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.
Know your show. Buskers are generally divided into 3 categories:
Large Shows/Circle Shows/Circus Acts
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.
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
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.
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.
1. Leicester Square
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
There are two pitches for Living Statues and a Small Show pitch. A very popular pitch for musicians.
3. Trafalgar Square
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
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.
5. The 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
Run by TFL and for musicians only. The auditions are not publicly advertised but are offered to those who enquire.
7. Covent Garden
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.
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.
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!