The Independent London Newspaper
24th April 2017

Busking ‘walkabout’ councillors take to streets after complaints about streets musicians’ noise

    Pictured at Camden Lock, a popular busking pitch, are: Chief Inspector of Operations Penny Mills, Councillor Chris Naylor, Camden Town resident Judith Clute, Cllr Abdul Hai, Cllr Maryam Eslamdoust and Lazzaro Pietragnoli

    Published: 25 April, 2013

    IT may be a part of the capital famous for live music but the Town Hall is ready to clamp down on buskers in Camden Town.

    Authorities toured the area on Monday in response to complaints that noise levels and disturbances have got out of hand. Residents in flats in Camden High Street and Inverness Street say the music goes on into the night.

    Labour councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli, who was part of Monday’s “walkabout”, said: “We had to see the problems for ourselves.

    "In the short-term we will be reinforcing existing laws, for example when a busker obstructs passage we can legally move them.

    “In the long-term we are changing policies and opting for a strict new one, meaning very specific powers to deal with busking. It will involve designated areas for them, and will not allow amps or more than one person at a time. So instead of bands we’ll see the return of traditional busking musicians.”

    Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor said plans to rebuild Camden Town tube station could incorporate a dedicated space for busking using the station’s entrances and exits.

    He added: “There were plans to build a huge shiny shopping centre all the way from HSBC bank to Buck Street which would have knocked down the church and Camden Market.

    “Now, we don’t want to do that in as big a way, but a smaller scale version is being talked about. That would mean this whole area would be changing anyway, and within that we could discuss options.”

    Chief Inspector of Operations Penny Mills added Safer Neighbourhoods Teams could check up on the situation throughout the night.

    She said: “At the moment they don’t work at night, but June’s new policing model could change that.”

    >>NEW JOURNAL LETTERS: Busking blues


    A Cultural Policy For The Future

    *Please note that I do not wish to put myself on a pedestal by talking about the ‘better’ street-performers out there ironically being ‘kept out’ by petty minded council policy.

    What I do want to emphasis here is that the best players I have seen out there on the streets would certainly be ‘excluded’ by Camden Councils pretty one-sided ‘draconian’ policy towards busking. And for me this is a tragedy!.

    Looking ahead, into the future we need to be thinking about not only ‘social’ justice’ issues in relation to the use ( and abuse ) of ‘public’ space we also need to concern ourselves more positively with popular cultural ‘progress’ on the streets of our towns and cities.

    It is possible to ‘transform’ thecultural spirit, atmosphere, public mood of a place through eg. ‘music’ but we do need the help of 'the best' muscians out there to do this.

    And of course if these more rarer souls ‘the good ones’ are not to be found out there in our communities we need to create the ‘conditions’ where we can nurture them ( and not as current Council policy would have it absurdly discourage them them from gowing and where they do exist drive them away or 'keep them out' ! ) .

    On Amplification

    Can I also state outright here that Camden council are completely wrong in simply targeting ‘amplification’ as a solution to ‘noise’ nusciance.

    To ban amp use is one of those petty policies that incenses many bona-fide performers like me who know from experience that is not only an ‘unfair’ way to solve the problem of excessive noise levels it is not that effective.

    Common sense dictates that in actual fact ‘noise’ nuiscance is in the hands of the ‘ego’ of the performer rather than due to the use of ‘amplification’.

    ‘Acoustic’ bagpipes for example are much louder ‘naturally’ than an ‘amplified’ classical guitar ( my instrument ) and especially when played by a selfish so and so with big ego and self esteem ( or by a performer who is just downright ignorant or perhaps irresponsible)

    The truth is that ‘noise’ nuiscance is’nt just a phenomenon that plagues shops, offices or residents it can have a ‘negative’ impact on other performers too.

    Countless times I’ve been drowned out by violins, sax’s, brass etc and yes its very annoying but I realise the answer is not simply to ban these instruments. The only just and fair policy in such instances is to make ‘individual’ performers and their ‘egos’ reponsible for malpractice on the streets.

    There are some ‘purists’ out there who claim ‘acoustic’ means traditional. On closer examination though this proves to be another on of those rather empty headed arguments, its simply just petty thinking.

