Boris Johnson aims to ban ‘annoying’ bagpipes

A piper plays on Westminster Bridge. Picture: Getty
A piper plays on Westminster Bridge. Picture: Getty
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BORIS Johnson has effectively banned the “piercing sound” of bagpipes from the streets of London, with pipers told to find locations “with no flats, offices, shops or hotels”.

The London mayor recently announced the city’s first “code of conduct” for buskers, with new rules covering where to busk, complaint handling and money collection.

Boris Johnson seen "busking" at a London Underground station. Picture: Getty

Boris Johnson seen "busking" at a London Underground station. Picture: Getty

However, the noble bagpipe has fallen foul of the new regulations as, under the new code, it is classed as a “repetitive loud sound” alongside acts featuring beatboxing, highly amplified guitars and hard “attack” sounds like drums – each of which “can become annoying quickly”.

The Greater London Authority launched a Busk In London website to great fanfare last month, detailing the new rules for the city’s buskers.

Under the heading of “Your Performance”, the site states: “Some sounds can become annoying more quickly. For example: repetitive sounds like some types of percussion or beatbox- ing; loud sounds like highly amplified guitars; hard ‘attack’ sounds like drums; piercing sounds like bagpipes.

“If your act has these, move regularly or find locations with no flats, offices, shops or hotels.”

“The dismissive attitudes reveal an unjustified bias against the pipes.”

Alastair Campbell

The code has angered pipers who claim it is the first step to an eventual ban on the instrument in the capital.

Yesterday Alastair Campbell, former communications director at 10 Downing Street and a keen piper, added his voice to the protest.

“Having been a ­bagpiping busker myself in my student days I am a great supporter of buskers in our towns and cities,” he said.

“They add a lot to life. Inevitably there are good and bad – that goes for any instrument – but the dismissive attitudes expressed in this advice reveal an unjustified bias against the pipes.

“I would certainly support any pipers who sought to have it changed.

“Mind you, given the nature of David Cameron’s so-called campaign, and his attempt to pit Scotland against England, it can’t be long before he and Boris Johnson ban bagpipes in London altogether.”

This isn’t the first time that bagpipes have come under scrutiny south of the Border. The instrument was banned by various English kings and governments over the years, such as in the Statute of Kilkenny in 1367 which outlawed them in Ireland and after the Jacobite Uprising in 1745, when they were classed “an instrument of war”.

In 1746, piper James Reid, who led the army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart into battle at Cull­oden, was executed for carrying a set of pipes.

London piper Pat Sands, 58, who regularly plays in London’s West End, has condemned the move.

He said: “Boris should be ashamed of himself, especially during the centenary year of the First World War when over 300 pipers were killed on the Western Front.

“It would seem that Boris cannot help but to subconsciously carry on the English tradition of suppressing Scottish and Irish culture and this is a future Tory prime minister.”

Many London buskers have spoken out on what they feel is city hall’s eventual plan to introduce a licence scheme for busking on the city’s streets and pipers feel that in the event of such a move they will be the first to be refused a permit.

Sands, who also plays in the London Irish Rifles Pipe and Drums band, said: “We’ve been lumped in with electric guitars and ‘attack’ drums. Many pipers feel that we’ll be refused once licensing comes in, Boris has spoken before about how he finds them annoying.

“Most pipers can physically only play for up to an hour before moving on anyway, so none of us can see what this code is supposed to be policing other than just banning pipers. “Among buskers it’s known that pipers make the most money because tourists see us as an emblem of the UK and love to have their photo taken with us. Obviously Mr Johnson doesn’t think the same.”

A spokeswoman for the mayor of London, said: “We’re enthusiastic about all musical instruments played by buskers, but we point out that some like electric guitars and bagpipes can have more of a noise impact and that musicians should consider this when dec­iding where exactly to play. It is clearly not a proscription against playing these instruments, and all the stakeholders who were involved in designing the code of conduct, buskers, the musicians union, local authorities, and the Met police would confirm this.

“Bagpipers are very welcome in London and we have many fantastic players. We also welcome feedback on the code of conduct.”