Busking - the clash between liberty and noise pollution (with performance)

Saturday 18 October, 10.00 until 11.30, Free Stage, Barbican Defending Everyday Liberties

Buskers have long been part of street life, and busking has traditionally been a way young and emerging musicians tried out material and even started to build an audience. Now, with public spaces increasingly regulated, busking too is being targeted by councils, whose officials describe it as messy and a ‘noise nuisance’. Camden Council recently introduced a busking licence, following similar moves in cities such as York and Liverpool – which promise ‘quality control’ as well as nuisance reduction - while a popular young electric guitar player was issued with an order banning him from playing in Cardiff city centre. Scottish cities have considered regulating ‘shockingly loud’ bagpipes, while the town of Richmond sought bylaws to prohibit ‘bad’ busking.

What effect do these regulations have on street music - can musicians work around the rules, or do licences and other controls mean busking loses its spontaneous soul? Do buskers have a right to play, regardless of time or place? Is there a role for regulation of some busking, or does the answer lie in informal regulation and buskers’ sensitivity to their listeners? After all, buskers want to please rather than annoy their audience. Is it better to put up with the occasional act who is not to everyone’s taste than to risk sanitising busking out of existence?

With a performance by Isabelle Cressy.

Listen to the debate:

David Dixon
deputy leader and cabinet member for neighbourhoods, Bath and North East Somerset Council

Edward Mason
rector, Bath Abbey

Munira Mirza
advisor on arts and philanthropy; former deputy mayor of London for education and culture; author, The Politics of Culture: the case for universalism

Gabriella Swallow
cellist, broadcaster and arts commentator

Jonny Walker
founding director, The Keep Streets Live Campaign; professional musician and street performer

Josie Appleton
director, civil liberties group, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State

Produced by
Josie Appleton director, civil liberties group, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: Rise of the Busybody State
Recommended readings
Bath buskers fight back over threat to ban amplified music around abbey

City’s street musicians say plans to impose restrictions after choral evensong service was halted by noise are ‘political’

Steven Morris, Guardian, 23 September 2014

Busking in London is dying, leaving a hole in the heart of the city

Buskers have been part of city life for centuries, but regulation has stifled them. Councils must team up to bring back the music

Munira Mirza, Guardian, 23 April 2014

Busking: keep the streets free for music

It’s time to make a racket over Camden Council’s closing down of public space.

Josie Appleton, spiked, 13 March 2014

Why I support Camden Council’s move to manage busking

Writer Jessica Kranish, a Camden Town resident, has welcomed Camden Council’s decision to enforce stricter rules on busking. She insists council action must be taken to stop noise from buskers ruining residents’ enjoyment of their homes and surroundings.

Jessica Kranish, Ham & High, 29 November 2013

Liverpool buskers must buy licence and liability insurance

For centuries, street entertainers have been an informal part of public life, but thanks to the ever-officious Liverpool City Council, this tradition may soon be under threat in the city.

Denis Joe, Manifesto Club, 22 September 2012

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