    The main purpose for a devoloping artist like me going out to perform is to genuinely entertain and whenever possible to ‘spiritually’ uplift through the expression of ‘authentic’ art and beauty.

    Mine is not just empty posturing as some kind of ‘traditional’ musican, for me this is ‘seriously’ about art in its very ‘modern’ form and variety. And I use amplification at a reasonable level to enhance my act not merely to prop it up or show off. The truth is the best acts do and this and the ‘no amp’ policy recently adopted by Camden tragically keeps out some of the best musicians.

    I play romantic cafe guitar with the emphasis on beatiful mood and atmosphere. I do understand the problem of noise nuiscance so I personally take great care to use the amp only to take my volume just up to concert level, a level where I can compete with other ‘acoustic’ instruments ( much louder than mine) as well as cut through the urban din and ‘natural’ noise of the city, street cleaning vans, traffic and all.

    The fairest busking code is one that takes into account these factors, tackles nuiscance without penalising the better more conscientious players , and encourages and fosters a ‘creative’ community spirit that is a benefit to us all, recognising the value of Street Performers, the public, residents, shops, all alike.

    As for the troublemakers out there, the ‘noise’ nuiscances actually afflicting peoples lives, simply target them, not everyone else. All this is a matter of ‘effective’ policing and fair-minded, well thought out town/highstreet management.

    The Middle Ground

    There is a middle ground solution to be had here and it is found in the approach taken by Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon in relation to ‘noise nuiscance’ and street performing.

    I speak as a ‘serious’ Street Performer up here for 3 years now and I can honestly say that councils in both places, have successfully managed to avoid ‘draconian’ policy and serve the interests of Street Performers whilst protecting shops residents etc on this issue.

    The position that this twin town and city situated at the heart of England have taken is basically a ‘liberal’ pluralistic one and it is one with which I strongly agree.

    Once more I state ‘Councils’ up here uphold the ancient right to freedoms to perform on the street whilst recognising the very ‘real’ problem of noise nuiscance that can not only plague shops, offices, residents etc but can also trouble other performers as well.

    Birmingham did at one stage adopt ‘auditons’ as a measure to curb this problem. In this context I am at odds with the leadership of the ASAP to the extent that they insist that such practices are ‘elitist’.

    My retort is that ‘auditions’ pose more a ‘beauracratic’ nuiscance but are not necessarily ‘elitist’ because in Birmingham they were demonstably used and effective in ‘sifting’ out specific ‘problem’ performers.

    However for me the ‘overall’ best solution and by far the ‘fairest’ was in the introduction of City Warden/ Town Host schemes. This kind of ‘middle-way’ civic solution to street performer noise nuiscancehas worked excellently in both Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon.

    Shops have been protected form certain performers ( more irresponsible, egotistical, ignorant etc ) whilst a burdgeoning creative street art scene has been preserved.

    I support this civic arrangement on the grounds that whilst performers quite rightly desire freedom and spontaneity of performance it is only fair that surrounding shops etc have ‘spontaneous’ access to some help if and when noise problems do crop up. ‘Call and Response’ style city management seem to do the trick.

    Over insistance on relying on existing noise pollution law does not offer a sufficiently ‘immediate’ remedy to victims of noise excess. Such actions can be a too long drawn out process beauracratically cumbersome for all concerned. Warden schemes or with good communication ‘Community’ police intervenion are the best solution.

    Conditions obviously do vary from place to place and I can see that there maybe no ‘catch-all’ solution for every town, city and place in the country. However looking at the Camden situation as an ‘outsider’ ( neigh inerested and concerned onlooker ) I strongly believe that reason can prevail and a solution for all parties concerned can be found.

    I cite Birmingham and Stratford upon Avon as good models of liberal and ‘progressive’ policy because I’ve witnessed in both of these places a kind of ‘benign’ and free order emerge out of ‘potential’ chaos. It has taken a lot of carefully built ‘trust’ on all sides.

    For me its a ‘truism’ that when people can successfully ‘police’ themselves ( and I eagerly await that day! ) well ‘then’ let anarchy reign.

