Licence To Busk

Liverpool city council recently introduced a scheme to allow street entertainers to perform under licence on ten designated ‘performance areas’ a move that will affect all of the city’s current buskers. In order to gain a 12-month licence buskers will have to audition and prove that they have public liability insurance. Performers will be monitored and can’t play on the same sight for more than two hours at a time. Responses to the scheme have ranged from ‘music to my ears’ to cultural fascism’. ASimilar scheme introduced on the London Underground was initially unpopular nut later was hailed a success with 30 of the buskers releasing a joint album. I went onto the streets in Liverpool to ask the buskers themselves what they think of the move.

Barry a Trumpet player on Bold street has been busking since he left music college in 1993 is behind the scheme believing it will protect the city’s native performers in the run up to capital of culture in 2008; “When they had capital of culture in Glasgow the city was inundated with street artists and performers and in the end the city council their had to licence them, Liverpool has pre-empted this and are giving away licences free providing you can prove you have third party, fire and theft insurance, I

’I’ve been to my own insurer and the £100 rate the council is asking for is actually cheaper. The council is doing us a favour by giving people from the city the first chance to be budged up as official buskers before everyone else starts running into the city”. Asked why buskers need insurance he replied “Really you should have it because if you have a case on a public highway your causing an obstruction which is technically breaking the law, people will put up with that but if someone falls over it they can sue you for the rest of you life”. He added “The Only thing is finding the £100 but if you work it out that’s only £2 a week and the money I make busking I can easily cove that. Asked if he did it for the money he replied “For me the money is a bonus, I do it for the pleasure; the freedom and the social life, all the people you meet”.

Graham an elderly violinist also on Bold street was not so supportive of the scheme “I don’t see the reason behind it myself, if a buskers no good people want give them any money, that’s regulation enough for me” he added “I really don’t like the idea of being move on every two hours, I’m always in the same spec you see and I like it”. Asked why he went out busking “I’ve only been doing I’ve a few months myself, it’s like a hobby, it gets me out in the fresh air, but if I was going to have to pay a £100 it might stop me doing it”.

On Church street guitarist’s Bob and Norman have been busking for 30 years between them and happen to be the first buskers to gain a council licence, they back the scheme, Bob says “In the old days I used to get moved on by the police all the time now with the capital of culture thing and all the tourists the council have realised busking is actually a good thing”. I asked Norman what he thought about being moved on every two hours “Yeah that could be a pain but there is talk now of them giving us stages which would be helpful, keep all the stuff off the ground”. On his own Bob raised £150,000 for Alder Hey hospital’s rocking horse appeal through his busking, I asked him if he thought the scheme would deter people from raising money for charity in this way in the future if it was going to cost them money; “Well personally I would have still done it but I can see how it would deter some people” I also asked him if he thought that the cost and red tape involved in the scheme would stop new and younger buskers from bothering to play on the street; “Yeah that could be a problem, you have to make sure that new people keep coming through, keep the music alive”. I enquired to Bob and Norman why they busk; “Where else to you get an audience so varied, there’s nothing like it. I reckon we play to about 5,000 people a day, we bring the music outside to people, they come over and say that we have brought out happy memories for them, brightening their day, I’ve even had people come out of the shops and say it.”

Bill, an accordion player in Williamson square for four years has a different view of the scheme “It’s a load of bollocks, they gave me a form and I just sent it back. They want £100 for insurance when it takes me all day to earn a fiver. It’s going to kill it all off isn’t it. Why will people bother to do it only to earn a few Bob, why the hell do you need insurance to play the accordion?”

Phil a guitarist on Bold Street has been busking on and off for 26 years, he has mixed feelings about the plans. “It’s good and bad, I think it will help sort the wheat from the chaff, but then the public already do that. I provide a service and if they don’t like what I play then they don’t give me any money”. He would be happy to do an audition but it is the insurance fee that is the real bug bear: “There is a limit to the amount of money you can make busking and £100 is steep, I think that I might have to stop till I can save that up and it can take some time to have that amount of cash spare”.

A mixed response then, the more professional and longer term buskers seem fully behind the plans which would finally legitimise their existence, during the course of my interviewing I saw one popular Church Street busker being forced to move on by a shop manger, but the worry must be that a new generation of buskers simply wont bother to start playing in the street because of the red tape and that will be a loss for all of us.

By Kenn Taylor