RETRO: The beat on the streets

Sheffield Buskers - The Slingshots'1984
Sheffield Buskers - The Slingshots'1984
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They have a chequered history of run-ins with the law and heckling passers-by but all they want to do is bring music to the masses – and maybe collect a bit of cash along the way.

Buskers have been a fixture in Sheffield city centre for many decades – and still are today.

Some are happy to bring a smile to shoppers’ faces with daft outfits and crazy instruments and some take their trade extremely seriously with classical skill.

Plenty are just hoping to make a bob or two, yet a minority cunningly use music and the street stage to air their political grievances.

Over the years Sheffield has seen busking protests over everything from international politics to neighbourhood issues.

There are some who try to earn a living on the streets and others who give to charity, such as the jobless busking duo who staged their own 12-hour Live Aid in the Hole in the Road.

In 1983 it was branded so lucrative and competitive, buskers created their own ‘unwritten rules’ of profit sharing.

The mass unemployment of that year produced a motley influx of buskers but their new-found musical careers ran a constant risk of clashes with the law, as we reported at the time: “City council planners have abandoned attempts to introduce authorised busking areas because they found there was no way of exempting street performers from laws prohibiting nuisance and obstruction.

“Their decision leaves buskers in a precarious situation where, if police officers and local magistrates so wish, they can be judged to commit an offence at any time during their working day.

“Successful buskers who attract large crowds are in constant danger of prosecution if policemen decide they have overstepped the mark.

“Less successful songsters who perform to a moving audience have less to fear from obstruction, but if their wailing falls on unappreciative ears in neighbouring shops and offices they can be nicked for causing a nuisance.”

That isn’t as bad as back Roman times though.

In 451BC a law was passed making the singing of libellous songs punishable by death!