The Day the Music Died

I live in Galway city. City of Culture 2020 no less. Except that our city council voted in by-laws that are actively destroying our culture.

Busking, or street music, has always been a huge feature of the city centre here. No matter the weather, no matter the economy or what’s going on the world, if you walked the city centre streets you would be guaranteed to have your mood lifted with music. So many musicians, so many characters. There was even an autistic singer!

And now that is no more.

On Jan 1st, new anti-busking laws came into place. The council will claim that they’re not anti-busking. Technically busking is not banned. But it’s been made virtually impossible. You are now no longer allowed to use an amp before 6pm. No matter what volume you set it at. Many quiet singers can no longer busk as if they were to try to be heard without an amp, they would ruin their voices. Many musicians play instruments that need amps. And nobody can now play backing tracks. Which effects not only musicians but acts like the traditional Irish dancers, who otherwise would need to organise musicians to play the music. Other laws include not being allowed to cause anyone offence. Which is such a grey area when it comes to songs. Especially ones that may use colourful language. (Fairytale of New York springs to mind)

Today I went into town. Something I regularly do a few times a week. As I’ve done for the past 11 years I’ve lived here.

And all I heard was an eery silence. And some awful pop music blaring from a few tourist souvenir shops. I felt like the heart and soul had been ripped out of the city.

8 comments

  1. I always liked that Dublin had buskers. Since everyone (not just those needing backing tracks or instruments like keyboards or electric guitars, started using Amps, however, it has become more ‘sensory unfriendly’ and I’ve struggled to appreciate it. Music blared, one merges with the next, musicians can still be heard in the back of shops. instruments noise level is overwhelming, I feel I have to shout to be heard, I have to block my ears, even when I appreciate both the music and the musicianship. Performers act almost like their at a festival where people have payed to hear them, or at least expect to be hearing music and to be dealing with way above average noise levels. There’s a musician who plays electric guitar really well, who’s volume control on the amp is quieter than acoustic guitar playing singers further down the street. If musicians were more in tune with everyone else, and the needs of those who’d prefer it if they turned the volume down, and thought twice before they decided they needed an amp, county councils might – only might, given that councillors are equally intransient, prone to arguing and pushing their own agenda – have fairer by-laws that won’t silence a city.

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    • The buskers here had a voluntary code that was working quite well. Not perfect but still something. They are all in favour of having a decibel limit. The way the new laws are written you could have a fifty piece brass band or a slew of bagpipers and they’d be allowed.
      It’s not just the noise volume though. The laws are vague and badly worded and people are now just afraid.

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      • It’s ridiculous that councillors can’t sort things out properly – or employ competent people to advise them/work with them to develop bylaws that work. Two of the Dublin councils seem to have had rows with music generation, too – I was looking for info on the in Dublin, read info from Fingal and Dublin City Council that seemed to suggest they couldn’t cone to agreements/work well with them to promote music for all. In the meantime, all the other three councils seem to have initiatives with muisc gebersyion that mean that more people can have access to music education. It’s a pity for Galway they can’t work with the providers of culture, especially with the European City if Culture happening!

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  2. That’s so unfortunate that they made that law and made some of the law so ambiguous. I understand the other commenter and would hope that it wouldn’t be too loud but I still think there would be better ways to solve that then to just cancel the music as a whole basically. I live in America and I love going to a college town in Wisconsin that has some great street music. My favorite is the saxophone player at Christmas time. And in Chicago the music at the L stations (like subways) makes them much more tolerable. I hope your city can get this figured out so that the music can come back.

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  3. How sad to read. In my experience, the sad fact is that most, if not all of the people enacting these by-laws are petty, unimaginative, under-worked and overpaid. They’re not directly affected by the decisions they make and often have little connection to the people they’re supposed to be serving in the community. The nebulous and ambiguous wording of the laws will no doubt be some mixture of incompetence, not caring, and petty maliciousness (“how dare some dirty ‘artists’ go about making a living following their dream when I’m working in this office having to deal with the scumbag public”).

    In the UK I’ve witnessed appalling local councils, particularly in Wales and Northern Ireland. The front-line staff had a sort of seige mentality, where members of the public were seen as an enemy who were only trying to cause problems – and by problems I mean they wanted council employees to do the job they were supposed to do. Council employees however, seemed to think their job was to gossip in the most disgusting way about members of the public and complain about their job.

    Councillors themselves seemed to only act on issues that came to them from their select contacts or benefitted themselves and those same contacts (eg. in Wales, construction work that theoretically should benefit the area would mysteriously always go to contractors who had a connection to someone known to certain councillors and who had a history of doing appalling work that ended up being no better or oftentimes worse than what it replaced). I hope Galway City Council aren’t as corrupt as those I’ve seen.

    I’m not familiar with how politics works in the Republic, but are there any local representatives that could be contacted about this? It will surely damage tourism – Galway was always famous for it’s eclectic street entertainment, even as far away as Co Down on the east coast of NI. It would surely be damaging to the local economy if this were lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately your comments about council workers ring true. They actually wanted to enforce these new laws early last year but couldn’t because somehow they forgot to put a start date for the legislation. So this is their second time around. Some of the ok councillors voted against the laws but not enough of them. There have been petitions etc but it hasn’t made a difference. I think they have to learn the hard way ie we go a year or two without music and tourist revenues fall and then the laws get repealed and have to work on enticing the musicians back.

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      • “somehow they forgot to put a start date for the legislation”. HAHAHAHAHA! Honestly, I gave up trying to figure out where the incompetence ended and the callousness began with any public sector staff, it just all melded together into one giant incompetent-callous blob.

        Petitions never work. Staff just ignore them. Maybe all buskers should move out from the city centre and start busking in the gardens of the councillors who voted for the bill 🙂 And bus out an audience.

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