Bath Abbey Letter Against Buskers

Bath Abbey Letter Against Buskers

We are publishing this extraordinary letter from the Rector of Bath Abbey which asks his congregation to push for restrictions against buskers in the city of Bath that would marginalise them and push them out of the cultural life of the city.

Freedom of expression in an open and democratic society must extend to street musicians and the ideas they convey in our public spaces. By calling upon the state to use its coercive power to stifle the cultural freedoms of a group of which he disapproves, the Rector of Bath Abbey has caused unnecessary division and controversy. The issues that have arisen in Bath need to be resolved through ongoing dialogue and negotiation, not the heavy handed misapplication of a far-reaching law.

B&NES Street performers Consultation letter 2015 (1)

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

36 Comments on "Bath Abbey Letter Against Buskers"

  • Christopher says

    The ‘World Heritage Site’ covers the entirety of the city, not just the area round the Roman Baths, so it is odd they choose to include this in their reasoning for precluding all street entertainment in a rather large area.

    ‘It became an important centre for the wool industry in the Middle Ages but in the 18th century under the reigns of George l, ll and III it developed into an elegant spa city, famed in literature and art.’
    So surely art is at the centre of what Bath is? Who decides what forms of art are acceptable?

    Under Criterion (i) it says:
    ‘Three men – architect John Wood Senior, entrepreneur and quarry owner Ralph Allen and celebrated social shaper and Master of Ceremonies Richard “Beau” Nash – together provided the impetus to start this social, economic and physical rebirth, resulting in a city that played host to the social, political and cultural leaders of the day.’
    (I got the three people right Jonny when we spoke the other day, which makes me chuffed!! :D)
    So the social is as much an important factor and the economic in the award of Bath’s WHS status. We need social, political and cultural elements, which street entertainers and other street users provide.

    Not long ago a few of us talked about doing public talks. Perhaps a talk about economics, or politics, or whatever. Wouldn’t this mean that even if the council and the Abbey were alright with us doing this, at a time when no Abbey services were happening, that we couldn’t do this because of the precedent it’d set? Plus there’d never be any buskers in the square because how would anybody hear it? Hundereds of people sit and listen to the buskers. They’d move otherwise….

  • The Rector of Bath Abbey? Rev Edward Mason he maybe a fine Sermoniser but he’s not what you would call a master of the Epistolary is he? ( not in my estimation anyways! ).

    The Letters of Bath Abbey? The usual dogma, the usual ‘unwarranted’ truth claims, a neurotic ( semi-paranoid ) ‘blur’ of fact and fiction. His writings, they kind of remind me of why I took up reading in the first place ( why I took up ‘busking’ Indeed! ) , to find something that would help me see the world in a way the Church was not necessarily seeing it.

  • Byetheway, one-man-campaigner that I am, I’m writing forthwith to the Archbishop of Canturbury requesting that a more suitable ‘monasterial’ post be found for the Rev Mason and that he be despached there ASAP.

    I am genuinely concerned for the poor mans health nevermind his spiritual’ well being, The ‘air’ of the city, the urban din and clanker, it’s obviously beginning to get to him. Godspeed that it be found him, that is a hermitage!.

    • Jonny says

      I suggest you write to the arch deacon as well!

  • Oh there is one more thing, I think its time for a bit of ‘Science’ or Empirical Method as a possible means of resolving this matter, or at least some of the ‘key’ issues raised.

    A small party of Buskers need to meet up with Rev Mason, join him in the Abbey and listen on while a couple of other ‘acts’ , I suggest Jack Morgan, Amelia Orgil do their usual performance outside. Then ‘switchover’ and repeat the performance/listening experiment, the party taking turns performing outside the Church, Jack and Amelia joining the Rector and listening inside.

    If it can be shown that the playing is indeed too loud, adjust levels accordingly with the guidance of ‘fellow’ buskers and in aggreement with the Rector and ‘negotiate’ a compromise. Once a satisfactory end is met eg an agreeable ‘volume’ level is reached, then make a record of that level to then later ‘codify’ it as a set of guidance/good practice rules.

    Then begin and ‘on-line’ discussion stage and talk over the ‘finding’s with others on your streetslive ‘face-book’ sites. Get ‘positive/negative’ feedback and ‘shape’ the code/practice guide accordingly ie. around the general opinion. Finally report back to Rev Mason for concluding discussions and agreement. Finally if and when agreement is reached, perhaps sign an ‘honoury’ contract between you, ‘in-blood’ if you have to, in line with Church Ceremonial tradition(s).

    • * Note – Importantly Rev Mason does concede in his letter that ” …some musicians have been supportive and done their best to work with us at creating a work time table and noise volumes ” ( Heh! thats your organisational ‘mantra’ at Streetslive is’nt it Jonny, working with others to build peaceful solutions and establish a ‘mutualiy’ understanding ‘ harmonious’ community ? ).

      Anyway, the ‘fact’ that the Abbey Rector concedes this small point in his letter means that the possibility of problem solution between Busker and Church is possible and furthermore that there is no ‘good’ reason that a full ‘working’ solution can be extended to include all parties concerned in this dispute.

      • * Reflection – Rev Mason ought to be grateful that Street Performers in Bath are willing to work things out with him at all. I used to busk in a location ( an ‘offical’ busking spot ) called Cherry Street in Bham, not a bad spot too until I began being regularly ‘drowned’ out every weekend by Church Bells, yes ‘bell’ practice every Saturday. And guess what? ok you’ve guessed it, no ‘sign’ of the them working around ‘my’ timetable!.

  • One important condition for ‘relational’ harmony between The Abbey and Streetperfomers is for Rev Mason to stop labelling ‘Buskers’ and busking as a ‘social’ problem, this type of ‘social’ villification well illustrated in the letter ( above ) comes across as a crass attempt to justify the wholesale marginalisaton of this group.

    The honest ‘fact’ is that Street Artists and Performers are not a problem per se, ‘aggresive’ begging may pose a threat, as do the couple of ‘nuisance’ and over noisy individuals who flout the general rules of public propriety concerning street entertainment, however the majority don’t and provide much needed pleasure of mood and atmosphere in a place.

    As for casting a whole established ‘cultural’ formation into the fringes, this has happened in the past in Birmingham where I’m from but they were’nt Buskers, again it was ‘trend’ group of ‘aggressive’ Beggars posing as Buskers and causing a ‘clear’ problem in the city centre who were wholesale moved out.

    Don’t get me wrong I have much sympathy with such people, the reason they pretend to busk is obviously because ‘begging’ ( their more ‘instinctive’ propensity ) is illegal. In these cirmumstances one way for such ‘Street People’ to obtain money with less risk of arrest was under the guise of busking or Street Performing.

    I’d like the Rev Mason to remember the important social fact that Artists ( a ‘professional’ class of Public Musician is evolving – ’emerging’ ) and ‘poor’ peoples ‘livelihoods’ are at stake here and that their interests not be swept aside by some ‘ironic’ grotesque form of Church led ‘Enlightenmet ,social hygiene meaure ie. ‘social’ engineering.

    And lets us not forget the poor, blighted and misundestood ‘aggresive’ Busker. I recall 3 years ago when authorities in Birmingham broke up a trend of such ‘problem’ activity in the city centre. Buskers were not cast out but a small ‘cultural’ formation of Street People posing as them were. Don’t get me wrong here, Ok this has happened and a very real issue resolved but I don’t mean we then just forget about such people and in the process brush their lives aside, no let us then go on to affording this group some of our ‘real’ love, human warmth and sympathy.

    It is a ‘social’ fact that what we conventioally have defined as ‘the wilderness’ ie. the road ( or the ‘streets ) are contracting, getting smaller and smaller and the ‘public’ space getting ever more ‘civilised’ and larger, I recognise ‘traditional’ Beggars and the like are seeing their ‘natural’ habitat being swept away from them. Beggars yes, but to me Human Beings also their interests should’nt be overlooked and I think there are ( aside from some very real ‘structural’ measures eg. the return of the Welfare State ) 2 good solutions to this very ‘real’ practical social problem.

    1. Make ‘begging’ legal ( its a ‘way of life’ and money earner for not a ‘small’ minority these days ) not in the city centre ( currently undergoing civil ‘evolution’ ) but in the ‘outer’ perimeters eg nr railway stations, bus stations, public concourses leading there etc
    afterall they are ‘spaces’ , parts of the city granted to what I regard as even ‘greater’ nuisances eg Jehovah Witnesses etc.

