is a young man fighting for change in the british law, Buskers are facing criminal charges from up to £1,000 if they pick up their guitar and sing, without a license. Help his Campaign for Change and lets make this a better place to live. ‘Music is food for the soul’ and it needs to be shared…
Tell us about yourself? When did you first connect with music?
I was born in a very musical city, Liverpool, to a very musical family. My dad is a vicar and he wasn’t afraid to get his guitar out and sing at the front of church. My mother had a lovely singing voice and played some mean folk guitar so some of my earliest memories are of watching my mum and dad singing at the front of church. Then, when I was 8 years old, my parents moved to Paraguay as missionaries. It was in Paraguay, thousands of miles away from my birth town, that I first discovered the Beatles when an Argentine friend of my parents lent me ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. Life would never be the same again. 1
You have been a busker for many years now, do you find it hard to make a living and how do you cope with the night life?
Making a living as a street performer is a great pleasure and a great privilege. It’s a bit unpredictable with the vagaries of the British weather, but generally its enjoyable all year round, as long as you wear thermal long johns in the winter months. I enjoy busking at night as well as during the day time though it is a different art in the small hours. You have to be ready to sing ‘Wonderwall’ a few hundred times a night, and put up with the heckles, but it’s really fun to interact with all the different people who give life to the streets at night, and it’s a great way of honing your craft…
What has been the most inspirational thing anyone has ever said to you?
I can answer that. It was a man called Nick who spoke to be one afternoon when I was having quite a tough time of things. He sat next to me on a bench, lit up a rollie and said, ‘Joy is the yeast that ferments in the soul of man’, then he smiled.
You launched your ep ‘This is not me’ tell us about ‘Jonny the songwriter’ and how this ep came about?
I recorded my debut EP ‘This Is Not Me’
in a bedroom above Bold Street in Liverpool a couple of years ago with my friend and ace songwriter Jez Wing as producer. It was a collection of songs I had written over years of playing on the streets and it was good to capture them on a record. I released the EP in the summer of 2012 though that year was overtaken by the campaign to Keep Streets Live in Liverpool…
Liverpool-born British busker, street culture activist and emerging singer/songwriter Jonny Walker releases the first music video from his debut EP, ‘This Is Not Me’. Filmed on location in Hampstead, London. Directed by Ben Hawkins and Ruskin Kyle
For me songs are an opportunity to tell stories. I’m a great fan of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and, especially Leonard Cohen. I love the intermingling of the poetry and the melodies. I’m not a prolific song-writer. It’s a real craft and one I have great respect for. It often takes me months to finish a song and I am a bit perfectionistic about them. I have a strict inner critic but he’s getting friendlier as the years go by, which is handy because I’m gathering together a group of songs for my first ever album!
You are campaigning for ‘Musicians Rights to Perform on the Streets without facing criminal charges for it? Especially in the Borough of Camden? How will the money you have been raising on Indiegogo protect you from ‘legal costs at the High Court Challenge? Please tell us more about this and why the money being raised is crucial to the campaign and how the general public can help?
I set up the Keep Streets Live Campaign in 2012 to protect public space as a legitimate forum for informal performances of art and music and as a response to new legislation in Liverpool that required all threatened all buskers with trepass prosecutions unless they first bought £10 million public liability insurance, paid for license and agreed to a bizarre set of terms and conditions including bans on under 18s, requirements to occupy only 1.5 square metres of space and even a clause saying you had to stop performing if a council official didn’t think your performance was of sufficient quality (we called that the Simon Cowell Clause). We thought this law would stifle creativity and exclude people from using the streets for informal performance of art and music so we campaigned against it and the council withdrew the policy. Now Liverpool City Council are working alongside the buskers to establish a fair code of busking that works for everybody.
Sadly, Liverpool was not an isolated case. Councils all over the country are introducing heavy handed restrictions against people who want to play music in the streets. In Camden the Labour led council have passed a new law that makes it a criminal offence to play music on the streets, even for fun, unless you first pay for a license and a council panel decides that you are a ‘fit and proper person’ to busk. If you busk without a license you can be fined up to £1000, have your instrument confiscated and then sold to pay the fine. We are challenging this new law in the High Court by asking for a judicial review of Camden’s decision. We are crowd-sourcing money to pay for the legal challenge so we can cover our legal costs if the decision goes against us. If we win the money raised can be used to fund future campaigns. We have so far raised over £7000 with support from nearly 300 people. It’s really heartening to see public rally around this cause. if people want to help we still have 3 days to go for this round of fundraising…
You seem to be good at campaigning and are a labour member - do you think you will ever become an MP?
Campaigning is something I fell into because a way of life I love was under threat from disturbing trends in legislation at both a local and a national level, and if I wanted to continue to have the freedom to make music on the streets I was going to have to stand up for my rights. The last couple of years have been an eye-opener for me. I have had some insights into the way that political decisions are made, often without regard for the people they are going to affect. I have also seen how important it is for people of good will to get involved in the political process and to engage with decision makers.
I joined the Labour Party because of my unhappiness with the decisions being made by the coalition government and my desire to be part of any movement that is willing to constructively challenge the scapegoating of the poor and the marginalised for our economic woes. I should mention that all my campaigns for public spaces that are open to the arts have been against Labour-led Councils, so you could call me a critical member.
We live in an age of public disillusionment with politics and yet decisions are being taken every day which affect the future of our life as a nation. Are we going to blame the poor and those who come to our country in search of a better life? Or are we going to tackle deep-seated injustice in our society whilst remaining open-hearted to the world community of which we are a part? It’s up for grabs, and people who care about the kind of world in which we live need to get involved. You don’t need to become an MP to make a difference!
What is next on the music calendar for Jonny Walker?
Apart from my weekly dates with the streets of the UK, I have now got a band (the Jonny Walker Band) and we are in the process of applying to play at festivals in the coming year. I’ve been busy writing songs for my debut album and I hope to find time to record them soon. I will also be performing at a fundraising gig at Hansa’s award winning Indian vegetarian restaurant in Leed
s on March 23rd. Tickets are £27 with all the money raised going towards our campaign and a three course meal thrown along with music from yours truly, Jamie Fletcher and an incredibly gifted singer/songwriter called Becky Owen…