The continual stream of disinformation already described, finally exploded in the licensing schemes which were launched by various authorities at the turn of the century 1999/2000.

After Bongo Mike and Extremely Frank appeared at the Opposed Bill Committee hearing in Parliament in February 2000, in which they spoke against the Westminster Council street buskers licensing scheme, amendments were made by the committee, which made the scheme and the law too difficult to be used by Westminster; the extra possibilities for input given to musicians when applying for a licence made it fairer to musicians and less attractive to authoritarian control freaks.

The draconian measures, such as seizing instruments, which Westminster Council had wanted to bring in, were therefore not activated. Instead, Westminster appeared to many musicians to behave in a gangster-like way against performers.
Having not set up the scheme, they set up a control room next to Leicester Square in which they monitored CCTV screens, which gave continuous coverage of the whole square. Any musician who attempted to perform in the square was moved in on immediately and threatened with prosecution for highway obstruction, noise nuisance and even anti-social behaviour orders if they didn't pack up straight away. This of course is a joke, when one considers the violent drunken behaviour which Leicester Square did seem to tolerate (in addition to the occasional film premiere).

The stream of anti-busker invective which Bongo Mike and Extremely Frank witnessed when they opposed the scheme in Parliament was enough to demonstrate to anybody who was at the hearing that the licensing scheme proposal was never intended to help buskers. And the enormous amount of paperwork that Westminster presented to the committee on the actual day of the hearing was found in the course of a nine-month investigation by Bongo and Extremely to be almost totally lacking in any evidence whatsoever. The sole member of the public who was presented as evidence that a scheme was needed was a man from Kingston who had made a statement saying that he did not want to see the face of Kingston marred by buskers. The violent increased persecution of buskers by Westminster Council that took place since the non-implementation of their scheme fits in entirely with the busker-unfriendly nature of their scheme as it really was from the start.


The implementation on the tube of the Carling Beer licensing scheme for performers was shot full with contradictions and increased persecution from the very beginning. Musicians were encouraged to apply for licences by transport police officers who informed them that they would go on being nicked for busking many times a day unless they attended auditions for a licence. NO BUSKING signs remained in many locations right up close to LICENSED PITCHES.

still image from the film "Street Legends" with the permission of director ADEEL BELORF

In news broadcasts London Underground used to say that they could not allow relatively quiet acoustic performances by unlicensed buskers - because LU announcements could be drowned out by their music.
But since the scheme many of the licensed buskers have massively loud amplification, which does drown out LU announcements.

Furthermore the performers were forced to perform in front of advertisements for Carling Beer, which was an exploitation of the musicians. Logic suggests that it should have been the other way round - that the beer company should have paid the performers for advertising their beer. And yet it was to LU, not the musicians, that Carling Beer paid a massive sum of money for the scheme (there were rumours that it was as much as half a million sterling). Buskaction has been informed that the Carling buskers were stopped from speaking to the press, and this seems another infringement of the rights of performers as independent artists.

And then suddenly in January 2007 it became clear that Carling had pulled out of the scheme, which was now openly supported by Mayor Livingstone whose vindictive attitude to train performers and therefore Situation Art was well known by Buskaction.

Now the seizure of musical instruments began against unlicensed performers performing on trains. (This was an action that had been threatened against unlicensed musicians by the proposers of the Westminster licensing scheme for street performers - see previous column) One example is the case of Niall Murphy who had his guitar seized by a police officer, after being caught performing on a train, and the main evidence against him given in court by the police officer was that he didn't have a licence.

And then in a move strongly reminiscent of the pre-licensing scheme propaganda campaign against buskers (see and listen TERROR IN THE STREETS bolded paragraph), LU started broadcasting a computer announcement on their District and Victoria Line trains saying, "There are beggars and buskers operating on this train. Please do not encourage their presence by supporting them."
....once again equating busking with begging, and showing the complete failure of their scheme to end the negative stereotyping of performers on the tube, as well as in any way ending the criminalisation of busking and Situation Art.

These quick fix licensing schemes have changed absolutely nothing, both the Underground and some officers in the metropolitan police still equate busking (or Situation Art) with begging.

Also beginning during the Carling era, buskers who do not have licences have been charged with anti-social behaviour orders. ASBO'S are extremely serious. Violation of an ASBO can mean up to FIVE YEARS IMPRISONMENT. So Westminster Council and London Underground are similar in the extremity of their new persecution of buskers and situation artists.

