In such a world-famous music city, it’s sad to say that Liverpool’s city council rarely seems to be on the side of the city’s musicians. Short-sighted decisions such as the imposition of volume restrictions at Static Gallery had already left many feeling that our music culture was undervalued.
Now, with a new law restricting street performance, there is the unmistakable sense of a jackboot descending. Compulsory auditions, ID badges and insurance policies for buskers all speak of the bullying tactics of an administration that wants to crush the independent spirit.
In view of all this, and as a busker myself, I was heartened to hear last week of a campaign to oppose the policy with an online petition and a mass busking protest on Church Street. The campaign was instigated by well-known busker Jonny Walker and his friend Christian Eriksson, but as the day of the protest approached many others started to pitch in with suggestions; the online discussions of tactics being reminiscent of the Occupy protests last year.
On the morning of July 9th, the plan was for performers to meet up at Mello Mello. I headed down there with my guitar and a handful of petition sheets which I’d printed out – I felt that with a purely online petition we would be missing out on a lot of potential support.
The crew who’d assembled included Jonny and Christian, plus various local musicians and characters, many with links to the Mello/Kazimier nexus. This network of has been a key source of support to the campaign so far.
Once on Church Street, a loose jam session got going, with covers like “Brown Eyed Girl” attracting a crowd straight away. Singers alternated at the mic, with a variety of percussion instruments (including a conveniently-sited Council bin!) being expertly whacked.
Throughout the day, collecting names for the petition gave me an opportunity to gauge public views on busking. The feeling was almost unanimously supportive, many people being incredulous that such a “stupid” policy had been enacted.
As the assembled crowd sang along at the ecstatic climax of Hey Jude, it was absurd to think that what we were doing was now technically criminal.
Despite our apprehensions, the threatened moving-on didn’t happen. Various council officials (the architects of the legislation) put in an appearance, just long enough to get their PR opportunity in front of the BBC cameras.
At one stage I saw a couple of police officers hovering discreetly about 20 metres away, but throughout the day the performers went entirely unmolested.
It’s possible that they took the decision to “let them have their fun one last time”, and things will get harder for us later on, but this time at least, ‘people power’ seems to have prevailed.
The council consistently claims that it receives complaints about buskers, but these are overwhelmingly from stores in the city centre who are paranoid about anything that isn’t in their business plan. Corporations, naturally, are only concerned about their profits.
But the council’s primary responsibility is to its people. And quality of life in the city centre is about more than spending money.
If we are to achieve a repeal of this law, it is vitally important for the campaign to build momentum from here on. A street performers’ group is being established that will give us the collective voice and weight to negotiate with council when they realise that street performers are not going to kowtow to their autocratic ways.
Pictures by Adrian Wharton