Sound on the Underground

There is an old verb "to busk", meaning "to improvise", and it is from this word that "busker" is derived to describe a street musician or performer. There have been buskers on the London Underground for as long as anyone can remember. You do not always see them but you can hear them: the sound travels for miles along the subterranean tunnels.

Some are serious musicians attracted by near-perfect acoustics. Others are little more than beggars who see it as an easy way of making money. The guitar is probably the most common choice of instrument but you can also hear American banjos and Irish bagpipes.

Busking on the Underground is always illegal, it does not matter which instrument you play. Fines, which can be anything up to 200 pounds, are regularly imposed by the London Transport Police. Why it is illegal is unclear. The police maintain that buskers obstruct the corridors and their music interferes with information from the loudspeakers. Buskers say that they help passengers in difficulty and make women travelling alone feel more secure.