The Independent London Newspaper
25th March 2017

'Lead us away in handcuffs', say buskers pledging 'non-violent resistance' to Camden's new licence rules

    Musician Jonny Walker confronts Labour councillor Abdul Hai in the Town Hall corridors on Monday night

    Published: 13 November, 2013

    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.




    ASAP does speak for some buskers...

    ...and quite a few workers and residents too!

    The bottom line is we now have a policy that in no way represents a an agreed compromise on both sides. It's untrue that buskers have refused to compromise, at every turn we have suggested alternatives based on Code of Conduct and best practice, such as those in place in Liverpool and Bournemouth, but these have been repeatedly ignored.

    As for this "lobbyist" term, this was a PROTEST against an overly restrictive policy. If all protest is lobbying, then no one on either side can escape this labeling. And if this is our definition, then "lobbying" occurred on both sides, seen most demonstrably in the emails from two elderly residents direct to council officials. This Labour council was biased in their support from the beginning, drafting up this policy virtually to the letter, on the solicit whisperings of a handful of residents. ASAP and their supporters were denied such an intimate dialogue with Camden Council, even being refused a deputation at one point. (We had to protest this incident alone, simply to be allowed to challenge the proposed legislation!)

    I support ASAPs approach of peaceful dissent. This clumsy legislation has been mismanaged from start to finish and in no way has constituted a diplomatic or reasonable debate, despite numerous opportunities for Camden Council to conduct one. They set out to ostracize and outlaw street musicians from the beginning and that is exactly what they have done. This "consultation process" has been undemocratic, unrepresentative, biased, predetermined and essentially meaningless from the start. (For the record, I did take part in the consultation, but apparently this was an arbitrary waste of time, as my suggestions clearly had no influence whatever over an already predetermined outcome). Needless to say, the result on the Monday was disappointingly predictable and nominally "democratic".

    As for this "light touch" comment; it's only light touch if those most affected by it agree that it is, which we don't, so this is clearly an indefensible claim. By anyone's comparison, this is the one of the most restrictive busking policies ever devised in the UK, and to call it light touch is either supremely ignorant, or deliberately insincere.

    This whole consultation process needs to be reversed and restarted, this time diplomatically, with an impartial adjudicator (ie. an impartial council), and more importantly, impartial councilors.

    Until then it must be protested in the name of diplomacy, fairness, common sense and civil freedoms, as is our RIGHT to do so. That is unless Camden have illegalised the act of protest as well!??

    Someone has to speak up so everyone can stand up

    The buskers and lobbyists at the Camden Council meeting were prepared to go and speak up. Despite this if you play a wind or percussion instrument you are now banned from the streets of Camden because they wont give you a licence.

    Some of the over simplistic arguments above are not helpful and Camden Council have played on anecdotal evidence, which may have some basis, but was never properly investigated. Now the freedom has been lost.

    As far as the idea that lobbying was done by a radical fringe of irresponsible buskers, the Musicians Union was part of the deputation and much of the information against the council's policy was provided by well informed people who had advised the government on the Live Music Act 2012.

    I went myself, I am a professional musician who is outraged by the Council's approach. Im not against licencing in principle but I am against Camden's approach which criminalises anyone who sings in the street, yes the presumption now is that anyone who even sings is committing a criminal offence unless they have a licence. That is against Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and against all basic ideas of freedom of speech and expression. Someone has to stand up against it, and if you werent there then one day you may come to thank those who were.

    The lobbyists love to conjure

    The lobbyists love to conjure this image of the streets of London being paved with gold. If i see a road, I expect traffic noise. If I see a church, maybe the sound of church bells. If I see a pavement, people walking around. Not semi-permanent beggars with a soundtrack. This talk of 'public spaces' being taken away. Pavements already have exclusions like you can't cycle on them. Camden isn't the first borough to regulate buskers and it hasn't been the harshest either

    An industry, like any other, that doesn't want the hassle of bothersome trivialities like red tape, overheads and the general public to have to consider - just want money - minimum expenditure (wont pay <£20) for maximum profit (max volume, all hours=bigger audience).

