Oxford City Council has opened a consultation about the dreadful menace that is “non-compliant busking and street entertainment”. Presumably, this will mean that only council-sanctioned, compliant busking and entertainment will be – at a push – acceptable. In the meantime, there will have to be auditions…
The scene opens on a meeting room in the City Council offices. At a table sit a group of councillors and council officers.
Officer 1: (shouts) “NEXT!”
The door at the far end of the room opens and a musician peers nervously in, clutching a guitar case. He walks to the chair, puts the case down and sits.
Musician: “Hi – busking auditions?”
Councillor 1: Yes. That’s us. But before we listen to your, er, material, we need to make sure that it is properly compliant. Could you tell us what you propose to perform?
Musician: Yeah, no worries. I’m gonna sing some of the stuff I do on a Thursday night down the Bullingdon Arms.
He reaches down and starts taking out his guitar.
Officer 1: Just one moment, candidate. We’ll consider hearing you sing when we know more about your material. What songs do you believe are suitable for an Oxford audience?
Musician: Well, I do a bit of Zep. Thought I’d kick off with “Stairway to Heaven”.
The officers and councillors whisper as they confer.
Councillor 2: Ah. Have you completed an RA65?
Musician: RA65? Hang on – lemme check.
He reaches into his guitar case and pulls out a sheaf of forms.
Musician (mutters): Gender inclusiveness form…racial awareness form…climate change questionnaire…sustainability form…religious neutrality statement…
Nope. Don’t think I’ve got one of those.
Officer 3: (bristling) If you’re about to sing about “Stairway to Heaven” we’ll need to make sure there are no issues around working at heights. So it’s a risk assessment, of course.
Councillor 3: I’m not sure about this “Heaven” business either. Don’t think we can really be seen to be promoting religious themes or upsetting people of different faiths. I really don’t think that one will be suitable.
Councillor 1: (cutting him off) What else have you got?
Musician: Well, how about a bit of Thin Lizzy?
Officer 2: That could be acceptable… it certainly sounds as though it’s advocating healthy eating and weight loss.
Musician: Great! I could play “Whisky in the Jar”!
There’s a collective intake of breath around the table.
Officer 1: Oh no, no, no – that won’t be appropriate at all. If you really must, you should be promoting responsible drinking. Can’t you sing about something non-alcoholic instead?
Councillor 2: Come on, Nigel – I think you’re being a bit hasty here. It might be alright as long as the whisky stays IN the jar?
Officer 1: Well, we’d need to check the lyrics to ensure it’s properly compliant. (To the musician) Would you pass us a copy of the words, please?
The musician hands them over.
Officer 3: This won’t do at all. “I saw Captain Farrell and his money he was countin’.” – that’s obviously promoting the bribery of public officials in breach of Bribery Act of 2010. You’d need a firearms certificate for that next line – I’m assuming you don’t have one?
The musician shakes his head, baffled.
Officer 3: Suspected as much. And as for this: “Whack for my daddy-o” – that’s practically advocating domestic abuse.
Musician: (rather more subdued): How about a bit of Slade? You can’t argue with that – there’s The Slade in Oxford. Practically a local tune.
Councillor 2: That’s a fair point, candidate. What’s it called?
Musician: It’s one of their best – “Come on Feel the Noize”.
Officer 1: No.
Musician: “No”? But they’re an iconic British band!
Officer 1: Surely it’s obvious? Noise at the level where an Oxford resident can feel it would clearly be in contravention of the Noise and Statutory Nuisance Act 1993. Haven’t you got anything a little more compliant?
Musician: Oh. Right. Sorry. I could try a couple of Muse numbers – how about “Psycho“?
Officer 2: Nope. Mental Health Act 1983.
Musician: Deep Purple? You can’t mind “Burn”, surely?
Councillor 1: What? In flagrant disregard of the Climate Change Act 2008 – and Oxford’s a Smokeless Zone. Next.
Musician: ZZ Top? How about ZZ Top? Surely they’re OK?
Officer 3: Maybe… which song?
Musician: Well, one of their best has got to be “Legs”. How about that?
Officer 3: No. Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Next.
Musician: OK. You win. The only other song I’ve got I know you’ll hate. And I’m not a fan of his stuff either. I think he’s a sexist git.
Officer 1: Don’t be so hasty – we’re the judges of what’s sexist here.
The musician rummages in his case and reluctantly hands over a song. The councillors and officers huddle around. Soon there are nods of approval.
Councillor 1: Why didn’t you show us this before?
It’s just what we’re after – First line, “Everybody get up…”, encouraging moderate exercise. “If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say…maybe I’m going blind…” Good, sound, inclusive lyrics, those. “If you can’t read from the same page” – just the thing – after all, we can’t promote elitism in literacy, can we?
Yes, yes, this will do splendidly.
I’m not sure about the songwriter’s name though. “Thicke” seems a little judgemental. Maybe if you changed it to…
The councillor is cut off in mid flow by the audition room door slamming shut.
Excuse me Mark, but coming from a country that hasn’t quite sank to the depths of silliness (yet), can you please explain to me just what constitutes “unsafe busking”?
Or perhaps upon reflection a less onerous task might be appropriate upon an autumnal weekend.