Busking

I used to be a licenced busker on the London Underground. That means I was one of around 400 people allowed to perform and receive donations on the official Buskear pitches (sponsored by Capital 95.8 and thelondonpaper) at 25 or so of London’s Tube Stations.

I play ukulele and sing. My repertoire is taken from popular song from the early part of the 20th Century, but that makes it sound a lot more serious than it is :) If you want a flavour, listen to this or this

I do have a profile on buskear.com but it’s a bit bare at the moment. (To be honest, the whole site doesn’t work that well and I’ve lost too many attempts to write stuff there – also, the map thingy is often out of date)

When I remember, I put my slots on upcoming.org – so subscribing to my events there (and following me on twitter) is probably the best way of knowing when I’m going to be out and about.

Here’s what I wrote here in my first week of busking:

“When they hear I’m busking, I get some funny reactions from some people – they immediately assume it’s about the money, or that it’s a bit low and dirty. It just occurred to me that sometimes these are people who don’t have any problem with blogging, but the reactions seem to me to be the same as, say, mainstream journalists to social media.

So, thanks guys for helping me see that my busking is just the same my blogging – just because I’m busking doesn’t mean that I’m trying to get to the top of the CD charts, I’m not doing it for the money, or that I’m slumming it with the low lifes – and it’s not about whether everyone likes what I do or not, it’s for the odd glances of recognition and those people whose day is made a tiny bit better by hearing some old git singing his little heart out today – and it’s for me – I’m having a great laugh :D

That’s not to say that I’d ever say no to a few coppers in the case! And if you’re not likely to be passing in the near future, you can still toss me some spare change courtesy of Paypal.

If you want to have a go at being a busker yourself, you have to apply, pass an audition and have a police check. The details are on the Transport for London site – but be patient, it took me around 9 months to get from application to licence.

31 thoughts on “Busking”

  1. hi great to see you’re enjoying your busking, i couldn’t get audio to work though.

    i have 1 picky comment that i’d like to make if you don’t mind.

    you don’t seem to value your work very highly, you use the word donations instead of tips. This implies that they have “donated” out of the goodness of their hearts not because they valued your music, whereas tips imply that people will reward you for good service. This is the essence of busking and why i’m so passionate about it.

    You passed an audition mate you gotta be worth more than “a few coppers”

    This is all a bit of a bugbear of mine and you can take or leave it as just some one else’s opinion.

    Anyway, I’d love it if you wanted to upload something into Cyberbusking.
    It’s a video sharing site for buskers and their supporters. It’s like you tube except that you could get tipped. I’ve just opened it so there’s just me at the moment but you are very welcome.

    Anyway good luck with the busking

    Mike

  2. Lloyd

    Sorry to learn you didn’t renew your LU busking licence last March,
    hope you’re able to join the scheme again later in 2009.

    It’s most regretful to note that LU suspended the licence of a well respected busker last Friday for a period of 3 months. It seems that
    this will be the penalty handed down for displaying a CD recording
    of our own music whist busking on a licensed pitch in the London
    Underground. Very strange, given that during 2003 to 2008 licensed
    LU buskers were allowed to display their own music CD while performing.
    After all, some LU customers love to take our music home with them.

    Hang on, I thought the one of the main reasons for introducing the LU
    licensed busking scheme was due to support of the majority of travelling
    customers and I do wonder if they would support suspending a busker’s
    licence for 3 months for promoting their own music, particularly given
    unemployment is now at it’s highest level since 1992.

    Of course, we have to take our hats off and salute the mayor for the
    Rhythm of London, but how will those 10 lucky winners of a one year
    busking licence promote their music while performing in the tube ?

    Peter Murphy

    1. Hi Peter

      thanks for this, yes the booking process became unworkable for me as a part-timer when it all changed. I’ve put myself back on the waiting list and look forward to getting back to it when I can.

      I’m sorry to hear that relations between buskers and LU continue to be tense. I think it’s a shame that the management don’t seem to have learned yet that there’s more to being a busker than just turning up with your instrument and playing. Are the negotiations through the MU still going on?

  3. Lloyd

    Many thanks for your reply.

    Yes, Musicians Union are and will continue be involved in any matters
    concerning the London Underground Licensed Busking Scheme, particularly
    those issues on the terms of our contract, alleged breeches thereof,
    suspension of licences and appeals, also reviewing a situation where
    licensed musicians may have any cause for complaint on the mangagement
    of the scheme.

    LU has managed the busking scheme “in house” for the past year,
    despite calls from buskers for a meeting, requests have been denied.
    Perhaps their fears are based upon rumours of LU licensed buskers
    being agressive individuals, I can assure you that they are not.

