Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A Bright Spark in the World of Woodworking Magazine Editors.

Life takes many twists and turns when circumstances suddenly force change. I have worked with many editors of Woodworking magazines but none comes to mind so much as Nick Gibbs who eventually got to publish his own woodworking magazines.

Sadly Nick suffered a brain injury in 2014 having been knocked off his bike and this changed his life dramatically. I knew Nick as far back as the 1980's when he was the youngest editor of The Woodworker, Britain's top woodworking magazine. Unusually bright, Eton educated but very much a man of the people, he was very good at thinking outside the box and I joined him in the early 90's when he set up Good Woodworking magazine at Future Publishing in Bath. I was an associate editor and wrote many articles for him and tested tools and there was a sense of fun in the editorial office.

Nick was promoted to senior management at Future and then took the bold move to set up his own publishing company (Freshwood) and he launched British Woodworking and another magazine called Living Woods. Again he asked me to write for him and I know he enjoyed pushing the boundaries and involving me in mildly controversial articles such as questioning the Holy Grail of the Dovetail used by cabinetmakers.

After Nick's brain injury and long period in a coma he lost his job, his career which I believe was his passion. Many of us who have gone through brain traumas to a degree understand that even the smallest brain malfunction and that sudden loss of faculties taken for granted can cause major life changes. The brain is so finely wired, we still know little about it although we can fly rockets to Mars. 

Nick was an exceptionally bright spark in the world of magazine editorial and a key figure at Britain's fastest growing publisher - Future Publishing in Bath. Good woodworking was Future Publishing's flagship magazine in the 1990's, groundbreaking in its highly visual format and jargon busting text boxes, de-mystifying woodworking to mortal men and women.

The last time I heard of Nick was that he was sitting outside Bath Abbey carving wooden spoons with a penknife, curiously as outside that same Abbey I would busk on my guitar but not on that day.

I understand Nick has an active blog and quite philosophical in some of his postings about his life after being an editor for so long. I wish him well 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Depriving Youngsters of Practical Experience

I passed out of Shoreditch College, the leading UK Handicraft Teacher training college in 1966 - with a Distinction in Advanced Woodwork. I went on to teach in numerous schools and leading colleges including Bristol Polytechnic where I trained CDT teachers and more recently (2009) I was invited to become an inspector for The British Accreditation Council (for Independent Higher Education) based on my vast and varied experience in Education. I didn't apply for the job but was invited and to this day don't know who put my name forward.

Added to that I have run YTS courses where the Government of the day sponsored young people to work alongside me serving as a valuable stepping stone in their career path. I have also run successful private courses and taken on young people for informal but intensive work experience programmes and in particular from Finland. 

It disturbs me that whereas I was almost priviliged to have by chance an exceptional and inspiring school woodwork teacher who set me on a path I would walk again today if I was 17, the opportunity for most young people to engage in practical education today is diminishing

This is little short of scandalous because the skills go way beyond that of training someone to become a carpenter or plumber. These are enabling, transferrable problem-solving life skills and I have documented them fully elsewhere (eg RSA Comment:Practical Arts in Education and Society.

A 6 minute video showing work experience opportunities offered by me 
in woodworking,  CNC, vehicle restoration and video production. 

The opportunity is not just diminishing because the focus on secondary education is away from engineering, manufacturing, making - in fact for jobs we don't know will exist in this rapidly changing technological age, but there is almost a deliberate and systemmatic block under the name of 'political correctness' that is shooting us in the foot. 

Not long ago schools claimed it was too expensive to maintain workshops and lacked the imagination that quality materials can be found in skips for young people to create things with. That kills two birds with one stone as it addresses the serious issue of the throw away society.

Health and Safety became another block and devoid of flexibility and common sense risk assessment in a case-by-case scenario and whereas the term 'apprenticeship' has been banded about by politicians when it suits them, in reality offering an apprenticeship today is full of expensive deterrents and now we have a situation where only the well-off can afford a craft training post secondary school. 

A fellow furniture maker friend of mine and prominent in the field, today told me his experience of once considering offering an apprenticeship. Despite his large efficient workshop he was told his machines were not far enough apart and when he said the youngster wouldn't be using his machines but would start off loading timbers from outside he was told that the youngster would have to be issued with sun cream.

Silly me I forgot that today we have a generation of over-protective parents and some of them in Education who insist (if it isn't already law) that to play conkers you must wear safety glasses and a helmet.  

