Saturday, 9 March 2013

Support buskers - let's stop local authority jobsworths turning the world into a grey and austere place.

A typical damp Wednesday busking in York. That's me, Jonny Walker, looking a bit upset on the left. On the right, partially obscured, are no less than SIX public servants from the council and the police who are taking time out of their afternoon to deal with that social menace otherwise known as busking.

York Council charge street performers £40 per day if they want to sell CDs of their music to the public. That is a lot of money when you are already performing for free in rain or shine. So I have written a sign that says 'cd available, suggested contribution £7, these CDs are not being offered for sale, contributions are voluntary and at your discretion'. The lady in the black jacket told me to take the sign down and the CDs out or I would lose my busking permit. I have had a permit for nine years, but that doesn't seem to count for anything.
I politely refused at which point she called the licensing department who accused me of street trading. I said that the CDs were not for sale, they are an extension of my busking act, any contribution is voluntary. At this point the man said, 'Take away his busking permit'.

I was told to turn off my microphone or that the police would be called. I said that I was doing nothing unlawful and was not prepared to stop playing. At this point the police were called.

There I was with two council officials, two licensing officials and two police officers. I don't know whether they enjoyed my version of Hallelujah, but the Licensing Enforcement officer gave me a caution, read me my rights, took a photo of my sign and took two copies of my cd. The lady from the council walked away and told me she would be speaking to her boss to see whether I would have my permit revoked for the insubordination.

I was left in peace to carry on singing...but for how long?

The Association of Street Artists and Performers has been set up because accross the country local authorities are getting heavy handed with people who want nothing more then to perform their art on the streets. Public space belongs to all of us, and the High Streets, under pressure from Internet shopping, out of town developments, high rents and the dire economic situation need to be full of life and music to keep people's spirits up. Street performance gives a place a sense of community and well-being, and is one of the many reasons people still have for actually physically going to a place.

So instead of sending 6 public servants to try to intimidate a street musician, why doesn't the local authority work with the street artists and performers to build a sense of community, and public places that everybody can feel part of. The campaign to Keep Streets Live is only just beginning! Whether you are a street performer yourself, would like to be, or just value art at street culture level, join us on this journey....

Please feel free to share this with other people. The time has come for the streets to be acknowledged as the vitally important spaces that they are, both for music, the arts and for a greater sense of community...

Stage two of the busking saga. Opening today's edition of York Press I find this story on page seven. It tells me my permit to busk has been 'suspended' pending an investigation. I have told the council I have every... intention of continuing to play music on the streets of York, with or without a permit.

Local authorities are stewards of the public good. They are public servants paid for out of taxation. They do not have the right to act as a poor man's Simon Cowell by deciding who they wish to 'allow' to perform in a public space. If a performer is causing a nuisance or breaking the law of the land, by all means ask them to move on. However, this is the UK. We still have freedoms, long and hard won freedoms. Public space is so important. People have to be allowed to share life together without suffering harassment and intimidation.

The Association of Street Artists and Performers will carry on campaigning for open public spaces and creative policies that foster community and the arts. Join us in this journey and please share this message.

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