Hello dear readers,
We have 2017 already and first post of the year is actually an open letter. Rita and I would like to say a few paragraphs in defense of buskers and street artists. What`s the story (morning glory) you may ask? Well, Worcester City Council decided to crack down on performers in the city and make their lives more difficult than it is really needed.
Our local daily Worcester News ran the new cultural policy on the front page this morning. First day after Christmas break, we were happily about to deal with our office backlog and then – bang! Who needs coffee if you have news like this.
You can read the story here
or enjoy the scans we did so the generations to come can face palm in sheer despair:
We have no idea why culture and arts are under constant attack in West Midlands. Sometimes, it does feel like living out New Model Army`s Small Town England. But onto the meritum.
The letter below has been sent to Worcester News as our reply to the Council policy, but we decided to also publish it on the blog.
Read on and as Sepultura used to say: Refuse/Resist.
Dear Worcester News (and Dear Worcester City Council, if you happen to read it – but we do not raise our hopes up)
We are writing this letter in response to the proposed regulation of busking in Worcester. We would love to see said document in full to be able to read into it. Unfortunately it seems, the draft is not available online for the public to see. However points mentioned in Worcester News raise several alarms and we would like to tackle them one by one.
Before we do it, allow us to quote some data regarding music and creative industries in the UK, as it is essential. According to MusicWeek magazine and Measuring Music 2016 report, music added £4.1 billion to the economy in 2015. Despite problems, the industry was rising 90% in the last 4 years. GVA (gross value added) for the industry was 17%, outgrowing other branches of British economy by 11%.
British Phonographic Industry (BPI) estimates that music consumption rose 1,5% to 123 million album sales in 2016. 45 billions streams (including 1 billion streams in December 2016 alone), 3.2 million units of vinyl sold. British acts such as Coldplay, Little Mix, The 1975, Rick Astley, Calvin Harris, Jess Glynne, The Rolling Stones and Skepta dominated charts this year. All in all – this is a booming business.
But that’s just one side of 2016. Last year we have lost a generation of musical icons (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael just to name a few) and independent artists (Viola Beach), many small venues and clubs have been closed (40% of small venues had shut doors in the last decade).
Where does that leave us? A booming business with no big stars but many smaller artists who are trying to compete on the field but have no places to perform. Enter busking.
Playing in the streets is not a new phenomena. Every artist started out in this manner (even the biggest names), but these days people will see much more buskers than before. Kids getting experience is one explanation, lack of venues is another, access to the public is a third but not a final answer. There are many more reasons why we see an artist performing on every corner. We may like it or not, busking is growing and is becoming not only a chosen way of artistic expression but an important branch of the industry.
There is nothing wrong with regulating busking within the city. London did it and their code is fantastic and user friendly. Tenbury Wells did it. Even Transport for London has their own busking scene and licenses. A whole range of tools has been employed by different localities (artists are encouraged to use smaller amps to avoid high levels of noise, special spaces are designed for artists, buskers are required to have public liability cover, curfews are established to ensure that nobody plays at night) and they are working. Whoever been to London`s Oxford Street and seen iconic TommyAndMary duo perform their punk rock set will admit that even the loudest music can be incorporated into city life with relatively no side effects. If Worcester City Council wanted to draw inspiration for their own regulation, there are many templates ready to use.
However we have our doubts that Worcester City Council wants to regulate busking. It seems like the only agenda behind this regulation is to eliminate artists in general by making their street performance so hard that they will simply give it up.
Let`s have a look at some of the proposals drafted:
– No buskers within 50 meters from each other – Worcester on a daily basis is much quieter than other cities. On average we will have two buskers performing at the same time. Even during festivals and carnivals, we can hardly see artists being that close to each other. We can honestly think of 5 spots around the city where buskers play (most common will be in front of Debenhams). This seems to be a non issue – as we don’t see Worcester becoming Glasto of busking anytime soon.
– No busking between 9 pm and 8 am – that seems to be fair point and we dont have arguments with keeping a night time peace at all. We had to slightly adjust this part of the blog post as the fantastic Collective 43 pointed out that during Christmas Fayre, they played late slot until 8:45 pm (we checked metadata on the pic and it corresponds). Originally, we thought it was later than that! We truly hope that some exceptions will be however made for carnivals and festivals anyway in the draft, especially in summer when days are longer and music can flow a bit more. Being on the town on Friday night can be a good testament to the fact that many pubs or clubs are much more louder past 9 pm than a person with a guitar and an amp. Also, please note that entertainment part for Christmas Lights Switch On started last year so early (before 5 pm) that most people had to miss it. Music can`t last too long that is obvious but it cannot start too early- otherwise who will have time to come and see the event?
– Bans on any sign inviting people to pay money – London Busking Code has this as a rule: “Busking shouldn’t be confused with begging. Buskers put a lot of effort into their act, give a performance and entertain the public”. We are not sure if Worcester City Council has our local artists for beggars or if they have been deceived on the sizes of signs that artists use. Most of them have a hand-made note with their name. Some performers, like Bristol based Saskia Griffiths-Moore who visited Worcester in September 2016 had a small sign telling people that she was fully independent artist funded by sales of her CDs. Ban on signs is being enforced only in Worcester and seems harmful, if not perverse. Another point is that Councillors should really peek into the bowls and hats of buskers if they have a chance. They will not see big fortunes unfortunately. This part of the draft should be dropped and forgotten. The fastest, the better.