Not that long ago local schools were keen to send their sixth formers to me for short periods of work experience. One young lady assisted me making a documentary film about the late Alan Peters, the foremost British furniture craftsman of the late 20th Century and she later gained a job as a researcher with the BBC. 

'The Makers Maker 47 minute documentary part sponsored by the ex chairman of The London Stock Exchange (a client of Alan Peters) and The Worshipful Company of Furniture makers. 

Recently I tried engaging with schools but they never answer emails or are in tea break when you try to phone a key person.

So I made a really serious mistake of using a group email list for a sports activity I engage in every week as a means to request if any of the guys (some of whom have sixth form age children at local schools) could forward the above video link to the key person in that school or just put that person in touch with me. It used to be called networking.  

I was immediately and rather publicly reprimanded, courteously of course with 'I don’t think we should be using this email group for anything other than sport info'. Of course I should have emailed them directly but who knows they might object and say I haven't invited you to use my email address privately! 

A subsequent email exchange with this person he told me he had close contacts in local education and it would be an 'abuse of his position' (data protection)  and advising me the proper way is to use social media!!!  Oh no, please don't start using the word abuse! How the world has changed. 

He then told me email was not the best way to discuss this but he could answer all my questions in person. And yet he chose to tick me off in a public email!

The saddening thing is when someone says they have 'the answers to all my questions' yet hasn't bothered to watch the video to begin to understand what the real question actually is - why are young people being deprived of the kind of practical experience that I can offer and that my video demonstrates is beneficial to their work prospects? !!  

My own generation, largely enjoying their leisure time must surely be aware these valuable skills will be lost. Maybe they don't care but I have always been committed to education and passing on the skills I was advantaged to learn. Who knows what jobs or skill demands there will be post-Brexit in a decade from now?  

When I taught my highly successful Intensive Design and Make in Wood courses in my small studio to adults a few years ago,  several of my students commented that actually what I was teaching were life skills, but clearly I have demonstrated inappropriate contemporary 'life skills' recently with my sports group email faux pas by failing to realise there is a very different outlook amongst the current dominant generation who are comfortable with political correctness and are quick to say -

'I don’t think we should be using this email group for anything other than sport info'. Yet, if I were to suggest 'Well I don't think we should be using a referendum to over-turn a vote that we lost'  I would be laughed out of the pub! 

But the reality and irony is that in politics often things get done in the corridors of power rather than in the committee rooms where strict agendas are kept to!

In looking for a young person to assist me for a few hours a week in return for imparting my varied skills, In recent years I have placed a free advert in Gumtree and get lots of response, including from older people, but this facility has been stopped and I am not an employer offering a job.

Schools and colleges inundated by emails don't bother to answer them so it seemed a commonsense approach to ask guys I play sport with one a week to do me a favour and link me to a key person at the school their kids were attending to send my video to. 

Aside from political correctness and the rules of a particular gang of guys, can we think for a moment from the perspective of many youngsters who are being deprived of the opportunity for engaging in creative practical work and which could lead on to following a rewarding career later on.

As it stands many of the state furniture making courses have been closed down and the vacuum filled by elite and very expensive schools. 

Is this a society of equal opportunity? 


Monday, 20 August 2018

Innovation is like a snowplough

Innovation is like a snow plough clearing a track with much resistance in a traditionally bound furniture market but once that track is cleared it is easier for others to follow.  

Exhibitions for designer makers have always been a rare and unique opportunity to innovate - to say something new about a chair or a cabinet.

Historically I would always sell from furniture exhibitions and was fortunate to have my work recognized by the Crafts Council from 1980 to my last major group show in 2002 (at the Charles Rennie Macintosh Centerary exhibition at The Hill House in Scotland. There some of my work was chosen for its subtelty or surprise - a cabinet that had no handles but relied on a degree of mystery.

Being under the wing of The Crafts Council, despite criticisms that it was elitist, was my only patronage - I was able to focus on what I do for over two and a half decades which is invent, create objects that are original and say something new.  As one of 26 furniture makers we were selected for redefining the boundaries of our craft amongst thousands of articulate craftspeople in the UK who at that time were more 'conservation craft' focused. 

