In defense of buskers!

Hello dear readers,

We have 2017 already and first post of the year is actually an open letter. Rita and I would like to say a few paragraphs in defense of buskers and street artists. What`s the story (morning glory) you may ask? Well, Worcester City Council decided to crack down on performers in the city and make their lives more difficult than it is really needed.

Our local daily Worcester News ran the new cultural policy on the front page this morning. First day after Christmas break, we were happily about to deal with our office backlog and then – bang! Who needs coffee if you have news like this.

You can read the story here

http://www.worcesternews.co.uk/news/14993207.Busking_crackdown_to_be_launched_in_Worcester_city_centre/

or enjoy the scans we did so the generations to come can face palm in sheer despair:

Worcester News front page on January 3 2017 Warning: reading may cause spasms to all music fans.

Worcester News front page on January 3 2017
Warning: reading may cause spasms to all music fans.

Worcester News on January 3 2017 - the killer cultural proposal will surely give palpitations to music lovers.

Worcester News on January 3 2017 – the killer cultural proposal will surely give palpitations to music lovers.

We have no idea why culture and arts are under constant attack in West Midlands. Sometimes, it does feel like living out New Model Army`s Small Town England.  But onto the meritum.

The letter below has been sent to Worcester News as our reply to the Council policy, but we decided to also publish it on the blog.

Read on and as Sepultura used to say: Refuse/Resist.

*********************

Dear Worcester News (and Dear Worcester City Council, if you happen to read it – but we do not raise our hopes up)

We are writing this letter in response to the proposed regulation of busking in Worcester. We would love to see said document in full to be able to read into it. Unfortunately it seems, the draft is not available online for the public to see. However points mentioned in Worcester News raise several alarms and we would like to tackle them one by one.

Poppy WS sings in from of Guildhall in Worcester High Street

Poppy WS sings in from of Guildhall in Worcester High Street

Before we do it, allow us to quote some data regarding music and creative industries in the UK, as it is essential. According to MusicWeek magazine and Measuring Music 2016 report, music added £4.1 billion to the economy in 2015. Despite problems, the industry was rising 90% in the last 4 years. GVA (gross value added) for the industry was 17%, outgrowing other branches of British economy by 11%.

British Phonographic Industry (BPI) estimates that music consumption rose 1,5% to 123 million album sales in 2016. 45 billions streams (including 1 billion streams in December 2016 alone), 3.2 million units of vinyl sold. British acts such as Coldplay, Little Mix, The 1975, Rick Astley, Calvin Harris, Jess Glynne, The Rolling Stones and Skepta dominated charts this year. All in all – this is a booming business.

But that’s just one side of 2016. Last year we have lost a generation of  musical icons (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael just to name a few) and independent artists (Viola Beach), many small venues and clubs have been closed (40% of small venues had shut doors in the last decade).

Where does that leave us? A booming business with no big stars but many smaller artists who are trying to compete on the field but have no places to perform.  Enter busking.

Unnamed tightrope walker performs in Worcester. This man tours the country from Manchester to Wales.

Unnamed tightrope walker performs in Worcester. This man tours the country from Manchester to Wales.

Playing in the streets is not a new phenomena. Every artist started out in this manner (even the biggest names), but these days people will see much more buskers than before. Kids getting experience is one explanation, lack of venues is another, access to the public is a third but not a final answer. There are many more reasons why we see an artist performing on every corner. We may like it or not, busking is growing and is becoming not only a chosen way of artistic expression but an important branch of the industry.
There is nothing wrong with regulating busking within the city. London did it and their code is fantastic and user friendly.  Tenbury Wells did it.  Even Transport for London has their own busking scene and licenses. A whole range of tools has been employed by different localities (artists are encouraged to use smaller amps to avoid high levels of noise, special spaces are designed for artists, buskers are required to have public liability cover, curfews are established to ensure that nobody plays at night) and they are working.  Whoever been to London`s Oxford Street and seen iconic TommyAndMary duo perform their punk rock set will admit that even the loudest music can be incorporated into city life with relatively no side effects. If Worcester City Council wanted to draw inspiration for their own regulation, there are many templates ready to use.

Punk Rock duo TommyAndMary perform in London`s Oxford Street in December 2015

Punk Rock duo TommyAndMary perform in London`s Oxford Street in December 2015

However we have our doubts that Worcester City Council wants to regulate busking. It seems like the only agenda behind this regulation is to  eliminate artists in general by making their street performance so hard that they will simply give it up.

