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Busking by-laws: what Cork City buskers think
Cork City Council has published a comprehensive set of proposals for policing busking in the city. Tripe + Drisheen caught up with some buskers to survey what they think.
New draft city by-laws regarding busking are currently undergoing consultation. Under these new by-laws, street performers would need an annual permit to perform in Cork city.
Under the proposed tiered cost system – buskers without amplification would pay €30 per year, while buskers with amplification would pay €60. Buskers passing through would pay €10 for a visitors permit and €20 if using an amp. If part of a group, all performers need to apply for the permit.
Other proposed by-laws include:
Buskers younger than 18-years-old requiring a legal guardian to be present during their performance. They can only perform between the hours of 10am and 10pm.
Buskers are only permitted to perform at within three metres of officially dedicated areas, with most already being unofficially designated busking spots, for no more than two hours. It includes setting up and packing up.
Amps would need to be kept at 75 decibels and backing tracks are banned. Any performer with a potentially dangerous act requires public liability insurance.
Street performers need to make sure their crowd does not block any streets or business entrances, at should be at least fifty metres away from another performer.
Anyone who fails to purchase a permit has to pay a €75 fixed payment, while contravenes the by-laws would have to pay a fine of €1,500.
According to busker Bubba Shakespeare, a well-known singer in Cork, there is is already part of an unofficial ‘code’ amongst buskers. Bubba usually performs at the same spot, at the corner of Oliver Plunkett Street and Marlboro Street, and keeps his public appearances to under two hours. He uses an amp which he says he keeps at a respectable volume.
“It has to be reasonable for everybody. So, it has to be reasonable for the performer, it also has to be reasonable for the people around you, and the shops. So, it can't be so loud as blasting them (out of it), but it can't be so low that you can’t enjoy it when you’re performing as well,” Bubba says.
As part of the by-laws, buskers would be permitted to perform within three metres of dedicated spaces at specific times. Buskers would be limited to two-hour perforamnces.
“We actually have an unwritten rule that we follow that you do two hours in one spot,” Bubba said. “That's what annoys me about some of the buskers that are here now, that they don't listen to that. So, it might be a good thing that it is implemented,” he said referring to the proposed by-laws.
“You can be louder in some spots, like on St. Patrick’s Street, but not others where the buildings are closer together,” Bubba says.
“I've been drowned out, even as recently as last week. There’s one girl in particular, she’s way too loud and has no self-awareness even to a point where there's people that live on that street, and she just can't even take them into consideration.”
Andy, another city-centre busker who organises gigs under the name Fuzzy Pockets, usually performs around Paul Street, another busking hot spot for buskers, even if not all the buskers there are not so hot.
He doesn’t use an amp but uses bells, distinctive for their recognisable sound. He has had issues with being drowned out by big amps.
“The last two summers I've drifted out of it when the going is really good, because there are too many buskers around and I can't get a space. If I had an amp, I would be able to go anywhere around town. But because I don't use an amp, I’m really limited to where I go,” he says.
“There are one or two buskers who've come along when I’ve been busking outside Waterstones, who go up to Daunt Square. If they were just there with their guitar and singing it wouldn't be a problem. But suddenly I'm drowned out,” he says,
“Normally I just give up, just go away, just take it on the chin, accept it, but once or twice I've gone up and said to the people and, you know, most of the time the reaction is negative, they don’t want to cooperate.”
Andy also thinks the city has become a lot noisier, and for a busker without an amp, it adds another layer to which he has to compete with to be heard.
Andy thinks that buskers need to be more respectful of businesses, and that there are certain businesses where it is inappropriate to busk outside. While he tries not to busk to closely to a shop’s entranceway, he believes other buskers may not be as conscientious as he is.
“If somebody hangs around all day and busks outside the same shop, you're going get sick of the guy, right?” he says.
“A lot of shops now are playing music either loud in the shop and out the door, or with speakers positioned outside the shops, loads of them do it,” Andy says. Both Bubba and Andy cite a specific shop on Princes Street that operates this way.
“But I would guarantee you that they're doing it to make sure people don't play music because it's driving them mad, so fair play right,” Andy says.
While he understands why the businesses do this, he thinks that there needs to be common ground between buskers and businesses. “Right now, Princes Street should be one of the nicest streets of town, and it's also historically a busking street. John Spillane, Hank Wedel, all these legends busked there when they were growing up and stuff, so there’s a heritage there.”
However, permits may discourage visiting buskers, as it adds red tape, despite only costing €10. “It's gonna get rid of the magic of a band blowing into town for the day and just hitting the street,” Andy says.
But Bubba agrees that permits may be necessary to ensure control, as long as they aren’t too expensive or difficult to attain. “As long as it’s not extortionate it’s fine. If you don't have any rules what's happening now is what will happen,” Bubba says. “It might discourage them (bad buskers), but then is discouraging people the right thing, I don't know.”
Bubba is critical of the banning of backing tracks, as they are a major factor in his performance. “I don’t even understand why you would not allow people use backing tracks?”
The way he sees it is a “guitar is just as loud as a backing track if you turn it up loud. It means that people who only just sing can’t do it unless they have someone who they play guitar with. And it is hard to find someone who is good at guitar and has the free time to busk with you, and if you can’t find someone or a space, it makes it too complicated.”
Andy is hopeful that the by-laws can bring some order to busking and improve the quality of busking around town. “Maybe there should be a couple of busking wardens, I don't know. Give me the job, I'll do it!” he says, laughing.
“Have a decibel reader, you know. Talk to the people in the surrounding businesses where buskers go, you know. They need to do a bit of research into it, you know, talk to the buskers.”
The consultation phase for the by-laws runs until the December 8 and can be viewed on the City Council’s website.