The making and breaking of street music

Daily Mail , 15 Aug 1981
The Mary Kenny Saturday TV Review

A Town Like New Orleans?
BBC2

They talk about books, plays, films, television programmes which ‘change your life,’ such is the dramatic impact.  Life changes come from inside the human soul, though, not from outside.

But last night’s programme A Town Like New Orleans? (BBC-2 – and the title refers to Leeds, of all places) had a direct influence on my behaviour. Having seen it, I deliberately went out and put money in every buskers collecting hat that I could see.

Busking musicians bring a little sprinkling of joy to city dwellers on their weary commutations and I think it is rotten that the law should persecute them, The programme was a rather unformed but patchily pleasant look at the number of amateur musical groups – at least 200 of them – who strive and sometimes thrive in Leeds.

And it featured on specially appealing saxophone player called Zero Slingsby (real name Matthew Coe) who often plays on the streets of northern towns – and plays very well.

Yet he has appeared in court more than 39 times on charges of begging, vagrancy and obstruction – the technical infringements of the law whereby buskers are persecuted.

It seems so unfair and such a silly law. Most people in my experience like the presence of street (and in London, underground train) musicians. If there is a real obstruction, or if, say, a shopkeeper actively complains, by all means move them on. But regarding busking as illegal is just joyless. Anyway, haven’t the police enough to do?

Not all the musicians featured in Ian McNulty’s documentary were as pleasant as Zero Slingsby. Some of them were a right pain in the neck.

The function of musicians is to make music, not to talk jargoned tripe. They should express their feelings, just as the black people of New Orleans once did in their spirituals and their blues. Funny, there were no blacks among the many groups in Leeds.

The range of music was varied, from jazz, rock and punk to lively Irish jugs and soul ballads. There was a young woman singing jazz, in the old style, called Carole Bell, who really deserves a chance to be a professional: Her talent recalled the tuneful jazz phrasing of Anita O’Day and her face shone with happiness as her voice sweetened the air.

Press & Related:

  • Off Air, Broadcast, W Stephen Gilbert August 31, 1981
    Broadcast, 31 Aug 1981
    W Stephen Gilbert
    Off Air
    BBC2

    The BBC Manchester series City was a more random collection of reports on where we’re at. I caught four editions, particularly enjoying Ian McNulty’s well thought-through film on musical ... more

  • Clive James, The Observer August 23, 1981
    Clive James
    The Observer
    23 Aug 1981

    An unintentionally wonderful programme called A Town Like New Orleans (BBC2) showed what happens when people whose proper concerns should be some form of fruitful labour start mucking about with art. ... more

  • Something stirring up North August 15, 1981
    The Times, 15 Aug 1981
    Dennis Hackett
    A Town Like New Orleans?
    BBC2

    All in all, very good television, may be occasional but delightful, beautifully photographed and edited and with no obtrusive interviewer. It was produced by Ian ... more

  • A Town Like New Orleans? City, BBC2 (1981) August 14, 1981
    Radio Times
    BBC2, 21:45
    CITY
    A Town Like New Orleans

    In every town there are thousands of musicians – ignored by both television and the music industry alike – playing live music for fun and very little money. Watch ... more

  • The making and breaking of street music August 14, 1981
    Daily Mail , 15 Aug 1981
    Mary Kenny

    They talk about books, plays, films, television programmes which ‘change your life,’ … But last night’s programme A Town Like New Orleans? had a direct influence on my behaviour. Having ... more

  • Today’s Television, Peter Davalle, The Times August 14, 1981
    Today’s Television
    The Times , 14 Aug 1981
    Peter Davalle

    A TOWN LIKE NEW ORLEANS? (BBC2, 9.45 pm) is about a musical explosion, or rather a series of pops, because this is a film about Leeds’ two hundred or ... more

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