Let`s have a look at some of the proposals drafted:

–    No buskers within 50 meters from each other – Worcester on a daily basis is much quieter than other cities. On average we will have two buskers performing at the same time. Even during festivals and carnivals, we can hardly see artists being that close to each other. We can honestly think of 5 spots around the city where buskers play (most common will be in front of Debenhams).  This seems to be a non issue – as we don’t see Worcester becoming Glasto of busking anytime soon.

–    No busking between 9 pm and 8 am – that seems to be fair point and we dont have arguments with keeping a night time peace at all. We had to slightly adjust this part of the blog post as the fantastic Collective 43 pointed out that during Christmas Fayre, they played late slot until 8:45 pm (we checked metadata on the pic and it corresponds). Originally, we thought it was later than that! We truly hope that some exceptions will be however made for carnivals and festivals anyway in the draft, especially in summer when days are longer and music can flow a bit more. Being on the town on Friday night can be a good testament to the fact that many pubs or clubs are much more louder past 9 pm than a person with a guitar and an amp. Also, please note that entertainment part for Christmas Lights Switch On started last year so early (before 5 pm) that most people had to miss it. Music can`t last too long  that is obvious but it cannot start too early- otherwise who will have time to come and see the event?

The Collective 43 playing live at Victorian Fayre in Worcester in December 2016

The Collective 43 playing live at Victorian Fayre in Worcester in December 2016

–    Bans on any sign inviting people to pay money – London Busking Code has this as a rule: “Busking shouldn’t be confused with begging. Buskers put a lot of effort into their act, give a performance and entertain the public”. We are not sure if Worcester City Council has our local artists for beggars or if they have been deceived on the sizes of signs that artists use. Most of them have a hand-made note with their name. Some performers,  like Bristol based Saskia Griffiths-Moore who visited Worcester in September 2016 had a small sign telling people that she was fully independent artist funded by sales of her CDs. Ban on signs is being enforced only in Worcester and seems harmful, if not perverse.  Another point is that Councillors should really peek into the bowls and hats of buskers if they have a chance. They will not see big fortunes unfortunately. This part of the draft should be dropped and forgotten. The fastest, the better.

Bristol based singer Saskia Griffiths -Moore busks in Worcester in September 2016

Bristol based singer Saskia Griffiths -Moore busks in Worcester in September 2016

–    Maximum performance of 45 minutes afterwards artist must leave the area for 2 hours – this rule has only one explanation. To limit performance of musicians as much as possible and to make Worcester even more quiet than it is. Did we forget that Worcester is a market town? By definition it should be lively, bubbly and full of sounds. Worcester is visited by artists from many cities: Birmingham (like Obi Rudo – Belgian/Congolese rapper who calls UK his home) or Bristol (Saskia or Shemakeswar or Rita Lynch) or Oxford (B-Sydes) or even Cardiff.  If an artist is traveling for few hours by train to reach us, why limit them to 45 minutes of performance? Can`t we give them at least one hour? And with so little of good busking spots, and little revenue they get – do we think it will be profitable for artists to visit Worcester? They will just skip us and make us all culturally poorer.

Belgian/Congolese rapper and grime artist - Obi Rudo performs in Worcester

Belgian/Congolese rapper and grime artist – Obi Rudo performs in Worcester

–    An agreement to stop performing  on a request by police, Council workers etc. – So not even 45 minutes is guaranteed.  Because it seems that so many people will have the power to silence artists, it won`t be even possible to play a few songs. Nothing short of censorship in our book. But who needs artists and culture anyway? We have a statue of Elgar on High Street.

–    Complaints from shop owners about the noise – We can`t speak about every shop keeper in town but there seems to be a good relationship between artists and shop/stall owners. CrownGate has a small scene in the middle of their shopping arcade where artists can perform. We have spoken to many buskers and people who listen to street music in the past year and there was only one instance of loud music being complained about (the performer was a dancer and not a musician). Can we know how many complaints about buskers were lodged with the Council in the last year? In summer Worcester welcomed a whole brass band Gugge 2000. They were ace but very loud. Our ears were ringing for two days and it was fine.

