Are we Buskers? Could Morris Dancers be defined as buskers? As a side we rarely collect money. We only do it regularly at Christmas when we collect for two named charities. For this our local Council requires us to be licensed to collect on behalf of these charities and have letters from them acknowledging we are collecting in their behalf. If we were collecting for ourselves we would not require this licence. Buskers in the city (collecting for themselves) are not licensed or controlled in any way other than through an informal arrangement. So, if we’re not collecting money, just dancing for the pleasure of our audience (and ourselves presumably), do we count as buskers? The OED gives a few options. My favourite is “a keen-witted impudent person” or “one who obtains money and property from a ship by pretending to be a pirate”. As we haven’t raided any ships lately dressed as pirates, I don’t think these definitions count somehow (though there has been some impudence noted around the Mrs Wilkins practice room at times…). The relevant definition is “a person who performs music or some other entertainment in a public place for monetary donations; an itinerant entertainer or musician”. So we sort of count. We occasionally collect money, we usually dance in public places for entertainment, and some of us are more itinerant than others.
There are a lot of buskers in Bath for quite a small city – it’s profitable given the number of tourists. A growing number of them now use some sort of amplification whilst they play. Admittedly they do often play in quite noisy places, but their music just adds to the noise and is not always appreciated by all the passers by. As a Morris side we do not use amplification, although we have discussed it for some of our city-centre dance outs so the dancers can hear the music they are supposed to be dancing to. I haven’t seen many sides using amplifiers – occasional electric guitarists or solo musicians use them through necessity, but they’re usually only loud enough for their side to hear and not turned up too loud. But turning the volume up to 11 seems to be a growing habit with our city buskers. This caused a bit of a problem in September when one busker using an amplifier in Kingston Parade on a Sunday evening was so loud it interrupted Choral Evensong in the neighbouring Abbey (see Bath Chronicle for story and aftermath). There were calls for licensing of the buskers, or at least that their amplifiers required some sort of licence/permission for public use as granted by the Council. I’m not sure whether this situation has advanced any in the last couple of months, but i will be watching to see if there is any alterations in the local rules. With the Morris Federation AGM’s Day of Dance being held here, any change in the rules could affect any of our visiting sides. The odds are that there won’t be any alteration to the rules – this is local government after all (unless they can charge for the licence…).
So what brought on the Busker Question? We were involved in a project run by Low Profile. They invited various groups to propose themselves for their Picture in the Paper project. The picture would be published in the local newspaper, but it would also be part of a sequence of photos that are to be put on permanent display in the new ICIA Arts Centre at the University of Bath. I proposed Morris Dancers as one of the groups. They weren’t picked, but buskers were. Perhaps they thought that there were so many buskers in town that they would get a good group of them. Mrs Wilkins the Secretary suggested to them that we could be classed as buskers – sort of. They didn’t object, and probably just as well they didn’t. The photograph was taken on Remembrance Sunday, 9th November (not our choice), and we were the only buskers that turned up. Although we tried to persuade them to change the title of our group, they stuck with Buskers, so there we are. We are, officially, now Buskers. Regardless of whether we’re impudent, pretend pirates, itinerant or entertaining for money in public.