'Violence of noise' from buskers forces end to centuries-old musical tradition in Bath Abbey

22 September 2014, 07:26 | Updated: 22 September 2014, 17:44

A local councillor has said he will try to ban buskers from using amplifiers after noise pollution drowned out Bath Abbey's traditional choral service.

The tradition of singing the choral service of Evensong in Bath Abbey was abandoned yesterday with clergy saying they could no longer compete with the sound of buskers outside the building. Rector Edward Mason halted Evensong mid-service, asking choir and congregation to leave, saying continuing the service would be impossible with the noise from amplified instruments and voices in the square outside.   

A busker had been singing and playing guitar through an amplifier in the square before and during the Evensong service outside the Roman Baths adjacent to the Abbey. It is the first time that the noise of buskers outside has put an abrupt end to a service in the church. 

Speaking to Classic FM, Rector Edward Mason says the Abbey has tried to negotiate with both buskers and Bath Council for over two years without finding a resolution. He says the church has installed a 'traffic light' system to inform buskers when services were in progress, but this has not improved the situation. 

He claims it's a myth that buskers enliven the cityscape and he has a "deep concern for the whole of Bath". He believes the problem is for Councillors to solve and they have done nothing effective to resolve it.

The Rector says the music and ministry of the Abbey is being "threatened" by this continuous music played eight hours a day by the same buskers, playing at a high volume "day in and day out". He claims these performers have disrupted weddings and funerals as well as usual services with the volume of their music. 

Mr Mason told us he "feels like weeping for a city ruined by the clamour of music [and] weeping for an Abbey that has had a superb ministry of peace, healing and quiet for hundreds of years and which is being subject to the violence of noise." 

Local Bath musician Joel Grainger, who regularly plays outside the Abbey, told us most buskers honour the traffic light system established by the Abbey. He says it's not really enforced and buskers are usually left to self-regulate and that "sometimes buskers from out of town just turn up and might not be aware there's a system".

A spokesman for Bath and North East Somerset council said: "The council has been committed to achieving a balance where busking can continue to bring vibrancy to the city centre of Bath without impacting detrimentally on businesses, organisations and residents located close to the busking pitches. 

"The Council is in the process of contacting the Abbey after receiving a complaint yesterday afternoon and will be investigating further." 

But Lib Dem councillor David Dixon suggested that amplified busking could soon be banned. “Clearly the powers previously offered to local authorities have not been effective enough to deal with this type of nuisance. Therefore, under new powers provided by the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, we will be looking to ban all amplification within the immediate vicinity of Bath Abbey.”