From left, comedians Ben Van der Velde and Mark Thomas with busking campaigner Jonny Walker
Published: 27 March, 2014
by PAVAN AMARA
BUSKERS in Camden Town say their “religious freedoms” are being threatened by the Town Hall after forming a new religion that deifies “the humble kazoo”.
The move comes after the buskers lost a High Court battle over Camden Council’s new licensing policy for street performers.
The rules, which came into force on Monday, demand they have licences, ban amplified music and set a 9pm curfew for performances.
Signs have gone up in Camden Town warning buskers they need licences.
Instruments can be confiscated under the new rules, which the Town Hall says it introduced to protect residents from disturbance.
In the latest protest, musician campaigners say the council cannot ban their “religion”, which does not have a name yet but centres around music and instruments.
On Monday, around a dozen buskers performed close to Camden Town underground station without a licence. They then called police, the council’s noise service, Town Hall leader Councillor Sarah Hayward and community safety chief Councillor Abdul Hai to alert them to the performance. They said that an attempt to remove them would be a threat to their religious rights.
Neither police nor the council responded, and both councillors failed to answer their phones.
Busker Jonny Walker told a crowd of onlookers outside the HSBC bank branch in Camden High Street: “We are forming a religion. You do not have to drop out of your own religion to join. We are welcoming everyone from atheists to Christians, to Muslims and Jews, Hindus and every other belief you may already be a part of.
“We are very open. But we are a religion that respects music and our right to perform in the borough of Camden with freedom. We have hymns, and we believe in the holy triad of kazoos. We want to practise our religion in peace.”
Comedian Mark Thomas, who is campaigning for buskers’ rights, said “out of all the things the council could have done, they chose to criminalise busking without a licence”.
He added: “Talking with us to find the best code of practice would have been the way forward. Instead, we have this stupid law. Labour particularly has a habit of passing laws when they are not needed. This is not a good enough reason for a law.
“Camden is the London borough of music. Why would they do this, unless they want to change that? It could be that they are trying to change the tone of the borough, and want to gentrify it.”
A High Court judge ruled earlier this month that Camden’s policy – and the way it was introduced – was not unlawful.
Licensing committee chair Councillor Maryam Eslamdoust said: “I am pleased with the judgment handed down by the High Court. We had to adopt this regulation to address ongoing nuisance suffered by residents and to prevent public spaces from being monopolised.
“The court has affirmed that regulation is not prohibition and we look forward to a responsible busking scene living alongside our residents.”