility and honest appraisal of affairs if you will. Show some generous open-mindedness and real human warmth to each other, display some of the human arts of ‘true’ connectivenes, entering into a dialogue informed by the humanist spirit of rational sympathy and mutual understanding and I think this little caper, may be resolved to the benefit of all, in next to no time.

    If you manage to achieve this, Jonny, Rector, you’ll be doing all of us a favour.

  • Indeed. Dialogue please. A bit of rabble rousing brings out all of the spiteful, anti-busking malice in certain people – as can be seen from many of the ignorant and mean spirited comments after the Guardian article. The usual sequel to this sort of rumpus is that a quick deal is done among the local power cliques and another set of regulations comes into force, which casually takes away the livelihood of buskers and denies a genuine street culture to the public at large.
    Fortunately, most people are not mean spirited or malicious – quite the opposite. Let’s make the Liverpool code of conduct the model for the way we do this in future!

    • I prefer the busking state of affairs to be found in places like Stratford upon Avon at the moment, clear ‘naturalised’ busking pitches, 2hr first come first serve playing rotas, and a common ‘mutual’ understanding between all the performers in the town.

      I afraid Alan that the introduction of a Liverpool style busking code into a place like Stratford would be an actual recipe for conflict. If not the demise of ‘good’ quality busking as we currently know it in this important tourist town at the heart of England.

  • princessamerica says

    What would have Jesus said?

    • Or better still, what do you as an intelligent person with ‘moral’ integrity and who has ‘seriously’ thought through the issue(s) for yourself, as a responsible, rational human being, have to think?

  • One important truth is that the issue of ‘amplification’ is a misnomer in this debate. The real argument should centre on the problem of high volume levels in general, remembering the fact that instruments such as Bagpipes, Trumpets etc are acoustically ‘naturally’ much louder than many so called ‘amplified’ instruments eg. as in the case of the Classical Guitar.

    Blaming the use of amps distracts from the real underlying issue of ‘individual’ responsibility for noise nuisance. The simple and importantly ‘fair’ solution to this problem is to find an efficient way of making accountable and if necessary punishing actual persons rather than all musicans who use an amplifier.

    For example I am a ‘jobbing’ Street Performer who uses a ‘nylon’ string Classical Guitar ( and amp )for my act and I have no problem simply adjusting my volume to ‘suitable’ levels according to location of performance. It would be a ‘miscarriage’ of justice if I and players (‘amp’ users ) like me, were to be restricted, banned from areas, because of the noise/high volume incursion of others whether they use amps or not.

    Really, its all just a matter of common-sense here – and this could be aided if we finally had end to all the ‘lazy ‘ thinking and rationalising according to ‘popular’ myths about Busking!.

  • Jonny says

    As a sometime finger style folk guitarist I couldn’t agree more!

    • I’m glad we agree on this point Jonny, ‘amplification’ is not the problem , the ‘real’ underlying issue here is how to make ‘individual’ performers accountable for instrument volume levels regardless of type of set-up. The wider priniciple here being that Buskers in general ought not be blamed for the midemeanours of a few.

      Bearing this point in mind I think we might further agree on a further ‘related’ point, that although we are concerned about possible ‘miscarriages’ of justice with regards this whole topic of ‘amplification’ we are not against the existence of ‘larger’ busking acts as such. I for one would defend the right of performers to use whatever form of sound sytem they like eg. PAs included.

      For example I recognise that some ‘large’ acts rely on ‘spectacle’ as an entertainment value ( albeit a ‘theatrical’ one ) and that this is quite legitemate eg. The Andean Pan Pipe Players and the like. I also acknowledge that the use of ‘high’ amplificaion is fine in larger spaces such as the High Street.

      The Truth is the loudest volume I’ve ever heard in a public space did not involve an ensemble of Street Performers but resulted from an all day PR Event set up by Sky TV in the middle of the Birmingham Bull Ring.

      In this context, again all this for me is a matter of common-sense, different acts suiting different locations, no hard and fast rules here, just simply use your honest good judgement and make the necessary ‘sound/volume’ adjustments according to wherever you are performing.