But it wasn't an easy ride for me. During the 1970's there were no outlets; I was told by a local gallery to come back when I was famous and even hawked my rocking chair on the London Underground to turn up uninvited at the offices of Habitat in Neal Street. 'You don't have and appointment with the MD' the girl said but I replied 'he has to come out to the toilet some time today' and he did and he smiled as he saw me sitting on it and he gave me half an hours of his time. Much though he liked it he said my rocking chair was too upmarket for Habitat and I continued on my search for a sympathetic outlet, having put them in a local Persian carpet shop to show off their carpets in the window! 

Early examples of my High backed rocker were made from knotty pine, crudely dowelled. I just had an idea, a few hand tools, no machines, a tiny converted cattleshed workshop costing £3 per week in rent and I could not get a £50 loan from the bank. The chair went on to sell in its hundreds all over the world over several decades, well mostly in the UK from a tiny shopwindow on the busy London Road outside Bath that I called The Bath Carpenter. Deliberately anonymous because I felt good design should sell on its own merits and not on a name from an exclusive gallery. 

But from the 90's onwards people no longer bought on whim as they would spotting the chair from the traffic jams on the busy London road where my tiny shopwindow was. The climate changed radically. One local lady I chatted up in a tea shop brought her husband round to see a table I had made from timbers given to me by Kew Gardens from The Great Storm. He was mostly looking out of the window and she seemed cautious although she had always said she loved the table. So I offered to let them live with it for a week.

I had made two versions of the table and she was interested in the longer 5 foot long one. After a week she called me to say they would buy the table - for a few hundred pounds, well under a thousand, and she said what decided her was her next door neighbour liking it and then her father, a carpenter, liking it . It seemed the days of making spontaneous decisions were over revealing a lack of confidence and education then why should someone be knowledgeable to value  like something? 

But even the lack of education about common timbers by - say television experts who invited me to take my drinks cabinet onto the Four Rooms show and didn't know I had used maple or that it was not a particularly rare wood! 

Most large companies have an R & D department alongside marketing and branding. My finished pieces were virtually second prototypes such as my Caterpillar Rocking chair - the first prototype was made of chipboard painted red and black, the second prototype had to pay the rent that week and was the finished thing. Four were made.

 Recently I gave chair number four a facelift by finishing in it a stone lacquer.

The original chair appeared in Design magazine under the name of a 16 year old lad on a Work Experience scheme who passed it off as his design. He had made it from plans that had appeared in The Woodworker magazine in 1984.

To create a new chair today and market it successfully, finding a platform upon which to launch it would cost upwards of ten grand not to mention the cost of prototyping and then - who is going to buy it and importantly how do you price it?  You can go too cheap when you step outside the status quo market!

Caterpillar Rocker Mk 2 - Copyright Jeremy Broun 2018. Made of Brazilian Pine plywood with rubber lined feet. 

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Writers are a nuisance to publishers

The wise and famous author Fay Weldon once said 'writers are always a great nuisance to publishers'. 

I guess my name will enjoy a little re-vamped exposure this year as my book is released in September 2018 and sold via Amazon (I won't earn a penny). When I say 'my book' what I mean is 'my book' yet 'not my book'. It could have easily appeared with somebody else's name on the cover and if things had gone to the publisher's plan I would not have been consulted at all over the re-vamping of my original 1993 publication! 

Astonishing, unbelievable but quite normal today where  legality precedes ethics! 

As a Member of The Society of Authors here is my letter to the editor (to be published in the 'The Author' journal:

'Dear editor

In the last issue of The Author, 'Fair shares - a call to publishers' prompted me to write on the subject of moral rights. I was astonished to learn almost by chance a book I wrote in 1993 was being re-vamped this year by an art director, without the publisher consulting me. The book – an  encyclopedia  of woodworking techniques – is highly technical; just one change of a decimal point or a word can change the meaning of a sentence. An example is that wood veneer was re-typed as 6mm thick when it is paper thin (0.6mm)!

The initial contract was so poor my only legal right was to withdraw my name from any future edition that might damage my reputation. I did not want do this – who would want another author's name to go on their book and is that morally right? Negotiating from a zero-strength position by offering to put in several months work voluntarily, I managed to achieve not just a say but the final say in how the content and technical imagery is to be up-dated but this is an unsatisfactory situation. Not receiving a royalty or compensation for my recent work is one thing but it should be a fundamental right for authors to own copyright of title and content. Moral rights, as the intellectual property specialists say, should be inalienable.

Jeremy Broun'

A lot of people will naturally assume that an award-winning book* published in five languages and selling over 25 years would pay off the author's mortgage but I was unable to negotiate any sort of copyright ownership for at least the title or receipt of royalties for the original book, just a modest lump sum on publication in 1993.  a few crumbs from the loaf. 

