Jonny’s family has set up a GoFundMe. If the below moves you, or if you knew him, please click the below and donate:

https://www.gofundme.com/in-memory-of-jonny-walker

 


 

Quick note: this post is about Jonny Walker. But, a huge amount of respect needs to go to Chester, Dave and Nicola, who fought alongside Jonny all this time.

Also, I’m not normally a sentimental person. So, I don’t know how the following will read. It’s just some memories I want to keep. For an obituary, you can read this.

 

Jonny Walker in Camden

I first met Jonny Walker in 2012 at a “Permits and Prejudice” talk at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The panel was full of experts, but Jonny stood out – I was impressed by how easily he’d mix philosophy, rights, logic and specific policies when talking. Also his passion and lucidity.

A week later he sent a short email (I was to find out this was unusual for him – his emails often spanned many hundreds of words) with his customary positivity: “I look forward to the possibility of working alongside those with an interest in safeguarding street culture”.

I responded with some suggestions, which Jonny promptly disagreed with. That’s how he was – if there was something wrong with what you were saying, no matter your intent, he’d let you know. Jonny was a pure reasoner, a man of ethics, he was a mover of people, inspired and inspiring. And, sometimes, blunt.

Two weeks after we’d first met he sent another email, saying he had now decided that:

As the summer’s events in Liverpool have developed it has become clear to me that ASAP! has a valuable and obvious roll as a campaigning organisation for the right of our shared public spaces to belong to everybody, and the rights of street artists and performers to not be trampled upon by burdensome regulations.

We also have a clear mission to protect and look out for street performers and other people who are often on the margins of society, to inform them as to their rights, and to link them up with various other bodies (Mental Health charities, music workshops, drug and alcohol services) to help build supportive and informed networks across the country…

We look forward to keeping in touch with you in the weeks and months ahead so we can talk about our shared values and mission, and work together in those areas where we overlap.

I was in love.

We got busy promoting ASAP! and, later, Keep Streets Live. By October 2012 we were sending out an email to our members congratulating Jonny for successfully pressuring Liverpool Council to “formally scrap their law restricting buskers”. A month later he’d launched streetslive.org, with a forum for each of the UK’s 12 regions (later folded into a myriad of Facebook groups).

For several months we chatted by email. What Jonny didn’t know is that at the time I was struggling to keep going. I was living in my brother’s attic, I had no team, no money, no functioning website, no direction. I just knew I wanted to help people like Jonny to succeed, to be a sort-of enabler. The fact that he seemed to be down with this idea spurred me on.

In March 2013, he took on York council, announcing it in an email full of beautiful imagery and cutting analysis:

York is known worldwide for its street performers. Last year the council held a ‘Buskival’ during which the streets were alive with the music and dancing of its buskers as the nation celebrated the Queen’s Jubilee. York’s vibrant street scene is one of the reasons they are considering a bid to become a Capital of Culture in 2017.

But the council’s current policies towards its buskers are placing its famous street culture into jeopardy. Long waiting lists followed by auditions in front of civic Simon Cowells are preventing spontaneous grassroots expressions of art and culture. One University lecturer in music tried in vain to get a permit to go carol singing for 6 months and met only with red tape and protestations that ‘York was full’. Musicians are charged £40 per day to make their music available on CDs, more then market traders pay for a prime pitch.

As a musician and street performer who has played in York for the last ten years, I am deeply concerned by the unnecessary burden that the council is imposing on its musicians, artists and buskers, so I’ve started this petition

Civic Simon Cowells! – has there ever been a more eloquent busking activist than Jonathan Walker?

A couple of weeks later, already with thousands of signatures on his petitions, he was emailing again, asking for people to join in a “spontaneous celebration of grassroots culture”, a call he’d use many times in the coming years. Even my mum forwarded me that email!