    Until then liberal ‘plural’ policy solutions appear the only realisic solution – they are often a long and difficult road to climb, demanding much talk, debate and ‘mutual’ understanding, but when reached, I for one have seen they do

    how amazingly stupid do these

    how amazingly stupid do these councilors sound!!!


    As a performer who has worked in Covent Garden for more than 20 years,travelled the World doing various shows for various audianices.I always come back to making my living from busking ,its the best and most rewarding way to perform.Most people think of this in financial eye,but this is not how i see it .If athuorities didn't me allowed to perform as a young man juggling fire more than 20 years ago i wouldent of developed into the performer/father ,person I am today.There for i fundamentally agree to letting new people perform and learn.Living in London there is no answer to keep everyone happy.If you wish for a quiet life, living in Camden probably not the best option.For every complaint sure there be 1000 or more happy people to see busking.If we rule purely by complaints life would be strangled in to just an existance rather than development.Complaints should be looked at and taken into account of, not just acted upon one point of view.Kind regards Philip Shee

    Camden Council are currently

    Camden Council are currently consulting on plans to impose a comprehensive and highly restrictive license regime that will involved bans on amplification, drums, wind instruments and involve annual charges of between £30 and £120 for licenses which can be revoked or refused at their discretion. Buskers who refuse to sign up to this onerous and highly restrictive scheme will face fines of up to £1000 and the confiscation of their equipment. This fundamental assault on the right of musicians to use public space for the purposes of cultural enrichment is an affront to all who value hard won freedoms.....

    Those buskers who wish to let the council know why this policy will damage the cultural life of the city should follow this link and respond to the consultation:

    If you wish to join the creative resistance to this policy, please join the Keep Streets Live in Camden group here:

    Busking legislation

    The 2000 Local Government London act does give councils the power to designate particular streets as requiring a license to busk, if there has been a history of problems in the area. Designated streets must be advertised in the local press, and at least 3 month's notice given.

    A blanket ban in the borough would be unlawful under the 2003 Local Government Licensing Act which specifies busking as an 'unregulated activity'.

    Hope that helps with the legal aspect..

    Turn it down

    As a local musician, sometime resident and also local associated business operating in the area, over the past 20 years- who also busks albeit acoustically, during the past 4 years specifically in this borough ,I feel I have to speak on this issue .
    I have met,99 percent of the time ,with immense support and generosity from the general public, Camden residents ,both young and old,and even various celebrities local or otherwise from Mani to Jon Snow have shown me support .
    My contact with my most local of residents has been more than positive,infact when once someone said to me how they could here me singing through there window in the evening and I said I hoped It didn't bother them they said on the contrary it gets the baby to sleep !.
    OK I'm not really loud but I'm not playing in a loud spot like the one exemplified though I would suspect the new arrangements of policy would extend to the whole borough and effect all buskers as in the -designated/licensed area idea- which would end up excluding many from the scheme, by it's very nature ,as illustrated by the results on the london underground,
    .If there is a licensing system it may involve auditions which excludes beginners -when I first started playing I could only play two chords and had no songs so just jammed-but never the less without this invaluable experience I would hardly ever eat never have played at the actual glastonbury festival and wouldn't be able to be now releasing music for sale.
    It will invariably make it difficult for the most vulnerable who most often play just to buy food and basic necessities and will therefore leave this group disproportionately disadvantaged.
    Personaly busking enables me to earn enough income in hard economic times to remain in business because it's very hard to get paid at a certain level for gigs and subsequent monetization through commercial product sales ,as an independent artist operating within the virtual cartel that is the modern music very difficult,-as is busking ,I play in all weathers,you try playing guitar when it's minus five ,snowing and your cold and hungry and keeping a cheerful disposition,often four or five times a week ,for months in a row- it can be very physically and emotionally draining,still I do it, not just for financial reasons,but because I and many others whether performers or audience love music.
    I appreciate unwanted noise can be burdensome from whatever source but because a few who choose to live in the one of the loudest and busy parts of the capital renowned for it's music and cultural vibe don't like the music you will affect the many over the few.
    I therefore urge the respective members of the council and others involved to think very seriously before they enact any such scheme or law and to consult on and address the wider issues whether social or commercial so as to help Camden Town continue to flourish both commercially and musically into the 21st century.
    Yours Crystal Masters

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