    The case continues.

    Peter

    1. Hi Peter

      I’ve just joined the licensed busking scheme and I’m wondering when
      the next meeting of buskers will be held at London Underground ?

      I also need to find out how to cancel a pitch when there is nobody
      available at London Underground or their office is closed ?

      David

      1. David

        Welcome to the London Underground Licensed Busking Scheme.

        With regret, London Underground management have continued
        to refuse any meetings with licensed buskers since the scheme
        was brought “in-house” at LU some 28 months ago. In these rather
        unfortunate circumstances, questions were put to the Mayor at City
        Hall on 17 November 2010, consequently the first meeting of licensed buskers’ elected representatives with London Underground will be scheduled to take place during the spring of 2011.

        Concerning your question on how to cancel a pitch when there is nobody
        available at London Underground, or their office is closed. The problem here is quite clearly due to the lack of investment of London Underground
        and their failure to have any online booking system. It is quite clearly the
        case that their telephone based booking system on an 0845 number does
        generate a significant revenue for LU, a claim which the Mayor denied at
        question time on 17 November, so perhaps the follow-up for next Mayor’s
        question time will be “Please are you able to account to the licensees using this number, for the total annual revenue paid to LU and how is that
        revenue appropriated ?”

        In the meantime David, the only pitch cancellations service for LU licensed
        buskers is provided and managed by the LU licensed buskers themselves
        at: http://launch.dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/llu_buskers
        LU has continually endorsed this group for pitch cancellations since
        13 February 2009 and membership is free of charge.
        You’re quite welcome to join the group if you’re a current licence holder.

        Best wishes

        Peter

  4. Hello
    Im doing a project on busking at the moment, and i was wondering if you would no the locations of the 25 or so spots underground where people can busk, but spots i mean the underground stations.
    Maybe on a map?
    Also can people busk other places without it being illegal? like places above the underground?
    please reply back

  5. Miss Heer

    Many thanks for your email.

    Regarding the stations participating in the London Underground Licensed
    Busking Scheme, I must sympathise with those LU customers who use
    Marble Arch and Notting Hill Gate, due to local management decisions,
    there will be no live music played at these stations. Obviously the particular genre of music played by the licensed buskers at those stations
    since 2003 did not appeal to the local station management, hence the
    travelling public will hear the looped announcement on the public address
    system “There is a good service running on all London Underground lines
    apart from those with planned engineerings works”. So, the travelling
    customer is aware that the public address system does actually work,
    but the announcement gives no useful information, unless you’re already
    aware of which lines have planned engineering works. In between these
    announcements at Marble Arch and Notting Hill Gate there will be silence.
    Unless there is a gifted musician busking in the station who is unlicensed.

    There are currently 21 stations participating in the LU licensed busking
    scheme:

    Angel
    Bank
    Bond Street
    Canary Wharf
    Chancery Lane
    Charing Cross
    Embankment
    Euston
    Green Park
    Hammersmith
    Leicester Square
    Liverpool Street
    London Bridge
    Oxford Circus
    Piccadilly Circus
    South Kensington
    St Paul’s
    Tottenham Court Road
    Victoria
    Waterloo
    Westminster

    It’s necessary to hold a currently valid LU busking licensed to busk at these
    stations and if you wish to apply for an audition, call: 0845 330 9878 or
    email: busking@tube.tfl.gov.uk .

    Yes, there are some excellent spots to play on the streets in London,
    you’ll find out where these are by the process of trial and error.

    With very best wishes

    Peter

  6. Hello Pete

    Glad to hear you are still playing.
    Do you have any idea as to when they will open up audtions again? I couldnt renew my licence as I was unwell and they wouldnt hang on for another week to allow me to then do it but there you go! They said I could re-apply in Sept of this year but then as far as I know auditions did not take place?
    Any thing you know on the situation would be appreciated

    cheers, Sheralyn xx

    1. Sheralyn

      Good to hear from you and hope your work as a teacher is going well.

      There are many factors which London Underground management need
      to consider to determine when it will be necessary to open the scheme
      to new participants. Sponsorship, number of pitches available, ongoing
      engineering works, particularly at weekends on the Jubilee line which
      closes pitches at Green Park and Waterloo. Given there are currently
      approximately 240 licensed buskers of which 75% regularly perform on
      the circuit, it’s clearly the case that auditions for new participants at the
      present time would only exacerbate an already crowded scheme.

      At this time, as I understand it, there are no current plans to open the
      scheme to auditions before July 2010.