    2. Do not make begging legal, but displace its ‘practice’ towards the ‘outer’ perimeters of the city-centre and let ‘authorities’ take a blind eye to it. This appears to be the ‘current’ Police’ policy in Birmingham, they recogise the ‘reality’ of the existence of a whole ‘subculture’ of Street People out there living, ‘surviving’ on the streets and consequently the need for providing ‘street’ ‘safety’ nets for such an ‘unfortunate’ group of people. This whilst maintaining their own ‘management’ potential ( ie. control ) through a set of legal ‘enforcement’ powers ( ‘tools’ ) that they can draw upon if things do get out of control – as they do from time to time!.

  • You now what Rector Edward Mason, I think your city centre Church would actually be more ‘beautiful ‘and indeed a much more prized, valuable ( ‘fine’ ) example of English Heritage, if it were ‘a ruin’ a bit like the Ancient Parthenon in Greece, or better still poet William Wordsworths ‘ Tintern Abbey ‘.

  • * Deliverance! ( or ‘common-sense’ ?)

    See the latest You Tube video by ‘Baths Buskers’ Jez Broun eg. ‘Should Buskers Amplifiers Be Banned In Bath? ( Woodamain Jeremy Broun ).

    • Q. Jez Brouns ‘Script’ ? A. Words that pave the way for the ‘possible’ victory of common-sense and a ‘truer’ co-operation between Citizen, Artist, Church and State, I’d say!. Lets hope they become a ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’.

      • * Moral Propriety

        Yes! Common-sense and ‘Propriety’ ( in the Smithsonian sense ) lets hope it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy!

  • David says

    I visit Bath regularly and have no desire to listen to so called musicians disturbing the peace with their amplified sound, especially during church services ,Do your begging in another city!

    • Jonny says

      I’ll let our other readers be the judge of the spirit behind your comment except to say that your conflation of the age old minstrel tradition and begging is plainly inaccurate and betrays your own prejudice and snobbery in an unflattering light.

      • Theres an old saying that ‘ you become what you think!’, there are also the more recent wise words of Philosphers like Bertrand Russell who quite reasonably stated that there are in fact 1000s of ‘world’ religions yet plain logic dictates that only one of them cd be right.

        I’ve been think that what if Tibetan Bhuddism turned out to be the one ‘true’ faith ( I personally doubt it of course, ‘the head’ of this particular church, not merey being deemed a ‘representative’ of God, or ‘son’ of God even, but an ‘actual’ God ) then that would mean that in the next life the Rev Edward Mason would be reincarnated as a ‘ Pond Skater ‘ ( well more likely than not! ).

        Now whilst I do have my concerns about the truth and veracity of words coming out of the mouth of persons such as the Rector of Bath Abbey and the commentator David ( above ), ‘I’ do have ‘personal’ concerns, without sounding too pompous, about the ‘standards’ ( particularly concerning the future ) of Buskers and busking.

        For example, many complain that the city centre of Birmingham is rapidly being taken over by Romanian Accordian Players, however whilst I do recognise the recent appearance of Roma in the city ( for me a mixed community of both ‘good’ and bad ) far more significant has been the recent dramatic rise in a street population of guys and girls with acoustic guitars, streetcube amps and powered microphones singing all brands of ‘acoustic’ pop, Oasis, & John Denver songs included.

        Now some may argue well thats the Jonny Walker effect for you!, however I for one recognise the possibility that this relatively ‘new’ cultural phenomenom could largely be the result of something else i.e. the X-Factor ‘factor’ ( this plus the ‘dumbed’ down, narcissistic celebrity, get something for nothing, anti-art, anti-intellectual culture that predominates in the mainstream today ).

        I look at this ‘collective herd’ of so-called Street Musicians you find today in places like Birmingham and I see neither future cultural ‘revolutionaries’ nor ‘Stars’. This is not an ‘authentic’ busking community ( an ‘artifical’ concept for me bounded about ‘core’ values by Jonny Walker ) No, what I see is a bunch of people who have been playing ‘Copycat’ all their life. As any association, identity or membership, it just an extended version of the game, a popular ‘street’ style show, called ‘ Follow the Follower ‘.