With this re-vamped book the most I managed to negotiate was a pitious £100 fee for several weeks work chasing up image contributors in the Themes section to write captions. That was my 'foot in the door' by offering what the art editor couldn't do - write concisely about technicalities in a craft that probably has more techniques, tools and materials attached to it than any other craft. So through my opening 'chess game' move I got to see how the entire book in its 'spreads' form -  the draft page layouts and not only was I able over a period of months to slowly slowly catchy monkey make necessary detailed technical changes to the body content but the major prize for me was to re-shape the photographic gallery section of the book and ensure the very best examples of modern work were included. That meant replacing some of the already chosen images, a tricky task. 

It was a recipe for disaster for a highly technical book not to have its author engaged from the start.  One example is almost the very first image of a dustmask in the spreads looked like a laboratory assistant emerging out of Porton Down, and this was around the time of the Salisbury incident! Home or professional woodworkers do not in the main wear helmets akin to building site workers. Another example was in copying the text manually from the original book a decimal point was moved with reference to thickness of wood veneer resulting in veneer 6mm thick. A book that might have my name on the cover. 

However,  I have to say the art editor, despite her obvious lack of technical knowledge made an absolutely superb job of the design and presentation and we worked together on the phone sometimes late into the night making tons of adjustments. 

So the work I put in over several months I offered to do for free. That was a vital chess move in this game because I had originally been told there was no budget and actually it was a narrow window of opportunity that my book was to be re-vamped at all.  The publishing world today is like the bespoke furniture making world - a crowded marketplace. 

However like any girl I'm entitled to change my mind and after all the hard work I had put in and the senior editor acknowledging I had made a very significant difference to the book - I naturally asked for more than £100. It was reluctantly doubled and I persisted over the next few months and finally got £500.

Talking of girls there were hardly any examples of female furniture makers when I saw the spreads. Ironically the two key editors were females. There has been a revolution in furniture making in the UK since 1993 with several hugely talented females emerging.  

I believe the Themes, (Gallery) section is a tour-de-force, a unique showcase of
the very best work going on in the UK (with a few historical examples from Scandinavia and the USA). The publisher, the global leader in visual books had chosen the art editor well and from a personal point of view in this chess game I won the end game which was to have final say in the technical content and the choice of images in the gallery section. Job done!

My gratitude to two furniture makers who offered me moral support and some technical back up - my friend Andrew Lawton and Christine Meyer-Eaglestone. Not being a 'veneer man' myself I learned about engineered veneer and I was put in touch with people she felt should be included in the book as masters (or mistresses) of their technique. 

Receiving three complimentary copies recently, it was a bittersweet experience, considering the past few months I was anxious that my name might not be on 'my' book and that any of my changes would actually be accepted right up to the very end. The last message I had with the art editor was that she had submitted the spreads for approval by the bosses.      

*The original edition published in 1993 won the UK Booksellers 'Top 200 Titles' Award from 63,000 books published that year. 

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

An Innovative Guitar For 2018

This is the Jez Broun Ecoustic Guitar.

To some the word 'ecoustic' might imply an environmentally correct guitar but actually it is my abbreviation of the term electro-acoustic'.

This is guitar no 21 (since 1962) and is the most innovative so far. It has been designed and built for my own use and the essence of it is the sophisticated pickup system that links to a guitar synthesiser.

The Graphtech Ghost Midi Guitar Pickup System is an amazing piece of electronics hardware that allows a nylon strung guitar to link to a synthesiser such as the Rolan GR-55 to create a variety of guitar sounds as well as other instruments such as cello, electric piano, saxophone and flute. 

The guitar uses 400 year old black walnut for the detachable back . 

The top is made of first grade Balkan spruce with very close grain 
and the bridge made from 250 year old elm.

The main profile is constructed from Brazilian pine plywood stack laminated.

The fingerboard is ebony inlaid with acrylic markers

 The head is faced with Balkan spruce and the machine heads 
I bought in 1967 and have been saving for a special guitar. 
They include bone and mother of pearl.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Excellence Without Elitism

Had I chosen to write a book on traditional guitar making I could have done it quite quickly but fewer people would have had the skill or money to make the guitar. To write a book that de-mystifies the craft of the luthier, that challenges the traditions, uses low cost materials, low cost every day tools and uses improvised jigs to produce a worthy instrument that is easy to build - is far more difficult and involves a lot of time and planning.