There are numerous examples, two serious examples are Bernard Pierre and the so-called "coneman".

Bernard Pierre used to play in Green Park tube station before the licensing scheme, after the scheme started he began playing again there, and was ASBO'D for doing so, members of staff at Green Park who wrote statements on the basis of which he was convicted did not appear in court to verify their accusations.

Bernard Pierre:
picture taken from the video of "Don't Know Why"

some years later whilst busking in the street
to escape persecution on the tube,
Bernard was then prosecuted for begging
under a law from 1824.
a police officer PC Lewis of Belgravia police station charged him with begging
and used this law.
A magistrate Elizath Roscoe at Horseferry Road magistrates court
unjustly said that in her opinion unlicensed buskers were beggars,
and convicted Bernard with begging.

But aided by buskaction
Bernard then appealed his conviction to Southwark Crown Court,
and his appeal was allowed.
And then in early 2010 he launched civil proceedings
against the Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police for false imprisonment,
but subsequently had to accept settlement of his claim out of court for an undisclosed amount.
The Metropolitan Police admitted liability, in settling with Bernard; unfortunately, courts seem to be geared more towards brokering small payments of compensation,
than facilitating full and open democratic debate.

"Coneman", as he was called because of the bizarre nature of his act, playing a traffic cone as if it were a wind instrument, was likewise ASBO'D with very flimsy evidence for doing this. Yet his performances showed the same inspiration as the legendary "Spasm Band" of New Orleans from around the year 1900, who played instruments like the Stovepipe, comb and kazoo - and are considered by many experts as among the inventors of the whole genre of jazz and rock mur>sic. (See the page "ETHNIC CLEANSING OF STREET ART")

Buskaction even witnessed in October 2007 members of staff of the underground hanging around Putney Bridge Station on the platform.
Were they checking for suspicious behaviour?
Were they on the lookout for mugging teams?
Were they looking for people who might be planting bombs?
No they were hanging around spying on the platform for musicians who might perform music on the trains. A massive achievement for the rights of Londoners.

Along with the licensing scheme has gone a persecution-denial publicity offensive by London Underground, in which they now portray themselves, quite wrongly, as having fought to get busking legalized.

As already said, a licensing scheme is only one way and probably the worst way to solve the problem of the persecution of buskers.

But the bringing into the new bye-laws of the issue of "written permission" - an example of the creeping bureaucracy that has been used to control buskers - makes any kind of liberalisation, other than by means of a licensing system, impossible.
Alternatives,such as spontaneous oral permission, have now been ruled out.

One thing about Situation Art is that it's about being in the wrong place at the right time - as explaned on the Situation Art page.
So bring in a system of "designated spots" and you destroy the spontaneity of the Art form.

Those who performed on the tube system in London were the people who popularised the performance art on it. They performed with great bravery against continuing hostility from the management who instructed the staff to move them and to make announcements condemning them, and sometimes in the case of train performances, to tell passengers not to pay regardless of whether they were enjoying the performance or not.

After the scheme was brought in, some of those players who already had their own audience continued at some stations. There is simply no justifiable reason why those with an audience should then have to audition, to join a scheme for a type of performance that was solely popularised by the musicians themselves.
Chancery Lane Station is one example of this, where performers continued without a licence long after the scheme was brought in, but in the spring of 2005 they were driven off and a Carling pitch with its inevitable beer mat to stand on was placed on the station.
These hypocrisies continue minus the beer mats since Carling withdrew.

Where there were auditions there should have been CONSULTATION.

Where there was licensing there could have been the AMENDING OF LAWS AND BYE LAWS.

Instead of the growing persecution denial by LU, there should have been TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION.

The disinformation continues and is seemingly endless;
now new sponsors take over-
the free handout "The London Paper"
and "Capital Radio"............
and new sponsors may or may not arrive
as each previous one collapses.....

The licensing schemes have stolen ideas from Situation Art, and in doing so have actually further criminalised the spontaneous, itinerant, and often the most creative exponents of the Art.

Licensing musicians has an infamous history.
When the authoritarian East German regime existed,the stasi operated a system of licensing popular musicians
which it used to attempt to stifle the emergence of punk rock bands.
Every group had to be auditioned and licensed by them.

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