While out and about in the city centre it’s hard not to be amazed by the sheer variety of street performance on display: tight-rope walking violinists, pan pipers, jazz bands, drum circles, a guy playing a weird violin/trumpet hybrid – Glasgow has it all. This includes a growing consortium of buskers who use loud and sophisticated sound systems, perhaps partly to ensure they aren’t drowned out by the heavy competition.
Since I admittedly operate within a West End bubble I’ve never been particularly bothered by the noisiness of these amp using buskers. They are an intriguing novelty during shopping excursions that carry me on my journey from fawning over £40 crop tops in Topshop, down to Urban Outfitters (purely because I’m hipster trash and like to touch velvety things) and then across to New Look to buy the exact same top I saw in Topshop for less than a tenner. Having amateur musicians pitch up outside your workplace with a huge PA system on a daily basis means however, that a friend of mine who works on Sauchiehall Street has a more qualified (and much dimmer) perspective
“The ones with accordions can stay. Sometimes the saxophone one can stay. But the young white people with acoustic guitars, keyboards, and tambourines can fuck off to hell and seriously burn. To think that you are so talented, so worthy of money and attention that everyone, not even on one street, but around corners, around blocks, should have to hear you is narcissistic as fuck. It is so arrogant to take up a public area, fire up a concert-grade amplifier and assault everyone in a block radius with their shitty, shitty wailing. If I hear one more acoustic-guitar-playing white teenaged fuckwit on the street playing Ed Sheeran I swear to God I’ll fucking push them in front of a taxi.”
To each their own I guess. The argument that the prevalence of loud speakers means busking is becoming invasive and a public nuisance is understandable and Glasgow City Council guidelines do state that, “amplified music must not be at a level that interferes with the ability of office and shop workers to conduct their business.” So why then are increasing numbers of buskers using them?
Some buskers perform purely because they enjoy singing and this gives them the opportunity to earn a bit of extra pocket money while doing it, but for many using amplifiers while busking is a crucial means of gaining the exposure that not everyone can acquire through TV talent contests or by being the boyfriend of Instagram’s premier lip kit connoisseur and realiser of things. For some, loud speakers become focal points around which small groups of fangirls awkwardly gather, and on top of which signs advertising their Facebook page and other contact details are fixed.
As well as guaranteeing increased attention for buskers these amplifiers are great for everyone else if they mean that when trailing up and down Buchanan Street you’re all the while able to enjoy a free gig from a fantastic band, but let’s spit the hard truths – what if they are indisputably shite? They don’t even have to be indisputably shite; what if they’re just blasting a particular style of music that isn’t to many people’s taste, in a location where people have no explicit desire to hear music of any kind? Is that fair and acceptable behaviour? I would answer: no – loud speaker systems and public areas do not mix.
To be clear, it is not busking that is the problem – busking is a wonderful part of Glasgow’s legendary music scene and adds heaps of character, vibrancy, and culture to a retail chain mile of rampant consumerism. It makes up an integral part of the city centre’s atmosphere, but one which people should be able to tune in or out of freely. Rather than offering passers by the opportunity to form an audience if they so wish, amps force them into becoming an audience whether they want to be or not. Busking is thus transformed into an unavoidable irritation which makes an area unwelcoming, and as such its reputation is denigrated to that of a public nuisance.
Bath & North East Somerset Council toyed with the idea of banning buskers from using amps following sustained complaints about noise levels, especially around the city’s abbey. Last month it decided upon the solution of banning individual buskers deemed to be guilty of excessive noise pollution rather than enforcing the sweeping ban of busking on the city’s streets which some disgruntled protesters had urged for. If the situation here worsens perhaps Glasgow City Council would consider pursuing similar measures, but in the meantime let’s all just hope that a harmonious chord can be struck sooner rather than later.