On my way to band practice last night, I came out of Camden Town tube station to find a group of men and women dancing about, singing songs and tooting on kazoos. They were, they told the assembled crowd, the Citizens’ Kazoo Orchestra, and they were there to protest against Camden Council’s decision to ban unlicensed busking in the borough.
The resolution, passed on 11 November, says that anyone caught playing music in public without a licence – whether or not they’re doing so for money – will be fined £1000. The council may also confiscate – and then sell – their instruments. ‘Just let ’em confiscate our kazoos,’ said Jonny Walker of the Association of Street Artists and Performers. ‘Just let ’em. I put my principles aside yesterday and bought 64 kazoos on Amazon for two hundred and fifty quid. That’s not going to get them very far.’
Under the new legislation, anyone who wants to busk will have to pay £19 for a 12-month licence and wait twenty days while their application is processed. Anyone found not ‘fit and proper’ will have their application denied. Anyone wishing to challenge the denial will have to appeal to a magistrates’ court. Camden, perhaps London’s most musical borough, home to dozens of recording studios, live music venues, clubs and record shops, will become the capital’s most restrictive borough for busking. The legislation is supposedly a response to an increase in the number of complaints about noise from residents, though it will also provide the Labour-led council, which has to cut spending this year by £83 million, with a (modest) new income stream.
I signed the ASAP’s petition on the spot. As I walked off up the street, the CKO launched into a version of that buskers’ standard, John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’: ‘Imagine all the people,’ they sang, ‘tooting on kazoos…’ I whistled along, then shut up in case the council tried to confiscate my lips.