My thanks first for the patience of those early adopters who pre-ordered 'Acoustic Guitar Easy Build, some over a year ago. Realistically there is a good six month's solid work in the project and when you view the final item you will understand why. My 'pledge' has been to complete by the end of 2017 (and that is with juggling several other projects). In the few weeks remaining there might just be enough time to eat and sleep. 

So where did the passion for guitars and guitar making start?

Having had the good fortune of being taught woodwork by a brilliant teacher at a school that I was sent away to (a rescue package to my errant youth), the moment of change was when at the age of 17 I was given the keys to the school workshop one weekend and on the Sunday afternoon I emerged somewhat punch drunk with an acoustic guitar, having worked continuously through the Friday and Saturday nights. 

Aware of my good educational fortune and having since spent a considerable portion of my life teaching at all levels of ability and in institutions ranging from comprehensive schools, private schools and colleges and having pursued a former 'career' as an innovative furniture maker, I feel I have never been far away from my core belief in excellence without elitism. Sadly I stepped back from the furniture making scene around 2002 because it has became increasingly focused on catering for the rich.

At 17 I had considered making guitars for a living but feared I would soon get bored because in those days the methodology was rigidly traditional. So I folowed in my woodwork teacher's footsteps and trained at the UK's foremost Handicraft Teacher Training institution - Shoreditch College (where I gained a distinction on the Advanced wood course). 

Teaching allowed me holiday time to make guitars but I also taught basic guitar making in a London Secondary Modern school to sixth formers including girls. Those were innovative days. Leaving teaching to set up my own furniture workshop in 1973 I have focused on innovative ideas in wood.

The Zigzag Table made from strips of elm, designed 
and made  in 1979 - a unique centre joint.

A jumbo folk guitar using braided strings
(somewhere between a nylon and steel strung guitar) 
made and sold in 1979 for £200.

Over the years I have made about 20 guitars and many of those for sale and in latter years I have escaped the isolation of being a craftsman and started performing with guitars I have made or have modified.

I have been invited to write several books over the years, the most notable being The Incredible Router and The Encyclopedia of Woodworking Techniques, both of which won awards. So, Education is at the core of my lifelong pursuit.

Now is time to launch what has been work in progress for several years - a publication embracing today's technology (a video-integrated ebook) that enables a guitar player who maybe has never done woodwork, to realize the dream of building this/her own guitar. 

As I am on borrowed time and taking a rest from the intensive video filming and editing for a moment I will simply add some random still images here of the project so far as a taster for you the reader to please spread the word about my unique radical publication.

1.5mm modelmaking birch plywood is used for the back and ribs

A small bandsaw costing around £100 - absolutely invaluable.

just two low cost G clamps used for the entire build

A low cost plunging router with two or three cutters

The top block is made up of the same standard section 
softwood used for the stickers, linings and some of the jigs!

A hotmelt gluegun with sticks for under £10

Routing a perfectly straight edge using the steel rule
as a guide saves hours and skill of hand planing

Using a band saw to 'kiss' the edge of 
the wood to make a tighter fit

Using the same standard section of softwood and the springiness of wood these low cost clamps are used to attach the struts to the back and top.

Hours of time and skill saved by the simple easy to make
design of the top block that joints into the neck

The core learning material is highly detailed videos.
To date 12 videos have been completed
relating to the guitar back and sides. 

Not just a highly detailed guitar making manual 
but a solid grounding for creative 
resourceful woodworking 

Please share!


Friday, 30 October 2015

The Jeremy Broun Compact Toolbox

       I've got a little behind with the blog thing and partly because I have been very busy re-designing my website and separating out my furniture design activities from my woodworking publications as they are obviously aimed at two different markets. The latter now sit on an online store using a Wix website and it is called Woodomain. That is where I sell my books, DVDs, E-books and my more recent online video documentaries.  

       What spurred me to update my blog was the uplifting experience and renewal of 'faith in human nature' feeling that a design for a toolbox I gave for free on my YouTube channel I made just one request in return - that I was credited as the person behind the design concept. Not only have a few variations of my design appeared on the internet but their creators have mostly acknowledged me as requested and in an age of open source file sharing and 'everything is free on YouTube' it is an appreciated courtesy. 

