Street performers protest over ban on busking in London’s tourist hot spots

BY JULIA GREGORY
Local Democracy Reporter
yann@slpmedia.co.uk

Buskers have staged a protest against a ban on performing live music in some of London’s busiest tourist hot spots, and plan to raise money to challenge the first fines for performers caught out.

Street performers headed to South Kensington, near the major attractions of the Natural History and Victoria and Albert Museums to draw attention to new rules which ban music in some traditional busking spots.

Some areas – including close by the museums and South Kensington Tube station, and Hans Crescent beside Harrods, are designated as ‘red’ areas where noise, including music will be banned.

Mime and magic is given the thumbs up in these areas covered by the Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPO) brought in this summer.

Flouting the rules risks a fine of £100, and buskers could face bills of up to £1,000 if they breach the PSPO.

Folk musician David Fisher travelled down from Birmingham to join the protest in Knightsbridge.

He said: “If central London boroughs start bringing in anti-busking legislation it will spread.

“A reasonable and proportionate response is needed. If not, busking is in real trouble.”

Mr Fisher usually works in the Midlands and said it was possible to make a living. “I work five or six days a week for three or four hours a day so it is hard work,” he added.

The self-taught musician said when busking it is important to know where the good spots are.

Nathan Earl performs magic, which will still be allowed under the new rules. However Nathan, who is a member of the elite Magic Circle, said the no amps rule would make things more difficult.

“It’s doable, but doing a show without an amp or microphone is not easy,” he said.

He said a 45-minute time limit is also restrictive and revealed that a “circle show” – where crowds gather around – might yield just £10-11.

Elsewhere in Kensington and Chelsea, at spots including Portobello Road, near the market, and spots outside Earl’s Court and High Street Kensington Tube station, buskers will still be able to make music.

However they have to keep the noise down and stop after 45 minutes. They also have to perform “a varied repertoire” after the council hear complaints about repetition.

Kensington and Chelsea council is bringing in the rules following complaints about loud music and some buskers playing the same song
repeatedly.

The number of complaints about buskers reached the high notes after soaring from 243 in 2014 to an almost five-fold increase of 1,013 last year.

Cem Kemahli, the councillor with responsibility for the environment, said: “The council supports responsible busking by talented musicians, but with so many people living and working here, we need to strike a balance between what works for residents and street performers.

Our goal is to make sure street entertainment doesn’t cause a nuisance while supporting busking in the right areas.”

One security guard who wanted to remain anonymous said some businesses in Hans Crescent were fed up with one busker a few years ago who performed the Game of Thrones theme repeatedly.

Following the protest, Chester Bingley said busking has never been more popular among performers: “We want to start a performers’ association and we plan to raise money by crowd-funding,” he said.

“There’s a whole different range of reasons why people are involved in busking, but at the big pitches there is a lot of demand and you have to queue for hours to get the pitch.”

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