Busking in Bristol: A Guide

  1. Home
  2. Bristol
  3. Arts & Culture
  4. Busking in Bristol: A Guide
Elle Curran/ via Flickr

Bristol is well known as a hub for artists and musicians, and the city is teeming with talent. Here are a few tips for anyone considering a stint performing on the street...

Bristol has long had a great relationship with street performers, and it’s not uncommon to see musicians, magicians and entertainers thronging the city’s streets and adding vibrancy to the surroundings. Buskers also tend to be good at swapping pitches, moving around the city, and not hogging a particular spot, so you’ll usually find a variety of performances taking place.

Brilliantly, you don’t need a licence to busk in the main public areas of Bristol such as Broadmead or the Harbourside, which means anyone can show up and try their hand. You only need to be careful about private land and blocking highways, entrances or ATMs - if in doubt, make sure to ask the business owner first! Often they’ll be delighted to have you there to draw in the crowds.

Christmas Busking. Image credit: Mark Keohane/ via Flickr

There are plenty of good spots in Bristol: Broadmead is the most popular with other buskers, so you may have to explore a bit before finding a quiet enough pitch. Make sure you avoid the Galleries shopping centre, however, unless you have specific permission or are busking for charity. As private property, Cabot Circus is also unfortunately out of bounds unless you’re working for St Mungo’s - and even then they require extensive documentation.

However, there are alternatives: the bottom of Corn Street (where it becomes Clare Street) can make a decent spot, as can the covered Harbourside walkway in front of the Watershed - just make sure you don’t crowd any traders who might be there. Also, check out the top of Cascade Steps and Pero’s Bridge, both of which make good open spots for those with louder acoustic brass or woodwind instruments.

A Busker on Corn Street, Bristol. Image credit: Shareef Turner/ via Flickr

To make things as clear as possible, the Council have recently published updated rules on busking in the city, but it’s fair to say these are largely based on common sense and being considerate of others around you. The regulations say that you can only busk between 10am and 11pm, and performances must last a maximum of 90 minutes. This is to ensure that buskers move around the city, creating a flexible dynamic in which pitches are shared and residents and visitors get plenty of variety.

You’re also instructed to introduce range into your performance: nothing gets the complaints rolling like banging out the same cover of Valerie or Wonderwall on an endless loop. Taking short breaks is also encouraged, but make sure you don’t continue to collect money and make it clear you’re having a rest. The guidelines also outline that the volume of your performance shouldn’t be much greater than that of the ambient street noise, so perhaps leave your six-foot speaker stacks at home…

Busking It. Image credit: Matt Gibson/ via Flickr

The trickiest bit comes with selling CDs. Without a street traders’ licence you’re still allowed to put CDs on display, but only as long as you make it clear a donation is only suggested. The public aren’t obliged to give you anything, but people will generally be decent.

Finally, and most intriguingly, the guidelines also require you to clean up ‘where fire and chemicals are used as part of your performance’ - we can’t help but get excited about the idea of a flame-fuelled rendition of Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain. We’re crossing our fingers!

Ultimately, the best way to find out what works for you is to get stuck in, and just make sure you’re sensitive to people working and living around you. Busking epitomises the energy and creativity of this great city, so get out there and get performing!