Smile, Or Else! Oxford to Fine Unsmiling Buskers


It’s said when you smile, the whole world smiles with you. Lovely, true — but what if you’re actually ordered to smile?

This is the kind of situation the buskers of Oxford, UK have been faced with within the past few days. Councilors have brought in a Public Space Protection Order that is focused on quashing dangerous, anti-social behavior — which also includes a penalty on street performers caught not smiling at passing audiences.

The fine? Anywhere from a hundred pounds per incident up to a staggering one thousand pounds, a figure could send buskers’ jaws dropping to the floor.

Buskers are required by law to secure a license to perform — which is free. However, The recent law developments aren’t sitting well with most of them, and quite naturally, they’e taken to protesting this with deliberate non-compliance.

If there was ever a time to get serious about performance, it’s now.

This busker gets serious with making music out of PVC pipes and flip-flops.
This busker gets serious with making music out of PVC pipes and flip-flops.

On top of that, the Oxford council’s code of conduct also tells buskers they’re not allowed to perform for more than an hour in one place, and to not show up anywhere else for the next two. They’re also not allowed to lie or wrap themselves up in a blanket or sleeping bag, as that would give them the impression of being homeless. Oh, and no loud instruments, like bagpipes.

“There’s no need for this nonsense. It creates an atmosphere of fear and control,” says Jonny Walker, a professional busker. He runs the Keep Streets Live campaign, which protects the rights of street performers like him across the country. He is currently running a signature petition against the PSPO, and has collected 5,000 signatures todate.

He adds, “In most sensible places, everyone understands that as a busker you don’t annoy people, you find a patch to play and you aren’t too loud…. At a time when public resources are really scarce, you want to use them [the laws] on issues of public safety, not people playing songs on their guitars.”

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