Camden Council on the run over draconian anti-busking laws

Camden Council are under pressure over their proposed new laws which license busking in the area. Licence fees have been lowered and new exemptions introduced after a protest campaign and petition, but the fight is gearing up against this draconian attack on public space.

Campaigners from the Association of Street Artists and Performers (ASAP – @KeepStreetsLive) were celebrating today after Camden Council began a climb down. However, there is a long way to go.

ASAP founder, Jonny Walker, a professional busker who was appalled when he first heard of the proposals, requested to address the Council at their Cabinet meeting last night. At first he was refused, so supporters wrote dozens of emails to Council Leader Sarah Hayward. She wrote back to them claiming that the meeting was “not considering the issue”. This turned out to be untrue, with campaigners later receiving a second email from the Head of the Cabinet Office, blaming an administrative error and inviting Mr. Walker to put his case.

This behaviour is another example of Council subterfuge over the issue – they have failed to comply with Freedom of Information requests, and they also claim huge public support for the plan, citing more than a hundred complaints about busking. In reality, a large number of these are repeated complaints from just four people, with one person making 15 alone, most of which appear to be just telling the Council that buskers are on the street, with no indication that they are actually causing any nuisance to anyone. And yet the Council was attempting to refuse a deputation from Mr. Walker, who has, to date, collected over 3000 signatures for his petition against the proposals.

The good news is that the Council have brought the proposed licence fees down from £123 to £49, and have exempted flutes and recorders from the broad category of ‘wind instruments’ banned. But the laws remain draconian – even those applying for licences will face a wait of several days and a vetting procedure, and penalties include the seizure and forfeiture of instruments that the Council will then have the right to sell. Jonny points out that even bailiffs are not allowed to seize ‘tools of trade’, and yet this is what Council Leader Sarah Hayward supports.


Today’s protests began outside Camden Town Hall, where Jonny was joined by activist/comedian Mark Thomas and singer Billy Bragg, as supporters handed out flyers to Council workers who may be involved in administering the licence scheme.

24th october 2013 camden protest over proposed anti-busking law

Mark Thomas spoke with Unison members who were very interested to hear the possible repercussions should the new laws be successfully established.

24th october 2013 camden protest over proposed anti-busking law

Next was a performance by the Citizens Kazoo Orchestra outside Camden High Street tube station. (Kazoos will be part of protests should the plans become law – at 50p each, the police and Council may find it hard to shift second hand instruments that they seize).

An all-star line-up compered by Mark Thomas then gave the people of Camden an introduction and song from Jonny Walker, followed by the amazing virtuoso acoustic guitar skills of Jon Gomm.

24th october 2013 camden protest over proposed anti-busking law

Next on with a couple of tunes was the musical comic Bill Bailey (who nowadays generally fills stadiums on his tours).

24th october 2013 camden protest over proposed anti-busking law

He gave us an excellent piss-take of Billy Bragg, who briefly joined in at the end, and then Billy gave us a ‘Kazoo-a-long’ performance of ‘Jerusalem’ before leading the crowd, kazoo-ers and celebs in a final rousing performance of “We Shall Overcome”.

24th october 2013 camden protest over proposed anti-busking law

The event was filmed by a BBC crew who had also arranged an interview with Camden Councillor Abdul Hai (Cabinet Member for Community Safety and member of the Licensing Committee).

24th october 2013 camden protest over proposed anti-busking law

The interview was hijacked by Mark Thomas and Jonny Walker, who asked for a sit-down meeting with the Councillor. Despite a Paxman/Howard-style attempt by Mr. Hai to repeatedly not answer the question, eventually he was forced to promise on camera to meet up with the campaigners. When asked why he supported the proposal to seize instruments, he bizarrely claimed that it was a required “part of the legal framework” and he claimed it would never be used.

The Citizens Kazoo Orchestra will make their next appearance at a Council meeting next Tuesday evening (29th) at 6.45, when Jonny hopes to make another deputation to Committee members. Kazoos will be available and everyone is welcome to join in.

There will also be a huge event on November 11th at 7pm at the Council full meeting.

You can keep up with campaign news and future events at the ASAP website where you can also sign the ongoing petition against the Council’s legislation.

short film of today’s fun COMING SOON