City's buskers face sound test: Bath has drawn up a code of practice to curb the 'continual bombardment of sound' from street musicians. Andrew Mourant reports

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The Independent Online
STEPS ARE being taken to end the cacophony that arises in Bath city centre when buskers, playing anything from drums to panpipes, strike up in unison.

Councillors have approved a code of practice devised by environmental health officials and the police to curb the excesses of street musicians and other performers.

The authorities have been inundated with complaints about the 'continual bombardment of sound' from one or two particular pitches. The code is designed to reinforce and explain by-laws on noise levels. It lays down that drums should not be used unless a 'minor part of the total actor performance' and that entertainers should stand a minimum of 50 metres apart. Any entertainer should stop performing if requested by a council official or police officer.

The original proposals would have banned entertainers from playing at any one pitch for more than an hour a day. 'But we rejected that because we felt it a bit Draconian,' said Peter Goodhart, chairman of Bath City Council environmental committtee.

Stall Street and Union Street, the heart of Bath's shopping area, are frequently brought to a standstill on Saturdays by buskers and throngs of onlookers.

Trevor Quantock, manager of W H Smith, said: 'Sometimes you have elderly or disabled people fighting to get into the shop and I find that very frustrating.

'I think possibly we have lost some custom. I don't mind a musical busker but sometimes it is just a constant din. We had a bloke playing the drums outside incessantly and it was like a form of Chinese torture.'

The code has had a lukewarm response from buskers. One member of Swamp Donkey, an acoustic country blues band that performs regularly on the streets, said: 'The only complaint we've had is when someone at Body Shop rang up because we were playing while they were having a board meeting.'

He added that buskers would have undermined the proposed ban on playing more than an hour at any one location by getting together and swapping pitches.

Recently the idea of introducing a similar system to Covent Garden, where buskers are licensed and allowed to occupy their pitch only after passing an audition, was floated by David Pratley, Bath's director of leisure and tourist services.

Howard Nowell, the city's principal environmental health officer, said the aim was not to run buskers out of town. 'We have a good atmosphere and street scene in Bath. But we have devised this code with the police because we want to reduce the time we spend dealing with complaints that arise from busking.'

(Photographs omitted)