The JKB Compact Toolbox

        I say this because back in 1984 I gave permission for readers of The Woodworker magazine to make my Caterpillar Rocking Chair. A year or so later my original design appeared in Design magazine under the name of a sixteen year old woodworker who claimed it was his design! In today's complex world to protect an original idea or get a manufacturer to produce it is expensive and stressful and leads to sleepless nights. There are times in life when you surrender to the universe and simply give something and amazingly the universe rewards you.

The Caterpillar Rocking Chair Copyright Jeremy Broun 1984

      Well actually a surprising reward is in seeing how a few woodworkers have interpreted my toolbox design and in some ways improved it. I have picked out a few here and put names to them as best I can:

This one is by a woodworker called Alan Price who contacted me and sent some photos of his version as well as posting it on YouTube. A nice detail is the comb or finger joint along the edge.

This version was sent to me and I have mislaid the source but again it is a net variation with a multitude of uses.

A YouTube video by Dave Wirth using the JKB Compact Tooolbox idea

  Not everybody has acknowledged the toolbox is my design so a gentle reminder request was sent to Dave Wirth who has created this chipboard version!

I intend to produce an E-manual giving dimensions and constructional details of this toolbox for those who would like to build the original version.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

The freedom to busk in Bath

    The very same buskers who try to gag a fellow busker from talking to the broadcast media, claim their human right to freedom of expression on the streets! Busking is on the political agenda!

    What is fascinating listening to John Cleese reminiscing with Eric Idle (2015) is that the bizarre Terry Gilliam animations glued together the totally detached and meaningless Monty Python sketches into one brilliant seamless storyline. Ironically the Room (or was it ministry)for silly walks and the one for Arguments depicts the way our county councils and indeed many other organizations tend to work - disconnected thinking and a failure (or refusal) to deal with the bigger picture! The bigger picture about busking has not been considered. 

     I have for some time lingered in posting a blog about busking in Bath, but since it all went viral last summer about the rector of Bath Abbey having to stop a Sunday service because of a busker and the current pledge by officials to ban amplifiers, I'm going to say my piece. Suffice to say buskers wouldn't be heard above the frenzy of tourists outside the Abbey without a degree of amplification which is the lifeblood of many creative acts. 

   Here is a short video of a radio interview I was asked to do during that media frenzy. It is lighthearted (as the main political story had suddenly run its course) and I guess the slot for me to talk had already been set up so instead I gave a personal view about the freedom of playing guitar in a wide open space such as outside Bath Abbey: 

Addition November 2015: At 2 mins 29 secs in the video above I commented on the 'huge freedom we (in Britain) enjoy' in public spaces with terrorism in my mind as an inevitable occurrence and it happened in Paris where I have also enjoyed the freedom to busk.

    The second thing I'd like to say is that I was asked to speak on behalf of Bath buskers by various media because I look after The Bath Buskers website which its unwell owner asked me to take over a few years ago. The lesson I quickly learned was no good deed goes unpunished. I had previously been voted as a buskers rep and went on to design and formulate The Bath Buskers Guide. Part of my discussions with city officials was persuading them NOT to ban the selling of music CDs by buskers and I pledged my fellow buskers would sell CDs discreetly by putting two or three in a guitar case. Of course the exact opposite happened - most buskers completely negated the new guide (designed by me and 1,000 copies paid for by officials) and buskers blatantly put big signs up - CDs for sale £10, contravening street trading laws. Unbelievable stupidity based on greed 

    The point to this particular anecdote is that a year or so later, out of the blue a couple of buskers invited me to breakfast at a local hotel, handed me a bottle of wine and told me it was time for me to move on as I had been voted out of office (behind my back) as a buskers rep at a meeting. I later (in fact very recently) learned it was the same busker at the centre of the media story who had spread a rumour on the street that I had tried to get CD selling banned. No, I persuaded officials to allow buskers to carry on selling CDs and the deal was to sell them discreetly! Well, the same guy who ousted me, a few months earlier I did a favour for by fixing his guitar! In this next video (inspired by him) the lyrics for the song I composed around the very issue of freedom and noise that now three years later threatens the freedom and diversity busking in my home city!  

 I suppose it is somewhat contradictory that a guy like me - an innovator of furniture design, a person who lightheartedly mocks tradition as a British national treasure holding us back in the world and yet I defend passionately the traditional essence of busking - the travelling minstrel. I quickly realised with the dirty politics on the street that buskers are just like the super rich, it is just a more primitive form of protectionisn. And what we see today is a microcosm of society - a polarity between those who do it as artistic expression and if people give a few coins its a bonus and those professional slick buskers with glossy CDs making a business out of it. Of course they want to hog the pitches and exclude others from just turning up and playing - university students wanting to gain public performance confidence, outsiders and the homeless.