      • Caution to the wind here though, one ‘busking’ situation I’d like to see avoided is that of ‘ rule by the loudest ‘. This is a predicament I’ve witnessed more than a few times, that can emerge, does ‘plant’ itself and indeed flourish if allowed to.

        So let us be vigilant here, let us be critical of and resistant to the development of, and the witting and unwitting ‘creation’ of busking schemes that by hook or by crook end up simply allowing ‘the loudest’ to dominate.

        Yes, its not a too happy ( nor ‘fair’ ) state of affairs when you get to a place early, set up and enthusiastically begin playing, only to have an another performer turn up, perhaps half an hour, an hour later, set up beside you, and drown you out with their ‘trumpet’, ‘vocals’, bagpipes or whatever.

        Remember in many instances gaps of 50metres between spots are not enough, in Stratford upon Avon for instance the distances between acts especially on the park area has to be much wider so as to avoid conflict of performance.

        Its also good to have devised schemes that focus on ‘on the spot’ solutions to such problems as and they arise. Speaking to people can and often works but significantly in many instances it most definitely does not, you see the ‘reality’ is that there are people out there who simply don’t want to play by the rules. Its in these kinds of cases that a liberal state civil ‘mechanism’ can come in very useful, and yes that ‘liberal’ solution could be in the form of town or city wardens etc.

        Personally given situations such as this I’ve found it useful to have a good ‘working’ understanding with the local police. For example only recently I attended a meeting with Stratford Upon Avons Local Police including Sergeant and Staff to discuss effective strategies for dealing with ‘newcomers’ to the town who had arrived with the deliberate intention of flouting the rules ( i.e. the established ‘good’ busking code ) and were blatantly trying to take over spaces for themselves, teaming up with ‘a few’ others.

        You know even their, under the circumstances, rather ‘manipulative’ tactic of crying ‘harrasment’ and infringemment of Public Order Law when challenged was ‘easily’ surmounted, even more legitemately tackled, such is the ‘over-riding’ power and beauty of human ‘good’, rationality and reason.

  • I feel very strongly that ‘Streetslive’ could do with more clearly identifying, and then ok yes ‘challenging’ the bad out there ( I think eg Chester Bingley at Buskers Unregulated does do a pretty good job here! ) but whilst ( perhaps more importantly! ) beginning to ‘acknowledge’ the good, or at least ‘some’ of the functionally useful formal busking ‘arrangements’ already in existence out there in some towns and cities.

    Conditions do vary from place to place and I for one recognise ( and I hope that ‘you’ can recognise too ) that there are ‘alternative’ busking schemes out there that are ‘good’, yet represent a ‘pre-estabished’ variant on whats happening now in Liverpool.

    Having said that of course I strongly believe that everything should be left open for criticism, injections of further ideas, and possible improvement . One issue we’ve certainly got to get right is ‘fair’ access for both ‘locals’ and ‘outside’ travellers ( the Minstralsey ) to playing spots and locations across the country.

    • Finally, the more I think about it, the topic of ‘cultural’ mileu and place I’m finding are also so important when attempting to ‘fairly’ sort out problems to do with busking. Theres that universal ever present ‘reality’ that different towns and cities for various ‘human’ historical reasons and emerging out of many contrasting social realities can and often do tend towards very different ‘cultural’/artistic ideals.

      I’ve seen some ‘great’ street acts in Liverpool and be in no doubt, I do recognise the part that your ‘new’ busking scheme may well play in nurturing the cities, ‘characteristic’ Liverpool ‘pop’ culture on the streets. However, I am also becoming more and more critically aware that a scheme that may well facilitate the cultural ‘ideals’ of Liverpool may not do the same for other places, ones with very different ( ‘conflicting’ even ) cultural goals and ambitions or just simply a different cultural mileu.

      When I observe the Liverpool scheme I’m immediately reminded of Edinburgh Fringe what with its ‘golden’ mile of ‘variety’ street act. During that Festival ( once a year! ) different ‘acts’ and groups literally fill the streets, every 10 or 20 metres theres some kind of performing art. Liverpool to me has a similar ‘Performance’ Arts spirit, though with more emphasis on the ‘pop’ and slightly greater distances beween performers.

