Busker who took on Camden Council dies suddenly aged 37
Jonny Walker led campaign against licence system for street performers
19 March, 2018 — By Richard Osley
A BUSKER who spearheaded the resistance to Camden’s controls on street performances has died suddenly at the age of 37.
Jonny Walker, who described himself as a ‘wandering minstrel’, had founded the Keep Streets Live group in response to a move by several local authorities to crack down on impromptu musical performances.
One of his most high profile battles was against Camden Council after councillors announced they would introduce a licensing system for street performers in 2013.
The cabinet councillor who was the focus of his protests paid tribute today to a “legend in his own right” and a “great advocate”.
Mr Walker died in hospital in Leeds last week. His cause of death was not given. Relatives posted links to counselling services in Yorkshire.
In Camden Town, Mr Walker had found the support of Never Mind The Buzzcocks comedian Bill Bailey and campaigning comic Mark Thomas, who staged two protests gigs outside the underground station.
The Citizen’s Kazoo Orchestra was formed as a response to the idea that expensive musical instruments could be seized from unlicensed musicians.
Mark Thomas challenges Camden councillor Abdul Hai
Cllr Abdul Hai, who introduced the policy in Camden, remembered Mr Walker fondly.
He said: “He was a legend in his own right. We may have disagreed on the policy, but he was a great advocate for buskers. He fought to the end. He was a true champion of his cause.”
The case, with the help of a fighting fund, reached the High Court but the council succeeded in implementing the new regime, which includes a ban on amplified music and a licensing fee for anybody who wants to play in Camden. Despite Camden’s fame for being a meeting point for music, the measures were described by opponents as the most draconian “in modern UK history”.
Mr Walker, originally from Liverpool, made his living from busking, and in recent times set up live feeds through Facebook so more people could see his performances and sometimes make donations.
Mr Walker, right, protesting at the Town Hall
“What are we protecting?,” he said, during his campaigns to halt the restrictions. “A spontaneous and vibrant street culture brings life to our towns and cities. It helps create urban community and a unique sense of place at a time when our high streets are all too often populated by the same chain stores and characterised by uniformity.”
A message on Mr Walker’s Facebook posted by his family said: “It is with great sorrow but immense thankfulness for a passionately lived life, that after 3 days in the Critical Care Unit at Leeds General Infirmary, Jonny died peacefully, at 11:13am on Wednesday 14th March 2018, surrounded by family.”
It added: “During the coming days, his family ask that you allow them time to grieve. Details of opportunities to celebrate and remember Jonny’s life will follow in due time.”
The controls in Camden were introduced soon after the widening of the pavement outside Camden Town Underground Station. When plans for a large tree and then a maypole were dropped, the new space proved to be a magnet for buskers. After the licensing controls were introduced, the space was largely occupied by a man in latex ‘Grandpa’ mask running a mobile disco, until he too was moved on following a run of complaints.