Dozens of weddings, Sunday services, choir practices and even funerals have been disrupted by the increasingly loud music drifting in from outside – often from rival buskers trying to outdo each other from separate pitches on either side of the church.
Choristers at the Abbey and workers in surrounding offices say they have resorted to wearing earplugs to block out the sound which continues for around eight hours a day at the height of the tourist season.
Rev Mason said the stress levels of the Abbey musicians, who regularly broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4 and perform concerts overseas, have been driven higher by the constant performance of a small repertoire of songs ranging from cover versions of hits by Simon and Garfunkel or Simply Red to flamenco music and opera favourites.
The Abbey has agreed a special “traffic light” system with regular buskers, alerting them to moments of quiet and special services during which most have agreed not to play.
But, Rev Mason said, a handful of the loudest performers have refused to cooperate, driving the Abbey’s centuries-old musical tradition to “crisis point”.
Knowing the place as well as I do I can confirm that this is a real problem. Physical violence would be an attractive solution to the problem if the reprobates but sadly, we’re not supposed to do that. The actual answer is simply to treat the entire Abbey churchyard and the Abbey as one single pitch. Rather than what it is now, which is three (the south year, the west, and the Abbey itself). And thus, if everyone regards it as one pitch then there will be, whether by regulation or general agreement (seriously, buskers are pretty good at protecting and allocating pitches, (there’s even an economics professor with personal experience of this)) agreement about who gets to have a go on that one pitch at any one time.