By May, Jonny was having a meeting with York bureaucrats, and by September he was fighting councillors in Camden, in my home city of London. I got to meet him again, this time to film him for a campaign video he was doing. I finally got to see him perform in all his glory, and it was beautiful.

In October, Jonny was in court, giving his deputation against the policy in Camden. I HIGHLY recommend watching it. You can see him in full force, with a scathing review of Camden’s scant evidence for needing a new policy.

 

 

And then again, a couple of weeks later:

Just amazing. Look again at that final section, he was ever the lyricist, even in court deputations:

Buskers act as civic lighthouses. We give directions. We break up fights. We call the police when we spot trouble. We talk to the lonely. We create moments of enjoyment between strangers, and contribute to the social and cultural enrichment of shared urban spaces. We are an integral part of the ecology of the street. We care deeply about the wellbeing of the places where we perform.

It wasn’t just his performance inside the court that was impressive, he also managed to get Billy Bragg, Bill Bailey, (personal hero) Mark Thomas AND Jon Gomm to come down and protest on behalf of buskers in Camden, setting up – and this has brought me joy more times than I can count – “The Citizen’s Kazoo Orchestra”! Again, a little piece of Jonny Walker gold.

Many of you will know that our protests fell on deaf ears in Camden, and Jonny and the legal firm Leigh Day, a leading human rights firm acting on behalf of KSL, mounted a historic legal challenge. Both KSL’s initial and High Court challenges failed. But, it was a privilege to see Jonny do his thing, and I’m proud to be able to say I was there in support. I will treasure this photo:

In March 2014 I was lucky enough to get more of a personal look into Jonny’s life, hanging out with him, and his wife and their beautiful child at their home. I was there for a fundraiser Jonny had organised in Hansas, a vegetarian Indian restaurant in Leeds. Again, I was impressed at the number of people he’d managed to bring to the fundraiser, the goodwill demonstrated, his ability to talk.

In April 2014, we got some pretty incredible news (for better or worse). Thanks to the legislative shambles in Camden, Boris Johnson and the City of London were coming out in defence of buskers with a #backbusking campaign. They’d be trying to unify London’s boroughs against licensing, remove the red tape, and hopefully open up new pitches. The email notice released by the Greater London Authority specifically mentioned Jonny, and you can sort-of hear a note of fear around what might happen if they came up against him:

Jonny Walker, Busking Activist, has been working with the Musicians Union to create a code of conduct for busking in Liverpool and York.  Liverpool were radically against busking and almost implemented a strict regime not dissimilar to Camden’s, including buskers requiring £10 million of public liability insurance, a mandatory  £20 registration fee and requiring proof that buskers were able to work in the UK.  Liverpool dropped these requirements in 2012. York also dropped proposed restrictions after a campaign and now provides a set of guidelines for buskers.

With this announcement, London would become the largest city on the planet to attempt a city-wide pro-busking campaign. At the launch event, Jonny interviewed Johnson, who said that “Buskers are the equivalent of yeast in the digestive system for whatever it is that makes culture wonderful.” He’s an oaf, but he does have a way with words.

 

You can listen to Jonny interviewing Johnson here, just before the Mayor ran off. I want you to remember, when listening to this; this is the Mayor of one of the largest and wealthiest cities on the planet talking to a busker advocate. When does that happen?

 

 

In May we were treated to one of those life-imitating-satire moments that seem so commonplace nowadays – The Kings Parade, dubbed “Boris’s Best Buskers”, were arrested for busking, on the same day that the mayor’s office, the 32 London Boroughs, Keep Streets Live and the Musicians Union were meeting in City Hall.

The Kings Parade had breached (like all buskers do) section 54 of the 1839 Metropolitan Police Act, a 174 year old piece of legislation that also prohibits kite-flying, sleigh riding and doorbell ringing, along with busking. The result was a ton of major newspapers got interested – the Guardian, Independent and so on. It seemed everywhere you looked, buskers were gaining support.

