Cut Noise

No escape from other people’s noise


When I became a teenager in the 1960s I don’t think there was a single public place where people didn’t smoke - maybe in a church, but that was about it.

But these same places were much, much quieter than they are today.

Fifty years on roles have been reversed. Smokers are banished from public buildings, forced to huddle outside in dank alleyways reminiscent of when they shared a sneaky fag behind the bike shed in the school playground.

These days it is noise which permeates our public spaces: whether it’s the babble of shared offices; the television-dominated hospital wards; the sound-tracks in fitness centres and gyms; the over-long and over-loud announcements on public transport; the buskers with their penetrating sound systems or the almost ubiquitous background music in our shops, cafes, bars and restaurants – everywhere from Starbucks to the Savoy.

Fireworks are no longer confined to 5th November. Some public parks host one music event after another during the summer months. ‘Boom’ cars ruin some neighbourhoods. And the night time economy brings its own problems.

But aren't you stopping fun?  I hear you say as you wonder if you've stumbled in error on to page 3 of The Oldie or the a brochure for Saga holidays.  No so!  We are not arguing against the playing of music or the right to listen to loud music.  We are concerned that it is being imposed on people against their will.  We can choose to avoid the Hard Rock cafe but tougher to avoid travelling on a train or bus or going for a stroll in the park.  And sometimes impossible to to avoid hospital. And it is mighty inconvenient to need to walk the length of the high street find a place where you can have a coffee without music in the background or to be forced out of the gym.

Other people's noise can be tackled. We suggest solutions to tackle other people’s noise in the next few pages.

Turning up the volume....

30th August 2021

Well, was that the noisiest bank holiday on record? I don’t mean the aeroplanes; there were a lot fewer of them than normal. I don’t even mean the cars, though there were a lot on the roads. I mean the music. The loud music. The loud music, with the thudding base. Wherever people gathered, they seemed to want to turn up the volume.

We missed each other during lockdown. Perhaps the music was just a symbol of the release people felt. It tied in with summer shorts, shopping sprees, flirting, pubbing, clubbing. It was the sound of freedom. It was the frenetic urge to get lost in sound to celebrate the collapse of the Berlin Wall of Covid restrictions.

I, too, wanted to celebrate. That’s why I was out and about. But I spent my time dodging the incessant beat of Central London. The thudding sound of the base, the same low-frequency noise which makes aircraft, wind turbines and freight trains so disturbing to some people, seemed to be celebrated by countless others.

In their research (1) in 2008 Blesser and Salter found ‘when a culture accepts loudness as being a legitimate right in recreational sound venues, that acceptance tends to legitimise all forms of noise pollution. As a culture with advancing sonic tools and amplification, there are increasing opportunities to be immersed in destructively loud sound fields. We believe that acceptance of loudness in entertainment then carries over to a tolerance of disruptive noise from airplanes, jackhammers, powered garden equipment, and so on. Loudness becomes the cultural norm.’

Could it be that loudness has become the cultural norm in the UK?

That was certainly my experience in London over the weekend. After a late breakfast with a friend in a wonderfully quiet, muzac-free Wetherpoons (Arise Sir Tim Martin) in Farringdon, I came across the March for Animals. It’s a cause I thoroughly approve of so decided to join it as it moved off. But I only got as far Fleet Street before the noise forced me to retreat to the peace and quiet of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The drums were so loud some children had their fingers in their ears (Sign them up as the next generation of anti-noise campaigners!). And yet a tweet described the event as ‘Waiting at the start of #AnimalRebellion yesterday. Brilliant day, samba bands kept the energy high, very moving speeches, all peaceful and joyous’. Loudness has become the cultural norm.

In Central London you have to search to get away from it. Fancy a coffee? Without muzac? Your cappuccino challenge. The al fresco dining hasn’t helped matters. The streets have become noisier, with loud music from the restaurants pumped out incessantly. Go before 5pm when cars are allowed. The tables are noisier than the traffic. But many people like the loud evening ambience. Loudness has become the cultural norm.