  Well, one Saturday my busking friend Gary phoned me up and asked me if I had heard of a gypsy jazz band called the Jonny Hepbir Trio who were sitting on benches with their guitars. I most certainly had and I told Gary that Jonny Hepbir is top of the British crop of world class gypsy jazz players and get him a pitch as his band were on their way to Bristol to play at a wedding. Well this next video speaks for itself about impromtu street performance which is what I think busking is all about:

    Crumbs, I got to play guitar with a guy who had played with Jimmy Rosenberg and Birelli Lagrene, arguably the two foremost players in the world. What a thrill and unreal because I managed to hold it together!!

    So the spirit of busking is a real treasure and curious how these same guys who tried to gag me from talking to the media (the guy in the Rules to be free video) were claiming their human right to freedom of expression. What is evident is how a minority group can get a voice (in the media) and mess it up for the reasonable majority.  

   Music is a wonderful gift - to be able to play by ear allows you to concentrate on expression. I learned so much as a busker after earning 20p the first time I tried it because I was so bad. I developed a survival technique when I forgot my chords by doing a Les Dawson, smiling and then finding my way back into the song.

   Over the years I have played on the streets of Bath with some real virtuoso musicians, backing them with my guitar such as my young Slovak friends who came back to stay with me one summer as this video shows:

    And yet the past two or three years I have not been able to turn up and play on the streets because all these local buskers stole all the pitches each and every day. I am not alone, others have been excluded but the good news is the gang has largely broken up and moved on from Bath, the bad news is the problems they caused that has upset the harmony of bath busking through their greed. Strangely I am the guy invited to speak by officials on behalf of Bath buskers (because they can't get any other buskers to attend!)  later this month at a public consultation workshop. I will propose a structured permit system I have spent a few months devising (it can be viewed at I don't represent Bath buskers, I represent what the website I am the custodian of states - 'Busking in Bath'. We don't own the streets, but we know them and set the example.

   So, when the local council holds a public consultation to ban amplifiers in three prime tourist areas and the rector of Bath Abbey understandably is fed up with it on his own doorstep, the problem is then shifted to other streets where shopkeepers are already pretty fed up and the council licencing department who are now issuing a daily indeed yearly CD selling licence that will actually encouraging a small number of commercial buskers to hog the streets with more repeat repertoires. Amplification will be dealt with in the room of silly walks.

  The challenge (for me almost as a lone voice) is to persuade linear thinkers 
who (with the media) refer to the 'busking community' in conventional terms when no such thing actually exists, that all the issues are actually connected and that the Room of silly walks is part of a building locked in Argument in a street called Chaos! How can a sledgehammer reactionary policy that actually compounds existing problems be argued when the deaf are leading the blind! There has to be a workable solution that brings harmony back on the streets and yet a 'them and us' attitude prevails when a few buskers including myself tried a few years ago to break down those barriers. Call me traitor to buskers but the stupidity of a few buskers has put the boot in for all.  

     Well I came up with a possible solution a few months ago for a structured permit system that accounts for amplification, the selling of CDs and addresses other issues to make busking fairer for everyone and respecting the church and shopkeepers' need for peace. And it hinges around the way the pitches are booked. Would it be fair if somebody wishing to shop in Bath in the afternoon to have to book a parking place at a set time early in the morning?  The problem is it is immediately rejected by council officials.

    Busking has become a political issue, when the fundamental issue is common sense, co-existence, thinking beyond the self and respect for others. I am no church goer but I am ashamed that a fellow busker who draws his audience from a grand church on whose land he plays does not have the respect that Sunday is a day of worship and rest for some. He is too pre-occupied with his false belief system that everything is about individual rights. Interestingly there is also a human right to peaceful enjoyment. Ah the lawyers are never short of work! 

     Some say nothing will happen, that enforcing laws are not that easy and and others say the protectionism will continue and the chaos comes to a head every hot summer with buskers fighting over pitches like pigeons swooping on food. I cannot understand why the sheer performing talent on the street and generosity of spirit of the music given out does not commute with the current mindset amongst many buskers. So what is this freedom? 

Thanks for reading.