      Liverpool may represent a ‘legitemate’ cultural perspective, but thats what it is Jonny a perspective, and it may be a grave mistake to go on to view Liverpool as some kind of ‘absolute’ ideal. Again the many towns and cities in our country clearly historically share a slightly different cultural mileu and following from that a different set of expectations as to Street Performing and what amounts to a good busking scheme.

      Whats happening at the moment, or should I say the big problem I have with your and ‘Streetslives’ approach at present is that you are still coming across as a group trying to impose their own Liverpool based busking scheme as some ‘ideal’ ready made, quick fix solution, on others

      In criticism of what I see as the ‘Streetslive’ problematic and yes at times ‘shortsighted’ approach, and in a very ‘practical’ sense, I again cite Stratford upon Avon as an example, and state that many kinds of act found there could not, would not thrive under the kinds of ‘conditions’ found in Liverpool, localised ‘cultural’ conditions that very much favour a certain type, genre of act eg Liverpool style Pop.

      For instance Acrobatic and Magicians acts on ‘the park’, in Stratford would find themselves drowned out, as would ‘acts’ such as mine ( that represent more a kind of ‘pastoral’ cultural cafe/’festive’ holiday atmosphere, rather than ‘pop’ display ) if conditions ‘specific’ to Liverpool prevailed here. As I’ve stated elswhere distances of more than 50metres are necessary to prevent conflict between types of acts found here, and wider ‘boundaries’ such as these, given the nature and design of the location, would be very difficult ( if not impossible ) maintain without some kind of ‘formalised’ marking of spot and space.

      In this light, I’m beginning to think that York for instance may require a ‘rethink’ with regards what kind of scheme would work best for that place, given its own unique ‘cultual’ mileu and no doubt ‘civic’ values and ideals that go with it. Indeed a solution for York in the end might require something slightly different to ‘your’ and Liverpools ok maybe valid yet ‘different’ cultural vision. And I think this is a thought ( without sounding too patronising ) well worth entertaining.

      Again don’t get me wrong, I’ve taken a look at the current situation in York and I find myself very critical of some of Yorks obviously ‘restrictive’ busking practices eg. amp bans in certain squares, the CD permits, all sorts of ‘unnecessary’ hindrances and petty officialdom etc. However I’m just as critically aware that the ‘complete’ solution here ‘may’ be in actuality be found in drawing up a scheme slightly different to Liverpool and again in line with the local cultural mileu pertaining to York.

      Finally, its from this perspective, that I’m beginning to think that ‘Streetslive’ role could be better served, in yes, identifying and to a certain extent ‘challenging’ questionable busking schemes around the country, but rather than then going on to offer ‘prescriptive’, ready fit solutions based on the Liverpool example, better still, act to rather ‘inspire’ and work with ‘local’ interest groups in tailoring schemes more specifically to that location.

      Of course, this kind of ‘new’ civic ‘negotiating’ approach, may mean being more open to localised ‘conditions’, cultural values and ideals as guide, and accepting ‘final’ busking schemes slightly different, though not necessarily inferior, to the ‘new’ one now found in Liverpool. This goes for Bath, and this goes for London too!.

      The uncanny Truth may turn out to be that if we are to achieve the ‘ambition’ of establishing a creative ‘Minstrelsy’ in this country then any rigid attachent to the idea of the Liverpool Scheme as absolute ‘model’ may have to go, yes it may have to be prized apart and broken in the interests of attaining that ‘higher’ ideal, the ‘high life’, yes life on the ‘high’ road!.

      Jonny have you really got what it takes? Are you willing? Are you honestly capable of making that kind of Self-Sacrifice?.

      • Its funny I’m ‘a Modern’ at heart when it comes to music ie. a jazzer, into ‘colour’ , muscial ‘spontanieity’, the exotic, ‘african’ art expressivity, ‘free’ imagination over pop form, pastoral cafe ( over ‘the stage’ ! ) yet when it comes to playing locale I’m most definitely a classicist, highly dependant on designer ‘natural’ ‘set’ architecture.

        Jonny, I hope this explains things!

  • Jonny says

    Thanks for your characteristically thoughtful comment Nigel!

