We did an interview with the organisers of Busk in London. When they started a couple of years ago, we were interested to see whether a mayor-backed scheme in one of the largest cities on the planet could work. It’s a massively complicated system, across several boroughs with different interests – there was a lot of potential for things to go wrong.

Now, they’re still going, still growing, and have started the international Busking Day on Saturday 23rd July (tomorrow), with the corner piece being their Busk in London Festival in Trafalgar Square. Read their honest interview below.

international busking day

1. What is the mission of Busk in London?

We set up Busk in London to make London the most busker friendly city in the world. We’re not there yet, but we’re well on our way. A recent survey by Westminster University showed that 86% of tourists and 62% of residents support street performance because it enhances London’s visitor experience and status as a cultural capital. So we know that the public are backing buskers!

It has been brilliant to have great people like Johnny Walker and the Covent Garden Street Performers Association working with us to create London’s first Buskers’ Code. And we’ve tried to involve as many people from across London and around the world to make sure that Busk In London works for performers!

This year we’ve launched International Busking Day and we’re bringing back the Busk In London Festival. The aim is to celebrate street performance and send the message that #LondonIsOpen for art, culture and creativity.

International Busking Day takes place on Saturday 23 July in 100 locations across 6 continents. The Busk In London Festival takes over London’s iconic Trafalgar Square on Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 July. For more information visit www.buskinlondon.com.

2. Aside from the great street performers you see all over London, was there something that you consider the inspiration for Busk In London? Was it the arrest of The Kings Parade?

At City Hall we started supporting street performance in 2009 when we launched Gigs – the Mayor’s young buskers’ competition. Back then it was just one day on the London Underground. But in 2012 we super-sized the competition for the Olympics. That summer hundreds of young Londoners took part, performing 2,000 hours of live music all over the capital. It was awesome!

The Kings Parade were Gigs winners who became regular London buskers. In May 2014 we held a meeting of London’s 33 Boroughs to pitch the idea of making London more busker-friendly. The boroughs loved it, but as the meeting ended we got a call from The Kings Parade – they’d been arrested for busking in Leicester Square. Six hours later we were down at Paddington Green Police station getting the band out of the cells. The experience highlighted to us the problems that performers faced in London and galvanised us to turn the idea of Busk In London into reality.

3. If a street performer asked why they should trust the mayor’s office to run a busking programme, what would you tell them? In other words, how would you sell the idea of Busk in London to a suspicious busker?

The best thing to do is talk to performers who have taken part in our events or attended our performer forums. Everyone is welcome to come and meet the Busk In London Team at one of our socials or performer meets.

4. There has been a lot of strife in Westminster recently. And Camden has just taken its first two buskers to court. Do you think that Busk In London has had a real effect on the ground?

I think Busk In London has already had a massive effect on the ground. The West End is no longer the wild west end and performers tell us that they feel much safer and more confident than they did two years’ ago. It’s a huge deal for performers that both Westminster City Council and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have decided to adopt our voluntary Buskers’ Code when so many people were calling for them to ban busking or heavily regulate it.

We’ve also created a major new circuit of pitches at London’s big train stations, including Kings Cross, London Bridge (under the Shard) and Waterloo, with a really easy, rolling application process. We’ve launched International Busking Day and some of the worlds top performers are taking part in this year’s Busk In London Festival. Another group of eager young buskers are about to be unleashed on London in this year’s Gigs competition, we’ve run the first auditions for the London Underground Busking Scheme in two years and every month we’re providing more opportunities for street performers. I’d say things are on the up!

5. Has Busk In London successfully developed a community feeling among street performers?

I think a strong street performance community is essential in a City. It is only by working together that we can protect public space for performance and ensure that performers can continue to make a living. We’re lucky to have some great busking communities like Covent Garden, Southbank and the London Underground Busking Scheme, but I think there’s more we can do.

Kate, Julia, Rachel, Tim and I try to get out of City Hall as much as possible to meet with performers. And you’ll find Shaun and the Busk In London Street Team providing support and advice for performers in the West End and Kensington every week. We also run street performer socials in the pub at Trafalgar Square and we hold regular performer meetings – the next one is on Monday 8 August in the West End – I’d encourage all performers to come along.

6. If you had to name the hardest things to overcome in operating one of the world’s largest busking programs, what would it be?

We’ve sat in hundreds of meetings where the opening question is “how do you plan to regulate / ban / enforce against [delete as appropriate] busking.” I’ll be honest – my heart sinks a bit every time I hear that. But then I realise that this attitude is born out of genuine frustration at the lack of guidance and support available. I’m proud to say that we nearly always manage to end the meetings on a positive note, with people recognising the value of street performance, supporting the Buskers’ Code and recognising that problems are best resolved by getting together and discussing them.

7. What are your proudest Busk In London moments?

¼ million people every day experience live street performance in London. This makes London’s public spaces the world’s biggest stage. But the importance of street performance for London’s cultural life is often overlooked. I’m enormously proud that we are starting to change opinions about street performance. Today the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launched International Busking Day by telling the world’s media how proud he was of the capitals’ street performers and how important it is to show that London is open to the world’s artists, performers and ideas.

8. You have one minute in an elevator with the mayor of another city who’s thinking of starting their own “Busk in [CITY]”. What would you say to them?

I think Luke Jerram, the artist behind the global street pianos project ‘Play Me I’m Yours’, said it best,

“Street performance has the capacity to create a sense of place and to create positive change within a city. Where there’s performance on the streets, you’ll find a city that’s open to creative possibilities, a place that thinks and cares about citizens.”

international busking day