This page is mainly about London, but worldwide from London to Auckland New Zealand on the other side of the world, police and other officials terrorize those who want to spontaneously and interactively perform on the streets.

In London Bongo Mike and Extremely Frank were driven off the streets by the police for performing, following this they lost their home and fled the country, leaving behind many young fans of their performance in Coventry Street. They returned eight years later and began their campaign against their oppressors.


Bongo Mike and Extremely Frank play in Leicester Square with David Benn
before being driven from street-performing by police terror

In the mid-nineties they made the video of "Don't Know Why", in locations around London.
How happy people in Brixton were, the day they played outside Brixton tube station with guitar bongos and kazoo, accompanied by Victoria playing her comb - an elderly West Indian lady who lived in a hostel, and who played the comb brilliantly, as in the early days of New Orleans. But this was only a brief respite, while they were filming the video. (A shot of the three of them performing there is included in the video, shown on buskaction and youtube.)

Tragically religious salesmen with their megaphones were much more tolerated by the Met police in the streets around Brixton station,and all over London, than street musicians were. But comb-player Victoria had deeply held religious convictions herself. And blasting people with megaphones in the street does not seem to create an environment conducive to the promoting of spiritual awareness.
And looking at the Christian testament itself - Matthew 6v "do not be like the hypocrites; they love to say their prayers at street corners, for everyone to see them.....".

So does a police policy to tolerate christian fundamentalists with megaphones whilst hounding street corner musicians really reflect support for the freedom of expression of Christians in the terms of their own religion?

And the situation is further confused in that public awareness of terror by the police against street musicians is fogged by organized groups of musicians, sponsored by a variety of bureaucrats, who are frequently allowed to perform in places and at moments where independent/spontaneous performers would fear to tread - thus creating a false impression of the reality of street performing.

And the London Underground (metro) used to be determinedly hostile to the musicians themselves and other performers on their property. But any attempt by performers to change their legal status themselves and improve their standing in society was out of the question. For example, in a court case that Bongo Mike and Extremely Frank Jeremy took through all the courts in Great Britain against the Underground company to challenge the law about their performances, London Underground's lawyers argued that it would cost them ten thousand pounds sterling to licence the musicians. This they said, would be too expensive for them -( despite the fact it must have cost London Underground in excess of fifty thousand pounds sterling to fight the case!)

When, in the late 80's, Bongo Mike & Extremely Frank Jeremy took their case to challenge the law, they were trying to put an end to the harassment of their performance art, and were seeking to find a way to decriminalise busking and situation art. The lawyers could only find a way to get the case into the courts by building it around the concept of seeking a licence to perform. of course, the route of seeking a licence as a way of decriminalising busking is one imposed by lawyers rather than by art.

In early interviews they were frequently misrepresented, sometimes misquoted and in any case unclear themselves about what the desired end result should be; homeless and itinerant as they were in those days, all they knew was that they were driven by the determination to get more respect for their art form - to get public place performance seen as art rather than petty criminality. In interviews they were occasionally tricked into apparently advocating licences as "the answer".

Experience of campaigning for artistic recognition over many years taught them that discussing the bureaucratic issues before artistic recognition had been won - though good for local politicians and town planners and suchlike - was not the way forward for performers.


EXCERPT FROM LONDON EVENING STANDARD

CONTINUING PERSECUTION
Even long after the start of the Carling beer licensing scheme, London Underground was still broadcasting derogatory statements about buskers - putting them in the same category as beggars - to millions of people who use the tube.
(Listen)

Continuing public insults against performers have been a way of life for LU over many years and quick fix solutions have not solved the problem. In posters and many public announcements, London Underground in the past has told the public not to pay performers, ranging from vindictive and libellous accusations against performers, to extremely bizarre portrayals of them.

In fact on one poster displayed on Chancery Lane Station they ridiculously referred to two performers who played trumpet at the bottom of the escalator dressed in cat suits , warning the public that "there are buskers posing as cats performimg on this station". The public presumably felt less safe knowing that there were buskers not cats playing trumpet at the bottom of the escalator.