    The liverpool model is not interned to be imposed anywhere! Please believe that we recognise it will always be adopted to local contexts.

    The principles it seeks to embody are that blanket restrictions should be avoided and that shops and buskers should try to work together and that enforcement action should be taken against those who belligerently refuse to cooperate and then only as a last resort we believe to be sound.

    We are part of a taskforce in York alongside local buskers and businesses designed to adapt the guidance to the needs of that ancient city which, I entirely accept, are different from Liverpool.

    Also, by way of clarification ASAP and KSL are different bodies. ASAP aims to be a professional membership body for street artists and performers but is not yet formally constituted whereas KSL is not for profit advocacy body aimed at protecting access to public space for the arts. It has a company constitution which is available on this site for scrutiny.

    By the by, I think you would go down well on the streets of Liverpool, day or evening…

    • Thanks for the clarification Jonny, believe me it helps. Most importantly, in detecting a change in tone, in attitudinal orientation, in perhaps even the hint of a ‘rational’ conversion to post-religion ‘progressive’ humanism, something different anyway, I’m actually beginning to believe you.

      Ok, whilst I don’t like the Platonic ‘idealist’ language you adopt here, in describing your Liverpool Scheme as ‘ a model ‘, ( you blot out ‘key’ possible conceptual alternatives in doing this, a dangerous precurser to ‘totalitarianism’ methinks ), the ‘specific’ principles you do list above are ones that I certainly would ascribe to and would recommend myself to others as important
      ‘ universal ‘ components of any ‘truly’ workable busking scheme.

      As for busking in Liverpool, I’ve just spent the last 9 months, shedding my ‘musical’ skin, in order to put together what I believe to be a more ‘authentic’ Street Cafe Set, one aligned with my own personal performance ‘values’ i.e. comprised of the kind of pieces of music that nobody will complain about eg. Bach& Scarlatti, Brazillian Choro, New age Pastoral, Mexican Cancion, Argentine Estilo & Gato ie. Yes the ‘perfect’ Street Music, beautiful, charming, creating a ‘folk’ air of unobtrusive joy and gaiety.

      Yes I think you may be right on the ball here Jonny, the city of Liverpool may be just the place to provide the right cultural setting and backdrop for such a ‘quaint’ musicial sound as this one.

      • Oh and bytheway don’t believe any of the crap that I’ve heard banded around recently by some ‘newcomers’ and in some instances that more ‘familar’ face local ‘acoustic’ popsters are putting around in Birmingham that I for one am somehow being ‘favourited’ by authorities in Stratford upon Avon and that similiar to places like York the town of Stratford is encouraging ‘string’ acts etc over singing and guitar, this is I assure you, is wrong, all very misleading ( and quite ‘malicious’ in some cases ) nonsense.

        The truth is you get all sorts of acts in Stratford including Pop, there are some great ‘local’ bands and ‘young’ acts and that do ‘regularly’ busk in the town and there is no ‘official’ policy to exclude particular ‘musical’ genres of any sort. The only concern is again with ‘noise’ nuisance in the form of ‘volume’ levels in certain parts of the town.

        The main difference I’ve found between Stratford and say Birmingham or Liverpool ( and other Buskers I know eg. Jazz Musicians, ShowSingers etc will vouchsafe this ) is the ‘cultural’ mileu, it is after all ‘Shakespeare’ Land, and in that sense there is a special place for what some might call ‘Middlebrow’ to ‘High Culture’ or what I would call the plethora of ‘deep’ expressive Arts discourses that fall both outside both Mass Culture and the ‘popular’ mainstream, so for example Folk Music is noticably for prevalent in the town as are ‘yes’ some kinds of Classical Music.

        So all you Buskers out there don’t start thinking that Liverpool is the only ‘decent’ way for Street Performing and don’t believe the hype that somewhow all places running schemes disimilar to Jonny Walkers ‘choice’ preference like are beset by ‘cultural’ snobbery, and operate a policy of ‘restricting’ certain music styles and genres. No the truth is, its more complex than that, and more to do with social facts like ‘cultural’ mileu, and the dominate historical ‘artistic’ values and ideals and public ‘expectations’ pertaining to place.

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