Gugge 2000 play in front Guildhall on the High Street, Worcester as a part of Summer Festival

Gugge 2000 play in front Guildhall on the High Street, Worcester as a part of Summer Festival

We love music and had a chance to see not only fantastic local artists (Amie, Stolen Chocolates, Ken Pollock, Neil Ivison, The Fidgets, Jodie Hughes) but respected artists as well (Nigel Clark of Dodgy, Rita Lynch) perform in town. Some of the artists were busking. We acquired a handful of signed CDs. Seen breathtaking art (Richard Price and his paintings, tightrope walker who played a violin). We enjoyed each and every of the performances. We spent countless hours to promote those artists online as well, to put Worcester on a music map. We don’t understand why Council is trying to discourage art and music, instead of supporting it.

Young artist Amie sings on a stage located at the CrownGate Shopping complex in Worcester

Young artist Amie sings on a stage located at the CrownGate Shopping complex in Worcester

There`s so much to be done:

–     On 23 July 2016 London celebrated International Busking Day. 36 cities across UK joined the initiative, additional 100 around the world. But not Worcester. Why not?

–    At the end of January we celebrate Independent Venue Week – seven days of concerts to raise awareness of importance of small venues where artists can play. Worcester is only represented by The Marrs Barr. Is that all we can do?

–    We have The Fidgets – one of the most unique bands on the scene as we speak.  A group that continues the tradition of pure rock mixed with acoustic harmonies. The last band that played this way was Cast and that was 90s. The Fidgets have been on BBC Introducing. They busk around and build their own  fanbase. We wonder if Worcester City Council realizes the potential and opportunities being born from supporting local artists. 1 in every 100 jobs in Liverpool was created by The Beatles. Manchester has Oasis. We are not worse in this regard, we have our own local scene bursting with talent.

Worcester most loved band -The Fidgets play during their BBC Introducing session

Worcester most loved band -The Fidgets play during their BBC Introducing session

–    We won`t mention upcoming artists like Ewan Pollock, Jodie Hughes, Poppy WS or The Jevs – huge talents in their own right, just need some investment. Why can`t we have grants or stipends for artists like them?

–    Busking is not easy. Standing with a guitar in front of the public is one of the bravest acts an artist can do. Sometimes our artists are verbally harassed. We need designed spots where buskers can feel safe and where they can perform. Not the other way around.

Street artist Richard Price inspects his paintings on High Street, Worcester

Street artist Richard Price inspects his paintings on High Street, Worcester

–    Our buskers were freezing while playing during Victorian Fayre in 2016.  Is it really that much to offer them a complimentary tea or a sandwich for entertaining crowds? We are sure it wouldn’t cost a fortune.

–    We have Worcester Music Festival but some genres of music and possible venues are not considered. Not one concert for classical music was organized. St Helen`s Church (which can be a good venue) was standing empty. We would imagine that Council would be co-ordinating or at least contributing towards such initiatives.

We hope our letter won`t be seen as too critical. We are all for regulation but let`s regulate things in a safer, friendlier and  constructive way. Music and art have been bringing huge amounts of revenues and recognition to United Kingdom for decades, but to continue we must invest in them.

Kind regards,
Malicia & Rita Dabrowicz
Vanadian Avenue

Some links to buck up claims in our letter:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-38487837
http://www.musicweek.com/talent/read/music-makes-4-1-billion-contribution-to-uk-economy-in-2015-report/065919
https://www.bpi.co.uk/home/bpi-official-uk-recorded-music-market-report-for-2016.aspx
http://buskinlondon.com/code
https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/about-tfl/culture-and-heritage/busking
http://buskinlondon.com/internationalbuskingday

All images taken by us albeit with a mobile phone. Pardon the quality.

*****************************

We will keep you posted once we hear more about this killer cultural procedure.

m/r

********* Update 04/01/2017************

Hello Dear Readers,

An update to our open letter – because we managed to gather more information.

When Worcester News broke the story yesterday, a great thing has happened. People came out and voiced their admiration for buskers and street artists. The story on Facebook had over 200 comments, many of them mentioning  our leading band in town – The Fidgets. It was fantastic to read the praises – we can only hope that there`s no doubt right now what a treasure and ray of joy The Fidgets really are.

Online comments regarding Worcester best band - The Fidgets - http://www.thefidgets.com/

Online comments regarding Worcester best band – The Fidgets – http://www.thefidgets.com/

Many people – like us – were upset because we were trying to find out the text of buskers code in Worcester and nothing was available. Not on the City Council web site or anywhere else. If one had persistence – after hours of pestering  Uncle Google, you could find these and they are not a joy to read.

