Busking in London? What a minefield!

London busking is divided up into a lot of different boroughs.

Some are licensed, some aren’t. They all have different rules and they’re not always policed with regularity. This has lead to a lot of confusion about London’s busking policies and the city has been dubbed as a bit of a busking nightmare.

To an outsider it is an intimidating place to start busking and there is a fair amount of controversy about whether pitches should be licensed, debates about exclusivity/hierarchy and I’ve even heard people’s human rights being brought into question.

As an insider, I think London’s busking scene is pretty simple. I’m not saying it always makes sense but in my opinion, it works.

Lesson 1

Know your show. Buskers are generally divided into 3 categories:

Large Shows/Circle Shows/Circus Acts

circle
If you’re juggling, riding a unicycle, use a lot of space or the words ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ you’re probably this. These acts tend to collect money at the end of their show.

Musicians/Small Shows

busker
If you attract a small crowd or require sound, this is your act. These acts either collect money throughout their performance or attract a small crowd and collect at the end of their show.

Living Statues/Walk By Acts

gold lady
If you don’t make any noise, stay mostly in one place and attract punters one by one, this is you. These acts collect money throughout their time on pitch.

Lesson 2
Know your pitch. Some pitches are specifically made for certain acts and most official pitches have a verbally arranged queue and swap over between acts. For Large Shows swap over is 40 minutes and for Musicians it is generally an hour.

There are A LOT more than 8 pitches in London, but just to keep things simple, here are 4 licensed pitches and 4 open pitches in our fair city:

NB: I’m not a busking expert by any means. I’m just a busker. Everything below is true to the best of my knowledge from the “scene” but I welcome any corrections.

Unlicensed/Open Pitches

1. Leicester Square

LS

This tourist hotspot is one of the only pitches that I know of in London where “large shows” and “small shows” share the pitch. It is my understanding that the swap over time here is 40 minutes (adhering to the custom “large show” timings).
There are also some smaller pitches in the Leicester Square Gardens for musicians.

2. Piccadilly Circus

images

There are two pitches for Living Statues and a Small Show pitch. A very popular pitch for musicians.

3. Trafalgar Square

TS.jpg

The pitches are not technically in the Square, they’re up by the National Gallery. But there are pitches for all busking acts there.
Slightly inundated by floating Yodas currently but perfectly usable pitches. (If you don’t know what I mean by that just…you need to see it to believe it.)

4. Oxford Circus

OC

Dotted along Oxford Street you will find pitches for all busking acts. It is the shopping district of London so always busy and there are a fair number of pitches open.

Licensed Pitches

5. The Southbank

southbank

Spots by the London Eye, Jubilee footbridge and National Theatre are all  licensed by audition through the Southbank Centre. While the scheme is fairly oversubscribed with applications, there is a space outside the Tate Modern Art Gallery that is still open pitch.

6. The London Underground

LU

Run by TFL and for musicians only. The auditions are not publicly advertised but are offered to those who enquire.

7. Covent Garden

covent

This is one of the most iconic places for street performing, and the licensing rules are a little confusing; differing from pitch to pitch. Licensed by the borough of Westminster.

 
8. Camden

camden

London’s most controversial busking pitch. Camden only recently brought in a licensing scheme which was hotly protested but is now firmly in place and can be applied for through Camden council.

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I know it sounds complicated. But you sort of have to get out there to understand it. It’s like trying to explain to someone how to swim; you need to learn by doing.

If you want to join one of the licensing schemes then send out emails and applications and wait for your audition; but there are plenty of open pitches to play on in the meantime or instead, so don’t be intimidated by what appears to be a red-tape city.

This is the bare bones of London’s busking scene and I highly recommend you visit buskinLondon for a better understanding of the city’s busing laws as well as the specific pitch locations.

I hope this was somewhat helpful. Happy busking!

 

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11 thoughts on “London’s Best Busking Pitches

  1. Thanks for this article. A good and informative read. I would be very interested to hear your experiences of busking across London in the less central places and what success you may or may not have had. For example, near Cutty Sark, in some of the parks, Islington, Hackney etc. If, of course, you have tried in any of these locations.

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    1. Thanks Barnaby! I’ve not tried Cutty Sark, Islington or Hackney as they’re quite out of the way from where I am based. But I’d be interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve had a go? I’ve tried the parks and they very much discourage busking. The security were on me before I even started playing. I got lucky once and convinced them to let me perform for a planned wedding prosposal and from that I noticed that had I been busking it would have been fruitful but it’s definitely not worth even trying from how strict and quick the security are.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello Busker girl, great article 🙂
    I am planning on doing street performance with music, an amp and microphone.
    do i need a licence? if i want to do it in public land? my ideal location, old street, hackney, angel, oxford circus. south south kensigton.

    thank you

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    1. Hi Seb 🙂

      London is very complex because it is divided up into boroughs and every borough has its own council who make its own individual rules. Most of them have some law or another that says you cannot Busk there. As far as I know South Kensington has no buskers allowed currently. Oxford Circus you can if you’re able to find a spot and compete with the very loud buskers who play there most days. All the other locations you named you can possibly perform somewhere around there with little trouble but if you’re asked to move on be polite and accommodating to the request. I know this isn’t that helpful 🙂 busking in London is a bit of a luck of the draw situation! Good luck 🙂

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      1. Thank you, yeah i read it somewhere online about street trading, i had to cancel my show today, the guys that were suppose to help me with the posters and amps, never turned up 😦 do you have a twitter or fb, we can be friends 🙂
        i am looking for singers, i wanna send you my website but don’t want it to be displayed on the public comment

        thanks

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  3. Hello Busker girl, I am a violin player and I love your article, It is very informative and helpful. Would you tele me some information about the Busking Audition for a license at Southbank? How can I join it’s Audition? I am looking forward to your reply .Many thanks😊 Zoee.

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      1. Dear Busker girl , talk to you again, I just sent two emails to your email box about Audition for the Southbank in London. I do realy thank you for helping us, one day I hope we can meet in London. Zoee

        Like

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