  • On the question of self-fulfilling prophecy ( or should I say ‘wishful’ thinking! ) what Church folk ( or should I say the Church Establishment ) i.e. good peopl like the Rector Eduard Mason have got to realise is that for people like me Street Performing is the ‘legitemate’ ( perhaps ‘the key’ ) means out of what is a very real, ‘poverty’ trap. A a trap I/we would otherwise be in without the possibility of going out busking.

    The ‘visible’ side of homelessness ( ‘the bulk’ ) we often witness on the streets , most people realise by now, is in reality ‘ a subculture’ of addicts, mentally ill and sometimes career ‘petty’ criminals. The truth is Big Issue culture ( and its ‘fringes’ ) to a large extent wittingly ( or unwittingly ) actually ‘masks’ the existence of what is commonly known in ‘social policy’ circles as ‘hidden’ homlessness.

    I should know because I’m one of them, a long-standing member of that hapless community of ‘indoors’ rough sleepers. In fact I’ve been sleeping on other peoples couches ( sometimes in their beds!) and residing in ‘substandard’ accommodation of some sort or another all my life. Truth is, its Streetperforming ( and the generous spirited and appreciative ‘general’ public ), not the Church nor State, that has been my source of hope, my Saviour.

  • ” I admire Maestro Agustin Barrios Mangore, I love him…..I’ve heard the story of ‘ Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios ‘ ( Alms For The Love Of God ) this is his last song.

    Barrios had not a good life, he was poor and when the woman knocked on his door he did not have any money to pay her, instead he composed this song!.

    The ‘minor’ part is about the misery of ‘ the Pauper ‘, and the ‘majo’r part shows ‘the good part of her life’. His pieces are beautiful, very meaningful, hard to play…..”
    ( Saeid – On Paraguayan Classical Guitarist Agustin Barrios Mangore )

    • Bohemio

      How impetuous is my turning, I am afloat’
      Moving with the impulse of destiny,
      Dancing in a mad vortex,
      Towards the four winds of the planet!

      I carry in my blood a restless life,
      And in my wandering, uncertain, a pilgrimage,
      Art goes lighting my way,
      As if it were a fanastic comet!

      I am a brother to those medieval troubadors,
      Who suffered a romantic madness,
      Like them, also,
      When I am dead,
      God knows in what far-off port,
      I will go to find my unmarked grave!
      ( Agustin Barrios Mangore )

  • David Cameron is now entering his 2nd term in office as Tory Prime Minister & in a recent interview withThe Daily Telegraph has now ‘openly’ not only declared his Christian ‘faith’ but his ‘Evangelical’ belief in God.

    This does’nt come much as a surprise, he’s merely following in the ‘worshipping’ footsteps of recent political leaders like Tony Blair & George W Bush in his religous zeal.

    The Christian sentiments of our politicians ( albeit Leaders ) are one thing, the trouble is, culturally ( politically! ), ‘the whole country’ is now in ‘serious’ danger of being taken ‘ backwards in history ‘.

    The ‘control orders’ now available to local Authorities means that we are now entering the ‘stage’ of ‘ pre-revolutionary France’ ( i.e. nevermind Victorian style ‘welfare’ of the ‘work-house’, we’re literally back with the ‘enlightenment’ politics of the 18th Century )

    ( See ‘The Romantics’ ( Liberty ) BBC Video YouTube )

    • ” There is naturally something a bit adolescent & immature within ‘romanticism’, but then again there can be something rather heartless, cold, dogmatic, & arrogant in many aspects of ‘modernity’.

      One hopes this is’nt going to be the end of the story, that we may in ‘the future’ learn to soften the worse sides of modernity through the best sides of romanticism, in order to create a more ‘evolved’ alternative , what one might term, ‘ An Age of Maturity ‘. ”
      ( Romanticism – The School of Life; YouTube )

      • David Cameron & the ‘Authoritarian ‘ Personality? Its easy to see why Mr Cameron fits as a person so well in the Tory Party ( the party of ‘deference’ & tradition ). No doubt ‘programmed’ into him at Eaton ( public school bastion of the English class system ) its just as easy to see why he is a Christian.

        Jesus Christ & the 12 Disciples – the ultimate ‘Master/Servant’ relationship!. The ‘son of God – the epitome of the authoritarian!. For many critics of religion such as myself, its one of the key ‘downsides’ of the whole Jesus myth.