    If there was no problem, the council would not have done anything at all. Green party voting for noise pollution? All sincerity - you lost my vote right there.
    Johnny Bucknell, seriously... of course he wants to keep buskers in Camden Town, imagine the seismic activity if they began the march up Haverstock Hill...

    The vast majority of opposition to this has come from people who do not live in the LB of Camden, and much less from people paying council tax and buisness rates in the Camden Town and Primrose Hill ward.

    The lobbyists attitudes are shameful, talking of 'social cleansing', quoting Adolf Hitler and (still) knowingly serving up the same inaccurate data regarding complaints numbers and present powers of the authorities - at the previous hearing it was clearly stated that current powers are not enough.
    Last week they were saying how clearly upset residents were and that they wanted to have some manner of discourse. This week, now they've lost, all they want to do is cost our Borough money, utterly disregard residents and try to get their own way by undemocratic means - the irony.... - all for money.

    Talk of greed is misleading

    This comment with its talk of 'semi-permanent beggars' and accusations of greed betrays the mindset that has led a tiny lobby of residents to campaign vociferously for blanket controls against live music in public spaces which will damage the vibrancy of Camden Town.

    Camden Council's own documents show that 106 complaints were received in the last year about busking and that these were made by a total of 56 people, including one person who complained a total of 15 times. Clearly there are a small minority of residents who vociferously object to the presence of buskers in Camden town and have successfully lobbied Councillors to bring in these strict new controls.

    As a campaigner against the policy, I accept the fact that it was developed with the good intention of addressing resident's concerns. Unfortunately, it was drawn up without the input of the people it will affect the most and contained disproportionate penalties against musicians who were doing no harm and so it has been opposed by a wide group of people including Camden residents and business owners and professional bodies.

    Those who imagine that busking is a lucrative trade, or an 'industry' are living in La La land. It is a long standing part of our musical and cultural heritage and adds colour and vibrancy to urban spaces at little cost to local authorities. Problems do arise from time to time, but there are a wide range of existing powers that can be used against 'problem' buskers, and this point has been acknowledged by the Borough solicitor.

    In fact, Camden have introduced this new policy because it is administratively more convenient to impose blanket restrictions on all musicians than it is to apply common sense and to target only those who are actually causing issues for residents. In this light it is fortunate that we live in a democracy subject to the rule of law where judicial scrutiny can be applied to the decisions of public bodies. Contrary to your assertion, a legal challenge does not subvert the democratic will, it ensures that public bodies are accountable for the decisions that they make which affect the lives of many people.

    I, for one, hope that an equitable solution can be found.

    Camden isn't the first

    Camden isn't the first borough to bring in licensing. True, it is the second. And it is the harshest because Hillingdon limits it's licensing regime to a small area in Uxbridge town centre.

    This is incorrect. In

    This is incorrect. In Hillingdon, you can only perform in four distinct locations in the entire borough; busking anywhere else in the borough is not allowed. Busking is only allowed for two two-hour periods each day.

    Here's a hint: read the policy before attempting to use the policy to prove a point.

    All For Money.

    I see not a shred of supporting evidence to back up any of your fatuous claims. Having listened to the webcast, the figures and factual evidence are very close to being perfectly accurate and the points made here, based upon those figures, are good and true.
    You are correct that the majority of the opposition to this risible and unenforceable attempt at curtailment has come from outside the Borough, as there are many good people who are utterly appalled at what is happening and who do not want it happening where they live.
    FACT: There are 3-4 TIMES MORE CAMDEN RESIDENTS AND BUSINESSES who have spoken out against this ill-fated scheme than those who have supported it and I can assure all those in favour of the licensing and punitive regime that no effort will be spared in overturning that which has been done.
    It is your mean-spirited attitude and actions and those of your tiny and vociferous ilk who are entirely responsible for the escalating costs to this borough. Street entertainers give good value to The Borough for no cost at all and now, because of people like you, the costs will shortly spiral out of control as this awful situation is, quite rightly, redressed.


