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Izzard: ‘These rules criminalise our buskers’

Comedian’s message to city’s politicians on street performers

04 December, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Eddie Izzard protesting. Photo: © Chas Pressmen

EDDIE Izzard has slammed new pay-to-play busking rules, warning councillors that they have “criminalised” street performance.

The comedian, actor and writer told licensing chiefs how he cut his teeth with a sword-fighting act during four formative years wowing crowds on Westminster’s streets.

The city council says it has created the new rules following hundreds of complaints about amplified sound from residents and businesses.

It will mean buskers have to pay a six-month fee and be restricted to 26 plots in central London, with just six reserved for amplified performance.

Mr Izzard said: “I can now play Hollywood Bowl, Madison Square Garden and in 45 countries around the world. That comes from my four years as a street performer. This is a very, very, tough action to bring in, at a time of Covid as well, when performers are on their knees. Why does it have to be so severe, in the capital city?” He added: “I just think you are criminalising street performing.”

Mr Izzard, who protested in Covent Garden against the changes in November, recalled how he became a leader of the Street Performers Association in 1985 at a time when he “used to do a sword-fighting act that would now be illegal under your regulations”.

The policy imposes new restrictions on “dangerous props”.

Street performer Will Ladbroke-Hutt said the move was “devastating”, adding: “A blanket ban on dangerous props means my show, in which I juggle prop meat cleavers, will be outright banned. I have never had a single noise complaint. I have performed to hundreds of thousands of people over the years. Street shows provide a valuable and reasonably priced option of entertainment at all. There are not enough pitches, it’s laughable.”

Mark Rotham, a street performer for 25 years, told councillors: “We have an awful lot to lose and you guys have incredible power here. Street performers are not drug dealers or criminals. They have huge support from the public. The way to resolve issues is not through criminalising street performing… work with us.”

Rob Roy Collins, an international busker of 21 years who started out in Covent Garden, said: “We represent thousands of high-end professionals who pass through Westminster every year, and add to the vibrancy of what it is. These measures will end this like you won’t be­lieve.”

Juggler Hazel Anderson recalled she started out with just a “ladder, suitcase, and juggling clubs” in Westminster streets where she found “immediate access” to an audience. “Now I travel internationally, I perform to audiences… across the globe”, she said.

Residents and businesses told the committee they are not opposed to artistic expression as long as it is not unreasonably amplified in public.

Simon Thomas, chief executive of the Hippodrome casino, said: “I have sympathy for buskers but we have tried everything. We don’t like harmful, excessive, performance. Everything we have tried to do to control this has failed. This excessive noise has been a continued problem in Leicester Square. It damages our lives and ability to function and work.”

Ros Morgan, chief executive of Heart of London Business Alliance, said: “We still have concerns about self-regulation. All previous attempts have failed in the West End. We remain resolute that the policy will only be successful if regulated by the council.” She said the proposals for a single pitch in Leicester Square would lead to “anarchy among performers competing for that pitch”.

David Kaner, chair of the licensing sub-committee of the Covent Garden Community Association, said: “The problem for residents is the council can’t do anything about street entertainers who do cause a problem. It has been getting worse. Battery-powered amplifiers are now widely available. The current issues are going to continue.”

Covent Garden resident Douglas McCallum said amplification “is making my home hell and my life unlivable”, adding: “I cannot hear myself think at times and sometimes the TV or radio in my own room. The nuisance is continuous and unbearable from 10am to 9pm.”

St James’s councillor Tim Mitchell said: “We had impassioned speeches from Eddie Izzard and many street performers, particularly from Covent Garden, but also we’ve heard from residents and businesses. All of us acknowledge that street performing and busking is an important part of this city but getting a balance right is important. But… sound travels.”

Marylebone councillor Karen Scarborough said she supported street entertainment, but it did “need to be managed”.

Chair Heather Acton said: “We are intending that it would be possible for performers with props that might otherwise be considered dangerous, talking of swords and axes, to still apply for a licence.”

More than 6,000 people have signed a petition against the changes.

The committee approved the new policy.


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