  • Church, ‘Pidgeon’ Park, & Pallasade ( Birminghams 2nd ‘Cathedral’ – a ‘picture’ postcard must see ! )

    Some beautiful pictures of Churches eg. York, Bath etc, on this ‘’ site. You know all of you must pay a ‘visit’ to ( check out ! ) present day Birmingham or the 2nd cities’ , 2nd ‘Cathedral’, situated in Colmore Row.

    A ‘once’ wonderful victorian ‘gothic’ prescence this Church surrounded by ‘pidgeon’ park & with ‘adjacent’ modern city-centre pallasade. But today its ‘iron’ gates & ‘wooden’ seated area taking on more the ‘air’ of an ‘open’ prison ( eg. ‘rough’ sleepers & ‘mamba’ smokers everywhere ) than open ‘sancuary’ & green! .

    One of the many ‘legacy’s of PM David Cameron & his ‘tory’ administration this, what with the ‘wilful’ collapse of the ‘welfare’ state, bringing not only ‘beds’ & mattresses to the streets but seemingly the whole of Pentonville or ‘Bedfordshire’ Jail ( See. recent ‘media’ coverage of the current turmoil & ‘discipline’ breakdown in our prison system ! ) .

    • Notes

      ‘Picture’ postcard beauty & the Post-Modern ‘multi-cultural’ City in the age of post-brexit ‘social’ meltdown ! .

      • Further Notes

        The Street ‘ New wave’ , a whole different set of types, other than your usual ‘desparate’ junkie kind, finding their way onto the streets now & forming not a ‘disparate’ street set but ‘mixing’ in, socialising together pretty well, ‘joyously’ well !.

        I know ’em well ( recognise this focus ‘group’ instantly ), Kingstanding lads ( one time building ‘labourers’, fork-lift truck drivers, ‘trainee’ tool setters) not quite as ‘ragged’ but certainly not clean, walking up & down the pallasade in strange ‘crooked’ fashion; or huddled together, flaking out, ‘acting’ out , sharing a whole ‘lifestyle’ together with the dicrepit rest on the city-centre churchyard green. Erdington boys, they wd have been working the ‘overtime’ shift, doing Sat ‘double’-time, on one of the ‘production’ lines in Aston back in the day ( i.e. not too far back, late 1980’s, early 1990’s ) rather than ‘crack’ cocaine ( ok that just ‘rhymes’ ) I mean ‘legal’ highs on a ‘cold’ winters weekend morning/afternoon/early evening/night in Bham city-centre ( esp. approaching Xmas !. )

        Cum on all toghether now ” The ‘times’ are a changin ! ”……..once more boy’s ( its mainly lads but some girls ) ” Hallelujah ! ” .

        • I can hear their ‘mothers’ calling them ” Aiden come in, upstairs go & get your bath, now ! ” ” Jaimie out of bed, its 7’oclock, your breakfast is on the table, don’t let it go cold ! ” . These lost youth, wandering aimless, drifting purposeless, ghosts of the First World War dead ! .

          • Come see, come ride the Ghost Train, come to the ‘funfair’ & ‘free’ view, all you drunken ‘geeks’, you ‘Trainspotters’ ! .

          • Thats right ‘roll up, roll up’, come on thats right, ‘roll up’, you Trainspotters ! .

          • ( * Extract from Blog ‘essay’ titled, ” Jamie Its Bathtime ! ” )

          • ( * Dissertation & PHD – ” On The long-term Social Impact of the ‘New’ 2016 Tram System in Birmingham City Centre ” )

          • ( * A long awaited ‘ study’ on the long term implications of the ‘new’ multi-million pound ‘tram’ investment in Bham city centre, opened end of this Summer 2016 )

          • ( * Poem – ” The Tram At Xmas ” )

          • ( * Xmas Song – ” Oh Sweet Little Child Of Bethlehem ” )

          • ( * Christmas Carol & ‘charity’ song ” Can you Spare a Little Dime At Xmas Time ? ”, by The Bath Buskers Collective )

          • Reference(s )

            All forms of English ‘popular’ culture from the Xmas drinking song to the ” Yenton Alouette ” or Yenton Song ( YouTube )

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