The undated buskers guide that we have found, page 1

The undated buskers guide that we have found, page 1

Undated buskers guide we found, page 2

Undated buskers guide we found, page 2

It  seems to be a very old (decade old?) code of buskers used by Worcester City Council. The trouble with such finds is very simple. Undated documents  may be old, and  if they are not specific means they can be interpreted in many ways. That is why laws  or codes or T&C usually have to be very precise to be functioning.

The source link is this one

https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/51281470/to-download-busking-in-worcester-code-of-practicepdf

Having just one source is not enough. To fully understand what changes are made we still needed the new code for comparison.

So when we went to bed, we were confused just like everybody else.

Thankfully today Worcester City Council stepped up to the task and provided a blog throwing a lot of light on the situation.

You can read it here – it contains the proposed new code and as you can see it is rather user friendly and longish and detailed.  Hear that sound – it’s a collective sigh of relief coming from everyone at Vanadian Avenue.

http://www.worcester.gov.uk/news-alerts/-/blogs/voluntary-busking-code-aims-for-a-lively-city-centre

We had a chat on Twitter with the Councils and we were provided with additional links. The new updated code for buskers was initiated in November 2016 and  is being prepared with Worcester BID and Keep Streets Live! Initiative (http://keepstreetslive.com/)

Please read the links below and if you are a busker or a local musicians, please get in touch and let City Council know what you think of the proposal:

http://committee.cityofworcester.gov.uk/documents/s37564/STREET/PERFORMANCES/CODE/Nov2016.pdf

http://committee.cityofworcester.gov.uk/documents/s37563/buskers/report203.pdf

That’s all for now folks,

M/R

Art at County Hall

Dear readers,

Art at County Hall project logo

Art at County Hall project logo

Its mid-May already and in just few days Rita will have her artworks exhibited at Worcestershire County Hall, being a part of Art in County Hall project that showcases local artists  to general public at the picturesque local government building. Art in County Hall is an impressive project – bringing together unusual space and artists that make the Worcester scene a vibrant one. Rita cannot be more proud to be participating. We will make few posts about the project naturally as we want to show you the space and the exhibition itself.

We will start off with The County Hall itself as we love the building and how it works. It is an absolute gem and the surrounding grounds/public park are worth visiting as well. There will be many pictures in this post as we tried to show you the space from every angle. But if you prefer a bit of reading, you won’t be disappointed. We had a visit to the Worcestershire County Archives and they found us an article from 1990 about the building and how it was designed. Fascinating reading it is.

Plus usual links, dates, maps and directions – one happy package.

So let us begin:

County Hall

Entrance

Entrance

Heart of the campus

Heart of the campus

The home of Worcestershire County Council is one of few public buildings in this part of the UK representing brutalist architecture (think Barbican Centre in London for comparison). It was designed for short-lived Hereford and Worcester County Council and located at the semi-rural “E Edge” of the Worcestershire.

Although the building itself was completed between 1974-1978 under the careful eye of its architect – Robert Matthew of Johnson – Marshall & Partners,  the plans for the complex were ready as early as 1972.

View of the Registrar Office

View of the Registrar Office

One of two "wings" or "houses" of the building

One of two “wings” or “houses” of the building

The Hall became house for Worcestershire County when Hereford and Worcester County Council ceased to exist in 1998. Built in red and brown brick, The County Hall was opened for further expansions (which ultimately did not happen if you don’t count few annexes like boiler room) and was considered both innovative and surprisingly ecological for its era.

How brilliant the design was for late 70s – you can tell from good practice case study quoted below. We have to admit, we were impressed by the amount of work put into the concept! It is a very early model of an “intelligent building” making use of solar energy depending on the season and turning elements of the façade into blind shades.  Outworldy, genius and futuristic in the same time.  It is like architectural version of a Doctor Who episode!

 Energy_Efficiency_Hereford_Worcester_County_Hall_1990

County Hall building consists of three connected parts:

  • “Central Section” includes reception, IT help desk, public areas, meeting rooms and Riverside Café open for visitors and staff.
  • “Two wings” or “Houses” include offices, Registrar’s Office, offices of main political parties, gallery passage and the Council Chamber.
The building seen from the side

The building seen from the side

Cantena Terrace

Cantena Terrace

Shades and columns - beautiful details

Shades and columns – beautiful details

County Hall grew very quickly after its inception. Since 1977, many of the buildings owned by Council in the centre of Worcester have been vacated and the staff moved to County Hall campus. In 1985 the Record Office moved to a purpose-built building added to the site.

