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Harmony needed following dischord between buskers and Abbey


Imagine yourself in this situation. You’ve been living somewhere a very long time. You have an established way of life, you have lots of friends and are widely respected as a pillar of the community. Then some rowdy young people move in next door who have different attitudes to you and who make it clear that they resent you so much that they decide to start deliberately playing loud music and behaving in an anti-social manner. How should you react?

71 Buskers' morning meeting, the Abbey, 2013

In Bath this week we have seen precisely this scenario unfold, but the grumbling neighbours aren’t battling over a garden fence. The long established neighbour is Bath Abbey, whose roots in the city date back to the year 675, and the upstarts are a couple of buskers who clearly have deep-seated enmity towards the church in general and Bath Abbey in particular.

This has gone way beyond being a friendly neighbourly dispute with some parishioners suggesting that a very small number of buskers are being deliberately antagonistic and threatening towards them and rector Edward Mason finally losing his patience with the situation, expressing his sorrow and frustration in a sermon and then calling a premature end to last Sunday’s Evensong when he felt that it had been spoiled by the amplified music coming in from outside.

The result has been unseemly national headlines as both sides have pointed an accusatory finger at the other. The busker who was personally responsible, Jack Morgan, 31, and apparently from Solihull in the West Midlands, has posted a number of carefully selected videos on YouTube which carry extracts of Rev Prebendary Mason’s sermon and which show him apparently confronting buskers in the Abbey Courtyard.

In interviews he has claimed that the Abbey is bullying the buskers and wants to get rid of them, something that Rev Prebendary Mason assiduously denies. A glance at Jack Morgan’s Facebook page and at comments placed on the YouTube site suggest that his feelings towards the church and to Bath Abbey are more deeply held.

On 9 July on his Facebook page Morgan, using the name Jack Morganelo, expressed his support for a bill put forward by Lib Dem Peer Lord Clement-Jones, proposing an effective repeal of legislation that regulates busking in the London borough of Camden. Clearly he is aware that the issue has a political dimension that stretches far beyond the Abbey Courtyard.

In interviews he has described the Church as elitist and Conservative and has opined that it is out of step with what he says are “the liberal views of the people of Bath”. He has also made it clear that he regards Bath as a city with “café culture”, similar to “London or Paris” and suggested that tourists were far more interested in buskers than they were in the Abbey.

So, what he really seems to be saying is that buskers should be free to act as they wish and that Bath Abbey should have no say in this and should simply put up and shut up.

Many people in Bath, residents and visitors, will find this attitude to be incomprehensible. The Council, which has carefully chosen not to get involved as the dispute has escalated over the last couple of years, seems suddenly to have realised the depth of the issue and with damaging national headlines resulting has roused itself from its slumber and suggested it might look into banning amplified music around the Abbey.

Very many people will fail to see this in the way that the Council clearly intends, as an act of noble rescue. Sober onlookers will recognise that the inactivity of the Council has contributed much to the problem escalating in the first place. In similar places, notably the City of York, amplified music is banned outright. The abbey, residents and businesses of the city have had enough and no reasonable person can blame them.

As a person who treasures live music and who loves the city of Bath I simply say this. A skilled musician shows their real ability unplugged. If you have to resort to an amplifier you should probably stick to singing in the shower, not in the Bath.

Malcolm Cupis



  1. Mark Baines says:

    I thoroughly agree with Malcolm Cupis. It’s not as if the Abbey is anti-busking – they’ve happily co-existed with buskers for many years. It’s just when they’re too loud. This upsets us passers by too! They’re clearly using this as a way of ‘getting at’ the Church.

  2. Nigel Snookes says:

    Whats missing here is the proper working of a ‘mediating’ civic state mechanism. An important factor here is that at times of trouble or conflict this vitally important democratic ‘liberal’ arm is totaly missing during disputes. In fact everything appears to be being left to either BID Organisations which we know are essentially QANGOS with a bias to working on behalf of High Street Business interest, since they are paid for and financed by the Retail Industry ( with local authorites merely left today to perform the rather alarmingly reduced role of State ‘Executioner’ on behalf of such interests ) or just as inappropriately ( in the ‘objective’ democratic sense ) Buskers themselves, a group which I for one have seen are very vulnerable to take over by other forms of ‘destructive’, malignant self interests.

    Of course in many instances disputes can be sorted out by ‘grown-up’ parties themselves without ‘direct’ outside help. For me this is a good solution where and when it can actually work i.e. in fact it is my actual personal preferred method of conflict resolution. However time and time again, in reality, its a case of parties being brought together ‘kicking and screaming’ to the table, and its only after a long, protacted, quite immature, infantile game that issues are resolved.

    Obviously there are ‘pay-offs’ for both sides in ‘antics’ and dispute processes such as these, though it is fairly easy to see upon close analyis that these kinds of pleasure ‘pay-offs’ are pretty transient emotionally and the rewards essentially ‘neurotic’ ones.

    No better still Buskers, why not aim to avoid such conflicts altogethe,r afterall in ‘healthy’ human terms, with a touch of awareness, sensitivity, imagination and of course ‘moral’ integrity many issues are ‘seriously’ avoidable, many conflicts quite unnecessary.

    Finally, please remember, please let us as ‘Musicans’ not forget so easily that other ‘key’ aspect of artistic vision with regards Street Entertaining ( Art as Criticism is one important aspect * See Mathew Arnold ‘Culture and Anarchy’ ). Let all of us reach out, and by drawing upon all our ‘creative’ strength, strive to inject some much needed charm, beauty, romance and poetry into the environments of our otherwise ‘souless’ towns and cities.

  3. Nigel Snookes says:

    I also understand that there has been a lot of infighting amongst certain groups in Bath seeking to gain control over the cities local Busking association. Certain figures have been ousted amidst scandal eg bully story’s and other individuals have come to prominance on the scene.

    One thing that I would certainly not like to see is the ‘legitemate’ challenge and toppling of one ‘local’ busking cartel only to see it replaced by something even more hideous eg. an even larger, even more ‘monstrous’ Cartel.

    So Bath Buskers beware! Jonny Walker, Streetslive and The ASAP: Q. Benevolant ‘national’ Street Artists organisation or Buskings answer to ISIL ?


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