    Hello 'anonymous'.

    Self-regulation is a misleading concept and in any event has been tried in Camden.

    Activities in public spaces are already subject to an enormous amount of legislation. Obstruction is covered by the Highways Act 1990. Public Order is dealt with in multiple pieces of legislation as is noise nuisance. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows officers to seize noise making equipment in the streets, including instruments, if they are causing a statutory nuisance.

    A good code of conduct, introduced by the council in consulation with the residents and others, would mention these powers and establish parameters of expected behaviour and mention that enforcement action can be taken against buskers if they are causing a problem.

    This hasn't been tried in Camden. Instead, sweeping draconian powers have been introduced that take away basic freedoms, introduce disproportionate penalties and criminalise singing in the streets. These powers are unworkable and unjust.

    Anti-social buskers should face the consequences of their actions but these powers penalise everybody and undermine the nature of busking. They will be opposed, disobeyed and campaigned against by a principled and committed bunch of activists until they are overturned so your joy at watching the police seize instruments in be streets may be short lived.

    Typical response from busking Lobbyist

    Typical case in point why self regulation for the buskers won't work when their lobbyist is not prepared to compromise I sincerely hope they do seize instruments & fine anyone found guilty of non-compliance. This whole policy has shown the council & the Labour party in a good light it has taken the concerns of all parties involved into account & given all sides ample opportunity to express themselves & voted in favour of a reasonable light touch policy. All the mis-information given by the buskers & its lobbyist about the policy just doesn't stand up to any kind of reading of the policy. Finally with the new IPNA's being passed through Parliament a license actually protects the buskers from what is going to be a real draconian law that kills fun so maybe the buskers & their lobbyist she be busking protesting those laws & backing the reasonable fair for all sides approach shown by the local council democracy means having a debate there was a debate then a vote almost a textbook case study democracy in action & in my opinion job well done good work CBC. Honestly Flip Dunn-Davies

    Article 10

    Because a proper study was not done to verify the true nature of the problem of noise and disruption the Council has failed to objectively balance the rights of residents against artists as required by Article 10 of the European Commission on Human Rights. This is a serious failing in the Councils procedure which of itself renders it undemocratic and a breach of human rights. The IPNAS address a different problem, that of antisocial behaviour. A busker is not regarded as engaging in antisocial behaviour, this is the law. Moreover it is not a criminal act to breach an IPNA, but Camden say to sing in the street without a licence now is. Please read what is actually stated in law and legislation before Parliament and even if you dont take a different view, at least you will have facts, rather than the misinformation you are being fed.

    these people do not represent buskers

    do not think all busker's are like these greedy amp using lobbyists,they do not represent the views of most busker's,nobody asked them to ,and i totally disagree with what they are about,all the busker's i know (the ones without amps)also find these amp using guys a complete pain ,im annoyed they have the cheek to say they represent us .most busker's without amps ,the traditional ones are 100 percent thoughtful to residents,and able to self regulate and share busking pitches ,these lot get a pitch stay there for hours ,dont let other busker's get a chance,blast everyone out ,they do not represent buskers in anyway what so ever .

    are you sure you represent all buskers either?

    I have to protest against this simplistic definition of 'traditional' versus 'amp-using guys'. It does not help musicians at all!

    Many newer instruments (well, by new I mean many instruments invented from the 1930s onwards) require an amp to make ANY sound at all, so outlawing amps completely amounts to discrimination based on musical style. Especially unfair when an amp can easily be turned down (unlike a completely acoustic instrument).