      With seasons greetings and wishing you a prosperous new year.

      Peter

      1. Thankyou for your reply Pete, I shall keep my ear to the ground but as you say there are a lot ofbuskers already. I remember talking to Pete of the BSMs a while back, and at one stage the licence numbers had hit the 800 mark.

        Wishing you a peaceful Christmas and a happy, healthy 2010

        Sheralyn xxxx

      2. Sheralyn

        Hope you’re well. I’m sure you must have applied to be auditioned this summer. Out of interest, were you actually invited to an audition ?

        Peter

  7. Hello again,

    I actually forgot to ask something quite important;

    Where the busking auditions are placed? Is the place large or small, any good for acoustics? same place everytime?

    And how many judges are there usually? sorry for the hundread and one questions…
    just need to no for my project thanks.

    also what do you think about Coco Cola sponcering now?

    many thanks

  8. Miss Heer

    Many thanks for your email.

    Although now closed to the public, the Jubilee Line concourse at Charing Cross station is still maintained by Tfl for use by film and television producers, the last busking auditions were held there in May 2008.
    The acoustics are exceptionally good as there are no trains.
    The adjudication panel would normally consist of four, being two members
    of LU staff or two employees of the scheme management company, an individual involved in the music industry (however, a political journalist was
    once a judge) and an experienced licensed busker.

    Regarding the Coca Cola sponsorship for this December, there are many
    licensees of the opinion that since there is no consultation or accountability
    of Tfl towards those providing the service to it’s customers, there is great
    scope for improving the current relationship between Tfl and it’s licensed buskers for the benefit of all those involved in the scheme.

    With seasons greetings and wishing you a prosperous new year.

    Peter

    1. Hi, sorry to disturb, but I wondered if you knew the locations of some permitted busking spots, that aren’t governed by the LU and outside of the licensed busking scheme. I’m a musician and would love to play outside in London and maybe someone might enjoy my music, but the last thing I’d want is to face remonstrations from the law, or tread on any toes of regular buskers.. You seem incredibly helpful and full of great advice, so if you could throw some my way, I’d be eternally greatful..

      Thanks,

      Nathan

      1. Hi Nathan, Peter might have better knowledge of this than me. I’m not an outside kind of a guy – at least not in London… I don’t mind busking at the seaside when it’s warm :)

      2. hi……so nathan did you find out any places where its ok to busk without getting hassle…..ive busked in bath and bristol and found it great for everyone is helpful when your polite and helpful….living in london now and im heading out tomorrow for the first time. hopefully ill get to do a full week……..great website. and very valuble info from all…..thank you….

      3. Update

        A limited number of new licences to busk London Underground will be issued in September 2010. Auditions are scheduled to take place on the
        Charing Cross former Jubilee line concourse towards the end of May and
        continuing through till late July. Given the current number of applicants in relation to new licences to be issued, it’s anticipated that competition
        may be fierce. A word of advice from a seasoned busker, play soft and
        gentle to your audience and you may go far !

        Peter

  9. I have a question …

    I see that a Busking License covers various plots at various stations … but what of the tubes themselves? And is it illegal to play if it’s not for profit? …

    1. Regarding your point on the tubes and is it illegal to play if it’s not for profit, you’ll most likely get moved along by station staff if you’re not
      licenced and not playing on a designated area.

      Peter

  10. Hi guys,
    I have one question, probably its a silly one. But do I have to pay for the licence? How do you choose which station, what time you want to play?

  11. Thanks for this blog because I am waiting to be called for audition in a few weeks time. Peter if you’re still around have you any words of help ?

  12. Rosetta

    Many thanks for your email.

    The next auditions for London Underground busking licenses is scheduled for March and those wishing to apply will need to email busking@tube.tfl.gov.uk no later than Friday 1st February 2013.

    As far as I am aware, current applications are in excess of 4,000 and no formal statement has been issued by London Underground regarding the
    basis of selection for audition. It is thought by some that preference may
    be given towards acoustic performers and those will low level amplification.

    The last auditions were held in May of 2010 and a total of 60 licenses were granted to those who passed, of which approximately 40 have since left the
    scheme.

    Wishing you all the very best of luck if you are called for an audition.

    Regards

    Peter

  13. Does Anyone know good location to busk as a large one man show or group shows in the uk? Any details would be appreciated. :)

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I'm the founder of the Tuttle Club and fascinated by organisation. I enjoy making social art and building communities, if you'd like some help from me feel free to e-mail me: Lloyd dot Davis at Gmail dot Com or call +44 (0)79191 82825

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