– Maximum performance of 45 minutes afterwards artist must leave the area for 2 hours – this rule has only one explanation. To limit performance of musicians as much as possible and to make Worcester even more quiet than it is. Did we forget that Worcester is a market town? By definition it should be lively, bubbly and full of sounds. Worcester is visited by artists from many cities: Birmingham (like Obi Rudo – Belgian/Congolese rapper who calls UK his home) or Bristol (Saskia or Shemakeswar or Rita Lynch) or Oxford (B-Sydes) or even Cardiff. If an artist is traveling for few hours by train to reach us, why limit them to 45 minutes of performance? Can`t we give them at least one hour? And with so little of good busking spots, and little revenue they get – do we think it will be profitable for artists to visit Worcester? They will just skip us and make us all culturally poorer.
– An agreement to stop performing on a request by police, Council workers etc. – So not even 45 minutes is guaranteed. Because it seems that so many people will have the power to silence artists, it won`t be even possible to play a few songs. Nothing short of censorship in our book. But who needs artists and culture anyway? We have a statue of Elgar on High Street.
– Complaints from shop owners about the noise – We can`t speak about every shop keeper in town but there seems to be a good relationship between artists and shop/stall owners. CrownGate has a small scene in the middle of their shopping arcade where artists can perform. We have spoken to many buskers and people who listen to street music in the past year and there was only one instance of loud music being complained about (the performer was a dancer and not a musician). Can we know how many complaints about buskers were lodged with the Council in the last year? In summer Worcester welcomed a whole brass band Gugge 2000. They were ace but very loud. Our ears were ringing for two days and it was fine.
We love music and had a chance to see not only fantastic local artists (Amie, Stolen Chocolates, Ken Pollock, Neil Ivison, The Fidgets, Jodie Hughes) but respected artists as well (Nigel Clark of Dodgy, Rita Lynch) perform in town. Some of the artists were busking. We acquired a handful of signed CDs. Seen breathtaking art (Richard Price and his paintings, tightrope walker who played a violin). We enjoyed each and every of the performances. We spent countless hours to promote those artists online as well, to put Worcester on a music map. We don’t understand why Council is trying to discourage art and music, instead of supporting it.
There`s so much to be done:
– On 23 July 2016 London celebrated International Busking Day. 36 cities across UK joined the initiative, additional 100 around the world. But not Worcester. Why not?
– At the end of January we celebrate Independent Venue Week – seven days of concerts to raise awareness of importance of small venues where artists can play. Worcester is only represented by The Marrs Barr. Is that all we can do?
– We have The Fidgets – one of the most unique bands on the scene as we speak. A group that continues the tradition of pure rock mixed with acoustic harmonies. The last band that played this way was Cast and that was 90s. The Fidgets have been on BBC Introducing. They busk around and build their own fanbase. We wonder if Worcester City Council realizes the potential and opportunities being born from supporting local artists. 1 in every 100 jobs in Liverpool was created by The Beatles. Manchester has Oasis. We are not worse in this regard, we have our own local scene bursting with talent.
– We won`t mention upcoming artists like Ewan Pollock, Jodie Hughes, Poppy WS or The Jevs – huge talents in their own right, just need some investment. Why can`t we have grants or stipends for artists like them?
– Busking is not easy. Standing with a guitar in front of the public is one of the bravest acts an artist can do. Sometimes our artists are verbally harassed. We need designed spots where buskers can feel safe and where they can perform. Not the other way around.
– Our buskers were freezing while playing during Victorian Fayre in 2016. Is it really that much to offer them a complimentary tea or a sandwich for entertaining crowds? We are sure it wouldn’t cost a fortune.
– We have Worcester Music Festival but some genres of music and possible venues are not considered. Not one concert for classical music was organized. St Helen`s Church (which can be a good venue) was standing empty. We would imagine that Council would be co-ordinating or at least contributing towards such initiatives.
We hope our letter won`t be seen as too critical. We are all for regulation but let`s regulate things in a safer, friendlier and constructive way. Music and art have been bringing huge amounts of revenues and recognition to United Kingdom for decades, but to continue we must invest in them.
Malicia & Rita Dabrowicz
Some links to buck up claims in our letter:
All images taken by us albeit with a mobile phone. Pardon the quality.
We will keep you posted once we hear more about this killer cultural procedure.
********* Update 04/01/2017************
Hello Dear Readers,
An update to our open letter – because we managed to gather more information.
When Worcester News broke the story yesterday, a great thing has happened. People came out and voiced their admiration for buskers and street artists. The story on Facebook had over 200 comments, many of them mentioning our leading band in town – The Fidgets. It was fantastic to read the praises – we can only hope that there`s no doubt right now what a treasure and ray of joy The Fidgets really are.
Many people – like us – were upset because we were trying to find out the text of buskers code in Worcester and nothing was available. Not on the City Council web site or anywhere else. If one had persistence – after hours of pestering Uncle Google, you could find these and they are not a joy to read.
It seems to be a very old (decade old?) code of buskers used by Worcester City Council. The trouble with such finds is very simple. Undated documents may be old, and if they are not specific means they can be interpreted in many ways. That is why laws or codes or T&C usually have to be very precise to be functioning.
The source link is this one
Having just one source is not enough. To fully understand what changes are made we still needed the new code for comparison.
So when we went to bed, we were confused just like everybody else.
Thankfully today Worcester City Council stepped up to the task and provided a blog throwing a lot of light on the situation.
You can read it here – it contains the proposed new code and as you can see it is rather user friendly and longish and detailed. Hear that sound – it’s a collective sigh of relief coming from everyone at Vanadian Avenue.
We had a chat on Twitter with the Councils and we were provided with additional links. The new updated code for buskers was initiated in November 2016 and is being prepared with Worcester BID and Keep Streets Live! Initiative (http://keepstreetslive.com/)
Please read the links below and if you are a busker or a local musicians, please get in touch and let City Council know what you think of the proposal:
That’s all for now folks,