Busking duo strike high note as Germans make them legit
On the 11 o'clock train heading for Erkrath, a suburb of Dusseldorf , the two London artists made history. The songs were the same as before, but the mood had changed.
The ticket collector smiled at them, and no security guard intervened. For the first time in their lives, Mike and Jeremy were legit.
As of yesterday, they are authorised by German railways to busk on trains in the Dusseldorf area outside rush hours for two weeks. According to the company's stamped letter, they are to apply their art "sparingly" and provide a detailed travel plan in advance. They also had to take out costly personal liability insurance, in case someone should trip over Mike's fold-up chair.
The procedure may seem cumbersome, but for Mike and Jeremy dealing with German bureaucracy has been a liberating experience. "This town used to be completely hit-and-run," says the man on the bongos. "I never thought we'd get a licence here."
It took their German lawyer a year to negotiate the conditions with the railway company. They had to fill in a questionnaire asking for precise details of their entertainment, and an equally precise document came back in the post, authorising the "artistic performance" on a "trial basis".
Being legal is important to Mike and Jeremy, self-proclaimed "situation artists" with a mission to liberate their trade. "If you can get it legal and licensed, then you get good artists," Mike says. "We are not begging with an instrument; we are performing art."
The distinction between busking and begging seems to be lost on city authorities all over Europe.
Apart from Skopje, the Macedonian capital - where Mike and Jeremy for some reason enjoy celebrity status - every transport policeman and security guard on the continent is out to get them.
They have lost count of how many times they have been prosecuted in Britain, but they do have fond memories of one famous case. In 1987, they turned the tables, suing the Metropolitan Police for wrongful arrest.
They won that battle, but subsequent legal challenges, reaching all the way to the Lords, have come to grief. Their last hope now rests with the European Court of Human Rights, which is due to rule on the admissibility of their case against the British government in the near future.
After the limited engagement in Dusseldorf, they will soon be back in their home town, playing their jazz on the run. "I hope that one day we'll have the same right in London as we have here," says Mike. "But I can't see it."
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