    Cmon guys, can't we be more intelligent than this and talk about acceptable volume levels and decibel meters?

    punch up

    Two guys with amps where im from ,had a battle a while ago ,i know for a fact one of them was at your meeting ,they set up one at each end of a street ,both were not locals ,no locals could go anywhere near to busk they were set to stay all night as usual ,refusing to give local non amped buskers a turn ,both battled by turning up amps till in the middle it was a horrendous row ,eventually one guy went and punched the other ,terrible behavior ,no concern for locals or non amped buskers ,really bad for buskers here it gives us a bad reputation ,i dont think these guys cared about this they just wanted money .really bad news ,im relived the police were not involved or the same would have happened here thats happened in Camden, im just worried that now its over in Camden the battle between these two might resume again .

    this is so silly if there was

    this is so silly if there was just a straight ban on amps it would solve all i reckon its obvious ,people just get irate because it would mean a big loss of cash if they couldnt use a amp ,and that is obviously more important than listening to the views of buskers that you claim to represent or the wishes of those who live near busking pitches ,it is without doubt the amp users that have brought this on ,thats what the complaints have been about is it not ,same everywhere ,any person with musical talent enough can get by without a amp ,maybe it might mean a acoustic guitar instead of a electric one apart from electric violin ,im not sure what instruments you mean .

    'lobbyists' represent buskers.

    I resent these comments. I am one of the 'lobbyists' you describe. I do not use amplification, and neither do most of the buskers who were in the council chambers on Monday night. In fact only 1 or 2 do so that I am aware of. These measures affect ALL buskers, and are a thin end of the wedge as far as I'm concerned.

    I do not live in Camden and what of it? I pay Council Tax in my own home borough, and income tax as a self-employed musician which I expect to pay for a wide range of services. One of those services is the effective control of antisocial behaviour under existing legislation. And there is such a considerable raft of legislation I find it preposterous that the council cannot move a full band with drums from a residential street at 2 am.

    I suspect that many people who work in Camden do not live there, just as many people who live there work elsewhere. The fact that some of us travelled from outside the borough, and in some cases outside London proves how strongly we feel about this. I could contrast this with the handful of Camden residents who actually bothered to turn up to the meeting.

    To Nick Shields

    Thousands of people.. who have nothing to do with Camden, perhaps?


    They had enough to do with Camden that they made the effort to turn up, often travelling from far away.

    They turned up, yes. That

    They turned up, yes. That doesn't mean they have anything to do with Camden. Buying a train ticket to a place doesn't give me any claim on the place.

    Democracy Not Present in The Borough of Camden

    What I witnessed and what took place in Camden Borough Council chambers on Monday evening was nothing whatever to do with democracy.
    The evidential will of thousands of people was disregarded and overturned citing the results of a rigged consultative process involving just fifty-five people, a Labour-led Council, a turncoat Lib-Dem Councillor, a tame copper and a tiny handful of complainants with the shrillest voices. Only 30% of those consulted agreed with "Most of the proposed legislation".
    A petition was handed in which contained nearly 4,500 signatures, 1,300 of the signatories are London residents. 95 of them are Camden residents. ALL of them agreed, unambiguously, that there should be no new legislation. Yet this deed was done and it will now be illegal to busk in The Borough of Camden without a license from February 2014.
    This legislation was voted in in an entirely unrepresentative fashion by democratically elected Council Officials who have acted without the mandate of those who have elected them and therefore have acted outside The Law. This will now have to be redressed and The Council decision overturned by a higher authority.

    Some figures:
    Camden Council had 109 complaints last year.
    55 of them from just NINE people.
    1 person complained 14 times.
    To my knowledge, no arrests of any Street performers were made.
    The Borough of Camden contains approximately 220,000 people.