Further events in Chancery lane station are described in "After the Licensing Schemes"

On the poster reproduced below, the text insulted performers by telling the public not to feel what LU described as "intimidated" into paying buskers. This is a standard authoritarian trick. For example in Nazi Germany there was a wide-spread poster campaign telling the public not to buy from jewish shops.


on the poster shown above
LU told passengers not to pay musicians when the hat came round
they never apologised for this


in the photo shown above from nazi germany
nazis are shown telling shoppers
not to buy from jewish shops

It is simply ludicrous that at the end of such a long period of brain-washing against buskers, London Underground should - without stopping its propaganda - then say that it wishes to "license" buskers after all. But this is exactly what now happens. One doesn't need much thought to realize that they are the last people on the planet to license buskers - if indeed licensing were the first thing that needed doing to improve the situation of busking. People performed for years an organic, interactive art-form - and the organization which put out propaganda saying they were beggars and criminals, and by extension jailed and fined them, then said it wanted to "license" them. And also in some places continued its propaganda against them.

One such plan by the so-called Osprey Project Management (set up by London Underground and later the blueprint for the licensing-scheme) wanted to set up an auditioning panel, and appeared to want to ban performances in the places where performers actually played - trains (situation art), at the bottoms of escalators ...tunnel players had already been virtually stopped by the placing of barriers down the centre of walkways at stations including some of the tunnels with the best acoustics, like the one at Green Park Station, where Bongo Mike and Extremely Frank first started performing on the tube. In a most brutal form of folk-art cultural cleansing, many of those who popularised the art were to be cleaned off the tube system.

Any system of decriminalisation - or so-called "licensing" - has to start with what performers are actually doing, and work from there; otherwise, licensing is merely another word for censoring. When Bongo Mike & Extremely Frank Jeremy obtained a permission for two brief periods to perform on the Rhein-Ruhr S-Bahns in Germany in I997, the permission was structured around what the two musicians actually did. On the issue of safety - this being Germany - there were very strict controls, involving the obtaining of an unusual insurance policy to cover the musicians against any accident caused by their performance. And furthermore, they had to say two weeks in advance on which line they would be playing on any given day. Horribly bureaucratic though this approach was, it was at least based upon the actual live performance of Bongo Mike & Extremely Frank Jeremy.

Licensing systems, however, imposed by cities on performers, are a different matter entirely from an individual performer obtaining a licence as a special case. Bongo & Jeremy used to play for years in Antwerp, Belgium, on the cafe-terraces. Suddenly, one year when they turned up, a licensing system had been imposed, and they were prevented from playing by the police because they did not have licences, even though they had been very popular and had appeared in the local newspaper. Some of the best buskers are frequently travellers themselves, and in such a situation as that it is impossible for them to obtain a licence. The itinerant nature of buskers makes busking more interesting for the public,with acts coming and going all the time.

One of the things that makes the busker able to spontaneously perform a coming-and-going form of art is that he brings himself near to destitution and vagrancy. On account of this, licensing-schemes can destroy the busker's life and livelihood, destroying the distinctive qualities of the busking art.

On Feb 1st 2000, Bongo Mike & Extremely Frank Jeremy spoke in the British Parliament against a proposed new licensing-scheme for street musicians in London. The new licensing-scheme would have given power to local councils to license buskers in places like Leicester Square and give powers to the police to seize the musical instruments of those who didn't have a licence. Bongo Mike & Extremely Frank Jeremy pleaded in the parliament to the opposed bill committee not to allow the scheme through. They explained that during the period when they were playing solely on the street, a licensing system such as the one proposed would have been disastrous to them and led them to destitution. The ability to come and go from pitches like Leicester Square, even though they were undesirably criminalised for performing there, was an asset essential for them to keep. A proper decriminalisation process should be put in place first. A quick-fix licensing scheme, to make politicians look good, in fact would make matters worse for buskers.

The parliament and the opposed bill committee supported the new licensing-scheme with a few minor amendments. But those amendents in fact made it difficult for Westminster Council to use it. This is explained also in "After the licensing schemes"
Later, in July, five new labour MP's and one lib dem MP voted the new bill through, without any other MP's being involved, in a farcical travesty of democracy.
But the amendments (forced on the bill by BM and EFJ) although apparently minor gave extra rights to the musicians in any attempt to obtain these licences, and the Council did not use it anyway.

We began this page by comparing Auckland in New zealand with London. And the comparison is very interesting with regard to licensing-schemes in the streets. Because in London they sold the idea of licensing-schemes as a great day for buskers, but in Auckland draconian measures against buskers went along with the introduction of the scheme from the very beginning.