22 May 2008

Keep music dead

There are sometimes advantages to not having a written constitution. The absence of Freedom of Speech laws enshrined in a codified single document used to mean that busking - the art of public performance - was illegal. But in recent, supposedly enlightened times, local authorities, and in particular Transport for London, have permitted the public destruction of music in the name of local colour.

It's ironic that this should have happened in an era when we least need it. Once upon a time, when musical reproduction equipment was confined to the home, and before the ubiquitous infiltration of muzak into every commercial building, busking might have had its place to cheer people up or help people pass the time, waiting for buses and trains. Staying one step ahead of the police, our peripatetic piper could bash out a quick tune into a world of white noise.

But when every other person seems to own an iPod or MP3 player, the market for gratuitously incompetent musicianship is surely limited. There is no greater irritant, come 6pm, when, having entered the bowels of the London Underground and blocked out the trials of another hard day with music through your headphones, the reverie is shattered by the inescapable cacophony of someone playing "Apache" at top volume on a cheese wire guitar.

The word busk comes from the Spanish root word buscar, meaning "to seek" – buskers are supposedly seeking fame and fortune, though some are clearly looking harder than others. And to the man who insists on singing "Mr Tambourine Man" at Chancery Lane station every evening in the manner of a constipated chicken: please, call off the search.

No comments: