The streets are singing again - but will life ever be the same for city’s buskers?
PUBLISHED: 08:00 27 June 2020
The streets of Norwich are slowly beginning to sing again.
As shoppers gradually return to the city’s high streets, so too are buskers, street performers and musicians, who saw their audiences - and incomes - diminished by the Covid-19 closure measures.
Once again, the city centre is filled with song, as the busker community begins to wake from its lockdown-induced slumber.
However, with social distancing measures in place and many of the city’s shops forced to take up pavement space for queueing, the streets they are returning to are far from the same as the ones they serenaded all those months ago.
And with shoppers urged to keep at least a metre away from one another, some buskers are finding they need to be innovative to make their time performing worthwhile financially - though plenty say they do it for the love of music rather than the money.
One of those looking into new ways of working is 23-year-old singer and guitarist Kieran Bernstone, who has been busking for eight years, since he was a teenager.
Mr Bernstone, of Costessey, said: “Before the pandemic, on a good day I could probably earn around £80 to £90 busking and it was my main source of income. I worked another job, but busking would pay the rent and whatever I earned there would pay for the little extras.
“I’ve only been back busking for a few days but it has definitely been a lot quieter, I’ve probably only brought in around £20 to £30.
“The other big difference I’ve noticed is that people aren’t approaching me for a chat as much. I’m pleased to be back because the last months have been really bad for me, just boring, but it is different.”
With people now giving him a wider berth Mr Bernstone has been exploring other ways of collecting donations - he has started accepting cashless donations through PayPal and an app called Monzo and is looking into getting a device to allow people to make donations by tapping their cards.
Fellow singer and guitarist Chris James, 30, is also considering these options and since returning to the streets says prime spots have been slightly harder to come by. He feels buskers are at risk of being left behind as the city adapts to life after lockdown.
Mr James, who this week spoke about being asked to leave an area by a Starbucks worker, said: “I do worry that we’ve been forgotten about a little bit as a community. The thing that has really struck me most is that a lot of the spaces we used to take up are being used for queueing systems by shops.
“I do understand that this is necessary, but it doesn’t feel to me like we’ve been given much guidance about how to adapt to that.
“Not only do we have to take on social distancing, we then have to consider where we can stand without getting in the way of the queues, so it is difficult.”
Mr James added that he would welcome to opportunity to work alongside city planners to try and find a solution that would suit everybody.
He said: “I’m not totally sure what the solution is, perhaps designated spots, but I would love for maybe the city council to speak to some people in the busking community and work out a way forward for all of us.
“Three months of not being able to get out on the streets was particularly difficult for me, however, getting back out there has been really rewarding for me and I think people are really enjoying having some kind of live music back.”
However, the city council has said that organising provisions for street performers is not something it has a responsibility for - and could only urge buskers to think carefully when selecting their spots.
According to guidelines on the city council’s website, street performers are urged not to busk near cashpoints or in spots that would prevent people from going about their daily business.
It lists Gentleman’s Walk, London Street, Castle Street and St George’s Street as ideal locations, while the pedestrianisation of the Westlegate area has opened up wider space in the city that can too be utilised for performing.
A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: “We have general advice for buskers on our website (www.norwich.gov.uk/busking).
“With more shops beginning to open up and needing to use outdoor space for queuing we would encourage street performers to observe government guidelines around social distancing.
“The same also applies for people coming back into the city to work or for shopping.”
Another long-standing busker is Norwich-based guitarist Bevan Bush, who has been performing in the Norwich music scene for the best part of 20 years - and was among the first to return to the streets.
Mr Bush, 54, said: “I have been back since around the start of June as I just love playing outdoors. I have played in bands and in pubs, but for me, the streets are my very favourite stage.
“I never really make a lot of money anyway, it’s all about the love of playing guitar for me, so that side of things doesn’t really affect me.
“I do really think a lot of people are just to relieved to be able to hear music and see people playing again after all this time. I’ve just been trying to keep out of people’s way and give people more space.
“It’s the same for all of us really, but to be honest, I haven’t personally noticed much of a difference.”
Twenty-eight-year-old accordionist Nicolai Zgerea travels to the city from Wisbech to play his instrument and only returned to the streets this week.
He too said he hasn’t noticed too much of a difference in the environment, and is just relieved to be able to return
He said: “It is a little different now but I’m just really pleased to be back playing.
“It was a little harder to find somewhere as some shops had queues and what I do is not for everybody. I’m just happy to be able to play again.”
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