In August, Jonny had completed a “busking guide” for Liverpool, and moved the fight onto Birmingham, who was considering its own new policy. With him, The Busking Project submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Metropolitan Police, who’d excused their arrest of The Kings Parade by saying “unlicensed busking is a driver of crime”. Needless to say, their response to our FOI request showed they had no evidence of this.

In October, Tim Clement Jones, a good friend of Jonny’s and a member of the House of Lords, tabled an amendment to the Deregulation bill that would omit busking from the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839, and take out sections of the London Local Authorities Act 2000. How many other buskers could have gotten an actual Lord to try to change a 174-year-old law on behalf of busker rights? (Lord Clement Jones’ efforts were rejected thanks to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, and the Government).

KSL would end up fighting councils in Camden, Liverpool, York, Kensington and Chelsea, Bournemouth, Doncaster, Havering, Newcastle, Romford, Exeter, Gravesham, Swindon, Cheshire West and Chester City, Oxford, Birmingham, Bath… The Keep Streets Live Campaign had become a powerhouse that would have a positive influence on buskers’ lives all over the world!

Mr Jonny Walker, Busker Activist extraordinaire, was even called to talk to the Secretary of State for culture in São Paulo! And who knows how many councils decided against even considering busking legislation, to avoid coming up against KSL. They really were quite incredible, akin to “Buskers Advocates” in the USA.

Personally, I was jealous. Which is terrible of me, but I was. I also have a hunch that deep down Jonny was suspicious of what I and The Busking Project – now rebranded as “busk.co” – was trying to get out of all of this. He was evermore successful, we were evermore looking like a tech start up. At least, that’s how I felt.

Anyway, in March 2016 we submitted another Freedom of Information request that ended up showing how pointless Camden’s busking license was. At any other time, this would have been big news for him, but by then, Jonny was campaigning hard against Brexit, arguing with his many followers about how much of a shambles it would be. The people he argued against had the St George flag as a profile photo, who worried about “Britishness” and “how this country’s changing”… people who would never agree with him.

Talking of facebook, I suggest those of you who know him pop over to his wall to read the outpourings of grief, goodwill and nostalgia there. He has touched the hearts of thousands of people.

And further down, his own posts there are full of humour, sentimentality and music. His most recent post is 40 photos of him with his two kids in a forest – “Joseph and Avalon – The two greatest accomplishments I will ever play a part in having created”.

There is so much to be thankful for, to be happy for, reading his wall. The day he met the Secretary of State for culture in São Paulo to talk about busking. The day he posted a photo of his family, writing “Being a dad is the greatest privilege in the universe. I will never tire of it.” The day he posted a Vice article about living in a police state, which leads with a story about him getting harassed in Romford. The day he made tea for the cops during the London riots. His incredible, heartwarming (and viral) video with Bernard Davey. His duo with Alfie Sheard. His numerous Facebook Live videos, where you will always be able to watch him perform.

This is the first time I’m truly happy that Facebook’s privacy policy allows them to display your content for eternity.

Many of you will remember him as a good Christian man. Others will remember him as a loving husband, father, son, brother and friend. Others will remember him as a talented, dedicated and hardworking musician – one of the hardest! And many others will know him as the man who directly (and indirectly) stood up for the rights of gum chewers, of pigeon feeders, of public eaters, of loiterers, of young people, of homeless people and, of course, of buskers in a country increasingly attempting to legislate against them all.

 

I will remember him as a guy I looked up to, to such an extent that he made me doubt myself. I’m a more careful person because of him. I’ve avoided many mistakes because of him. Hopefully, he’ll continue to do that for me for years to come. And if I ever get too doubtful, I’ll re-read some words of kindness he sent me in his own special way, words that kept me (and therefore The Busking Project) going.

I recommend all of you going to Facebook, going to his wall, reading the messages of condolence and continuing to scroll. For as long as you can.

Jonny Walker, you will be missed.