Today the main campus includes The Hall itself, Record Office annex, eight car parks (682 spaces for County workers and another 96 reserved spaces), boiler room, a bus stop, large public grounds/park and a lake. It is a site for over 3000 workers daily.

The Garden

The Garden

The second "house"

The second “house”

The campus boarders Worcester Woods Country Park and the grounds are home for multiple wild animals (hares, squirrels, badgers, terrapin turtles) and birds (swans, crows, robins, wild ducks, seagulls and even herons). We will not count the amount of species of flowers and trees – but thanks to its unique ecological value, the campus is often referred to as “Worcester lungs”.

Notice about wild life

Notice about wild life

The lake

The lake

The grounds are very well preserved and offer many surprising features, beyond the lake. If someone was to take a stroll around the area – they would encounter jogging paths, a big fountain (called The Flat Fountain by locals), a pond with a brick bridge,  a herb and flower garden and a huge weeping willow.

Pond and the bridge

Pond and the bridge

The solitary Weeping Willow

The solitary Weeping Willow

The Flat Fountain

The Flat Fountain

Public path

Public path

You can also find many sculptures scattered among the campus: dancers, capoeira  fighters and even a heron eating a fish.

The Dancers

The Dancers

Capoeira Fighters

Capoeira Fighters

Heron sculpture

Heron sculpture

Heron sculpture again and artificial pond with a bridge

Heron sculpture again and artificial pond with a bridge

Being an important business and public place, County Hall has an easy access from city center and from the nearest highway network (M5). You can see the directions from the attached leaflet.

County_Hall_How_to_get_there

And once you arrive on site,  you can use the following map of the campus

Map_County_Hall

If you are still not fully convinced that County Hall campus is one green and living organism, please have a look at the panoramas we had done. They may convince you that Worcestershire has one of the best landscaped sites in the United Kingdom and its County Hall deserves at least a Grade II of protection.

Panorama #1

Panorama #1

Panorama #2

Panorama #2

Panorama #3

Panorama #3

Panorama #4

Panorama #4

The Gallery at County Hall

Gallery at County Hall is formed by large circular public space outside of The Council Chamber.  The Gallery passage contains three large wall spaces each being 7 meters wide and 3 meters high.  There are also two cabinets approximately 6ft high by two feet which can exhibit 3D work.

Art in County Hall ad

Art in County Hall ad

Glass cabinet

Glass cabinet

This space is recently being used to host art exhibitions promoting local artists and showcasing works from students of a nearby University of Worcester under the Art in County Hall. We cannot offer you a virtual tour of the place but we can surely show you a 360 degrees view via images.

Entrance to Gallery Passage

Entrance to Gallery Passage

Both Rita and I believe that Art in County Hall project offers a lot of potential. Just think, County Council is Worcestershire biggest employer, with over 5000 employees. Nearly 3000 people are present daily at the site. That is a large crowd of those potentially interested in art and a good public for upcoming local artists. Moreover County Hall acts as a hub for business meetings, political parties, it is so to say – the headquarters for the councillors. By its very nature it brings together business and funding and is a place where decisions (also about art) are being made.  Art and culture are hardly invited to such places of power, they usually remain in the galleries or  museums  which are not places where political decisions are forged. It kind of marginalizes art in a way.

Passage #1

Passage #1

Passage #2

Passage #2

At the County Hall the division is broken down – art is exhibited in the very heart of the building, for everybody to see. It is hard to pass it and not notice it. And once the art is noticed, it cannot be left out of the equation.  It becomes a part of the scene – not just a fancy background. Bringing together artists, businesses and local government can only create  a positive environment – a platform where a true discussion about the role of art in today`s society can begin. Simple, yet revolutionary idea.

Passage #3

Passage #3

Passage #4

Passage #4

Passage #5

Passage #5

There is also another dimension to the project. We often look up to fancy and very expensive centres –like Microsoft campus in Seattle or Googleplex (headquarters of Google) in California, with its smart buildings, environmental friendly surroundings and secretly wish  we had something similar in close proximity. We often  forget that we have fantastical sites near us, with unique buildings and public parks like the County Hall campus. Those places can be morphed into real epicentres for the community  with just a bit of love and creativity. And that is what art does the best.

We hope you enjoyed this small tour of the County Hall. We will now proceed  to pack the artworks into the suitcases – as tomorrow is a setting up day.

We will see you soon.
Mal& Rita