Don't let London become a no go area for buskers, warns Mayor
Mayor urges young musicians to sign up for Gigs busking competition and launches #BackBusking campaign to support capital's street musicians
Reams of red tape and a myriad of confusing rules could force talented buskers off London's streets, the Mayor Boris Johnson has warned as he launched a new campaign to nurture the capital's street musicians.
As this year's Gigs busking competition gets underway, the Mayor is calling on musicians and music lovers to sign up to #Backbusking and is setting up a taskforce involving the music industry and key agencies, with the aim of developing a pan-London approach to make London the most busker friendly city in the world.
In public spaces like Covent Garden and on the Tube, buskers have become a much loved feature of London life, but a myriad of confusing rules mean musicians are often unsure about where they can perform. Some parts of the capital now operate mandatory licensing charges and can impose potentially large fines, making it financially prohibitive for many musicians.
Busking is an opportunity for new and emerging artists to hone their skills and gain experience, but the Mayor is concerned talented musicians could be put off, even giving up on London altogether. Such an exodus would threaten the capital's status as one of the world's greatest cities for music.
The Mayor wants the new busking taskforce to consider a Five Point Plan, looking at the following:
1. One busking plan for London: Can we create a one stop shop so it’s really clear and easy for musicians to busk in London?
2. Red tape: can we simplify the rules and regulations across London to make it easier for buskers?
3. Legitimise busking: can we all agree busking is a good thing and make sure genuine buskers outside designated schemes don't get moved on?
4. A London code for busking: can we create an accepted code that local authorities, private landowners, police, and musicians agree?
5. Celebrate our great busking talent. Busking is too often seen as a form of panhandling or begging and musical talent is overlooked, how can we turn this around?
One idea being considered is the development of a website and an app, creating a 'digital shop front' for musicians to exchange news and obtain a range of information, including available busking pitches around the capital and whether popular locations require booking.
The Mayor is determined that London maintains its international reputation as the home of live music. London 2012 showed there is an appetite for outdoor arts and live performance and the Mayor's Gigs busking competition has become London's biggest free music festival. Music tourists contribute almost £600m to London's economy each year and evidence shows live music and performance not only enhance the experience of public spaces for shoppers, visitors and commuters, they help to increase footfall and the amount of time people will stay in an area.
The Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: 'There is no doubt that live music on our streets adds to the city's vibrancy, but I fear some parts of the capital could become no-go areas for buskers. Rather than shackling our musicians with unnecessary bureaucracy, we should treasure the spontaneity they bring to our high streets and town centres. I want to work with the boroughs, businesses, the music industry and other organisations to cut through red tape and support the talented musicians that are part of the magic of our city. Come on, let's form a band and make this work - BackBusking now!'
The Mayor is already supporting busking in the capital, including the London Underground busking scheme and Gigs, his annual competition, which is now underway and involves hundreds of young musicians performing to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the summer at high profile locations, including at St Paul's Cathedral, Westfield London W12, as well as major rail and Tube stations.
The Mayor wants to build on the popularity of these and other schemes that welcome buskers. He has written to the boroughs, businesses, private landowners, as well as musicians and music industry representatives to take part in a high-level roundtable in May.
The Mayor made today's announcement at St Pancras International, where he was joined by London band The King's Parade and rising pop star and committed busker Luke Friend and other musicians to officially launch this year's Gigs busking competition. The King's Parade were heading to busk in Paris after winning the Eurostar prize in last year's competition.
Musician Luke Friend, who has been building a fanbase since appearing on X Factor, commented: 'It's always important to find ways of expressing yourself and busking for some people is the main way of doing this. No-one should be afraid to show their talent.'
London musicians and singers aged 11-25 are now being urged to sign up to take part in this year's Gigs busking competition. Organised by the Mayor, shortlisted acts will take part in live performances at Gigs busking pitches this summer. The best acts - as chosen by expert industry judges and the Gigs public vote – will go head-to-head at the Gigs Grand Final at Westfield Stratford City on Sunday 7 September. Young Londoners wanting to take part can sign-up at www.gigsbigbusk.com.
Notes to editors
TWEET YOUR SUPPORT - #Backbusking
Already signed up to the #Backbusking campaign:
Musician Jamie Cullum: 'Music is part of what gives London its buzz and that includes street musicians. It's a shame if some of them are being put off by rules and regulations and I urge everyone to get behind this important campaign. Whether you play or just like listening to music - #Backbusking!'
Musician Hugh Cornwell, one of the founders of The Stranglers, commented: 'What a great idea. More and more venues are closing their doors to live music, so anything that raises the profile of busking rather than debasing it has got to be a plus. Let's see the new talent out on the streets.'
Gareth Powell, London Underground's Director of Strategy and Service Development: 'The success of London Underground's busking scheme shows that customers welcome the part that buskers have to play in London, and that it can be made possible with some very simple steps. The contribution that buskers make to travel on the Underground is just one part of a rich cultural experience which makes London such a fantastic city to live and work in.'