I was relieved that I was not alone in noticing how loud this weekend became. This from twitter:

That music festival in Victoria Park is loud. I’m near Queensbridge Road and I’m hearing the music reflecting off the buildings that are facing towards Victoria Park. This is much louder than in the past.

And this:

Currently in Leigh on Sea in the harbour area and there is one bar pumping out bass heavy dance music totally killing the calm vibe of this otherwise chilled spot. Fiddles and or sea shanties would be more appropriate here.

I scurried back through Leicester Square to the Underground. It was a cacophony of noise. Music blaring out of the shops competing with buskers and their amplified sounds. I know what the Taliban would have done. I’m not suggesting that as the final solution. What I am saying is that, if loudness has become the cultural norm at least for part of the population, it makes finding solutions to the very real noise problems which do exist more complex.

(1), Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Slater, The unexamined rewards for excessive loudness (2008)

John Stewart

Respect the local community


Making unacceptable noise outside is essentially disrespecting the local community.  And the authorities are complicit in that disrespect if they fail to take effective action to deal with it.

Community noise can be dealt with.  The relevant anti-social behaviour and planning legislation exists. 

These are the key things which need to be done:  

• deal with unacceptable noisy behaviour on the streets, including a clampdown on ‘boom’ cars playing amplified music

• restrict the number of music events allowed in any one park or open space in a year;

•  reject new developments that would cause unacceptable noise to the local community and impose impose and enforce tough noise conditions on all developments when they come before the relevant planning authority

• close down premises which continue to present a noise problem in a community

• restrict fireworks to a limited number of public displays each year; promote the use of silent fireworks

• impose tough conditions on busking.

All this is not difficult.  It simply requires the will-power to make it happen.

Solutions to…….Background Music


Regulate piped music and televisions in hospitals and nursing homes.

No patient should unwillingly be subjected to piped music or televisions in hospitals or nursing homes. Separate television rooms and headphones for people who want to listen to television or music in wards should be the norm, and also for outpatients.

Introduce legislation to protect workers rights.

Workers in shops, restaurants and elsewhere are often bombarded by piped music that is sometimes loud and almost always very repetitive. Such inescapable forced music is particularly stress-inducing. Legislation is needed to give workers the right not to have to listen to it in the same way that non-smokers have gained the right not to have to breathe others' smoke.

Provide tax-breaks for muzac-free shopping malls.

Shopping malls are in many ways like a public street. Particularly in many of the UK’s smaller towns and cities, it is difficult to get what you want without visiting the mall.

Tax-breaks for recreational places that are muzac-free, have quiet areas or quiet hours.

Background music, some of its excessively loud, can deter some people from using gyms and swimming pools or going to restaurants and pubs. Many would appreciate being able to these facilities without the music on in the background.

For more information on background music, contact the excellent Pipedown:

Solutions to…….Transport Announcements


Most countries in Europe run their transport systems effectively without bombarding passengers with over-loud and over-frequent announcements on their trains, buses, trams and platforms. The UK could do similar.

Cut announcements to the barest minimum

The only announcements permitted should be those required by law to assist visually impaired people and those essential for safety and disruption.

Cut the volume and frequency

The loudness and frequency of the announcements should be reduced. The authorities need to get tough with people playing music on public transport.

Solutions to…….Busking


Ban it at stations and any other places where there is a captive audience.

Cap the decibel levels of sound systems (unless the busker is on the move: it is the incessant noise at one location that is the real problem).

Impose a 12 hour rule – busking only allowed between 9am and 9pm.

Impose a 2 hour location rule – busking only allowed at any one spot for a maximum of a total of 2 hours each day

Buskers fined if they break the regulations or refuse to move on when asked

And, if all else fails, the public be given the right to entitled to take money out of their collection hat if they don’t like the music!