    Faithfully, Nick Shields.

    what would it be like

    yet if you imagine what it would be like if you had the same buskers over and over again amped up playing outside your house ,can anyone honestly say they would think it was great and traditional,no not if people were honest about it , its just trying to be as loud as you can ,out of sheer greed for more more ,whats sad is the people with the most lack of consideration once again end up setting the agenda ,so that now even quiet non amped buskers suffer ,this keeps happening in all areas of life the antisocial set the agenda for how we have to live ,this is the worst bit , we all lock everything ,walk about scared to talk to strangers ,our children have half the freedom they did 20 years ago ,we live in fear ,i sometimes wonder if its done on purpose ,scared un united people,are easy to control ,the police should easily be able to sort out the antisocials ,its not like there even bothering to hide ,they seem to be left alone and polite good people live under more and more rules ,and more and more fear and people become more and more alone and divided ,with everyone too paranoid and distrustfull to form good strong communitys ,this should be more about the police failing to stop anti social behaviour ,as they always inexplicably do .

    It's a well-known fact that

    It's a well-known fact that it's not at all difficult to get people to sign petitions on the internet. It takes about 2 seconds to do. How many of these people filled out the consultation? If not, why not? Oh, maybe because it actually takes some time and some thought to do.


    Funnily enough it was the Camden residents who apparently lacked the time and thought to actually fill in the petition. I believe only 55 of them did so, suggesting that support for the policy is limited to a vociferous minority, and that the vast majority are in fact apathetic on the busking issue.

    I doubt that very much

    It is much more likely that, because Council Officials targeted those whose answers they preferred, they had no idea it was happening.

    There is a link to the

    There is a link to the consultation on the petition page. If people didn't know the consultation was happening, they didn't read the text of the petition they were signing their names to.

    Not exactly

    Yes there is a link to the consultation on the petition page - but the consultation closed on 4th October (having been open for just over a month) and many people who signed the petition did not hear of it until that period was over and so did not have the opportunity to take part.

    Ha ha stats are wrong

    I also watched the webcast of the council meeting & I disagree it was democracy in action so if we are to take your stats why should the council care that 4405 people signed a petition which are unaffected by the busking problem and only 95 residents is hardly any larger sample size than the 55 surveyed. Secondly 39% of people surveyed agreed with the majority or the proposal and 25% outright agreed I for one support the residents & locals who gave a deputation to the council in favour of the proposal & am looking forward to seeing it enforced. what this article and the words of the Busking lobbyist show is that self regulation just wont work as the buskers are NOT prepared to compromise or accept any decision against them.

    Lies, damned lies and statistics

    39% of 55 people is 21 people out of a population of 220,000. That is 0.009 % of the population of Camden. Not overwhelming is it?

    busking lobbyists do not represent buskers

    please the lobbyists were a handful of people that were not elected to speak out for all busker's ,im a busker and in no way do they represent my feelings or any of the other busker's i know for that matter ,im a little annoyed that without been asked to ,and without listening to any busker's who disagree with them ,they publicly made out that they represent us and stirred up a pointless fuss that busker's dont need ,i mean the proper busker's ,that actually provide a service ,not those that thoughtlessly blast everyone away with loud amps and cheesy songs ,there not real busker's, real traditional busker's dont use amps ,amps have nothing to do with traditional .they are just to do with been greedy for more money ,they dont help with having skilled diverse musicians on the streets either ,because no one else can busk anywhere near ,when you get a nutter with a amp blasting out his 1970s busking hits ,these people took it upon themselves to represent busker's ,something they i feel do not have the right to do ,most genuine busker's are also fed up with the amp users ,its the amp using busker's that have ruined this ,not the council ,amp using busker's mess it up in every town and city ,they set up play for hours refuse to move so anyone else can have a chance ,and now they have brought these restrictions down on us all ,and had the nerve to decide that they represent busker's too

    You're right

    Anyone who watched the meetings online saw that these figures of 109 complaints, 55 people etc. are not accurate, this has already been disproved by residents/councillors so don't know why buskers keep repeating these numbers...

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