Tony Moore, Musical Director of leading Clapham venue The Bedford: 'London is one of the most important musical capitals in the world and our heritage and tradition of street performance and busking is world renowned. Not only does it bring colour and originality to our city but it is an essential part of the development of new artists. It gives musicians a chance to develop their craft, earn a living and contribute to the rich culture of our society. We should be encouraging, incentivising and rewarding Buskers not demonising, demoralising and obstructing them.'
John Smith, General Sectary Musicians' Union: 'Live music enhances the atmosphere in our towns and cities and adds to the quality of life of our citizens. Busking is an integral part of the live music scene and should be supported wherever possible.'
Barney Addison, Director of Talent, SYCO Entertainment: 'Finding great new talent is the life blood of the music industry. In a digital, multi-channel world, there are many ways for musicians to showcase their talents but live performance remains a crucial factor for the artist in terms of their musical development. In addition it gives direct exposure to a record buying, gig attending audience. Any initiative that keeps the live music scene alive, well and booming is to be championed.'
David Stopps, Managing Director of FML International Artist Management, who has managed and promoted some of the world's biggest bands: 'Some artists start off by playing on the street which can be an excellent way of perfecting the art of playing live. It also gives very direct contact with an audience and the artist will be able to see what causes a member of the public to stop and listen as opposed to just walking by. Feedback is immediate. If people like it they donate if they don’t like it they don't donate. It also should give an artist confidence in their ability to perform.'
Jonny Walker, Founding Director of Keep Streets Live Campaign: 'By working together buskers and local government can help to bring life and colour into our shared city spaces. Drawing upon our experience of helping to develop busking policies alongside the Musician's Union in places like Liverpool, we look forward to playing our part in making sure the #BackBusking campaign is a success.'
Simon Darlow, multi-million record selling songwriter and Chairman of BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors): 'For performers and songwriters alike, developing their craft in front of a live audience is crucial. London is known the world over for the quality of its original music. Many artists and songwriters get their break here. Music on London’s streets is inextricable linked to making the capital one of the greatest musical cities in the world and we must look to support and promote the talent that is under our noses #Backbusking!'
Lohan Presencer, CEO Ministry of Sound: 'Buskers are part of the fabric of London, loved and enjoyed by visitors and residents alike. They represent the free spirit and artistic verve that has made London a global capital of music. They should be left alone to perform free of bureaucratic red tape.”
The King's Parade: 'It was a great experience being part of Gigs Big Busk last year and we were thrilled to receive the Eurostar award as a part of it. We've been busking for around two years in London now and we've discovered that a lot of boroughs around London are trying to shut down busking without any regulation or Cause. Places such as Camden, Trafalgar Square and Southbank are made famous by some of the street performers that take the stage there and it's sad to see that this cultural part of London is slowly disappearing. When the Mayor of London introduced gigs it was hard to believe that such a brilliant idea was being introduced and backed by Boris Johnson despite many boroughs still forcing performers to leave the streets. Gigs has allowed us to perform on stages at the 02 arena, at various busking spots around central London and most of all has always supported our freedom to perform our original music around London's iconic places. Busking is part of our freedom to express ourselves through music and the Mayor's plan to make London the busking capital of the world and keep our streets alive should be an inspiration to all cities.
Notes to editors
• The Mayor's Gigs busking competition has become London's biggest free music festival and is the largest youth music competition in the UK. It is a key part of the Mayor's Music Education strategy, which aims to strengthen and promote music education for young people, as well as supporting London's creative industries.
• Each summer Gigs transforms the capital's busiest, most iconic public spaces into a stage for talented Londoners. Last year, Gigs had 1,800 applications (up 300 per cent on 2012) and presented 1,100 hours of live music to 1.5million people.
• This year's competition is open now to Londoners aged 11-25, who can sign-up at www.gigsbigbusk.com.
• There are three categories: Youth, for performers aged 11 – 15 on 9 August 2014; Soloists & Duos for performers aged 16 – 25 on 9 August 2014; Groups, for 2 – 20 members, aged 11 – 25 on 9 August 2014.
• This year's shortlisted acts will take part in live performances at Gigs busking pitches at iconic London locations, including at St Paul's Cathedral, Westfield London W12, as well as major rail and Tube stations.
• The best acts - as chosen by expert industry judges and the Gigs public vote – will go head-to-head in the Gigs Grand Final at Westfield Stratford City on Sunday 7 September.
• Winners will have the chance to win a coveted year's London Underground busking licence; an all-expenses paid gig at the Matala Beach Festival in Crete June 2015; recording sessions at a top professional studio; a performance training package from The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance; coaching from chart-topping songwriters; a Gibson guitar and other music equipment, exciting performance opportunities and specialist industry advice to help them towards a career in music; plus the opportunity to busk in Paris thanks to Eurostar; the inaugural Gigs 2014 Songwriting Award sponsored by PRS.
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